Archive for April, 2009
One word of caution for readers: I attended a school where most of my classes were graded on a curve, so I don’t do grade inflation.
Overall: C As someone who tries to adhere to the admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”, I see little harm in listening more and talking to all the players on the world stage; however, implied in that admonition is forceful talk and action when required. In this light, there’s been little talk or anger of consequence on the national security front in the first 100 days, despite all that has transpired. Considering the President’s inexperience with national security issues, and the deluge of problems he’s faced, a passing grade is a praiseworthy achievement.
National Security Strategy: Incomplete, and my sense is the due date on this assignment is not far off. I suspect that Gen. Jones is laboring mightily on one, but excessive delays may send a message that global security problems are something to be reacted to and not planned for. You can’t shape the world if you don’t have any blueprints from which to work.
Maritime Strategy: B With the current strategy being relatively new and day-to-day operations continuing to align with the strategy, the working assumption is that the last order will remain in force. I have some concerns, however, that resources may continue to be short and not necessarily optimized for the strategy. Increased counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa are promising, though they remain a treatment for the symptoms rather than a cure.
Afghanistan/Pakistan: A Efforts in Af/Pak have been well played to date. Pressure is up on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Washington seems to have finally convinced Lahore that they can’t just look the other way on the problems building in their western provinces. The nation building and stabilization proposals have promise, but the execution is in doubt.
Iraq: B While the current plan differs little from the previous administration’s, I was not enthusiastic about it then, either. Right now in Iraq, to get an A one must only not screw it up or allow someone else to screw it up. Recent upticks in bombings and Sunni discontent threaten to screw it up, and there are no signs the current administration is reassessing.
The Middle East: B While the Administration has not undercut Israel’s desire that any Palestinian state recognize Israel and has voiced its support for a two-state solution, the resumption of funding for Iranian-backed Hamas and efforts to make an end run around legal limits are troubling and unlikely to produce any useful concessions. In addition, with Iran pulling most of the strings on the Palestinian side, it’s unlikely the Administration will be able to make a deal possible without taking on Iran.
North Korea/Iran: D The Administration appears to have resigned itself to Iran, and as a result, North Korea and probably Syria going nuclear. Scaling back plans for land-based missile defense only magnify the potential consequences of the failure. Lots of talk was dedicated to increasing dialogue and trying new ideas, but nothing significant has been produced—or even proposed—to date. North Korea and Iran desperately want to be recognized as being legitimate and influential, so in that context silence is assent and expanding ties is approval. The good news for the White House is, this grade is probably capped at a “B”.
China: C The Impeccable incident was a strong signal from the PRC that America is not necessarily welcome to operate in China’s desired sphere of influence. The response from Adm. Blair that the incident represented a serious problem was the right one, but it should have come from the mouth of the President. In addition, the signal that the U.S. would not publicly hold the PRC accountable over a safe issue like human rights leaves me wondering in what area the Administration would ever express criticism. In the positive column, however, the U.S. continues to press China to explain the purposes behind the rapid expansion of its naval forces and maintain an increased presence in the region to counterweight China’s growing influence. The signals are mixed and inconsistent between Defense and State, which is never good.
Russia: D In 100 days the Administration has managed to give away its best leverage against Russia—missile defense and NATO expansion—and probably send a signal that Russia has a free hand in its near abroad. Russian meddling in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have gone unacknowledged in Washington, and if Russia consummates a de facto takeover of any of these states, this grade will tip to an F.
Following the failures of the Boer wars Kipling wrote, “Its a difficult thing to admit it, but as a grown-up nation we should; we’ve had a hell of a beating, it will do us no end of good.” Is there a Kipling in Great Britain today? If so, he or she is probably a journalist or blogger, and likely dismissed as a malcontent.
It may or may not be time to ask the question, but I don’t think they are capable politically to have an honest debate across the pond right now, so I’ll use this space to ask the question.
I have been reading about the final withdrawal of the British military from Iraq. I am quoting from this BBC article discussing the withdrawal.
