Archive for August, 2011
One of the arguments made against arming merchant ships as defense against pirates is the claimed threat that doing so will merely escalate the violence deployed by pirates. I have disputed this argument in the past (See ‘Armed Merchant Ship Crews Will Not Escalate The Pirate Problem‘). Here is another article that takes aim at the escalation of violence theory, nicely pointing out that the military forces in the area are the ones who are escalating the violence.
ON May 16, 2011 a US military helicopter opened fire on a skiff attacking crude carrier Artemis Glory in the Gulf of Oman, killing four suspected pirates.
Although the US forces were not directly fired upon, the engagement took place under a term called ‘extended unit self-defense’. An American term, it seeks to identify an increased frequency of action or engagement that equates to increased “opportunity” or “crossing of paths” between pirates and coalition forces.
While this demonstrates the Combined Maritime Forces’ resolve in the fight against piracy, it also displays a further example of an escalation of violence, a phrase often used by the detractors of the armed deterrent. There is strong opinion that to counter pirate attacks with the threat and delivery of lethal force puts the masters and crews of vessels under ever more danger of injury or loss of life. More often than not the risk of an ‘escalation of violence’ is used as an argument against the use of private security companies, perhaps unfairly so.
In order to analyse the ‘escalation of violence’ risk, the differences between rules of engagement and rules for the use of force should be considered. Arguably, this is where the difference between state and non-state stakeholders is most acute. ROE is a commonly understood term in the military. It is a set of guidelines to determine when, where and how force should be used. The UK’s Ministry of Defence defines ROE as: “Directives issued by competent military authority which delineate the circumstances and limitations under which UK forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered.” However, the UK’s military contribution to EU Navfor is governed by UK domestic and international law as its anti-piracy operations are not defined as ‘armed conflict’, restricting their rules of engagement to self-defence. Contrast this with RUF, which apply to non-state actors, stipulating when a security operative can exercise proportional use of force, also underpinned by ‘self-defence’. Reputable private maritime security companies provide a deterrent with rules for the use of force and not engagement.
Interestingly, between the state-sponsored international naval presence off the Horn of Africa and the privately contracted security personnel, it is the latter who are often criticised for their use of force which needlessly escalates violence. There is no evidence for this and yet there are examples of state actors doing just that, albeit under different ‘rules’, but often taking a difficult situation into something with fatal consequences. One only has to recall the events on board the French yacht, ‘Tanit’, in April 2009, where French Special Forces boarded the hijacked yacht, killing the pirates but also one of the hostages. Similarly there was the killing of four US citizens on board the yacht ‘Sea Quest’ after the pirates suspected they were about to be boarded. In all the subsequent media reports, there was little mention of state actors escalating violence to an unacceptable level. Perhaps state actors are immune from accusations of ‘escalation of violence’, but private actors are not?
Contemporary piracy is widely accepted as a highly organised criminal activity. Shipowners know that the only effective deterrent to this problem is private armed security. Per Gullestrup, chief executive of Clipper Ferries/Ro-Ro said recently: “We took the decision three to four months ago that we could not defend our ships without contracting-in armed guards with light machine guns and who will shoot back.” Even the US acknowledged at the recent US Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade Hearing on “Confronting Global Piracy” (June 15, 2011): “It is notable that no vessel with an armed security team embarked has been successfully hijacked.”
While private security companies are providing a credible deterrent, as non-state actors, they cannot and should not utilise ROE methodology. As is predominantly the case across the maritime security sector, the deterrent operates under clearly defined RUF and tries very hard to detune situations with the minimum use of force. Reputable security companies are only too willing to provide prospective shipping clients with detailed guidelines their teams operate by, from the identification of hostile intent and hostile acts and the appropriate responses deemed necessary to counter the threat. This information is also specified within the recent International Maritime Organization guidelines for the selection and use of private maritime security contractors. The emergence of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, a trade organisation establishing minimum standards for security companies to operate by, is making it much simpler for shipowners considering armed security to understand the rules for the use of force that PMSC’s should abide by.
Lamentably, the same recent US hearing openly admitted: “We should have no illusions: there is no simple solution to modern-day piracy off the Horn of Africa.” Mr Gullestrup describes the situation more forcefully: “Despair is a good word to describe the way shipowners feel about the whole piracy issue … it is 2011 and we are five years into this and we are still being run around by a bunch of criminals.” While the international community moves toward more asymmetric tactics against pirates, without careful scrutiny and consideration the difference between the rules of engagement and the use of force at sea could be lost in the armed deterrent debate. This could be bewildering for shipowners, charterers and insurers keen to safeguard vessels, content and crew. Perhaps more importantly, it is unhelpful in promoting a clear understanding of state and non-state players’ responsibilities and authority to deliver maritime security, further limiting a coherent solution to contemporary piracy.
