I started this blog when I assumed command of US Fleet Forces Command because I wanted to get feedback from the deckplate on the current state of the fleet as well as different perspectives and ideas on particular topics. I have been very happy with the comments you have provided me and your feedback has really helped shape my thinking.

Now that I am approaching my six month mark in command, I would like to change the format of this blog in a manner which I hope will benefit us both – but particularly increase what you get out of the time you devote to reading and responding to my posts.

For the past six months, I have asked questions that can pretty much be mapped to one or more of my three primary concerns as Commander, USFF: to provide forces ready for tasking to our Combatant Commanders, to sustain those forces (including our people) so that we may fight today’s wars, tomorrow and get our ships, submarines, and aircraft to their expected service life, and to ensure our force deploys confident in their readiness to execute their missions through adhering to the tried and true standards that have benefited our Navy throughout our history.

Based on the picture of Fleet conditions I’ve developed over the past six months, I intend to transition away from predominately asking questions to letting you know my thoughts and informing you of the decisions I’ve made. The value of your comments will not diminish, quite the contrary, but hopefully this will give you a better opportunity to understand what is on my mind and the actions I am taking.

That said, one area I have significant concern with is the confusion between “taking risk” and lowering standards. As Navy made hard decisions over the past six years to meet growing Combatant Commander force demands, come off the manpower glideslope, and fund recapitalization after the “procurement holiday” of the 1990s; we began to use phrases such as “taking risk.” Taking risk was often used to describe the actions that must be taken to “do more, with less.” What really occurred in some instances was we did more, but we did it less well and we lowered our standards.

As we recapitalize the fleet, meet Combatant Commander demand, and properly invest in the sustainment of our ships, submarines, and aircraft, we cannot lower the tried and true standards which have served our Navy for over 230 years. Recent incidents – HARTFORD, JAMES E WILLIAMS, and flight discipline lapses – are just some examples that illuminate areas where we must re-educate, reinvigorate, and reinforce the bedrock importance of our tried and true standards that run the gamut from how we operate, to how we maintain, to our conduct, and the concept of accountability. As a Fleet Commander, fewer resources means that there are things we will do less, but that must not result in doing things less well. More to follow.
All the best, JCHjr.

Cross posted from U.S. Fleet Forces blog

Posted by ADM John C. Harvey, Jr. in Navy

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  • ADM Harvey,

    Outstanding set-up for a subject that goes to the core of what we do. I commend your comments in the penultimate paragraph that outline very well where we have lost a proper definition for some of the words we use.

    To move in the direction you desire I would suggest two things – not directed to you personally, but to leaders from the junior NCO on up:

    – First, we need to speak to each other in a simpler, more direct manner. From the messages we xmt, the speeches we give, and the directions we give our subordinates – we need to be as clear and simple as possible. We have let consultant speak, business school lingo, and various schools of what I call “Happy Talk” dilute the message about where the Navy leadership want us to go, how we get there, and what the individual Sailor’s role in it is.

    In the age of instant communication that we live in, a leader cannot say one thing to congress, another to a private organization, another to his staff, and another to the Fleet. Sailors can read and compare all of them in one google search. Too many inconsistencies and mixed signals degrade credibility and effectiveness.

    Many times, trying to divine the actual core priorities can be like reading entrails. When we speak, we should speak as Sailors to Sailors in a language we understand, and with a bluntness and clarity that is needed in our profession. With simplicity, communication takes place faster and processing information leads to fewer mistakes.

    – Second, actions speak louder than words. Rumor, bad gouge, and misplaced priorities by subordinates multiply in an insecure environment built by what was described in the above paragraph. The old phrases of “you get what you inspect” and “reward what you want more of” apply. Act on a priority and others will follow.

    We can’t talk of optimal manning – and then look the other way as COs beg borrow and haggle for a few bodies here and there to get their ships ready for INSURV or go on deployment – taking those personnel from other “optimal manning” platforms that have plenty to do themselves. We need to place as a top priority those things which are most important to our core mission success – and follow it up by shifting those resources from other areas that are not a priority. That will send a signal.

    When those at the pier or the hangar deck look at their greatest need – be it personnel or materiel – and see that same priority being acted on, then they will respond. Otherwise, well meaning but dangerous decisions will be made at the pier and hangar to “work around” or “take risks” with their greatest needs in order to meet the decoupled “greatest need/priority” of senior leadership.

    Just as an example, in the last couple of years we have seen Commanding Officers relieved due to a shortfall in their performance on their core warfare speciality. We had Commanding Officers running their high-demand low-density aircraft off runways in theater who, upon review, not only failed to fly enough hours to maintain currency in their aircraft – their career total hours were incredibly low – low on a unprecedented level – on par with what some junior officers had just a few years ago, much less CDRs.