British military commanders are fiercely proud but defensive too. There are stories of unbelievable courage.
They also know, however, there are those in the Washington corridors who say Britain allowed the militias to effectively take over Basra and that the city was only freed by the Iraqi army.
They say British forces were overstretched and under-resourced and there was not the political will to support them in the fight against the militias.
“I’ve had senior military officers say to me that the Army is broken as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan”, said Lord Ashdown.
Others believe that the legacy of Iraq has weakened Britain’s will to use force globally without a clear mandate.
“I don’t think we’ll ever do that again,” said Sir Jeremy, “without a clear UN resolution… and a much wider partnership.”
Still some of these initial supporters of the war argue that it is too early for a final judgment. History shields its hand.
First this is not about effort, this is not about courage, this is not about pride, and this is not about intent. This is about the facts on the ground including the political support from home. My question is:
Was the British military defeated in Iraq?
The facts on the ground are that Britain allowed the militias to take over Basra, and that the city was freed by the Iraqi army. The BBC article suggests some in Britain are in denial about that. Britain was unable to hold the most important city in their theater of operation, and ultimately required the Iraqi forces supported by the United States to do the job they were unable to do. Political support from Great Britain clearly eroded over time, which means the entire country carries the responsibility of the military defeat.
It should be noted that the majority of citizens are OK with being defeated. While this is a damning historical note that reveals the strategic priority (or lack of strategic priority) of the Iraq war, it would be foolish to ignore that in the fine historical tradition of weak political leadership the British government is accepting military defeat and attempting to turn defeat into a cultural victory. In politics this type of behavior can be expected, but how should we judge Generals who ignore defeat and instead simply declare victory and leave?
This point is important, and a reminder of Kipling’s observations. The United States was on the verge of defeat in Iraq as well, but instead of accepting a military defeat, Secretary of Defense Gates under the Bush administration reevaluated strategy in an attempt to achieve military victory. This was followed up last month under the Obama administration when Secretary of Defense Gates reassessed requirements for achieving victory with a balanced force necessary to meet a broader spectrum of the nations strategic challenges where military power may be required. Instead of accepting a military defeat and claiming it as a cultural victory, the Obama administration is expanding the size of the military force and has kept military power in Iraq to finish the job.
The difference between a country that doesn’t accept a military defeat vs a country that does accept military defeat is the difference between a country with strong political leadership with a conviction towards victory vs a country with weak political leadership absent conviction towards victory. In my opinion, Great Britain as a Great Power is not only in decline, they are gaining speed in that decline becoming subservient to the United States in the spirit of a military puppet state.
I believe the answer to the question asked above is yes. The British Army was not only defeated in Iraq by a militia supported by a third world country (Iran), but was broken in Iraq by that foe. The British continue to lose credibility in maintaining control of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, which suggests military defeat is viewed with cultural acceptance among current political leaders. With the Royal Navy at the smallest level in several centuries, it is possible that Great Britain is a technologically advanced paper tiger with a military nowhere near sufficient to support the strategic or economic interests of that nation.
I could be wrong, but the last time the British Army was defeated this bad by a small state insurgency was when the US defeated Britain in North America supported by France led by then General George Washington. It didn’t hurt Britain as bad at that time though, because the British still took sea power seriously in those days and had something to fall back on.
In a recent op-ed piece in the Newport News Daily Press, John L. Wiley accused the crew and officers of USS COLE of “fail[ing] the United States and the Navy” when the ship was attacked in Yemen by Islamic radicals. That’s a pretty damning accusation, and much undeserved.
There was undoubtedly blame to be assigned, and it was, but to blame the crew, which implies EVERY Sailor onboard, is unfair. Which members of the crew, specifically, failed, and how so? Media reports abound regarding the incident, the aftermath, and investigation; I won’t go into all that. What I will do is point out that the crew was vindicated.