The ongoing threat of pirates has resulted in a steady shifting towards greater acceptance of the use of arms onboard ships. This makes sense as it is the vessels that are the high value targets. And as such, they should have the means to defend themselves. So far, there seems to be little in terms of escalation on the part of the pirates. Instead, they continue searching for the less defended vessels.
Photo courtesy of PVI LTD
On August 11t h, 2011 the M/V Caravos Horizon was attacked by “sea bandits” in the Red Sea, just north of the Straits of Bab al Mendib. The distress call was picked up by Combined Task Force 151 and Expeditionary Strike Group 5, and they determined that there were two naval assets capable of responding in the vicinity. HMS MONMOUTH, a British Frigate, and USS BATAAN, an American amphibious assault ship, both swung into action. The crew of the Caravos Horizon secured themselves inside a “citadel” as six “sea bandits” boarded and took control of the bridge of the ship.
Bay Raider 45, an armed MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-28 Detachment TWO, was airborne flying regularly scheduled Search and Rescue duty with the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group at the time of the attack. The Knighthawk was brought back to the flight deck to top off the fuel. Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ordered the BATAAN ARG to send a helicopter toward the scene of the attack to provide intelligence, survelliance, and reconnisance (ISR) and to report information back to BATAAN. Bay Raider launched and headed south to provide assistance to the mariners in distress.
The purpose of this post isn’t to re-tell the story of the event. Both HMS MONMOUTH and USS BATAAN released reports of the incident which can be found in the open press. The PAO’s put hard work into these articles, read them for the story of a successful boarding to retake control of the M/V Caravos Horizon. Instead of rehashing the story, here at the USNI blog we’ll look at the larger picture…what lessons can we learn about counter-piracy and naval irregular warfare?
In October of 2010 I was lucky to be invited to speak as a panelist at the Naval Institute’s History Conference “Pirates on the High Seas” during a discussion of the history of piracy and counter-piracy titled “Blackbeard to the Barbary.” In my opening remarks I highlighted three things that stuck out from the 200+ year history of the USN’s counter piracy missions: Platforms, People, and Partnerships. Specifically, having the right “low end/high end” mix of hardware to do the job, having professional and aggressive junior officers to lead operations, and having competent and willing allies to work with in the region. The combined Anglo-American response to the attack on M/V Caravos Horizon reinforces that these principles are as important in the twenty-first century as they were when Decatur, Porter, and Downes sailed in the nineteenth.
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare. While the traditional mission of running the racetrack in the “Starboard D” holding pattern as the “SAR Bird” is still a central part of their job (after all, its where Bay Raider 45 started the day), the Armed Helo provides a widely expanded set of capabilities for Amphibious Ready Groups and is an ideal platform for naval irregular warfare.
The Knighthawk pilots and aicrewmen of the Helicopter Sea Combat community are trained for a wide range of missions and skills which lend themselves to successful naval irregular warfare. These include anti-surface warfare and special operations support, as well as the traditional rotary-wing missions of search and rescue and logisitics support.
It is important to note that the “deckplate” leaders of the operations were all junior officers that had been extensively trained and prepared to make combat decisions. Lt Harry Lane RM, commander of the Royal Marines boarding team, Lt Chris Easterling RN, aircraft commander of the Lynx, LT Chris “Texas Pete” Schneider USN, of Bay Raider, are three individuals quoted and identified in the press releases. That wasn’t simply because they were the ones that the PAO could find because they weren’t on watch. These junior officers, along with LT Lee “Chunk” Sherman who was the aircraft commander of Bay Raider 45, demonstrated that when tactical level leaders are given the ability to make decisions and to temper their aggressive nature with solid tactical risk management, operational level success is around the corner.
The partnership element to this operation is obvious. The USN and RN have been working together since nearly our service’s founding to combat piracy and threats to maritime security across the globe. During the First Barbary War the British bases in the Mediterranean were opened to American ships in support of our fight against the Corsairs. In the West Indies in the 1820’s and 1830’s American squadrons teamed with the Royal Navy to help fight the piracy from Cuba. At the end of the 19th century we supported one another in the rivers and coastal waters of China. Sharing the same battlefields over the past decade has helped bring tactics, techniques, and procdures closer together across the range of military operations.
What struck me was the quote from LT Schneider in the BATAAN article about the seamless nature of the combined operation. It mirrored a comment made by LT Sherman during debrief after the mission. He said that working together with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, “was like we had done it all together before.” Seamless was a word used by both pilots. Our two ships have never seen one another, we never spoke before the moment that Bay Raider checked in with the Lynx over the radio, yet common procedures and decades of experience in combined operations allowed the junior leaders to adapt and flex for a rapid and effective operation.