    We have had Commanding Officers run aground in broad daylight in good weather – who it turned out had very little time at sea compared to what would be expected.

    To move back to a clear definition of “taking risks,” we should also ask ourselves if as an institution what we consider a priority, and then if we select leaders who match those priorities – and what are those tradeoffs that we are willing to take. Are these the tradeoffs we want or need?

    Do we have a command climate that will let a CO say, “I am not ready to deploy, I need more XXXX and time to address YYYY; and sir, I would like to show you a few things in person if you have time this afternoon. BM1 has an old set of coveralls and boots that are about your size, don’t bring your good ones.” Or, “No Commodore, LCDR XXX should not leave his DH tour early and take that job – he only has XXXX hours and almost no instructor pilot time. He came here with fewer hours than many of my JOs – and unless he gets more hours, he is going to be a problem as a CO.” ?

    Perhaps we are moving in that direction – but the last 18-months tells me that we have more work to do. In any event – these changes take time.

    Good people will take risks and lower standards when they see a need to meet a higher priority – good people can make bad decisions when they are under pressure from conflicting signals.

    If we set and demonstrate sound priorities – and reward leaders that make hard decisions to meet those priorities, then we will see a shift. It takes slow, firm, steady pressure over multiple PCS cycles to effect change.

    Starting the conversation as you outline is a great venue. I wish you luck.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Admiral Harvey,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Your salient question, to wit, the difference between taking risks and lowering standards, drive perhaps the majority of concerns expressed in forums like this one.

  • jwithington


    Thank you very much for continuing an open dialogue with the online community! I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how midshipmen could sensibly “take risks” without lowering our standards? Moreover, do you have any thoughts on how to instruct this valuable lesson to plebes?

    Very respectfully,

  • Admiral Harvey,

    With some reporting that we are headed toward a 240 ship Navy, I am curious about ‘your’ specific meaning of “recapitalize the Fleet”?

    Also, what ‘flight discipline lapses’ are you referring to?

    Thank you.

    Vr/Mike Lambert
    USN – retired

  • ColonialSailor

    ADM Harvey,

    We miss your history notes at the Pentagon, Sir!
    I believe that our single largest risk that we are undertaking right now is extending the service life of our ships, specifically our amphibs, with the stroke of a pen without funding their midlife upgrades as needed (let alone plan, program budget and execute significant new construciton). I have not yet heard any leadership in the Navy sound a klaxon on Capital Hill, yet our offices are operating in fiscal crisis mode with much uncertainty as POM 12 comes to a close.

    The Navy has many new and diverse mission sets to execute in the second decade of the 21st century. The case has to be made in Washington that the pace and diversity of operations is unsustainable with the resources provided; that the alternative, a loss of sea dominance, would be untenable to maintaining our way of life. Patch solutions, such as OPNAV reorganizations and “enterprise acquisitions”, are conceived in business school BOGSATs, functioning more or less to get Senators off our backs and in time never really permanently fix acquisition problems.

    Sir, the Fleet deserves better. We are accepting risk that is being thrust down upon us by Congress and an Administration content with the current OPTEMPO and its 283 (and decreasing) ships by not pushing back publicly. The SWO inside us all demands that we make due with less, work harder, work longer, but eventually we will look like a hybrid of the Russian and UK Royal Navies if we keep this up.

    Sir, I’m nowhere as knowledgeable or experienced as you. But to me, the answer is that we provide a realistic number of ships, aircraft, personnel and OPTEMPO/mission sets that the DoD funding guidance supports in POM 12 in a C1 state of readiness. It may seem backwards to our motivated, forward leaning warfighters, but to half-execute off of a playbook/MARSTRAT that envisions 313 ships that we don’t and won’t ever have strikes me as not the best way to utilize our talented Sailors.

    Final point: the “Rons (LHDRON, LSDRON, CGDDGRON, LCSRON, etc..).” They are the best thing that CNO Roughead has instituted. They are getting to ground truth faster and more effectively than any other organization has before them. We need to make better usage of their “truth.”

    Good luck, Sir. We’re behind you.