In the words of then Secretary of Defense Cohen:
While allowance was made for assignment of accountability, Secretary Cohen also pointed out that:
Well sir, there were many lessons learned. You can read about them in the USS COLE Commission Report. And now is not the time to talk less about this tragedy. The more we talk about the lessons learned, and remind our Sailors, and our citizens, that we still live a dangerous world, and young Americans are still going into harm’s way, the better.
Mr. Wiley finished his report with:
Blame the crew? I think not. Instead, Mr. Riley should join Secretary Cohen “in paying tribute to the seventeen men and women of USS COLE who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Their performance of duty was in the highest tradition of the U.S. Navy… Our nation shall not forget their sacrifice…” Mr. Wiley obviously doesn’t share those sentiments.
Several items on the docket today:
If at first you don’t succeed…
Despite five failures in 10 trials, Russia’s Defense Ministry is planning to complete a series of Bulava tests and put the ICBM into service by the end of 2009.
“Considering that we must ensure reliable performance characteristics of the [Bulava] missile, we have decided to raise the number of additional test launches to five, if everything goes well,” Vladimir Popovkin said.
Popovkin, who is visiting the Russian exposition at the IDEF-2009 arms show in Turkey, said that a faulty detail caused a test launch failure in December last year, and that the on-board systems would undergo additional ground testing in June-July prior to the next test launch.
At the same interview, it was revealed that sea trials of the Yury Dolgoruky, Russia’s first Borey class strategic nuclear submarine, are due to start in the summer, and two other Borey class nuclear submarines – the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh – are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard. They are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Russia is planning to build a total of eight submarines of this class by 2015.
While onboard BOUTWELL this week in Djibouti, crewmembers had the rare opportunity to say “Hi” to their loved ones back home while they circumnavigate the globe supporting the 5th, 6th and 7th fleets. You can see their videos here (check back over the next couple days, we have more to upload).
Let’s try a social media experiment and show your support to the crew of BOUTWELL by sending them your thanks and best wishes. You can do it three ways:
I encourage other milbloggers to take on this experiment and see how much support we can send toward the crew of the BOUTWELL from the blogosphere!
We will be sure they get all the messages, but we are sure they and their loved ones will also be checking themselves.
Here are some examples of what BOUTWELL has been up to:
Three Day Engagement Visit to Chochin India (Feb. 17-20)
The USS New Orleans (LPD 18) has been put in dry dock. MarineLog has details:
The Navy signed a firm fixed price contract with ASRY, Manama, Bahrain to repair New Orleans.
The repair contract includes planning efforts, material procurement, pre-fabrication and dry dock repair work and is expected to be completed in 10 to 14 days.
The USS Hartford (SSN 768) tore a 16-by-18-foot hole in the hull of New Orleans, ripping open a fuel tank and two ballast tanks in the New Orleans (LPD 18).
That is a big ugly hole. BZ to the sailors of New Orleans who got the ship to port with no injuries. Is it just me or is the hull a bit thin down there…
Now before you go complaining about me posting these pictures on the internet, I’ll go ahead and mention that I pulled them from one of my favorite naval open source intelligence websites, also called a Chinese bulletin board.
Yes, they are mocking us.
Remember, CNAS scribe Tom Ricks’ relationships with some of the War Colleges has gone from rocky:
A friend passed along a 2005 e-mail note in which Steven Metz, chairman of a department at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, urged several of his colleagues to blackball me because of my coverage of the Iraq war. “We all need to avoid Tom like the plague,” Professor Metz advised.
Such neglect makes me wonder whether the commandant cares about the college’s accreditation.
[Ed–from a contributor to Ricks’ blog] During the lunch in which I was approached by the faculty (three in all), I was told that my experience was not surprising. “The AWC [Army War College] is creating a closed idea environment by their policy of not allowing new ideas in here,” I recall one faculty member telling me.
So, perhaps, with that bit of context, we can better understand how the War Colleges (where students can “reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games“) got lumped into an attack on the Academies.
But, given that I’m somewhat attuned to the excellent golfing opportunities the Monterey Peninsula offers Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students, Tom’s closing golf quip got my dander up.
