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185x200_q75Alternative title: The News of the Neo-Isolationist Superpower Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

If as Americans we have trouble figuring out from “Lead-From-Behind” to Stryker road rallies, Aegis Ashore, and Abrams to the Baltics what direction we are going concerning international involvement, imagine the confusion we are creating in the halls of our competitors.

Nice PSYOPS plan – intentional or not.

No one can deny that in many areas we have signaled a withdraw under fire in the last six years or so. From the premature exit from Iraq, to the great decoupling in Afghanistan, that gets the headlines. From the Maghreb to the Levant, we also had experienced the strange experiment of “Lead-From-Behind” a concept as disconnected as its results.

There was also the long goodbye from Europe that began with the end of the Cold War, and until the Russians started playing in their near abroad, was drip-by-remaining-drip continuing apace.

2015 put that in the dustbin of history.

In the last year, we have returned to Iraq and Europe. Indeed, we have expanded in critical areas in some subtle but important ways, especially for the maritime services. These recent moves tie in closely with larger programmatic decisions we need to make now.

I want to pick two specific examples of where we are starting to move back in to the world and how these moves should shape our debate. They are subtle, and in many ways echo some of the broader concepts outlined by Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons.” Low footprint, modest cost, high flexibility, high return – scalable impact.

Let’s start with the Pacific Pivot first.

Darwin, Australia; never will be a hard-fill set of orders. Show the flag, build partnerships, and presence in a primary SLOC that, to no surprise, has the most critical choke point in China’s maritime silk road within … err … range;

“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued.
“But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a warfighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”

Ideally, in the future PACOM would have two ARGs deployed throughout the theater instead of today’s one-ARG presence. But Dunford said the Marines have to handle today’s problems with today’s resources, so the Marines are looking into a variety of non-amphibious platforms that could carry Marines around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.

OK, there is your Pacific Pivot, but what is going on in Europe?

U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.

In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.

The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.

Nice bit of kit for a variety of uses. Knowing how hard the Army has tried since 1919 to keep Marines out of continental Europe – well played;

SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a rotational contingent of approximately 800 Marines, sailors and support elements sourced from a variety of Marine Corps units to include II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Its organic assets include 12 MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four KC-130J Hercules aerial refueling tankers, one UC-35, a logistics and sustainment element, and a reinforced company of infantry Marines.

How do we hedge expanding a footprint while capabilities shrink? Start by thinking.

Our traditional amphibious ship shortfall is well known, but with the budgetary pressures and need to recapitalize our SSBN force through the Terrible 20s, there simply is not enough money to have it all. Knowing that – what can we do?

There are other areas we can look for capability relief, and the last month has seen good ideas addressing both.

First, though few in number, our partner nations have usable ships;

Where some nations are game to contribute at sea, but they may not be game to go ashore (like the Canadians and British at Iwo Jima) – so why not use what they have available?

Among the concepts the Marines are trying out now is putting U.S. Marine Corps units onto NATO allies’ ships. Allies including Spain and Italy already host SPMAGTF units on the ground, and “the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is designed to cover gaps in available U.S. amphibious ships by leveraging our European allies’ ships, just as we leverage our allies’ land bases,” U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh told USNI News.

“Ideally, we would partner with our Navy brethren to provide a year-round, day and night crisis response force. However, with more requirements world-wide than available U.S. Navy amphibious ships, the Marine Corps has had to adopt a land-based deployment model from allied countries such as Spain, Italy, and Romania,” he said. Having these units land-based, however, means they are limited to operating in a hub-and-spoke model and deploying only as far as their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J tanker combination will take them.

Operating from a ship not only offers a mobile home base, but “basing at sea offers allies and international partners a visible deterrent when a warship – be it American, British, Italian, Spanish, or French – with U.S. Marines embarked aboard is sitting off the coast. In any language, such a sight means it is best to not cause trouble here,” Ulsh added.

Marines will first head to sea on an Italian ship this fall, followed by a British amphib and eventually French, Spanish and Dutch ships, the Marine Corps Times reported.

Also, not just JHSV, but other USNS are there for the pondering. What kind of USNS might be useful?

We can look back;

MSC’s two aviation logistics ships — S.S. Wright and S.S. Curtiss. Six hundred-and-two feet long, displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded, the twin loggies each boasts a large helicopter landing pad, multiple cranes and a full-length cargo hold opening onto ramps on its sides and stern. With a crew of just 41, each of the vessels can accommodate more than 360 passengers.

While less tough than dedicated amphibs and totally lacking defensive weaponry, under the right circumstances the aviation logistics ships could embark potentially hundreds of Marines and their vehicles plus thousands of tons of supplies. Joining other specialized ships, the loggies could help send the Leathernecks ashore to invade an enemy, defend an ally or help out following a natural disaster.

… and now;

The Navy accepted delivery of the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller(MLP-3/AFSB-1), two weeks ago, and though the ship was built to support mine countermeasures efforts, the Marines have been eyeing the new platform for operations in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Currently, the closest presence the Marines have to the Gulf is a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) operating out of Spain.