There are other partnership elements of the mission that are also worth considering. The coastal states of the region are relatively quick to give permission for operations within their territorial waters when it is counter-piracy. This is a commonly overlooked element, during the 1820’s when the Spanish weren’t as cooperative off Cuba it made the work of the USN’s West Indies squadron much more difficult. The ability of the myriad of staffs and command organizations working in the region to work together is also vital. In today’s world of networked battlefields it can be easy for the networks to get overlayed on top of one another, and potentially tangled. With American and multi-national staffs all working the same geography and sea space, the ability to keep it straight and to respond efficiently in order to make decisions between the staffs is vital.
So Others May Live…Or Die.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.
The motto of HSC-28 Detachment TWO is “So Others May Live…Or Die.” Whether as a search and rescue aircraft or a helicopter gunship, DET 2 is a best friend to mariners in distress, worst enemy to those who aim to disrupt maritime security in the regions where we operate. The pride that I feel in being associated with DET 2’s maintenance team, naval aircrewmen, and our pilots is endless. After four and a half months supporting maritime security and contingency operations off the coast of Libya, we have moved southeast, and for the foreseeable future we remain on station…
From the beginning of the Libyan conflict, American involvement was always stressed as being there because of the “unique capabilities” that we had which our NATO allies did not. Most of us understood the electronic surveillance and given the land-based nature of the air campaign – the tanker requirements – but there was much more.
John Barry over at The Daily Beast has a summary of that is worth a ponder;
The Libya campaign was a unique international effort: 15 European nations working with the U.S. and three Arab nations. The air offensive was launched from 29 airbases in six European countries. But only six European nations joined with the U.S. and Canada to fly strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.
According to two senior NATO officials, one American and the other European, these were the critical U.S. contributions during the six-month military campaign:
• An international naval force gathered off Libya. To lower the U.S. profile, the administration elected not to send a supercarrier. Even so, the dozen U.S. warships on station were the biggest contingent in this armada. …
• U.S. tanker aircraft refueled European aircraft on the great majority of missions against Gaddafi’s forces. The Europeans have tanker aircraft, but not enough to support a 24/7 air offensive averaging, by NATO count, around 100 missions a day, some 50 of them strike sorties. The U.S. flew 30 of the 40 tankers….
• When the Europeans ran low on precision-attack munitions, the U.S. quietly resupplied them. (That explains why European air forces flying F-16s—those of Norway, Denmark, Belgium—carried out a disproportionate share of the strikes in the early phase of the campaign. The U.S. had stocks of the munitions to resupply them. When Britain and France, which fly European-built strike aircraft, also ran short, they couldn’t use U.S.-made bombs until they had made hurried modifications to their aircraft.)
• To target Gaddafi’s military, NATO largely relied on U.S. JSTARS surveillance aircraft, …
• U.S. Air Force targeting specialists were in NATO’s Naples operational headquarters throughout the campaign. …
• U.S. AWACS aircraft, high over the Mediterranean, handled much of the battle-management task, acting as air-traffic controllers on most of the strike missions. Again, the Europeans have AWACS, but not enough crews to handle an all-hours campaign lasting months.
• Eavesdropping by U.S. intelligence—some by aircraft, some by a listening post quietly established just outside Libya—gave NATO unparalleled knowledge of what Gaddafi’s military planned.
• All this was crucial in supporting the European effort. But U.S. involvement went way beyond that. In all, the U.S. had flown by late August more than 5,300 missions, by Pentagon count. More than 1,200 of these were strike sorties against Libyan targets.
He has plenty of other things to chew on … and this that I had not heard before.
• When a desperate Gaddafi began to launch Scud missiles into towns held by the opposition, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer offshore negated his offensive by shooting down the Scuds.
News to me. A quick google search gets nada but this,
The missile, designed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, has a range in excess of 200 miles — though it is not clear where it landed, the paper reported. It was detected by a U.S. Aegis destroyer off the coast of the war-torn country.
I would think that if a USN DDG/CG took out a Scud or 4 we would hear about that – but based on the PAO performance this summer from the Gulf of Sidra to the Horn of Africa – I wouldn’t be shocked if we hadn’t heard anything. Media gets a lot wrong – so perhaps not a single VLS door opened. Maybe they just saw and reported – maybe “something else” took care of the problem – c’est une mystère.
Detected? Sure – but intercepted? If so, the Aegis mafia is getting slow in its old age….
Well – silly me, I have been reading too much US press and mostly the Daily Mail and Telegraph from the UK. I should have read these two items from The Guardian (!) of all places.
At least four of the rockets have been intercepted seconds before they were due to impact on the city, reportedly hit by missiles fired by a US navy cruiser operating in the Gulf of Sirte.
The missiles’ failure to reach their target appears to be because of the US navy, with reports that a cruiser operating in the Mediterranean has been using Aegis missiles to intercept the Scuds each time.
So far the US navy has hit four out of four, …
Those two articles came out on the 24th and 25th of this month. With all this bad and conflicting reporting out there – I am sure that the Navy/DOD is trying to do something to tell the actual story. So, let’s go over to DVIDS and see what we can find.
You know, at heart I am an optimist.