And when Tom pulled out two Naval Postgraduate School studies (actually a couple of student-written MA theses) to inform his ongoing dialogue (here and here), I had to go inquire about Tom’s opinion of NPS…
And I got a surprising answer from Tom. If the man “had his druthers” he’d keep the Naval Postgraduate School, the National Defense University and, perhaps, make the Naval War College a national strategic college that worked in conjunction with civilian institutions.
So, in an Tom-Ricks inspired educational BRAC, the Navy would do pretty well for itself.
Mid-level Navy officers–though under-represented in the “Capo Crimini” of the CNAS-housed
Small War mafia–do, as a community, have pretty solid support during their mid-career transition from tactical expert to strategic leader.
I’m not saying the War Colleges are perfect, or that we wouldn’t like to see a few more naval geniuses out there, but the Navy’s strong War Colleges, coupled with a uniformly strong applicant pool is why the Navy, today, is so well represented in the ranks of higher Pentagon leadership.
(Now–just in jest–would somebody let me know the next time CNAS’s Dr. John Nagl heads off to the golf links? Then I’ll pen a quick Washington Post Op-ed about DC-based military thinkers who “reinforce their biases while getting in afternoon golf games.” Heh.)
By The Bunny
Air Sovereignty Mission Needs Attention, Air Guard Chief Tells Congress
By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2009 – New commitments need to be made to the nation’s airmen and others who defend North America from threats to its air sovereignty, the Air National Guard’s senior officer told members of Congress here April 22.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air Guard, testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee in a hearing on the nation’s Air Sovereignty Alert operations.
The Air Guard operates 16 of the 18 ASA sites located across the United States to protect its airspace. ASA relies on a host of agencies, including U.S. Northern Command, North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Their service displays a commitment to job No. 1: defense of the homeland,” Wyatt said. “Our reluctance to treat Air Sovereignty Alert as an enduring mission continues to impact the men and women serving in this very important mission area.”
The general explained that past funding for the mission has been inconsistent, and that equipment quickly is nearing the end of its service life.
About 80 percent of the Air Guard’s F-16 Fighting Falcons, which fly the largest portion of the nation’s ASA missions, will reach the end of their life span in eight years. Officials also said the average age of Air Guard aircraft is more than 25 years, with KC-135 Stratotankers being the oldest at 49 years. KC-135s support the ASA mission through aerial refueling.
If Air Guard units received the “fifth-generation” fighters, such as the F-22 and F-35 sooner rather than later, the readiness issues could be avoided, Wyatt said.
“Every day without a solution, this situation becomes more and more urgent,” he told the subcommittee. “The risk of doing nothing is unacceptable, and we are examining all options to address recapitalization of these aircraft.”
Democrats and Republicans on the subcommittee expressed frustration that the Pentagon hasn’t articulated a plan to conduct the air patrol missions in light of the expected force structure reductions.
Peter Verga, deputy under secretary of defense for policy integration, said in prepared testimony that in the past, the Defense Department “was prepared to reinforce the air sovereignty mission” with U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. After the hearing, he also cited the example to Aviation Week of carrier-based Navy aircraft filling in for Air Force missions while the F-15 fleet was grounded. Fleet-wide inspections were conducted after a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C broke apart in midair when its front right longeron failed in late 2007.
Verga declined to specify when Navy aircraft may be needed for air sovereignty missions, and which fighters would be used. The Navy also predicts it will encounter a fighter shortfall without the purchase of more F/A-18E/Fs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, says the fleet has an excess capacity in tactical aircraft in light of the missions currently being conducted. (source)
So, how is this Navy’s problem/concern?
