by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) In April, the US Chief Of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday, issued a stern warning to the US Navy fleet: rust-free ships are essential for deterrence and naval readiness. But this week, the Navy released a shocking photo of a warship’s deck, covered in rust. It’s a stark reminder that the Navy must take decisive action to ensure its ships are in top condition.
“On the appearance side, you have to be ready, you have to look like you mean business,” said the Vice Admiral Peter Daly of USNI in an interview with Gilday. “Now that COVID has eased off and port calls are less restrictive, is there time to lay to and paint?”
Many have blamed COVID but the problem extends back before the coronavirus choked supply lines and squeezed US Navy operations. The problem predates the pandemic. “The nonchalant attitude many are taking to the physical condition of the public-facing part of our Navy is, in a word, disgraceful,” said former surface warfare officer Commander Salamander back in 2019. “I’m not quite sure when our culture decided that doing less with worse was acceptable – where for your wants NOW, you will saddle future leaders who follow you with the Bondo, duct tape, and baling wire remediation you did to get by – but here we are.”
While Gilday’s message in April was strong he pushed the responsibility to clean up ships on individual sailors in lower ranks. “This comes down to our, get real get better campaign for people to self assess and self-correct, for people to stand up and take action when they see stuff wrong, and not accept stuff that’s broken,” said Gilday in April. “Do what you can to fix it, if you can’t elevate it, the chain of command ought to be listening. They ought to be listening to your proposed solutions.” This, however, is not an isolated problem that can be fixed by junior and mid-grade officers at sea, it’s a Navy-wide problem that exposes the Pentagon’s continued lack of interest on Naval issues while, for two decades, the nation has prioritized ground and air missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have a Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are both Army Generals, and the US Air Force is powerful in defense circles too,” one former Pentagon official told gCaptain. “The Pentagon is a large ship with lots of momentum and, even as we pivot to the Pacific to face China, the funding priorities continue to favor air and land assets. “
The Navy may claim that rust doesn’t affect the operational readiness of the fleet, but even the top Admirals find it hard to ignore the fact that the men and women who serve on the front lines are America’s most valuable asset. So, will America’s best and brightest be motivated to join a Navy that’s overworked and underappreciated by Pentagon brass? Will many feel inspired to board a ship that’s covered in rust? The answer is a resounding no.
For the past decade – since publishing the article Go Sail On A Rustbucket – I have been encouraging young people to join the outdated US Merchant Marine fleet and sail on their rusting vessels. But let me tell you, it’s not easy to convince them to take on this challenge!
To learn more about why these ships are rusting Top Navy Admiral Wants Rust-Free Ships by John Konrad and US Navy Stonewalls Congress In Working Ship Reports by John Konrad
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