NAVAL OFFICERS FACE HARSH DISCIPLINE

Naval careers, including high-ranking flag officers, were torpedoed when 20 officers were caught in the net of the procurement scandal in the Asia-Pacific region. Now the same command is held responsible for the four naval-ship collisions this year.

The military tribunals do not accept, or cover-up, leadership shortcomings even if the damage could be accidental. The August removal of the commander of the Asia-based 7th Fleet after the loss of 17 sailor’s lives from collisions was a tough reprimand and the end of careers for the Vice-Admiral and the officers in command aboard the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain.

Immediate review of navigation protocols and safety measures on board ship was ordered by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, by shutting down routine operations in the Pacific for remedial safety training. It was an unusual order, termed an “operational pause,” or in military terms, a “stand down” so sailors can reacquaint themselves with the basics of good seamanship, as reported in The Economist.

Potential defense for the two collisions with loss of lives might be the busy sea lanes near Tokyo and Singapore. With the sophisticated radar and other equipment on ships to detect obstacles, it does seem unlikely that two ships could encounter without warning. The blame will probably focus on the officers on the command deck and their superiors who allowed lax attention to navigation and safety drills.

These collisions are not the only blot on traditional naval discipline and duty of service. The Asia-Pacific command is still reeling from the insider corruption investigation over several years that cost the Navy an estimated $38 million in overbillings for supplies and services provided by a contractor, “Fat Leonard” Glenn Francis.

Indictments of 20 naval officers and five civilians connected to the scam produced 19 guilty pleas leaving a trail of ruined naval careers. More charges are still coming down from the federal courts with assistance from “Fat Leonard” who is plea bargaining for his own indictment.

Sweeping reforms are rolling out to strengthen naval leaders’ ability to detect fraud and prevent a contractor like Leonard bribing naval personnel to get the procurement business then overcharging. Pre-approved vendors and competitive bids are now required.

In the process, 566 vendors were suspended and 548 vendors were permanently debarred from military contracts. New ethics training programs for flag officers and protection for whistle blowers are installed, according to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Insiders who were not on the Leonard bribe team would jeopardize their careers if they blew the whistle.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) was on this case for years but found the cover-ups were widespread. Leonard was always ahead of the law. He also had a mole in naval headquarters and a crooked NCIS agent who was able to explain away allegations of fraud. NCIS found that many clues were overlooked keeping Leonard in business, according to a reporter with The San Diego-Union Tribune.

Trying to understand how such a widespread scam in a military operation could slip through the naval hierarchal chain of command is puzzling. Corruption in politics is universal, even in the U.S. Somehow it does not fit into the military regime, yet bribery at the highest naval ranks does happen if the stakes are high enough.

With the potential conflict with North Korea heating up, the naval operations out in the Asia-Pacific region need to be properly controlled to avoid further goofs. I assume the top military officials in Washington and the chief of naval operations in the Western Pacific are taking appropriate action.

The North Korean war mongers have threatened to attack the air craft carrier Ronald Reagan cruising on standby near the 38th parallel and the DMZ. The more sanctions the international community impose on North Korea, Kim Jong Un responds with threats of nuclear destruction of U.S. possessions.

With this scenario, the U.S military team needs to be on alert. There are 28,000 American troops posted In South Korea, over two million foreigners (mostly Chinese), including 150,000 Americans, living in Seoul just 45 miles south of the heavily armed North Korean border at the DMZ pointed at South Korea.