Historically, Navy has provided, on an intermittent basis, assets for the air defense/air sovereignty mission (ASM). The earliest instance was when VF(AW)-3 was stood up at San Diego and “chopped” to the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Equipped with the F4D Skyray, one of the Navy’s first supersonic fighters and the earliest outfitted to the all-weather intercept mission, the squadron’s sole job was to fly air defense missions off the southwest coast of the US and included deployments to Formosa (Taiwan) and Key West for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite winning the NORAD trophy twice as the best squadron in the command, VFAW-3 was eventually disbanded and stood down. At other times, Navy fighters, AEW and even helos and S-3s conducted missions in support of ASM (i.e., deployment of E-2B’s and E-2C’s to Iceland to fill the E-3A gap created by moving them to Saudi Arabia in 1980) and others that could be construed as ASM missions (chiefly in counter-drug smuggling flights). Recently, when the F-15 fleet was grounded following the in-flight break-up of a Missouri ANG F-15, Navy VFA F/A-18’s picked up the slack.
The concern here is twofold. On the one hand, the magnitude of the coming obsolescence of the ANG F-15 and F-16’s are such that a significant demand signal would be placed on the remaining TACAIR inventory across USAF, ANG and Navy/Marine assets since availability of F-22/F-35 production a/c will considerably lag the end-of-life of current inventories. Additionally, there is the potential impact to the current Navy TACAIR inventory which already is burning through its FLE at a much higher rate than planned. Legacy Hornet’s are closing in on center barrel replacement in large bocks due to the extended missions flown ISO of OIF and OEF. With plans to drop to 10 CVNs there are more discussions about cutting another airwing. Exacerbating things on the Navy side are cuts to the F/A-18E/F program under Secretary Gates’ new budget and delays in the F-35B and C variants of the JSF.
Some, we are sure, will simply label the AS mission as another relic of the Cold War and point to the reduced threat tot he US that could be met with a smaller number of fighters forward based against the Russian Long-Range Aviation threat. In fact, that view was gaining prominence a few years ago until events one September morning proved otherwise (viz. Operation Noble Eagle). While the Russian LRA threat remains, others are increasing. Among these are threat posed by proliferated cruise missiles, even ones with conventional vice WMD warheads. While we are looking at the threat posed by a “Scud-in-a-box” launched form offshore, the sad fact is that a “cruise-in-a-box” is an more plausible and nearer-term threat. And while Aegis CGs and DDGs are also assigned the Operation NE mission, the demand signal on those units, especially the BMD-configured ones, are sending OPTEMPOs through the roof (overhead).
So, absent dramatic procurement increases in fourth-generation aircraft, something SecDef appears loathe to pursue, the question is what mission(s), what capability(ies) will we give up to maintain the AS mission? What future CSG deployment might be passed on because a majority of a CVW’s assets were otherwise occupied in a forward deployed AS mission instead of meeting training requirements in the period between surges or its fighters were running out of FLE? What other assets besides F-16’s can be used in AS missions like counter-drug in the Caribbean?
Bottom-line – it won’t be a matter of if but when Navy will be asked to contribute. And like the IA issue, there will be long-term after effects to the force structure which requires creative mitigation planning by Navy and Joint planners now – not later…
Last Monday, I was given the incredible opportunity of visiting the Pentagon and interviewing VADM John Harvey Director, Navy Staff. VADM Harvey was gracious enough to give me 45 minutes of his time to ask about the future of the Navy, advice for junior officers, and his time at the Naval Academy. This posting will be the first in the series.
I understand the MilBlog conference (liveblogged here) occurred this weekend and RUMINT sources tell me that VADM Harvey hosted attendees at the Pentagon to discuss defense blogging. While I was not able to attend the conference, I was able to discuss milblogging and social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) with the admiral. My questions/comments are italicized, while the VADM Harvey’s comments are in the regular style:
Sir, you talked about this recently [here]: how have defense blogs, I know you read them, how have they contributed to public discourse or have they not contributed? In what ways can we improve?
Well, just right off the start I think they have contributed to public discourse…I know from the reports of the people who run these blogs that they get a large number of visitors and are getting into the public.
I don’t know how much we penetrate though…
Beyond the readers–they’re already interested in [defense issues].
Yeah, it’s almost a dialogue between those who already going to be there no matter what…So are we reaching new people on the blogs?…I am interested in expanding the public dialogue…I think that’s really important for the Navy as our role of a department and as our role in the nation. How do you do that?
