A Marine F-18 launches from the USS Ronald Reagan last month in the Pacific / Navy photo by Alexander Tidd
Former naval aviator and Navy Secretary John Lehman - never one to mince words - asks Is Naval Aviation Culture Dead? in the latest issue of Proceedings, the monthly journal of the independent U.S. Naval Institute. He traces is all back to 1991′s Tailhook convention, a Las Vegas gathering of naval aviators who subjected dozens of women to sexual battery:
Whatever the facts of what took place there, it set off investigations within the Navy, the Department of Defense, the Senate, and the House that were beyond anything since the investigations and hearings regarding the Pearl Harbor attack. Part of what motivated this grotesquely disproportionate witch hunt was pure partisan politics and the deep frustration of Navy critics (and some envious begrudgers within the Navy) of the glamorous treatment accorded to the Navy and its aviators in Hollywood and the media, epitomized by the movie Top Gun.
Lehman goes on to blame "political correctness" in its various guises for the emasculation of Navy aviation, including a "massive global jihad against alcohol." Lehman, who has always had a way with words, doesn't say "drunk." Instead, he says: "over-refreshed." He also cites the military's increasing bureaucracy ("When the Department of Defense was created in 1947, the headquarters staff was limited to 50 billets. Today, 750,000 full time equivalents are on the headquarters staff.") and its zero-tolerance for snafus culture ("dancing on the edge of a cliff") as daggers aimed at the Navy's aviation culture.
But only one of those three, he maintains, can inflict a fatal wound:
While the current era of bureaucracy and political correctness, with its new requirements of integrating women and openly gay individuals, is indeed challenging, it can be dealt with without compromising naval excellence. But what does truly challenge the future of the naval services is the mindless pursuit of zero-tolerance. A Navy led by men and women who have never made a serious mistake will be a Navy that will fail.