Hmmmm, what is at DVIDS … all Irene almost all the time. Let’s do a Libya search. Page one is all talking-briefing, talking-briefing (if I were a reporter on a deadline, am I going to sit through all those PPT briefings? No.) … and then on page two – we have some Navy news. First entry from the 30th titled, I kid you not, “Navy continues operations over Libya.” Hey, it’s a picture of a CG … and the caption is …
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill is seen underway in the Arabian Gulf.
Fail. Does anyone study geography anymore?
OK, simply a mistake on the editor’s part. No one is perfect. I will try not to go all Salamander on them. That was, after all, only picture 1 of 2. Let’s look at the second pic; hey – it is a EA-6B! And the caption is …
An EA-6B Prowler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 134 banks over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as it enters the landing pattern. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Fail. Now this is just getting insulting.
Keep trying. Page 3 is more briefings and PPT … bla, bla, bla. On page 4, wait! What do we have! Pictures titled, “Navy and Marine Corps aircraft strike Libya ” Now we’re cooking with gas. There is a picture of a helo aircrewman doing his nation’s bidding and the caption is …
Airman Travis Fletcher, aviation boatswain’s mate (fuels), fuels an aircraft tow tractor on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. UNSCR 1973 authorizes all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya under threat of attack by Qadhafi regime forces. JTF Odyssey Dawn is commanded by U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III. (Photo by: Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Pittman)
There are so many layers of fail here – let me just focus on what is in our face. Since when are aviation boatswain’s mate wearing flight suits and flight helmets? I don’t see a fuel line … that is a funny looking tractor … Hmmm. Download the high-res and zoom in …
Fail. That Shipmate is an aircrewman from HSC-22 (I can see the warfare pin but not his name; and if you look at the expression on the other Sailor’s face on the other side of the helo through the window, that is about what my expression is right now), and it looks like he is trying to secure something or closing the door of his helo. HSC – does not strike anything ashore. I quit – three strikes and you are out. CHINFO call your office.
As the Navy taught me though – even you you decide to withdraw, execute a fighting withdraw. So, I clicked the Libya tag to see what was there. Hey, great stuff about the USS SCRANTON (SSN-756) coming home – but that is about it.
Go to navy.mil and there is plenty of fun stuff about Irene, “green” energy, a pic and story with the CNO in his favorite role, and an ecosystem of NWU being approved under rules best understood by a Ottoman bureaucrat. That’s about it.
Go to the Navy’s facebook page and …. nothing after five pages of updates.
So, somewhere our Navy did something that our Sailors should be proud of – so – BZ, even if you only watched the Scuds go up and then down. We know you did more and want your story told – but something tells me that even the simple UNCLAS stuff someone wrote is dying in some control freak’s inbox, being watered down to nothing so when it is released the story will be over – so you’ll have to wait until no one will notice. That has to be it – otherwise what is the reason that our Navy is not telling the story of its Sailors efforts in the Med, HOA, and the Arabian Sea – or for that matter even making a basic check to make sure that the captions match the pictures that match the theater of operations?
This is simply one thing; disrespect. An open disrespect for our deployed Sailors by supporting commands, staff lines, PAOs, and the shore establishment.
Our deployed Sailors deserve better, their families deserve better – and the taxpayer deserves to know what their tax dollars and money borrowed from their children and grandchildren is being used for. Additionally, we cannot complain that the “Navy story” isn’t understood when we don’t even make an effort to tell it ourselves.
Enough of that; back to the topic at hand – as an interesting side-note; this is about what we suspected all along.
To lower the U.S. profile, the administration elected not to send a supercarrier.
Yep. Once you have a USA CVN – you suck all the O2 out of the room. If we had gone with Plan Salamander back in March and put 2-4 off the coast … yea … no chance for a low profile job then. Then again, it would have ended sooner but it wouldn’t have allowed the Europeans to smoke check their abilities either. In that light – good job if that was the goal.
As a matter of fact – that is the best part of the operation, intentional or not. Europe’s residual ability to conduct military operations even in their back yard in on display as impotent without the USA. That is not a good thing for them or the USA – but at least now there are fewer and fewer people who can effectively deny that fact. Once we reach that point, then we can have adult conversations with our allies.
In any event – will someone who was actually there find someway to get the story out?
UPDATE: USNIBlog gets results! DoD finally provides the answer today – with a push from our friend Phil Ewing. Major national/international papers publish something …. silence. USNIBlog puts out a question – Phil picks it up – and BEHOLD; DoD spokesman Col. Dave Lapan, USMC speaks.
Nice work all.
Now, CHINFO …..
I continue to be impressed and humbled with how much Belgians remember the sacrifices made by others for their freedoms. No one asks them to do it, nor do I think the Belgians themselves make any effort to let Americans back in the States know what they do. They remember Americans of my Grandfathers generation just because they want to, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by this fact.