  • BanHammer

    ADM Harvey,

    My perspective from my program office seat is that “taking risk” has been interpreted as “choosing to let certain things go and hoping they won’t hurt us.” Our ability to properly support the Fleet is in jeopardy because the O&MN/OPN funds required for maintenance and training have been gutted by Congress and OPNAV in favor of development of the new, poorly-defined, dreamed-up-in-the-corner shiny. Never mind that crews have to buy their own tools. Never mind that our funding for running down system bugs has been gutted and that we can barely get funding for updated system documentation for operators. We can’t afford schoolhouses ashore or proper afloat training systems, so crews have to depend on test and cert events in order to scrape together enough training time to check the box. The training folks in Norfolk will tell you the same thing. They see the ship reports that claim that all the training boxes have been checked – but that’s clearly impossible given the requirements, manning turnover, lack of resources, and time constraints these ships are stuck with. I’m not sure you can change this as USFF, but you are a voice that even OPNAV can’t ignore.

    Another factor is the knock-on effects of major acquisition decisions gone bad. The Fleet needs to step it up and constantly put its nose in OPNAV’s business to insist that its current and future needs are met. And nothing else. Believe me, there would be more funds available for everything if the Fleet had stood up and screamed that DD 21 didn’t need to be a modern HMS Warrior in order to deliver naval fires, or that no one had explained to its satisfaction how it was supposed to use LCS. Right now, a bunch of short-timer OPNAV ROs stick us (and you) with whatever they decide is best without any real connection to operational realities. Acquisition should be demand-driven by the Fleet; right now, it’s supply-driven by Washington. USFF and its brethren are big enough to be taken seriously in a fight. The program offices desperately want to help you, Admiral, but our hands our tied by our masters.

    Finally, the O-3s and O-4s who have rotated in from the Fleet recently have told us that at least some accountability and discipline problems stem from the fact that the crews increasingly don’t see a connection between what they do and real combat readiness. The modern Navy emphasizes box-checking and hiding failures vice doing what needs to be done, in the right way, so that we’re ready to fight. Your COs and XOs are afraid of reporting any problems at all because they know it could cost them their careers. Their people are constantly being told to stop complaining and just get things done so that no one notices a problem. Crews always ask, “Why is all of this stuff important?” The answer should be, “Because it’s necessary for wartime operations.” Too often, it’s “Because it’s necessary for my FITREP and my career.”

    Sir, I’m just a program office desk jockey, but I’ve always advocated that the solution is to show crews the point of what they’re doing: get the ships to sea, repeatedly put their crews under operational stress (even if only in exercises and drill), and reward whoever shows they can hump the gear. The rest are inadequate for our nation’s needs. A CO whose ship repeatedly fails that test should get enough black marks put in his book to keep him from doing damage anywhere important for the rest of his career. The same goes for junior officers and chiefs who can’t meet their operational responsibilities.

  • MR T’s Haircut


    I am concerned about numbers. We simply need more platforms. Additionally, we cannot be all things to all people. We need a straight forward unified NAVAL STRATEGY that is straight talk clear and concise and answers the core question of what we will do, how we will do it, where we will do it and why we will do it. Simple, straight talk.

    To get the numbers we need, we need to go ala ADM Halsey and Strip Ship. All combustible, non-warfighting, non contributing excess must be jettisoned over board. Start with shore staffs. How many ships and systems can we build and pay for by trading for say CNIC and a chunk of their bloated Staff? Mostly civilians and contractors IMO.

    Look at the menu sir. I would rather order a BMD asset than a Regional Shore Command…

    good luck Sir, history is watching.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Memo for the Admiral:

    After weathering a bout of rough seas, the Bosun’s locker is full of gear adrift. Where to start? Methinks you face an analogous sitution. Our Navy has a lot of gear adrift. A lot of groundings, collisions, accidents, sex scandals, and badly managed programs. Not that any of the above is news to you.

    A lot of gear adrift.

    Where to start? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The point is the time for talk, consensus, studies, et al is not now. Now is the time to start. Pick a spot, any spot, any program, any issue, any negative trend and get everybody under your authority available for the working party working, now.

    My opinion? Too many flag officers, too few ships. Start at the easy end. Cut the flag roster…in half. By that I mean cut or downgrade or combine half the flag billets and cut half the Admirals orders home. Keep the impatient, the blunt, the unreasonable, the truthful, dedicated, smart ones who find leading troops a pleasure, but are too short, too blunt, too brusque with their seniors. The ones who get things done, while getting more of their people promoted and reenlisted, while annoying the hell out of the ISIC, and passing their inspections and innovating without permission. Look for the ones who stay at sea and get steered away from staffs.

    The Navy becomes who it promotes. Let’s become people like the Admiral who pulled Dunkirk out of his hat, the Commander who would never get promoted so he stayed at sea and killed more UBoats than anybody else in the Royal Navy, the Commander who was frankly a little weird, who led the very weird to break the Japanese code before Midway (and got shafted for his efforts by empire builders in DC), and the Captain who captured a UBoat without anybody’s permission (causing a big OPSEC headache because if the Germans found out they would dump the codes we and the Brits had broken wide open).