“The combatant commander from AFRICOM and the combatant commander from EUCOM have already written a letter to the secretary of defense outlining their requirement for an alternative platform” to support theater security cooperation, embassy evacuations, counter-piracy missions and more, Dunford said.
“They recognize that while a Special Purpose MAGTF provides a great capability, and while the V-22 does mitigate” the great distance between Spain and southern parts of Africa, having Marines on American ships allows more freedom to operate as needed and to sustain the force from the sea without becoming dependent on partners.

That is just what the Navy-Marine Corp team is doing. Our sister services are busy too.

So much for our inevitable retreat. What next? Well, step one might be to reactivate Maritime Prepositioning Squadron One we decommissioned in 2012.

World changes; change with it.

20141113 IRON SWORD Closing Ceremony - assembled troops, vehicles and national flags“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” – Morelly/Blanc/Marx/Soviet Union/etc 

For an organization based on “collective security,” using socialist/communist guidance isn’t totally out of synch – it actually makes a lot of sense.

As with all collectives, there is a big problem – free riders. Those who benefit from being part of a collective – or alliance – but do not even attempt to make and effort to contribute their fair share.

For a very long time, there have been calls for NATO to be an alliance not just of benefits, but of obligations – that regardless of size or economic might, that each nation should make a fair and reasonably equitable investment in the collective defense.

Though an imperfect measure, defense spending as a percentage of GDP has been the best benchmark to use as it gives a reasonable measure of each nation’s dedication and willingness to contribute to the expensive work of deterrence and when needed, action.

The agreed upon benchmark has been 2%. How are we doing?

Military spending by NATO countries is set to fall again this year in real terms despite increased tensions with Russia and a pledge by alliance leaders last year to halt falls in defence budgets, NATO figures released on Monday showed.

The figures showed defence spending by the 28 members of the alliance is set to fall by 1.5 percent in real terms this year after a 3.9 percent fall in 2014.

The fall comes at a time when tension between NATO and Russia is running high over the Ukraine conflict. Russia has sharply raised its defence spending over the past decade.

It also comes in spite of a pledge by NATO leaders, jolted by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, last September to stop cutting military spending and move towards the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense within a decade.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 18 allies were set to raise defence spending this year in real terms, but the total was lower, continuing a trend of declining military spending, especially by European NATO allies.

NATO expects five NATO allies to meet the 2 percent spending goal in 2015, up from four in 2014.

Poland, which has embarked on a major military modernisation programme, is set to join the United States, Britain, Estonia and Greece as the only NATO allies meeting the target.

You can find a nice historical scorecard here, go to page 6. BusinessInsider has the goods too.
screen shot 2015-06-23 at 3.38.30 pm

Who is increasing defense spending?

… defense spending in a number of NATO states will either fall or remain nearly flat compared to the previous year — with the exceptions of the “frontline” states of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, along with Luxembourg:

Combined populations of those nations in millions: 38.4+2.2+3.5+.5= 44.6 million. That is a little less than the combined populations of Texas and Florida.

Once you get past the accounting indicator, what is another indication of an alliance members operational utility? The willingness of the citizens of its member states to follow through once war starts.

Pew has done some serious work on this exact topic.

Roughly half or fewer in six of the eight countries surveyed say their country should use military force if Russia attacks a neighboring country that is a NATO ally. And at least half in three of the eight NATO countries say that their government should not use military force in such circumstances. The strongest opposition to responding with armed force is in Germany (58%), followed by France (53%) and Italy (51%). Germans (65%) and French (59%) ages 50 and older are more opposed to the use of military force against Russia than are their younger counterparts ages 18 to 29 (Germans 50%, French 48%). German, British and Spanish women are particularly against a military response.

Sadly, it seems that the Europeans remain the world’s military security welfare queens; willing to defend Europe to the last American;

While some in NATO are reluctant to help aid others attacked by Russia, a median of 68% of the NATO member countries surveyed believe that the U.S. would use military force to defend an ally. The Canadians (72%), Spanish (70%), Germans (68%) and Italians (68%) are the most confident that the U.S. would send military aid.

I guess institutional anti-Americanism ends when the bear is at your throat.


What is the best hedge if you are a front line nation? Spend like you are on your own – because there is a good chance that you will be – and if you are there is a better than average chance at at least the USA will stand beside you. Uncle Sam can be a spotty ally, one election away from throwing you to the wolves, always remember that – and the rest of Europe? Review your own history.

Uncle Sam is trying. This isn’t a REFORGER, but Salamander approves this messaging:

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed Tuesday that the U.S. is to station heavy military equipment, including tanks and other weapons, in new NATO member states for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

“These are responses to Russia’s provocations,” Carter told CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan in an exclusive interview in Estonia, one of the nations the American defense chief said could already “feel” the imminent threat posed by its massive neighbour to the east.

The increased American military presence on Russia’s doorstep is intended to reassure jittery allies like Estonia, which have been alarmed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists leading the war in eastern Ukraine.