This weekend Mons marked the anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis. Mons was the first city in Belgium to be liberated (2 September). In remembering this event, Belgians, French, Spanish and others dress as US Service members did during WWII.
Seeing Belgians remember Americans for what we did means a lot to me, not just because I wear a uniform today, but also because one of my Grandfathers served in Belgium as an ordnance officer during WWII.
A block from my Apartment I ran into General Patton. He didn’t speak alick of English. But, he did carry a picture of the General with him in his wallet, which if I understood him, his father took back in 1944.
Most of those dressed as GIs wore the 101st unit patch, despite the fact that it was the 1st Infantry Division which came through Mons. The fact that Band of Brothers centered around a unit from the 101st, is what I assume to the reason why so many Screaming Eagles were present today.
I’ve been told that Mons displays more tanks and American WWII vehicles for their liberation day than anywhere else in the World. The Grand Place isn’t a small square by any means and today it was filled with vehicles.
This is the second time that Belgians have humbled me with how they remember their and America’s shared history. What makes it mean the most, I think, is that no one asks them to remember America’s part in their history. They don’t have to wear American uniforms, or lovingly restore parts of America’s history. But they do, and what’s more is that when you talk to them and they hear your American accent, they are surprised that an American is even there.
Though, out of everything I saw today, I think I got the biggest kick out of the ‘Sailor’ I met today wearing Utilities that she though were dungarees. I still have my utilities and there is always next year.
Post hurricane discussion this Sunday at 5pm Episode 86 The Right Weapons Systems at the Right Time 08/28 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio
For the last 6-months, conflict once again brought the question often forgotten in the quiet times; where are our carriers? As was covered well in last month’s Proceedings by Dr. Norman Friedman, the essential effectiveness and efficiency of the CV/S/N. Land based air has its place – but any distance makes the ability to provide persistent effects from the air over the battlespace prohibitively expensive compared to a carrier off shore.
For the second half of the show we are going to go back in time to the waning days of WWII with author D. M. Giangreco, the Arthur Goodzeit Award for Best Military History Book of 2009 awarded by the New York Military Affairs Symposium for his book Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947. We’ll reflect on VJ-Day and what could have happened without the ultimate game changing weapon – the nuclear bomb.
You can listen live by going here or download it from BlogTalkRadio or iTunes.
At this moment of flux, it is really pointless to try to make anything about the tactical level in Libya. The Battle of Tripoli will work itself out, as will the conflict over time. We can pick it apart then in reasoned hindsight. There are other things a few levels out at the POL/MIL level that are a lot clearer and worth discussing. The Top-4 that come to mind:
1. R2P theory vs. facts: Something that came out at the beginning; “Responsibility to Protect” known by the shorter, R2P. The concept has been embraced by decision makers such as US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. A form of “Humanitarian Imperialism” – it is something that over the last few months we have heard less of. The reasons are clear; Libya still isn’t worth the bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier, and both sides are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of civilians. So much was heard early that we were there to “protect civilians,” but time has shown that some civilians are more important than others. There is no appetite anywhere for Western boots on the ground to execute “R2P” in Libya’s cities. As long as African migrants are kept in Africa and the oil flows – NATO will be more than willing to move from R2P to NMP – Not My Problem. Few really believed that was the reason for intervention anyway – at least the serious.
2. Gendarmerie Military: Our NATO allies simply cannot execute significant kinetic operations without American assistance from a material perspective. When sustainable logistics and baseline C4ISR are defined as “unique capabilities” – then the facts of NATO non-USA military capacity should be very clear. Beyond the short-tour mentality of many – in the expected budgetary challenges as the Western welfare state collapses in front of our eyes, their capabilities will only diminish more with time.
3. Got Carrier? As was covered well in last month’s Proceedings by Dr. Norman Friedman, the essential effectiveness and efficiency of the CV/S/N once again has been proven. Land based air has its place – but any distance makes the ability to provide persistent effects from the air over the battlespace prohibitively expensive compared to a carrier off shore. We’ll talk about that more this Sunday on Midrats with Dr. Friedman, tune in.
4. Semper Realpolitic: Along the Mediterranean coastline, there are two Muslim nation that have been run by autocratic families for decades. Over those decades, these nations supported terrorists soaked with the blood of thousands, including Americans. Within the last decade – motivated after the US-led invasion of Iraq – one of those nations decided to get rid of its entire inventory and development programs of weapons of mass destruction. It decided to help with migration problems, and generally tried to move from menace to moderate.
The other took the a different path. It fed and actively supported foreign fighters in to Iraq, directly responsible for the death and maiming of thousands of American men and women. It expanded its WMD programs including an aggressive nuclear weapons programs.
In 2011, they both experienced popular uprisings and killed their own citizens while trying to put down these uprisings. One of these nations though was not a highway for African migrants and it did not have oil. One nation was attacked, the other not. Lesson to despots everywhere: trying to work with the West and playing nice will do you no good if you have oil or have a migrant highway through your land. It is better to be closed, brutal, and contemptible of the West regardless of what you have. Just look at the West’s actions towards Libya vs. Syria – and the lesson is clear.