    Do that, sir, and the standards will take care of themselves in due course. You will get the truth, with the bark on. Don’t have any Bulkeleys or Rickovers or Momsens in the flag ranks? Keep retiring and promoting until you do.

    You won’t win the Iditerod Dogsled Race with show dogs, if you take my meaning.

    Then get some good ships built the right way, fast. You will have the folks who can do it.

    One old long retired stormy petrel’s opinion. Thank you for your time and attention.

  • ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN

    MIDN Withington, if I were going to try to illustrate the difference between taking risk and maintaining standards to your plebes, here’s how I’d do it:

    Get them together aboard a YP and talk about a simple evolution that takes place everyday throughout the Fleet – getting underway.

    Lesson 1 – to say that ships (including YPs) get underway is a misstatement; the truth is trained, qualified Sailors get ships underway.
    On a ship, you’d like to have at least a 3 section watchbill for all ship control and engineering plant control watch stations. 3 sections means a 4 X 8 or 6 X 12 watch rotation – not the best, but very doable for an extended underway with everything else that goes on during a standard underway day.
    When the ship’s Senior Watch Officer (generally the senior line Dept head after the XO) promulgates the underway watchbill, the only names that can appear on the watchbill are those whose qualification for the specific watch assigned watch is complete and documented iaw the ship’s PQS and training program.
    Allowing only fully and properly qualified watchstanders to stand a watch is an example, a particularly critical example, of maintaining standards.
    Now, if instead of 3 properly qualified OODs, lets say I had only 2 available due to one of the 3 having to go on emergency leave. As the CO, I may decide to still get underway and have the OODs stand a port and starboard (6 x 6, lets say) watch rotation.
    This is clearly not a desirable situation, but, nonetheless, I can decide to take the risk to get underway with only 2 OODs, but with the full understanding that I will maintain the standard of having only a fully qualified OOD stand the watch and the expectation that the OOD will be capable of maintaining the standards expected of an underway OOD despite the more demanding watch rotation.
    The fact that I’ve decided to take the risk of getting underway with only 2 OODs does not absolve me of the responsibility to ensure proper watchstanding standards are maintained at all times. With command authority and responsibility comes accountability – this means that if, for whatever reason, I cannot maintain proper watchstanding standards and, as a result, harm comes to my ship or crew as a result of my decision then I can expect to be held accountable for whatever happened.
    Give that a try, OK?
    I hope we get to meet again soon and have another good talk; I enjoyed our last one very much. All the best, JCHjr

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Admiral Harvey,

    Just over to FFC blog site, as this question sat for a couple of days in the skillet on simmer.

    Wow. You certainly got an earful. Some superbly crafted comments, all germane to the issues at hand. These arguments echo across 230+ years, loudest in 1950, 1940, 1917, 1861, 1812….

    Your sailors, officer and enlisted are ALWAYS, ALWAYS, the best judges of the capability and readiness of their ships and the fleet. And they know where the decisions were made to put them into the situation they are in.

    Please do two things:

    First, pass on to senior Navy and DoD leadership in STRONGEST terms what they have told you. It may do no good, but that is of secondary importance, as now they know you know.

    Second, let them know what Viscount Slim said to his 14th Army, “Your success is your success, your failure is all mine.”

    More of both is precisely what the US Navy needs.

    Best of luck.

  • ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN

    All, I apologize for the delay in getting back to many of you, as you can imagine, things are pretty busy here as we make sure we are doing everything we can for the people of Haiti.

    Your comments and feedback are very helpful and precisely what I was hoping for when I decided to adjust the format of my threads.

    CDR Salamander, I completely agree with you regarding the way we communicate. I firmly believe that everything begins with trust which can only be achieved through clear, concise, and honest communication. I know you will hold me to task in this area.

    Mike Lambert, when I say “recapitalize the Fleet” I mean increase the capacity of our fleet through increasing the number of ships we have. CNO’s goal is to get the Fleet to 313 ships; my job is to ensure we sustain the ships that we have to their expected service life. As for my reference to flight discipline lapses, I was referring to recent incidents where demonstration flights were not flown as briefed.

    I very much appreciate everyone’s ideas and comments regarding our resource challenges and what they mean for the Fleet. I do not want to over simplify, but my immediate focus is on ensuring our forces, particularly our surface ships, are properly maintained (through adequate resourcing and manning) and our Sailors are effectively trained for the missions they must execute. We are in a challenging environment, one that I compare to permanent whitewater. We will continue to make progress in these areas – inaction means we are losing ground. All the best, JCHjr