Finally, there is in the end more than just money – there is will. Let’s look at those five nations again, and use their performance in Afghanistan as a benchmark and give them a grade on their will to fight:
1. USA: A.
2. GBR: A.
3. EST: A.
4: POL: B. (late to the game in numbers, limited equipment, needed a lot of help, some caveat issues – but solid effort).
5: GRC: F. Really? Yes, really. I have a story about a potted plant in the CJ-5 shop, but I’ll keep it to myself.

There is your “what.” What about the “so what” and “what next?” Ready or not – history will deliver that in her own sweet time. The alliance will continue as an exercise shop at least by inertia at worst. First contact with an enemy will tell the story. Hopefully we will do better than the Franco-Bavarian army at Blenheim.

manpower-servicesPeople and money.

One follows the other, and the later always defines the magnitude of the former.

BA, NMP, BSC; the whole alphabet soup emanating out of Millington is fed by one thing more than any other; money. Money is your primary indicator of priorities, main effort, and commander’s intent in manpower.

Manpower is a complicated mix of habit, tradition, agenda, bureaucratic inertia, wants, needs, and wishes. When not controlled with a disciplined hand, bureaucratic organizations can accumulate billets like a spaniel in a field of beggar weeds; with or without audits or manpower efficiency reviews.

Stress is always a good way to squeeze efficiency our of an organization and to force it to tell you what are its priorities – what it really values.

In an email Tuesday, COMNAVAIR, VADM Dunaway, USN, put our his D&G on the latest stress coming their way in the manpower arena – yep, the mother’s milk; money.

Looking ahead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) budget reductions and the shift to modernization and sustainment will require us to smartly manage our workforce levels and skills mix.

Ahhh, that is the key; define “smartly.”

As new and critical tasking emerges, we must be prepared to move our workforce toward these efforts without adding additional people. In addition to agile staffing, we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.

Start of the core compentancy – the mission of our organization. That is where you start your prioritization. At almost the halfway point of his email, Dunaway points to one,

In the beginning of FY15, we assigned hiring goals to the competencies and commands. We have exceeded our targets due in part to aggressive hiring early in the year. Our Fleet Readiness Centers ramped up hiring to help reduce the F/A-18 maintenance backlog and will return to normal staffing levels within the next 2 years.

From there, rack and stack – and lead. If you really want your organization to,

… we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.

… start with you personal staff, your N1, and the first gaggle of SES and GS-15+ you can get your hands around. Take those BA/NMP and Full Time Equivalents and do your own personal baseline review. Get those billets recoded towards your core competency – I am sure VADM Moran will help from his end. If you don’t make someone in the nomenklatura squeal, then you didn’t do it right. Once that is done, work through your other N-Codes.

At the same time, don’t make those shops do more with less. Cut back on the background noise and the self-licking ice cream cones.

The easiest thing you can control are the manhours invested in non-core related competency conference attendence, awards processing, collateral duties, ad-hoc committees (I get those emails too from NAVAIR, but I’ll be nice and not quote them here), Political Kowtow of the Month observances – all those things that take untold hours of your employees’ time but do nothing even close to helping,

… reduce … maintenance backlog …

Most of these activities are just bureaucratic habits or the bad aftertaste from one of your predessor’s pet projects or sacrifices to Vaal.

If you want bold action by those in your organization, you don’t tell them to do it – you do it yourself first. By your example, they will lead. Give them benchmarks, hold them accountable.

The only way to secure our future is to improve our capacity to adapt, collaborate and focus on the most important work.

If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.


You are the leader. You have outlined a problem, demand solutions. As such, there is no “If.” If this is serious, then, “If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.”, is not – I may offer – a serious call to action. It is passive and without heft, depth, or meaning.

Bring me your questions or ideas, as we are making significant changes to our manpower document to optimize our workforce levels and skills mix.”

That might give you what you need.

Now, what will be interesting is in JUN16, what changes or draft changes will there be to NAVAIR’s manpower document?

Good stuff; good start. Good luck.


001-mineHistory in many ways is a kind companion. In times of relative quiet, she gives you subtle reminders of what is important. She will give you a subtle nudge with the knee with a nodding look with eyes towards something she wants you to pay attention to.

If you are a bit distracted or you find yourself in a noisy time, if that doesn’t work she may lean over and gently whisper in your ear with a poke to the ribs.

Though a gentle companion, she is not a pushover. She has her standards, and on occasion will be needy. She does not like to be ignored, patronized, or worse – left alone in a corner of the party as you drift off to pay attention to someone new and exciting who recently showed up.

No. The gentle companion’s personality starts to change at that point. You don’t want to get to that point and see how she reacts – no one will be happy, and by any measure you come off looking worse to all.

History is not there yet, but she is close. She has not resorted to stomping on toes or speaking loudly to deaf ears … she is still at the nudging and whispering stage.

The nudge:

After nearly 30-years of commissioned service, the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was decommissioned Friday.

The ship was named after Navy Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, who volunteered for a rescue mission to save Marines who had been surrounded by a superior Japanese force during World War II. He was killed during that rescue mission.

The USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an underwater Iranian mine in 1988, which blew a 15-foot hole in it.

The whisper:

One Ukrainian coast guard member was killed, five were injured and their commander remained unaccounted for Sunday after their cutter hit a mine planted in the bay of the strategic eastern port of Mariupol,

We should listen and respect her counsel. As we prepare to wander the party introducing ourselves to all the new and exciting arrivals, we should gather our companion’s hand in ours and invite her along.

She will be appreciative, and there is a good chance that all these new and exciting arrivals are not new to her. If she does not know them personally, she probably knows their family, line of work, and connections to others at the party.

She can save you time, trouble, and if nothing else, having such a steady partner by your side will make the evening a lot more pleasant, whatever may come.

Ignore her? No … don’t be that guy.



Our Three COAs

June 2015


three-choices-blogIn his latest book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, policy Übermensch Ian Bremmer outlines three future courses of action for our nation through the middle of this century.

As outlined in TheTelegraphUK, and discussed on last Sunday’s Midrats, these COA should sound somewhat familiar to you;

1) keeping faith with the old “Indispensable” America that underwrites global stability 2) adopting a “moneyball” approach where the US pursues its narrow economic and security interests, or 3) an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Let’s look at these for a bit.

COA-1 represents what we think now was the post-WWII norm. In a fashion it was – and in many ways still “is” – but not in the global police context of the last 20 years. People forget that for most of the WWII era, we were in a global struggle against an expanding Communist empire – one whose high water mark was only 35 years ago. We could barely control our own frontier, much less ensure stability around the globe. From Africa to SE Asia to S. America – stability was not our FITREP bullet. “Indispensable” was the ideal – but in practice, not as clean and powerful as it sounds. America was never all that comfortable in its global policeman uniform others tried to put on her at the best of times. In the second decade of the 21st Century – there simply is no political will nor popular desire for such a role.

COA-2 has a very realist-retro vibe to it – almost a Steam Punk foreign policy. Mercantilist and a bit cold of heart, it also echoes of a policy not foreign in our nation’s history – and one that the Chinese are looking to benchmark as they rebuild their global trade routes and stretch their influence limbs. In some ways, it is the slightly more narcissistic version of the final COA.

COA-3. Let’s look at this again,

an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Could there be a more natural American policy?

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; …

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; …

—- George Washington, American Daily Advertiser September 19, 1796

If that works for George Washington, who wrong could it be?

Though he leaves it up to the reader to decide, Ian Bremmer also goes with COA-3.

If that is the path we go – either led by a politician or by the drift towards the center mass of the electorate – where I think it is – how does that effect the national security structures of our nation? If we become interested in security at home and the economic prosperity of the citizenry – how do you hedge against the chaos of a violent world? How much can you disconnect? What is our minimum level of national defense spending? Where is it best utilized?

Of the three COA – which ones have our allies chosen? Which have our potential challengers chosen?

Are those we consider allies really allies – or just those who are content to prosper in their home under a shield we built and paid for? Are those we consider challengers really our challengers in that they present a real and present threat to national survival?

Is COA-3 really something new, or just a regression to the mean?

a96b_medieval_steel_gauntlets (1)Robert D. Kaplan over at FP is looking at the world from the Atlas to Hindu Kush and harkens back to something that no one is looking for, wants, or realistically thinks can be done;

A new American president in 2017 may seek to reinstate Western imperial influence — calling it by another name, of course.

The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.

The article is now called, The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East – but you can still see in the web address its original title, “It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East.”

Yes, the title was bad – but I am curious as to the thought process behind choosing it – … and just as bad as the idea.

I’m also not sure how a review of the present major candidates for 2016 shows anyone who wants to try to force peace on a peaceless people. There is only one effective way to do that, but piles of skulls and salted fields are not in alignment with our laws, national character, or relatively sanity.

To start out, let’s review the very accurate summary of events that Kaplan outlines in this besotted part of the world that for thousands of years has been at peace only under one system – the mailed fist;

… the region historically has been determined by trade routes rather than fixed borders. … Middle Eastern chaos demonstrates that the region has still not found a solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. For hundreds of years, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, in Greater Syria and Mesopotamia had few territorial disputes. All fell under the rule of an imperial sovereign in Istanbul, who protected them from each other.

… the Islamic State has brought to an end the borders erected by European imperialism, British and French, in the Levant. … the United States, remember, since the end of World War II, has been a world empire in all but name.

To that point; in two elections the American people voiced their desire to back away from that role – to give the world a chance to police itself – to “lead from behind.”

Well, we have seen the results – desired or not – of that policy.

The fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, and the reduction of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria to that of an embattled statelet has ended the era of post-colonial strongmen. … the so-called Arab Spring has not been about the birth of freedom but about the collapse of central authority,

Old school realists, and the growing cadre of neo-realists warned of this outcome, but strategically we tried another way. The fuzzy faculty room theories desiring a word of self-affirmation, ran up against the grizzled hard realities of a world governed by the aggressive use of force, religion, and the attraction of and to power.

