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All U.S. Navy Personnel Need To Be Refocused On A Warrior Ethos—Starting With The Basics

The internet trolled a U.S. Navy commander this week on Instagram, and various blogs and news outlets piled on. All missed the bigger story.

The Navy’s official account, @usnavy, posted a picture of Cmdr. Cameron Yaste firing a rifle with its scope mounted backwards. Firearm jockeys mocked the mistake with comments like “US Navy just killing it on Instagram!” and in short order the Navy yanked the photo.

The story itself is a nothingburger, but there’s a serious warning between the guffaws.

Yaste commands the USS John S. McCain, which was participating in a live-fire exercise with an inflatable target sailors call the “killer tomato.” The commanding officer was likely handed the gun with the Trijicon VCOG scope already incorrectly mounted by some nitwit, fired off a few rounds, and got back to the business of being the C.O. of an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.

It’s no small job. Yaste’s destroyer is currently forward-deployed in the Navy’s most stressful and contested operating environment.  It was the McCain, after all, that collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker off the coast of Singapore in 2017, killing 10 sailors. As it was then, the McCain is stationed with U.S. Seventh Fleet, headquartered out of Yokosuka, Japan.

The past seven years have not made the job of being a ship commander in the Western Pacific any easier. Seventh Fleet’s area of responsibility sprawls over 36 maritime countries encompassing 50 percent of the world’s population. It faces the densest shipping environment on Earth and routinely confronts China, North Korea, and Russia. Ships like the McCain keep sea lanes open and often sail, alone, under the full knowledge that thousands of Chinese anti-ship missiles like the YJ-12, YJ-18, YJ-83, DF-21, and DF-26 are trained on its every move.

Keyboard warriors smirked over a dumb photo, but won’t be laughing if China tries to seize Taiwan and America gets pulled into the fray.

America’s Navy is not adequately prepared for a fight near China. Outside of defense circles, few know that the U.S. Navy, with fewer than 300 warships, sails the smallest fleet since 1917. Seventh Fleet is the United States’ largest numbered fleet, with 50 to 70 warships under its command at any one time. Yet that figure is utterly dwarfed by the bizarrely named China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, which will have 400 battle force vessels afloat by next year—a figure that doesn’t include the hundreds of armed ships of its “coast guard” and thousands of “fishing vessels.”

China’s navy is quickly growing in size and sophistication, with a third aircraft carrier under construction and increasingly-advanced smaller vessels. It also has a home-court advantage, near proximity to the PLA Rocket Force and China’s air force, and the backstop of a shipbuilding industry that outproduces America’s shipyards 232 to 1, according to a US Navy intelligence brief leaked last year.

America’s armed forces used to practice with a “fight tonight” mentality, but as operational budgets shrink in relation to research, development, and personnel costs, the kind of live-fire exercise the McCain participated in is an increasingly rare event. According to the Department of Defense, in 2021 China’s 135 ballistic missile live firings were “more than the rest of the world combined.” American commanders can only dream of that kind of target practice.

To maintain our Pacific deterrence, the U.S. Navy needs reform at flank speed.

The hardware: American shipyards and missile factories must be expanded and enhanced. Cost overruns and ridiculous maintenance delays need leaders in the mold of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to start knocking heads. When Nimitz was told the USS Yorktown needed 30 days of repairs, he famously ordered the ship be fixed in three days.  It was.

The sailors: All USN personnel need to be refocused on a warrior ethos. Starting with the basics, annual mandatory “general military training,” or GMT, which is currently full of sexual harassment courses, cyber awareness tips such as “don’t put a thumb drive in your computer,” and motorcycle safety warnings needs to be scuttled. Military training should be about the military. Every sailor (including officers) needs to practice discharging a firearm, at least annually. And fitness matters, too. Under the cloak of COVID, the Navy cut its fitness evaluations by 50 percent and replaced sit-ups with a less-strenuous plank. The next secretary of the Navy must raise, not lower, standards.

Deterrence only comes from strength. It’s past time the U.S. Navy cut the fat and goofy emojis and boost its sailors and fleet to a wartime footing.

Morgan Murphy is a former national security advisor and Pentagon press secretary.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.


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