Whatever happens in Libya will happen. No one outside a few fringe-types will light a candle for the Gadaffi family of thugs. They have been a blight on the planet for decades. What happens next will be up to the Libyan people. We should all wish them luck and hope that something positive can come out of this. From the West’s end, we should call the dethroning of Gadaffi “victory” and leave it at that. Everyone should support that effort. Victor Davis Hanson said it well,
… the only thing worse than a unwise war is losing an unwise war …
In its August 14 entry, the USNI blog focused on the crucial issue of the future of Professional Military Education (PME). I appreciate Steeljaw Scribe’s thoughtful consideration of the issues. In additional comments, my colleagues Tom Hone and Don Chisholm also carried forward the debate, and I am grateful to USNI for the opportunity to contribute further to the discussion.
In his comment, Professor Hone inquired about my experiences leading and mentoring a PME faculty, when I was Chair of the National Security Decision Making Department (NSDM) — now more accurately called National Security Affairs (NSA) — and about my efforts to improve the educational experience for the students:
“I would very much have appreciated Dr. Johnson-Freese explaining to me and to her other readers what precisely she did to move her department toward the model that she describes in her essay…Perhaps [she] will provide that sort of guidance in a subsequent essay.”
I will elaborate on these and other PME issues at greater length in the forthcoming winter issue of Orbis, but Dr. Hone’s question is a reasonable one and I am happy to discuss it briefly here.
Simply put, I aimed for overall departmental excellence through (1) quality teaching, (2) a relevant and rigorous curriculum, and (3) a balanced faculty of top civilian academics, former military and foreign policy practitioners, and active-duty military officers.
Specifically, I tried to make a stronger distinction between “training” and “education,” as I believe that PME too often trends toward an easily-executed training model rather than the more difficult further development of intellectual agility among our officers. Still, Professor Hone rightly points out that there is a scale of activity within education, and in some cases students must learn basic skills before tackling other, more advanced problems, and that is clearly the case at the Naval War College as it is at most professional schools. (I am unaware of the “often leveled” criticisms Dr. Hone mentions of law and medical schools as being too “technical.” The tax code and neurosurgery are inherently technical, but even tax lawyers and neurosurgeons grapple with the larger issues of their profession in their years of schooling. Neurosurgeons are educated regarding the body’s “systems,” not just trained in their specialty — I cannot imagine anyone who would like to be operated upon by a brain surgeon who has no ability to work with a top cardiologist or internist — and tax lawyers must be educated on general areas of law such as jurisdiction.)
Admiral James Stavridis captured this difference between operational excellence and further officer development recently in a convocation speech at the National War College:
“I knew what I was good at and what I knew well: driving a destroyer or a cruiser; navigating through tight waters; leading a boarding party up a swinging ladder; planning an air defense campaign; leading Sailors on the deck plates of a rolling ship. But I also sensed what I did not know or understand well: global politics and grand strategy; the importance of the ‘logistics nation'; how the interagency community worked; what the levers of power and practice were in the world—in essence, how everything fits together in producing security for the United States and our partners.”[emphasis added]
I concur fully, and I have consistently argued that PME institutions too often devalue education in favor of allowing the students to study what they already know and in ways they are already comfortable with. “Rigor” then becomes defined by page counts and how much the students “like” courses, rather than how much their thinking has been challenged. And since faculties implement the standards of the institution they work at, it is natural to ensure quality by examining faculty issues first.
When I became Chair, the NSDM faculty was composed largely of active duty or retired military officers, all dedicated teachers with metrics that reflected success in the classroom. I retained many of our existing faculty, and also hired additional active-duty faculty who wanted to stay on after retirement — but very selectively. Had I wished, I could have completely filled the department without ever looking beyond the front gate of the College, but I wanted the best faculty I could find. Some of them were already here, but many of them were not.
Later, I imposed an annual, if minimal, publication requirement on all faculty (although it was only applied to military faculty in their third year of teaching). It was intended to encourage faculty not only to serve the Newport community (by writing book reviews, local Op-Eds, and short pieces for PME journals, for example) but to develop their ideas and to connect with the world beyond the College. Within a short time, the publication records of the NSDM faculty soared: active-duty and retired officers, as well as both junior and senior civilian faculty members, were writing for Joint Forces Quarterly, The Toronto Star, Proceedings, The New Atlanticist, China Security, National Review Online, World Policy Review, and many other outlets, and writing books. I believe in leading by example, and in addition to my own teaching and administrative duties as chair, I authored two books, both published by university presses, and wrote or co-authored multiple articles.
