The Verdict Is In: Incompetence & Poor Training

The U.S. Navy’s five month investigation of the sorry Farsi Island riverine patrol boat debacle is finally over and a report has been released. The verdict? Gross incompetence and poor training. This was obvious to even an uninformed outsider; what is amazing is that the Navy took swift punitive action against the command staff of the riverine squadron and publicly acknowledged the failures that led up to the incident. In an earlier blog post I figured even an admission to what was obvious would never happen, so I give the Navy kudos for stepping up  and owning the whole sorry mess, albeit at the rank of captain and below.

The final investigatory report revealed additional details about the patrol boat seizures that were even more alarming than what was admitted initially. The sailors, after being captured, revealed sensitive technical information and equipment passwords with very little pressure by Revolutionary Guard interrogators. U.S. servicemen are supposed to be trained to release only name, rank, and serial number. The riverine squadron commander had ordered the patrol boats on a 250 nautical-mile transit, at the limit of the boat’s typical mission parameters, without proper training, ship maintenance, mission preparation, and oversight. The ship crews were incapable of using the navigational equipment at even a basic level of competency. The junior officer in command of the two boats agreed to appear in an apology video in contradiction to his own training on behavior in captivity.

But the most disturbing detail released was that the boats’ commander ordered the crews to stand down and step away from weapons when the Guard vessels approached. This was in contravention of a standing order to defend themselves from any threats. “I didn’t want to start a war with Iran,” one of the NCO’s in charge of a patrol boat told incredulous investigators. “My thought at the end of the day was that no one had to die for a misunderstanding.”

No, it was much better to leave his crew’s fate to the fanatical and murderous militia of a rogue state. The testimony raised serous question about a military for which U.S. citizens are entrusting the country’s defense. Why does the Navy even bother to arm its ships at all?

The Navy relieved both the task force commander with overall responsibility of the riverine squadron and the command of the squadron itself, and is expected to discipline the task force executive officer, the riverine squadron chief of staff, and two support staff officers. The lieutenant in charge of the patrol boats and the two NCO’s commanding each are also expected to face discipline. No officer of the 5th Fleet, which was responsible for the task force (56) and the riverine squadron, was expected to share in disciplinary action.

One wonders whether Navy training doctrine should be reexamined following this incident, particularly in regard to contact with naval units of other nations, conduct under detention, rules of engagement, and basic operational and navigational instruction. And there is no question the mall cop / peacetime attitude of throwing mission objectives and national security out the window int the face of adversity needs to be rooted out.

As foreign navies patrol closer to U.S. shorelines every year with greater and greater mission capability and criminals press the Coast Guard harder, the U.S. military needs to up their game. If the Navy cannot conduct operations in the obviously charged atmosphere of the Persian Gulf without proper professionalism and courage, it raises significant questions about the long term viability of the U.S.’s strategic interests. Let us hope that this incident is the wake-up call to the Navy brass it should be.

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