I think perhaps the way to focus on is to see how we establish a presence on Facebook and MySpace and the other social media that exists. Just an example that woman from Scotland who sang [Susan Boyle]… I think the number of views of that 4-5 minute video is up to a fairly staggering number. Now clearly there is a fairly large human interest piece in that story, but I think of how, if we had on Facebook, the ability to respond rapidly to the events of Easter Sunday went down in terms of getting our hostage Captain Phelps back. I think that would have been seen by lots of people as an opportunity to talk about the Navy and why we have a role to play and what the role is and establish that broad level of awareness that I think is lacking in the nation for a large number of reasons.
Bottom line: I think a public dialogue is important. I think blogs certainly contribute to that public dialogue. I just don’t know what their reach is, if we are just talking to ourselves, people who are already interested… so that leads me to say there are other media we may want to use and find a way to use, because what drags is down are the security requirements…I would hope we could overcome those and really tell the fabulous story the Navy is, it’s really a collection of stories, and put that out there and demonstrate the value of this organization. I think that is really important when you ask them to give you so much money to operate.
It’s funny you should mention that because I friended Pacific Command the other day on Facebook.
There a number of them…One blog which has really impressed me is called “Task Force Mountain.” It’s the command blog of the 10th Mountain Division. I remember seeing someone make a reference to it as a pretty good one so I went and looked at it. I thought it was spectacular for the command, commander, families, and for the public. It really seemed to me to define what a command blog ought to be about. I corresponded with the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division and asked him a little bit about what he learned and how he went about setting it up. It was very, very fascinating. I think it’s a great example of one that brings real benefit to all the parties involved, whether they are in or they’re out or in the chain-of-command or outside the chain-of-command.
One of those issues, it’s great to have a command blog, but that also requires time from someone whether it’s the CO or…
Well you have to make the decision it’s worth your investment of time and energy. The fact you’re here…I’ve said, “Well, gee it’s worth my investment in time and energy to try and support these efforts” and I think it is important.
With this, VADM Harvey has taken the lead in defining the uses of blogs and social media for the Navy. With all the talk coming from the Air Force about the new forms of media, it’s great to see that the senior leadership in the Navy is thinking about these matters very carefully.
First, VADM Harvey recognizes what was pointed out in the just released paper on social media: “someone–right now–is talking on the Internet about your agency and your mission.” VADM Harvey realizes that the utilization of Web 2.0 resources by the Navy is critical to telling “the fabulous story the Navy is” and “demonstrat[ing] the value of this organization.” Why is this important? As VADM Harvey points out, we, the Navy, ask for money from the public to operate and Web 2.0 can prove invaluable for relaying to the public how we put that money to use.
VADM Harvey recognizes the important role blogs can play within a command. Task Force Mountain’s blog regularly updates friends and families of the work their loved ones are doing in Iraq. Major General Oates, the commanding general, contributes as well. For example, one posting asked for thoughts on how the Army can decrease the amount of sexual assaults. He even video conferenced in from Iraq to speak at the MilBloggers conference (transcript here). As VADM Harvey points out, blogs can be a useful way to solicit input and keep families updated with instantly uploaded text and pictures.
VADM Harvey also points out the limitations of blogs. If the Navy were to rely solely on blogs and web postings to disseminate information over the internet, only readers who were already interested in Navy news would ever receive the information. Why? Because I have to type www.blog.usni.org or www.taskforcemountain.com into my browser. A presence on Facebook, MySpace and similar sites has the possibility of attracting readers who might otherwise not be interested in defense issues. When I friended (now a verb) PACOM on Facebook, a notification was generated that I friended PACOM and my friends were updated with this “news.” This notification was not limited to friends from the Academy; civilian friends were also able to see it. Social media allows for people to stumble upon information instead of consciously seeking it out.
We should take VADM Harvey’s vision of the blogosphere and Web 2.0 very seriously. As I mentioned to him, a blogging CO must dedicate time and energy. Why should this investment be made? As VADM Harvey responded emphatically, “It is important.”