Finding and hiring academics with PME-appropriate substantive backgrounds can be difficult, an observation I shared with Professor Chisholm when he came to me for information on NSDM’s hiring process when his department at Newport (Joint Military Operations, or JMO) decided to try the different approach he referred to in his post. Because of JMO’s subject matter, I’m not surprised that hiring academics proved especially problematic and that “seeding” the faculty with sufficient and relevant substantive scholars was a challenge.
One solution for departments that teach highly specialized military subjects might be in the recommendation by former commandant of the Army War College, Robert Scales, that active duty military officers ought to replace civilian instructors at war colleges. While I do not fully agree with General Scales, giving priority to placing post-command active-duty military faculty in such PME departments might help to assure that those officers with the most recent experience in executing operations are also the professors who are teaching operations.
In NSDM, I sought to find academics, or in a few cases practitioners, with the specific aim of achieving subject area and regional diversity. In that period we brought to the department a cultural anthropologist, a geographer, counterterrorism specialists, regional specialists, and a variety of others. I also tried to diversify our demographic picture, since war colleges in general are about as diverse as a conference of astrophysicists. Five women (a record high number, though still proportionally low) were included in over thirty new civilian hires, though some of these new hires, male and female, subsequently left for reasons ranging from new opportunities to simply being uncomfortable in what they considered an overly insular environment. (Prof. Hone asserts that PME ensures flexibility by “allowing faculty to come and go,” but I can think of no quality educational institution that prides itself on a willingness to lose, or even fire, good faculty, and I have never heard anyone in any profession complain that he or she was not “allowed to go.”)
To encourage faculty to be more rigorous and risk-taking with the curriculum and in the classroom — which, in a system governed by employment contracts, they are often hesitant to do for fear of student reprisals on evaluations — I instituted the double-blind evaluation system commonly used in academia, whereby faculty assign grades before seeing their evaluations, and students complete their evaluations before seeing their grades. Until then, students could see their grades and then grade their professors, with the kind of results that one would expect in such an unusual arrangement.
As an aside, Steeljaw Scribe mentions several of his instructors at Monterey regarding both the quality of their instruction and willingness to challenge students, but this is something of an apples and oranges comparison: people like Jiri Valenta, Vernon Aspaturian, and Robert Bathurst all had careers outside of NPS, including some with tenure at top schools, or at NPS itself. They were not building their careers subject to a contract system and thus were far more insulated from any institutional pressure to cater to the students.
We made other improvements in NSDM as well. Because we use a case study method in some of our teaching, we brought in a case writing expert from Harvard Business School to assist the faculty in case writing and seminar use. The department’s final exercise — previously a relatively narrow force planning exercise at the end of the course — became a highly successful departmental event, more relevant to the students, the Navy, and DOD, to the point where multiple staffs from U.S. Combatant Commands requested copies of the projects created by the students during the exercise.
This is just a brief sample of actions I and my senior colleagues took to move NWC closer to the kind of model I described. There were others, some in response to unique issues, some as part of larger institutional changes. Overall, we have had great success: we have an outstanding teaching faculty today that is increasingly diverse, more fully engaged with the both the national security and academic communities, and who publish more and better policy relevant scholarship. Nevertheless, much remains to be done.
Before closing, I should add that I don’t see that it does much good, or advances the discussion, to impugn the motives behind any criticisms of PME. Prof. Chisholm writes:
The whine from the Air Force civilian professor that made the rounds recently suggested to me, after looking at his vita, that he probably couldn’t get a research university job, “settled” for the Air Force institution and never quite grasped its mission — and for some long time too. More broadly, to some extent this may be explained by the second-tier academic status of some significant number of civilian faculty at JPME institutions, who, at least some of them, evidently could not gain tenured positions in mainstream academia, and yet yearned for some semblance of that life.
This kind of ad hominem attack on a PME colleague only reinforces the stereotype of civilian professors as layabouts who “don’t get it.” It is also a criticism that itself sounds resentful and angry, since here it is Prof. Chisholm, not Prof. Dan Hughes (whom he is clearly referencing), who is elevating tenure at a research university to the highest rank of credibility by implying that never gaining it, for whatever reason, is an immediate disqualification for speaking out about PME issues.
I cannot say whether Prof. Hughes could be tenured anywhere, nor should Prof. Chisholm make such a judgment unless his review of Prof. Hughes’ vita is informed by significant experience serving on civilian tenure committees. But I have not only served in three PME schools, and chaired departments in two, I was also tenured in a civilian department at a large university for many years. Several current and past Newport faculty, many of whom concur with these assessments, have been tenured or offered tenure at universities. Do they, too, not “grasp” the “mission,” or are we now in a Catch-22 where civilians who had tenure are clueless, but those who did not are just bitter — with the inevitable result that only a select few initiates of the PME world can speak to our mission without their reputations being attacked?
