Today is not the day…but tomorrow might very well be.
by Tracy A Barkhimer, Captain, USN (Ret)
Opinion based on personal observations
17 September 2023
Today is not the day to take on the US Navy. This message is going on a ‘loud hailer’ and so far, it’s being heard. But are the intended recipients, our adversaries, listening? So far, yes. So far. But tomorrow is another day.
Are we, as a nation listening? Are we as individual citizens listening? Are we taking action? I don’t believe we are!
‘Today is not the day…’ to mess with the US Navy, to mess with American, has been transmitted repeatedly over the course of the past couple of years and it’s increasing with frequency. And with urgency. It’s never been more evident than at a number of events I’ve attended this past 2 months or as seen in the press.
Our US Navy leadership is working very hard, every day, to deter a war in the Indo Pacific. And while we are the best fighting force on the planet today, our ‘near peers’ are getting alarmingly close to matching our capabilities. Our margins of advantage are eroding quickly. China is getting bolder, daily, and it’s a pretty good bet that they will take advantage of some of our challenges at home – there are no secrets in this world. I would even go so far as to argue that China has actually become our ‘here peers’. The initial fight will be in their backyard, and we don’t want to come to our front door. We should all listen.
Our Navy Fleet, as well as our sister services, are behind in readiness across the board and we need to get better. We must get better. We are behind in adopting and implementing innovation. We must innovate quicker. If you haven’t heard the latest mantra, it’s ‘Get Real, Get Better”. We, need to get ready. We, need to be ready. ‘We’ the US Navy, ‘We’ the People. We need to give our warfighters the equipment and tools to ensure they are ready, capable and lethal.
I focus on our Sailors in this opinion piece, because I’m retired Navy, and because our Navy will be the first to the fight this time. It’ll be an away game, our ability to supply readiness/capabilities forward, which is currently challenged in peacetime, will be even more challenged when contested logistics of a large theater conflict. But all of my comments can easily apply to our Marines, Soldiers, Guardians, and Airmen too. We, collectively are not arming our defense forces adequately. And it’s time we all ‘get real and get better’.
Freedom is not free…. It’s not! Our very freedoms in America are being threatened as you read this. I’m not sure about you but I’d like my children and grandchildren to be able to choose a second language to speak rather than have them must speak Mandarin.
So while our Navy leadership and industry partners attacks unsustainable cost growth and reduces readiness numbers to deliver full mission capable ships and air wings, there are things we as Americans can do ourselves. To get real and get better.
And so I offer some ideas, on how we can all get real and get better today, some from our Navy leadership, but I absolutely welcome any input and discussion because this fight will take a country and not just a village to win.
- If you are a citizen, seek to educate yourself and others on current events. Issues that matter beyond our borders. Ask yourself, what if? What if China attacks Taiwan? What if we have a war in the Pacific? What will it mean for us in the United States of America? What will it mean to our borders at home? What about inside of our borders: our economy, our supply chains; and our freedoms. Don’t be complacent. Ignorance is not, nor will it be bliss if China provokes war. Read a little every day.
- Use your voice. We all have a voice in this country. As a great example…while we have absolutely incredible leaders acting to keep our Navy afloat, and our sister services operational, the right leaders are not being promoted or assigned to their rightful jobs because of Congress. Write to your Senators and insist that they find another way to get ‘their pork’. It only takes 5-10 minutes to write a letter to your congressional representatives. The Senator from Tennesee is hurting the DoD by leaving us with leadership gaps at the highest levels. He’s hurting the American people. Find another way Senator.
- We’re in a competition. A competition where time matters. Industry and Government Acquisition needs to not just find but execute innovative ways to put ‘stuff’ on contract faster. Stuff that our warfighters need. DoD 5000 has recently granted the most empowerment to our Program Managers and acquisition agencies in decades. So much so that I wish I were in command at Naval Air Systems Command today. Almost. But if I were still in uniform, I’d be challenging the status quo each and every day. If you’re in the defense acquisition workforce, at any level, ask yourself, ‘what can I do today, to make the process go faster?’
- For our Veteran’s, educate our younger generations of the merits and opportunities of enlisting or commissioning in the services offers. If you’re retired, teach. Parents, learn about the services and talk to your children about supporting the DoD in one way or another. Or Government Civilians, help recruit for our civilian workforce. According to the National Defense Industrial Association, the DoD has slashed defense workers to a third of what they were in 1985 and almost 17,000 companies have left the industry for a plethora of reasons. And our adversaries know all this.
- Congress, invest more in non-traditional military capabilities, such as lower cost autonomous systems, in the air, on and under the water and on the ground. Invest in innovation. Fund open architecture (OA) efforts so we can not only deploy faster, but upgrade quicker and sustain our weapons systems in the out years. So we can provide our warfighters with the systems they need without reducing readiness. Fully fund our DoD.
- There are lots of articles on how to prepare for and survive a war as civilians and might I suggest it’s time to start thinking about it. What happens if a mass cyber-attack is launched on our homeland from the other side of the planet? Lots of potential scenarios to think about. COVID took us all by surprise and many of us were not ready. There are other scary ones too. Learn what you can do. Talk to and prepare your family. Consider stockpiling. Wars drain resources like nothing else. What if the supermarket shelves didn’t have toilet paper for months? What about other necessities. Learn basic survival and sustainment skills. First Aid.
As Admiral Richarson, USN (Ret) said at the Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Summit (FMMS) in San Diego earlier this month, ‘He who learns faster, wins’. Learn.
And while a clear sense of urgency was strongly emphasized by ADM Aquilino and VADM Whitesell at Hook 2023 in August, and ADM (Ret) Lescher at the Air Boss Change of Charge (CoC) in San Diego earlier this month, RADM Yvette Davids, USN, Acting Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Acting Commander, Naval Surface Force, US Pacific Fleet, the acting SWO Boss, at FMMS, closed her ‘Call to Urgency’ with a poignant reminder and a question for all of us. She said, “To win, we all need to do our parts of the system. What will you do on your watch?”
In closing, I challenge each of us to self-reflect, become as informed as possible and ask, ‘what am I doing to support our DoD and our nation and what am I doing to prepare for and win this fight?’ What are you doing on your watch?
Because TODAY IS NOT THE DAY, but tomorrow is only a day away. And we cannot wake up to another December 8th.