(some nations are) geographical expressions and … with much weaker identities — and, in fact, many have identities that were invented by European imperialists. Libya, Syria, and Iraq fall most prominently into this category. Because identity in these cases was fragile, the most suffocating forms of authoritarianism were required to merely hold these states together.

Algeria, also an artificial state, essentially invented by the French … Jordan, too, is a vague geographical expression, but has enjoyed moderate governance through the genius of its ruling Hashemites and the overwhelming economic and security support this small country has received from the United States and Israel. Yemen may also be an age-old cluster of civilization, but one always divided among many different kingdoms due to its rugged topography, thus ruling the territory as one unit has always been nearly impossible.

Totalitarianism was the only answer to the end of Western imperialism in these artificial states, and totalitarianism’s collapse is now the root cause of Middle East chaos.

The Ottomans disintegrated, the French and British were exhausted, and the Americans seem to be trying to shrug off the burdens history gave it.

Kaplan is not alone in this train of thought, looking for some solution to a rapidly deteriorating region, and when you look at what has become of the Muslim world in the last half-decade plus, it is easy to despair at what has oozed out of the tube – but what has happened has happened.

You cannot have imperialism without imperialists, and in a world bereft of those seeking that title in a benign manner – what can the West do that is in line with both its national security interests and its modern sensibilities?

Most interested parties would agree that if nothing else, the events of the last few years should largely put an end to two neo-imperialist concepts; Responsibility to Protect (R2P) on the left, and the Wolfowitz Doctrine on the right.

How do we, the West in general and the USA in particular, respond? What are our options besides neo-imperialism? Let’s set out a few planning assumptions.

1. There will be no more nation building or coercive democracy injected in places that do not create it organically or desire it. It doesn’t work, and there is no popular call or political will to try it again.
2. Libya was the low high-water mark of R2P internationally. Today’s Mediterranean drowning pool is Ref. A. on the international community’s preferred answer to R2P.
3. Economics and demographics will drive the virulence of secular pressure to export strife outside existing or natural borders of nation states. As these borders deteriorate and if pressures build, so will your ability to contain undesired effects on the cheap.
4. Forward deployed, global reach, long dwell, deep strike. If you are not training, manning, and equipping your military forces bounded by these essential concepts, you are doing it wrong. If you are not prepared for scalable, quick infiltration and exfiltration of boots on the ground, you are doing it wrong. Hedge big heavy; light and mobile gets priority.
5. China will continue to build, reinforce, and prepare to defend critical nodes on her new land and sea “Silk Road.” She is and will continue to be a growing, global, mercantile power – one without Western sensibilities.
6. There is only one significant power that is showing actual expansionist imperial desire; Russia. Watch her closely in the former Soviet republics to see where she either takes physical land as in Ukraine, or expands her constellation of sad little satrapy such as Belarus.
7. No matter how hard we shrug, we are and will remain for this century the indispensable nation. We are the imperial republic, in a waning phase of desire for now – but with no other suitable global replacement, we will still be look at to help keep the chaos at bay.

What could we do now, even with the political, economic, and diplomatic restraints and constraints – to at least partially answer Kaplan’s call?

The first step, not shocking for a maritime nation, should start at sea. Use the template of NATO’s standing naval forces. We should help build standing naval forces in the Indian Ocean. The core is already there off the Horn of Africa – why not work to make something a bit more established from CTF-150, 151, the EU’s ALALANTA and the other patchwork nations who are there?

Why not have one fom WESTPAC? USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia looks like a good core. Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, and The Philippines would play now and then. Feeling cheeky – invite Taiwan for a time or two.

There is low risk and high reward for this minimal step – keep the open seas … open. Give space and capability to inject power and influence when needed, without finding yourself staked to the ground – and provide flexible options for future leaders who may face different global realities that have yet to appear to the present eyes.

If the goal is to try to bring order, in the 21st Century, the Western democracies do not have the desire to play the game of empire wholesale. It isn’t profitable, it isn’t appreciated, and to be blunt – it is probably a fool’s errand.

Contain, influence, and help those who help themselves? Sure. Soak the sands of the Middle East with blood from Ohio, Essex, New South Wales, Burgundy, Maastricht, and El Salvador for failed theories of the past? To tilt at the windmill one more time?

No, no time soon.

PrintTake a moment and look at this map, what do you see?

At first glance, what you see is an invasion. That is exactly what it is.

Throughout human history, masses of people have been pushed out of one area, or attracted in to another. Trying to escape a more determined foe, a homeland that can no longer support its population, or simply attracted by a weaker neighbor that inhabits more desirable territory – people move.

Small scale migrations are always happening – what moves history are large scale migrations.
There are three things that need to exist in order to trigger large scale migrations; (a) a drive to leave a present home; (b) a more attractive location to move to; (c) a manageable barrier of entry that is less of a concern than the forces producing the drive in (a).

If (a+b)>c, then you have then entering arguments set to trigger a migration. The greater the magnitude of a & b, the stronger flux of the migration.

