This blog has been resolute in examining and laying bare the faults of Navy leadership. This blog has also documented the significantly degraded state of the Navy as regards readiness, maintenance, training, warrior mindset, and tactics. All of these were made manifestly clear in the recent
incident in which the Iranians seized two US Navy
boats and their crews that had incompetently transited into Iranian waters. All of the faults and shortcomings that have
been discussed in this blog came together to produce one of the most
humiliating incidents in Navy history.
Here are just a few of the individual factors that led to this incident
as detailed in the just released, heavily redacted, Navy investigative report
(1). Farsi Island
- Failed to conduct mission planning, produce a concept of operations, or review the route and navigational plan
- Did not review the Plan of Intended Movement (PIM)
- Upon departure, which was several hours late, deviated immediately from the PIM in an attempt to make up time
- Failed to report the engine casualty to the
Tactical Operations Center
- Failed to report an unanticipated land sighting
) to the Farsi Island Tactical Operations Center failed to act when scheduled check-in was missed Tactical Operations Center failed to note or act when tracking equipment showed the boats heading into Iranian waters Tactical Operations Center
- Lacked a communications plan
- Lacked surface or air overwatch
- Leadership tasked the boats and crew beyond the limits of their capability
- Commander, Task Force 56 promulgated a “can do/will do” culture that frequently compromised risk management and procedural adherence
- Crews had been up most of the night before conducting maintenance on one of the boats that had broken down.
- Had to "cannibalize" parts from a third boat in order to have two working vessels.
- Experienced problems with their satellite communications gear.
- Crews were unfamiliar with the region, weather, geography, or threats
- Had insufficient crew to both maneuver and man weapons at the same time
- Failed to post lookouts or man weapons stations when the boats suffered the engine breakdown
The report makes a point of documenting command’s vision of how to handle Iranian interactions. VAdm. Donegan, Commander Fifth Fleet, communicated his intent for handling interactions with Iranian forces in this message from Dec 2015.
“When we are approaching an interaction, fundamental to your plans should be the utilization of maneuver and knowledge of the battle space to open distance and/or time so that you have more options for de-escalation and to provide additional opportunity to determine intent of the Iranian units.”
This directive embodies what’s wrong with our policy of appeasement. Why does only the
have a responsibility to deescalate? Unilateral deescalation is another way of
saying appeasement. What did this
accomplish? It led to crews that were
totally unprepared to fight and, worse, had no idea that a fight was coming or even
possible. The policy led directly to the
state of unpreparedness for combat by the boat crews and, arguably, led
directly to their seizure. US
Here is another key point. The report states that someone (the name is redacted) on boat 802, apparently the Boat Captain, disobeyed a direct order from the Patrol Officer on boat 805 to evade. His refusal of orders caused boat 805 to return to try to assist and resulted, directly, in both boats being captured. Thus, one man’s refusal of an order resulted in the direct seizure of two boats and their crews. He jeopardized both crews given that there was every reason to believe that surrendering would not turn out well.
The full report states that the boat 802 coxswain refused an order to accelerate away from the Iranian craft.
Another lesson to be had from this incident is that despite all our vaunted automation, sensors, networking, satellites, radars, data links, and sophisticated communications, we failed completely and utterly to monitor and control the boats as they inexorably violated Saudi Arabian and then Iranian territorial waters, became stranded, and were seized. And yet we want to increase our reliance on these systems. Well you know what? No system can compensate for utter incompetence and total confusion. All the data in the world is useless if you don’t know what to do with it.
Regarding the actual surrender by the boat crews, the report goes to the trouble of quoting the US Armed Forces Code of Conduct. This is incredibly significant, I think. Consider the first two items of the Code which, again, were quoted in the report.
1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
Those who argue that the crews were right to surrender without resistance would do well to read and consider the Code requirements. Military life does not come with a guarantee of safety – in fact, almost the opposite.
The report goes on to make innumerable recommendations which contain nothing that isn’t already supposed to be part of standard operations – a typical waste of a report, in that regard.
Every person in the chain of command from the boat crews on up to CNO Richardson and SecNav Mabus should be fired or court-martialed.
This is why I do this blog and why I’ve been so critical of Navy leadership. Leadership’s failure is putting sailor’s lives at risk.
As an aside, many people have speculated about conspiracies related to this incident but reading the report makes it clear that there is nothing more nefarious, here, than simple, gross incompetence on a scale that defies belief.
I am unilaterally relieving CNO Richardson for loss of confidence in his ability to command.
(1)Memorandum For The Record, Executive Assistant, Chief of Naval Operations,