In a private ceremony at the Pentagon Friday morning, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper administered the oath of office for the 77th Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth Braithwaite. Braithwaite is the third person to occupy the post in six months, following the back-to-back dismissals of Secretary Richard Spencer and Acting Secretary Thomas Modly.
Braithwaite was previously the U.S. ambassador to Norway, and he is well connected at both the Pentagon and at the White House: he worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Pennsylvania in 2016 and has a longstanding relationship with Esper. He is a Navy veteran – a former P-3 Orion pilot and public affairs officer – and he spent a combined 31 years in the Navy and the Naval Reserve.
Braithwaite enters office with a mandate to bring the Navy back on course after its recent missteps – including multiple scandals related to procurement, navigational safety and administration of military justice. He made this goal clear in his Senate confirmation hearing.
“It saddens me to say: the Department of the Navy is in troubled waters due to many factors, primarily the failings of leadership,” Braithwaite told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Whether [Fat Leonard], ship collisions, judicial missteps or the crisis on USS Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service . . . Culture is the one thing that creates for an organization a sense of belonging, a sense of good order and discipline. It is my number-one priority, if I’m confirmed, to restore the appropriate culture in the United States Navy.”
Braithwaite also affirmed his support for a 355-ship fleet – a goal that defense analysts and Navy insiders believe may be challenging to meet while maintaining funding for maintenance and manning.
“The object of success for our service is simple: American Seapower. America always has been and always will be a maritime nation. America and our principles of freedom rely on seapower delivered by a strong and capable Navy and Marine Corps,” said Braithwaite in a message to the fleet.
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