That is the reason that North-Central Asian Finns, Estonians, and Hungarians now reside in Central Europe. Why the Goths from Southern Scandinavia wound up taking a long route to North Africa. Why the people of Madagascar are ethnically closer to the people of Indonesia than right across the channel to mainland Africa. That is why you have Englishmen in the North Pacific, Germans in the South Atlantic, and every soccer team in Asia has someone related to Genghis Khan.

With the exception of the Goths, the Mongols, and the more recent events in the Western Hemisphere, all the major migrations through we know of occurred in pre-history. We can guess how these went, but let’s stick to those we know.

There are three different migration themes on how migrations start.

On two extremes are:
-The Dove: the peaceful migration of the initial waves of the Polynesian through Pacific – peaceful because in their islands from New Zealand to Easter Hawaii, there were no other humans (though the second wave to Hawaii by Polynesians was far from peaceful). This is the most rare.
– The Wolf: Red in tooth and claw Mongol invasions of, well everyone. The Iberian colonization of South America. Australian colonization. Magyar invasions of Europe. This is more common, but not the majority.

In the middle, and the one that is the most common in the way it starts, is;
-The Other: economic, ecological, or political migrants; North American colonization from Europe. New Zealand colonization from Britain. Gothic/Germanic population of the Western Roman Empire.

Those are the major examples of the most disruptive of The Other. There is a subset of The Other that is minor, bur as a result are not very disruptive and mostly positive and integrative to the host nation; the Jewish diaspera; French Protestant migrations following their expulsion from France; 19th & 20th Century Italian immigration to the USA.

The Other is the most common and the most successful. It usually starts with small populations of migrants who get a foothold and then grow as the host population, for a variety of demographic, economic, cultural, or political reasons, grows weaker. More migrants come attracted to the land, or given more reason to escape from their homeland – or more often a combination of the two.

In time, one of two things happen, once a critical mass is reached, either the host and migrant cultures blend together and almost without notice become one. The previously mentioned Italian, French and Jewish examples are like this. You could also add in the 19th Century German migrations to the USA – one of the more under told stories locally.

If the two cultures for religious, cultural, or more often political reasons cannot become one – then there is conflict, usurpation, and a new host culture take control. The Germanic populations in the Western Roman Empire, the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, and parts of the former Yugoslavia are variations of this.

That is also why Spanish was and now English is the language of Comancheria.

There is your broad, sliding scale; from Dove, to The Other, to Wolf. Just because something starts as one, does not mean it stays there.

The N. American pattern went from Other to Wolf inside a generation. New Zealand at one point or another saw all three. The normal result of mass migration is conflict – the exception is peaceful integration.

One would think that the historical example would lead to host nations to promote integration-centric policies. Sadly, that is largely not the case.

The largest barrier to this era’s migration success is a cultural malfunction where assimilation – a process that blends people together – is not the predominate mindset in the host nation, and as a result, encourages the sectarian tendencies of large groups of The Other. It is apartness, multiculturalism, and the – to use a very accurate description of the problem – Balkanization of land and people that will warp the trends toward conflict.

This is why nations are, in different ways, pushing back against this rising tide of migration. They know where this ends. The era of plenty of open land and expanding economic resources is long gone. More people after finite resources; this social science historical dynamic is well known.

The push back is relatively weak but growing stronger in Europe – but strong and getting stronger in Asia and other parts of the world.

Now that the table is set – look again at the map at the opening of this post. As most of the news reports reflect – there is a maritime crisis in the Mediterranean. This is only going to grow, and not just in the Mediterranean.

Australia has known for a long time and now the rest of Southeast Asia are seeing the problem in Asia is also largely a maritime one.

Clashes in 2012 between the state’s Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims, a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in this majority Buddhist country, left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 people homeless.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted.

“I feel so sorry for them,” Kraiwut said. “It’s so different to when you see these refugees on land, and the conditions are so terrible.”

Late last week, residents on Koh Lipe Island in southern Thailand could be seen collecting food, water and clothes to take to the migrants on board the boats, but since then the military has told them not to take supplies out to the boats, or to talk to journalists about the situation.

A top Malaysian official has said the surge of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking asylum in his country and neighboring Indonesia in recent days is unwelcome — and despite a U.N. appeal, his government will turn back any illegal arrivals.

“We cannot welcome them here,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar told CNN by phone last week.

“If we continue to welcome them, then hundreds of thousands will come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”

Last night, Malaysia and Indonesia, predominately Muslim nations, have agreed to temporarily take in these desperate people, but for nations already struggling with their own ethnic conflict, and knowing the dangers of opening the door, it is unlikely to be a permanent solution.

When you look at the dual force of demographics and poor economics in the nations the migrants are coming from – and combine that with a growing “no thanks, we’re full” mindset in already overcrowded developed and developing nations – are the world’s maritime powers ready to respond to the masses at sea?

When pulses of desperate migrants surge forth as conflict occurs in these tottering and dusty edges of modernity – what will be the response as the walls grow and thicken while the oceanic commons fill with the boats and bodies of migrants?

