Lessons learned and relearned – TTG

It’s tempting for Americans to get smug about the sinking of the Moskva, the Russian Navy’s flagship in the Black Sea. Whether it was destroyed by Ukrainians or — less plausibly — sunk because of a non-combat onboard explosion of ammunition, the result is both a humiliation and a setback for Vladimir Putin’s war efforts. If you’re cheering Ukraine’s defenders, it’s hard not to take some satisfaction in that.

But America’s fleet might also be more vulnerable than you think. For several years now, going back to a pair of collisions separately involving the U.S.S. John S. McCain and U.S.S. Fitzgerald in 2017, there have been a series of reports indicating that the U.S. Navy is overstretched, overworked, and under-maintained, and thus increasingly vulnerable as it goes about the expensive task of patrolling the world’s oceans. 

A February report by the Government Accountability Office broke down the ugly details of how Navy personnel are struggling to keep their ships running properly.  “Some crew members provided examples of parts such as electrical safety equipment being on backorder for up to 2 years and described difficulties locating consumable materials such as filters, specific types of oil, and protective clothing for themselves,” the GAO reported. “Ten of the 16 ships’ crews we met with stated that they resorted to cannibalizing parts — that is, taking functional parts away from other ships, in turn leaving them less-than-operational — so their respective ships could remain operational.”

America might have what is regarded as the most powerful navy in the world — China has the largest, but many of its ships are smaller —  but it is clearly fragile. And that’s a problem. “The U.S. Navy is on the verge of strategic bankruptcy,” Christopher Dougherty, a former assistant defense secretary, wrote last year. “Its fleet isn’t large enough to meet global day-to-day demands for naval forces. Due to repeated deployments and maintenance backlogs, the fleet also isn’t ready enough to meet these demands safely, nor can it quickly surge in an emergency.” He concluded that “the risk of its debts coming due suddenly (and perhaps violently) will increase.”

Even without those challenges, there is also the question of whether the U.S. Navy is built for the modern world. Just as aircraft carriers once replaced battleships as the backbone of the fleet, there are now questions about whether America’s carrier-based fleet is overly vulnerable to a new generation of Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles. And those questions are likely to get more pertinent if it turns out the Ukrainians really did take out the Moskva with their new Neptune missile.  America has spent much of the 21st century learning that the overwhelming power of its armed forces isn’t always so overwhelming. The sinking of the Moskva is a sign that such a lesson might also extend to the U.S. Navy. Finding out the hard way might be disastrous.  


Comment: Each time a naval ship is struck by one of these missiles, the doubts reemerge. The technology race between naval surface ships and anti-ship missiles is a serious problem just as the race between tanks and anti-tank missiles. The above article makes that point. However, the main point deals with the readiness of our sailors. After the Battle of Savo Island, the Navy made numerous technological and procedural changes. However, Admiral Turner assessed why his forces were so soundly defeated in a different way.

“The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise”. 

This is a lesson that navies and armies have had to learn and relearn throughout history. It’s a shame military leaders seem to lack the discipline and humility to retain that lesson.


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11 Responses to Lessons learned and relearned – TTG

  1. TV says:

    The biggest problem with the USN (same as the other services) starts at the top.
    Politicians in uniform angling for their cushy retirement.
    For the last several decades, USN brass has repeatedly demonstrated gross incompetence.
    Massive waste of money on ships that don’t work, strategic “thinking” of a third grader, spending money and time on “diversity” instead of maintenance.
    A Navy run by politicians would look like this.
    All we can hope for is the China navy is equally inept and corrupt.

  2. Degringolade says:


    I guess that I am just getting old, but most of my time taking the President’s coin was spent in the immediate post-Vietnam era. Folks seem to forget just how broken that Army was and how long it took to dig out.

    I think that the Army now might be pretty broken too. The Navy might even be more so. We are entering a brave new world where the old truths of what works might not be all that true anymore. The world hasn’t stopped turning.

    That is why I am so damn leery about any involvement on the South Russian Steppes. I just think that there to too much chance of us not “winning”. Hell we might even go all the way to “losing”.

    I hope that this attitude doesn’t offend too many folks. I was an 11B. We don’t tell that many war stories, and we know just what a shit deal wars actually are. All we try to do is survive them.

    • TTG says:


      We’re all getting old. I’m also a veteran of the post-Viet Nam hollow Army. Rifle platoons in the 25th Infantry were lucky to 25 men and never went above 30. Weapons platoons were fully manned. We’d probably be considered combat ineffective today. We had a lot of dope smokers on an island famous for its wild growing pakalolo. Still, we trained hard and took it all seriously, especially after we learned our light infantry had a secondary mission of fighting in Europe. Our leadership at all levels was competent and caring. Maybe all this was a fluke, but I’m damned glad I was there at that time.

      Your attitude certainly doesn’t offend me. War is an abomination. The only real war I experienced was in Lebanon’s Shouf Mountains in SF with the Lebanese 8th Brigade in ’83. That was a fight. Luckily, all I got out of that was tinnitus, like a chorus screaming in my head. Sure would be nice to experience silence again.