Hughes’s criticisms (which were openly published in an edited volume, as is the academic norm, rather than circulated to a select audience via email) are not even close to the most scathing recent comments about PME made by academics who have worked in both worlds — some of which I also find unproductive and which undermine civility in our profession. Had I written something so derogatory about a colleague I did not know based on a brief “look at his vita” and without knowing anything about his career or his personal choices, I might feel the need to apologize. But that is between Prof. Chisholm and Prof. Hughes.
In any case, faculty issues are only one part of larger institutional and cultural issues in PME, and those are beyond the scope of our discussion here. But I hope readers will continue to engage on this subject after the longer analysis I will present in Orbis this winter.
This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the State Department’s China desk as a member of the Kimsey Program. A ’62 West Point graduate, Mr. James Kimsey deployed to Vietnam and the Dominican Republic before leaving the Army to found AOL. Mr. Kimsey generously funds this program which brings ten service academy cadets and midshipmen to Washington, DC, for summer internships.
Each cadet and midshipman interned at a different government agency for three weeks. In addition, Mr. Kimsey organized meetings for the group with successful leaders in business, government, and the military. In a mere three weeks, we met with General Stanley McChrystal; Colonel Gregory Gadson, Director of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program; Robert Kimmitt, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; and Chris Matthews. These interactive dialogues gave us a chance to ask many questions and learn from these successful individuals.
While interning at the State Department, I did everything from reserve a private dining room at a restaurant in Honolulu to coordinate a meeting with Chinese general officers. The desk officer also extended me the opportunity to sit in on a meeting between him and Mongolia’s ambassador to the U.S. In preparation for the Mongolian president’s visit to Washington, the desk officer needed to produce a joint statement with the Mongolian ambassador. I found the debate between the two extremely interesting, with each side deliberating over seemingly minute details. They spent several minutes deciding whether to use “agreed,” “acknowledged,” or “noted” for one sentence in the joint statement.
I gained significant respect for the State Department workers. The officers at the China desk worked ten to twelve hours a day- assuming no crisis or major meeting between the U.S. and China. These highly skilled foreign and civil service officers could all make more money and work fewer hours in the private sector, but, fortunately for our country, they choose to use their skills at the State Department instead. Many of the foreign service officers at the China desk had deployed to extremely dangerous countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you believe that war is just an extension of politics, then the relationship between DOD and DOS has always mattered significantly. But since future wars will likely involve terrorist groups in failed states, this relationship will become ever more important, and complicated. State, in conjunction with U.S.A.I.D., distributes the foreign aid that could turn these failed states around- if distributed appropriately. As shown by the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan, the State Department and the military are both more effective when they coordinate their efforts.
In addition to the State Department, Naval Academy midshipmen interned at other government agencies including the FBI, the DIA, and ATF. My internship afforded me the opportunity to access how another government agency works. I believe this practical experience will aid my decision-making as an officer.
As NASA satellites placed to monitor changes in the environment go dark, they are not being replaced, leaving a gap in our ability to assess changes to the world around us. This, in turn, according to a recent paper from the Center for a New American Security, creates a hole in our ability to plan national security. You can find a link to the paper here.
On Episode 85 Missing the largest picture 08/21 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio 5 pm Eastern U.S., we are going to discuss this topic with one of the authors of the paper, Will Rogers.
Or, as CDR Salamander puts it:
Military professionals understand the intelligence requirements of the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Level.
Each level of command has their own set of reconnaissance and surveillance requirements. In the truest sense – data needs to flow up and down in order to ensure that the National Command Authority has the best information available when forming policy.
They also understand that on top of them all is the Political Level. The Political can be national, alliance, or international. Is there an even more critical level that should inform the Political and effect its direction and guidance?
What about Earth monitoring – the Environmental Level?
The history of the Earth is a constant story of changing climates from temperature, sea levels, deserts and rain. These changes drive migration and wars. Are we monitoring this to the level we should?
To discuss for the full hour will be Research Associate and Joseph S. Nye Jr. Internship Coordinator at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), co-author of the policy brief, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security; Will Rogers.
Rogers’s research focus spans unconventional security challenges, and he has authored or co-authored a range of publications on energy, climate change, environmental cooperation in Asia, and cybersecurity. He is a co-editor of and contributor to the Natural Security Blog.
Here’s a link to the show: Episode 85
Can’t make the show? Download it later from the link above or from iTunes.
The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.
Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.
Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.
Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:
The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.
When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.
“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.
“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”
Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.
The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:
The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.
And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:
The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.
The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.
So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.
Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.
But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.
The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)
The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.
The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.
Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.
The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.
Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.
In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.
Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.
Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.
Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:
I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.
As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.
The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).
The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.
Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.
Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.
This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.
It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.
As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.
It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.
By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.
And response from the “blogger”:
The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.
To assert that, because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, that the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct, is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.
In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a bloody slugging match against what was an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.
It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.
No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, and the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.
As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted fight that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.
Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.
- On Midrats 21 Dec 14 – Episode 259: The Islamic State – rise and world view, with Craig Whiteside
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