The politicians will eventually decide on a path. Any path will require the tools of national will – military, paramilitary, legal, and police power – to respond and act. That requires training, equipment, and procedures – all done in a multinational environment.

We might as well start increasing this part of our toolbox; the requirement is only going to grow. The mission you may not want, but may get anyway.
– Will we just block, send back and watch as more ships founder and drift?
– Will we intercept, tow, and divert?
– If the pressure-valve of migration is stopped, then the stress for resources and justice in the source nations can only lead in one direction – conflict. Will we be in the consequence management business even more – or like the international fleet off Smyrna (now Izmir), just hang out and watch the bloodbath?

A final note: why not mention the issue of immigration to the USA? Different problem in both geography, culture and scale. Much easier for a diluted majority Anglo-Saxon-Germanic culture to absorb migrants from mostly Catholic Iberianesque cultures than what the rest of the world if facing. As I grew up in just that environment – I don’t see the issue. We’re fine. Also, more of a land and as a result police issue. I’ll let the Army and law enforcement side of the house address that if they wish.

I have also lived at the edges of the unassimilated masses of N. Africans, Turks, and S. Asians that are swelling in Europe – I see the huge challenge those nations will have to learn to deal with one way or the other. The trend lines speak for themselves.

Even while stepping gingerly past the usual swamps of interservice rivalry, for most of those who have had to work with “them,” it is very clear that there is a large difference in culture between the US Air Force and the Navy-Marine Corps team.

Very different – and in important ways not good.

One of the areas of difference is in their culture’s tolerance of dissent.

While not as open as a spoken-word poetry slam, when compared to the other services, the maritime services are rather open minded and resilient to off-message discussion.

Perhaps we can trace it back to the traditions Admirals Mahan and Sims built on, improved – and eloquently brought to the front from the Revolt of the Admirals to VADM Tom Connolly. It is hard to say, but any time spent in the joint environment you can see the difference.

The events in the last few months have brought out two great examples that would be difficult to see happening in such an open way in the maritime services.

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, is accused of telling officers that they are prohibited from discussing with Congress efforts to retire the A-10 attack jet, which many lawmakers would like to keep in service.

“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post reportedly said, according to a post by blogger Tony Carr on his John Q. Public website. “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it.”

Well, Post got fired for his efforts.

More recently, we had this from retired USAF General Roger Brady;

But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.

The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force’s myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.

Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.

A valid perspective, perhaps for a retired Soviet Air Force General – but perhaps a little off for one from a representative republic of a free people.

Though that attitude does exist in many places in our Navy towards any off-talking points discussion – it is usually done in quiet way among safe ears. Not in our Air Force though, no. It seems to be comfortable to come out in clear view of all.

That difference in culture can be found in glaring relief in the broader marketplace of ideas. It has long been a staple from the beginnings of new media over a decade ago that the USAF seemed to have a light footprint and not too full of boat rockers. That is getting better.

It is no mistake that Tony Carr’s blog “John Q. Public” has been at the front of both of these events and others on the USAF side of the house – he is one of the few contrary voices out there from that side of the Pentagon – and he is getting good traction as result. He is serving a very underserved market … and the quality of his goods is feeding the demand even more.

As I have seen in comments as of late – I wish this insight was originally mine – there may be something to consider about one potential source of the USAF vs. USN/USMC culture difference. The USAF does not have its version of the US Naval Institute and Proceedings.

Let’s look at the mission of USNI again;

To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.

I think that is something the USAF could dearly use.

As Claude Berube pointed out in his brief history of the Naval Lyceum, our Navy has this deep tradition of challenge – of creative friction.

As imperfect as it is in execution and perhaps even support – this is something we should all step back now and then and ponder the 2nd and 3rd order effects that the Institute has on our larger culture, and the health of its collective professional intellect.

Do we have our Posts and Bradys? Sure … but they don’t feel supported by a general culture or empowered by their sense of intellectual entitlement to come out in the open and say it.

Looking at the pushback this year – maybe the USAF is headed our way in this respect. Good.

It isn’t just good – the USAF deserves better than this “shut up and color” type of leadership. Those leading the USAF at the highest levels were mid-grade officers in DESERT STORM. In that conflict, one of their leaders was General Charles Horner, USAF (Ret.).

Like many of his generation of military officers, his views were formed by what he saw in the Vietnam War. He and his peers knew what they didn’t want to be when it was their turn.

In Eric Schlosser book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, the author gives a snapshot of where the USAF leadership was in 1991 from Horner’s view, looking back to the General Officers leading the USAF in Vietnam;

I didn’t hate them because they were dumb, I didn’t hate them because they had spilled our blood for nothing, I hated them because of their arrogance… because they had convinced themselves that they actually knew what they were doing and that we were too minor to understand the “Big Picture.” I hated my own generals, because they covered up their own gutless inability to stand up to the political masters in Washington … (I would) never again be a part of something so insane and foolish.

(I highly recommended the extended quote in context from the book Horner wrote with Tom Clancy, Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign.)

