Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I don't know if professional Navy officers feel embarrassment anymore. We used to feel it keenly when we deserved to. It was akin to humiliation and one worked very hard to avoid embarrassing oneself or one's seniors. Sadly, it appears that nobody feels any shame in failure or outright humiliation anymore. If there was even a hint of the old Navy remaining alive in the new Navy one would see countless officers hanging their heads in shame at foisting the LCS and JSF on the Navy and Marines.

The crew of a broken ship can feel embarrassment for being unable to maintain or repair a ship entrusted to them. Supposedly, the Navy went out of its way to train and prepare the crew to operate, maintain and repair the ships it gives them. There is damage or repairs that are beyond ship's company's ability to repair but those were once usually inflicted by the enemy or typhoons and not the vagaries of simply getting underway on a beautiful day 20 days after leaving behind the builder's yard, sea trials and final acceptance of the new warship by NAVSEA and SUPSHIP.

I once worked for a CO who found that his Ops Department had made an elementary mistake one night. We spent the entire morning the next day hunting for enemy mines in our own private section of the Persian Gulf about 5 miles away from the other 2 ships engaged in the hunt. The CO finally pulled and reviewed the message that included the navigation data for the day's task and had it replotted himself. He found that we were indeed way "outside the box." His anger was palpable.

When we anchored that night he had all officers report to his cabin where he started out a remarkable ass-chewing by simply stating that 'we' had made him look like a complete idiot in front of his peers. This man was by no means a reamer and screamer. He was a thoughtful and thoroughly decent officer but the events of the day had piled up to the point where he wasn't going to take it anymore.

I'm not sorry I was excused the tirade. I had other things to do but I knew I didn't want to let anybody down the way the Operations Department had let him down. We busted our ass to make the ship go and to that end we were also ready to pass almost any readiness inspection at any time. We did it for our pride. After all, a crappy ship has a poisonous reputation all along the waterfront and the crew used to feel that rep in many ways. I'm not sure if that's the case anymore when ships don't belong to a crew.

Way back, a long time ago, we had a class of ships that the LCS replaced. I was never a fan of those ships after many early encounters with them. They had one massive design flaw that was applied to every aspect of the ship - it was cheap and shoddy and had zero redundancy. Still, they could get away with many minor tasks if one didn't peer to closely underneath the layer of paint.

There is one simple rule to naval gunfire. It boils down to, 'don't shoot your own ship.' In the space of about 2 years, half a dozen of the FFGs managed to shoot themselves. I suspect the Type Commanders and the Fleet Commanders got pretty tired of NAVSEA's bleating about how the, "ships just couldn't help themselves since they were designed to shoot into themselves from the very beginning."
Defanged Frigate With Gun Aimed at Stack and other Gun
In other words, it wasn't a design flaw, it was a signal point of pride that NAVSEA had designed a ship where the Safe Stow position for a naval gun, pointed it directly at the ship's exhaust stack and 20mm close in weapon system. In short, nobody at NAVSEA felt any embarrassment about the problem and did nothing to fix it until it happened again and again and again.

The waterfront was less forgiving. I remember strolling to the Main Brace at 32nd Street one day after knock off and seeing an FFG return to port to moor alongside a sister ship. It came into Pier 4 and the ship it was mooring alongside had prepared a little welcome that outraged the CO and Squadron Commander of the damaged ship. The undamaged ship's crew had put an enormous bullseye on their own stack. The skipper and the Commodore, they were embarrassed. One might say that the skipper felt humiliated. Here they were, returning home with tail between their legs and their mighty close in weapon system lying smashed on the flight deck where it landed after being blown off its mount by their own gun as smoke poured out of the new holes in the ship's smoke stack.

So we find ourselves with our newest addition to fleet welded to some pier in the Tide Water area with people scratching their heads trying to work out how the metal filings found their way into the lube oil strainers. There's a few ways I know.
     -There is metal to metal contact somewhere in the gear train that is grinding up the reduction gear
     -There is metal to metal contact in the propulsion engines
     -The ship is so stupidly designed that all lube oil feeds into one massive filter and nobody knows
      where it is coming from

Our embarrassing problem in the midst of OPERATION EARNEST WILL came down to a plotting error that was inexcusable but harmless. It caused no damage and no gaps were left after we hustled over to where we were supposed to be and completed the assignment. For me, the saddest part was that somehow the same exact plotting error was made on the paper chart and on the electronic system we used as the conning officer's primary plotter. In other words, the same wrong information was entered into two different navigation systems by two different people. The redundancy inherent in the system failed. That happens sometimes. It's embarrassing. It should be.

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