  3. mcohen says:

    A poem of advice.non think tank

    he came from the east
    had coal black eyes
    the mark of the beast
    he dressed in disguise

    he gathered up an army
    in the name of the Lord
    as far as one could see
    a mighty horde

    he led them from city to city
    which they burnt to the ground
    they showed no pity
    destroyed all they found

    finally they came to a mighty river
    where they encamped for the night
    a cold wind blew a shiver
    in the dying light

    the next morning there stood
    on the opposite bank
    a single warrior in cape and hood
    his name was frank

    a challenge went out
    one man against the horde
    no doubt an uneven bout
    with only a shield and sword

    they say frank put up a brave fight
    slew many an enemy warrior
    but finally fell to an axe bite
    that broke the barrier

    I can tell you quite frankly
    what the moral of the story might be
    it is to choose your battles wisely
    if you ask me.

  4. Fred says:

    Train the way you plan on fighting. The Russians apparently planned on fighting with single ships with no escorts for anti-missle defense. Their damage control/fire fighting was how effective? Not only did they lose the flagship and that radar platform, they lost all the weapons compliment on board, including all those missles.

    As for our Navy, It is worse than you think:

    The operational tempo has been too high for too long because of foreign deployments of marginal value to the US national security. The lack of electrical equipment repair parts sounds familiar, but how much of that is the supply officer mismanaging his budget? (It always helps to have a friend in the quartermaster’s office ashore, and know how to do a little trading among the squadron).

  5. jim ticehurst says:

    ..Ah Yes…Chinese Anti Ship Ballestic Missles..I Remember Reading How CIC Barack Obama Invited The Russian and Chinese Military ..and Spies..To Come on Over to America..Look at Anything They Want..Military Bases..Aircraft..Army..Ah Ships..All Kinds.
    .The Chinese Officers Were Reported to Be Very Happy When Touring Our Aircraft Carriers..And ..asking…What a Carriers Weak Point Was…and Were Told…The Bottom of the Hull is Under armored..So a New Generation of Anti Ship Missiles..
    And We Let The Russian Air Force fly Around..Geo Mapping Every Where..
    And The List Does Go On and On..
    And The Chinese Steal and Know every thing..Even Your Shoe Sizes..and What You Eat..
    Every thing Trump Was Fast Tracking Is Done..Finished ..To Late..Not Funded..and
    Our Stuff is Outdated..Worn Out..And Probably Not Capable of Responding To Three
    Global Threats at Once..And Guard The “Home Land”..
    .Ukraine is Being Destroyed by .a Thousand Missiles..and Bullets..to the Head..
    American has Been 80 Percent Destroyed By a Thousand Knife Cuts..(Many She Wolf Claw Marks) .,,and Perversion and Corruption..In High Places..
    Unheard of in Scope..or Operation in American History..
    No Checks..Only Laundered Money..no Balances..The Scales Have Corrupted
    The Temples Doors..
    Yes Mr Xi..Mr Putin..This is Indeed The Year of the Rat..

    • Fred says:


      You should take a look at college enrollment from China, especially the graduate programs, fellowships and internships. It’s almost like the left is outsourcing opportunity rather than creating it for Americans.

  6. I have, since the 80’s, had the sense the Old World would move on by us for awhile, but it will give us the time to reset and shed a lot of the BS that’s built up over the last century.
    People are linear and goal oriented, but nature is cyclical.
    Some is seed. The rest is fertilizer.

  7. Life is like a sentence.
    The end is just punctuation.
    What matters is how well you tie the rest of the story together.

  8. Leith says:

    Sea skimming anti-ship missiles are not a new thing. Hopefully we have been preparing defenses since HMS Sheffield 40 years ago. And the near sinking of USS Stark 35 years ago. Stark’s Phalanx CIWS was reportedly in standby mode at the time. Sounds a bit like Admiral Turner was right about American arrogance. Fred’s link is downright scary (12 ship functional areas out of 21 evaluated as DEGRADED in 2021). Although I suspect there may be similar material readiness issues in the Army and USMC.

    There were hollow divisions pre-VietNam as well as post. I don’t know about the Army, but some USMC regiments back in 1960 had one battalion in cadre status commanded by a company grade officer and manned by armorers and mechanics. Battalions did the same with one of their rifle companies. I heard from Korean War vets that it was the same in the interlude between WW2 and Korea.

    Off topic: Ukraine has mobilized its reserve armored units. 3rd Tank Brigade is already in action near Izium. Interesting article in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/04/18/ukraine-has-mobilized-its-tank-reserves-theyre-already-on-the-attack/?sh=5f527f0936cd

    • TTG says:


      Good find on that Forbes article. I knew Ukraine had around 100,000 in reserves to be mobilized, but knew nothing beyond that. This article answers a lot of questions. The Russians haven’t touched those reserve units yet.

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