Navy Surface Fleet Unprepared To Win Future Conflict, Watchdog Finds

Identity politics, insufficient funding hinder U.S. ability to sink ships

USS John McCain / Getty Images
July 13, 2021

The Navy risks losing a major conflict as vital training time is wasted on identity politics and insufficient funding from Congress, according to a watchdog report.

Sailors, speaking anonymously to investigators, blasted the service's operations as increasingly toxic and narrowly focused on office politics even as the threat of war with China grows. Respondents said diversity trainings and other non-combat-related activities eat up large chunks of the workday that could otherwise be spent on combat readiness.

"Sometimes I think we care more about whether we have enough diversity officers than if we'll survive a fight with the Chinese Navy," said one unnamed active lieutenant cited in the report. "It's criminal. They think my only value is as a black woman. But you cut our ship open with a missile and we'll all bleed the same color."

Senate Armed Services Committee member and Army veteran Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Marine veteran Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), and Navy veterans Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) and Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) ordered the review of practices within the Navy after a spate of personnel issues and accidents raised alarms about the state of the branch.

Mark Montgomery, a retired rear admiral and coauthor of the report, told the Washington Free Beacon that the Navy should be focused on matching the Chinese navy's expansion plans. Montgomery contrasted the modern Navy's misplaced priorities with his own experience during the Cold War.

"The surface warfare community definitely suffers from the lack of investment," said Montgomery. "A large position of the respondents to this think there wasn't the commitment to warfighting that one would expect from a Navy that can now see a potential adversary on the horizon."

Lieutenant Commander Patricia Kreuzberger, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Navy, told the Free Beacon the branch "welcomes" many of the report's findings.

"We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to ensure we have the most capable ships crewed by the most capable Sailors, as well as a surface force that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century," Kreuzberger said.

Brent Sadler, a former surface warfare officer and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the blitz of politics in the ranks should force senior Navy officers to speak with more precision when they discuss racism and cultural problems.

"When it comes to actual racism and discrimination in the Navy, they need to speak with facts," Sadler said. "The flag officers need to base their response and prioritization on facts when these political and social issues come into the Navy."

Limited resources for shipbuilding and maintenance present a second—and potentially more dangerous—problem for the surface fleet. The Navy is stretched thin due to extended missions far from U.S. bases and ports, according to the report. The surface fleet also struggles to retain focus as threats from adversaries grow. The Chinese navy surpassed the U.S. Navy in 2020 and continues to expand; it is constructing a third aircraft carrier.

"The root cause of all of this is not enough ships," Sadler said. "We need to make sure Congress is better able to target forward presence where it matters the most."

A Democrat-controlled Congress and the Biden administration do not appear poised to give the surface fleet the resources it needs to meet that goal. The 2022 defense budget sharply cuts shipbuilding and weapons procurement for the fleet, potentially rolling back plans from the Trump administration to build toward a 350- and eventually 500-ship navy.

Gallagher said the report makes clear that "not all is well" in the surface fleet.

"In order to beat China, we need a sense of urgency to provide and maintain the Navy that our nation needs," Gallagher said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to implement the report's recommendations and help ensure America continues to rule the waves."