Has the center mass of USAF drifted this far away again? Again in an arrogance not willing to consider the views of their company and field grade officers?

Culture is never a fixed thing, but there can be parts of a culture that can be a damping rod to provide constancy through change. Thinking about our sister service’s battle with the free exchange of ideas and open discourse, at least for me, gives me a greater appreciation of our Institute and its mission.

Along those lines … take a break from reading and hit the keyboard. Someone’s tree needs shaking, and USNI is always looking for writers.


There are three broad avenues of discussion in the last year about how to help build tomorrow’s Fleet; strategy, force structure, personnel reform.

The strategy part burned bright for awhile, but in time, when there wasn’t anything to fuel a larger discussion, it soon dissolved in to the place most are more comfortable discussing, programmatics and fleet structure. The semi-annual carrier battle and the curious, “Build the fleet we can and then we will write a strategy to justify it.” … or other similar variations on the theme.

Force structure discussions have developed the vibe of a Sunday morning AA-relapse group discussion – looking at all the things that we want but can’t afford to own, things we’ve paid for and own that don’t seem to work right and can’t afford to fix, those things we own and are a little shopworn, and our shrinking fortunes to recover from the benders of the past imperfect.

Hard to believe, but as we approach mid-year, some of the more exciting discussions are coming from the personnel side of the house.

From retirement plans on one end, to providing opportunities to take a multi-year sabbaticals on the other – there are a lot of ideas and initiatives going on in the personnel world to not just try to modernize our system, but to ensure we are attracting, keeping, and providing the most opportunities to those in the Navy – and at the same time try to balance the needs of the collective Navy with individual personal and professional goals.

Some of these ideas will cost money – real or opportunity cost, some will perhaps save money (mostly in the infamous “out years”) – but they all require a fundamental rethink of how we look at career progression for officer and enlisted.

That is a good thing. All organizations must constantly look at what they do in order to keep what works, refine what is close to working, and letting go to the net-negative.

In an era where sequester-level funding – and probably less in the medium term – is the new normal, those ideas that cost more in the short term will probably not have much support. Cost neutral will be given consideration, and any short term cost saving initiatives will move to the front.

In a perfect world, we would look at all three – but we don’t live in that world. Let’s assume that we won’t be spending more to get some additional marginal good. Let’s also assume that anything that saves money will get a good look at. So, in that mind, what are some cost-neutral items we can look at to squeeze a better Navy out of our existing system? How about some ideas that may not be new ideas, but are ideas that are top-of-mind to those who are most affected. What if those same people are in the cohort we are most interested in keeping? There; interest.

One of the easiest ways to gain efficiencies is to look at what barriers or inefficiencies are strictly policy and habit related. Those are the easiest to fix once you acknowledge that you need to. What are they? Why are they still here? What harm would be gained by changing them … or … what is the upside if we do?


IMG_2669 (1)Earlier this year while attending USNI-AFCEA’s West15, the whole idea of the simple changes with potential gains to both Navy and servicemenber came to mind as a result of a totally unrelated question.

One of the better features of West15 was that the organizers managed to bring in a few fleet units and their Sailors from the riverine and rotary wing communities.

After a few top-shelf speeches and seminars, and once my beltwaybandit goodiebag was full, I grabbed a fellow traveler and decided to check out the static displays.

Remember, you had an exhibit floor full of contractors, consultants, vendors and uniformed personnel who dance with them – so the mind is very focused on “kit.”

I like open ended questions – especially to those who are on the pointy end of things. I walked over to the JOs and POs around their helos and warboats on a perfect San Diego “winter” day, and after the usual small talk, I asked one simple question, “What piece of kit do you not have that you wish you had to complete your mission?”

No one answered that question, except to say, “No, everything we have is fine, but … “

Ah, the magic “but.” That is the connector to what is really on a person’s mind, and what I heard next was nothing new, but it was real, and it was actionable – and it all had to do with personnel policy.

The first answer was simple, “Why am I told by the detailers that there is no way that I can compete to have a career in the small ship Navy? I don’t care about having the perfect career path to be best set up for command of a Destroyer. I like this part of the Navy. Why not me if I want to stay and return, if they have to force others to come here to do the same job anyway?”

That is a very good question, why not?

In the Midrats interview at the end of the month with the CNP, VADM Moran – I brought up that encounter. The answer was the same for that JO that is was for me when I was a JO; it is what is best for the needs of the Navy. Yes, perhaps – but as VADM Moran stated, riverine is one of those places that is hard to get people to go to, but once they get there, many don’t want to get out.

OK, so if a young professional is willing to go down that path – fully knowing that their career path will have a much lower probability of command – why not let them?

Is it better to try to force someone to fit a Millington Diktat, and as a result, embitter them enough that they punch out at first chance, or to allow that officer to compete for a job he loves later on in his career so he actually stays in. Even if there is a 0% selection rate for CDR command, that may be OK for that officer. He may not care. In any event, if he punches out because he cannot stand the prospect of being a gnome in the big-ship Navy – he isn’t going to have command anyway.

If we are looking to break the adhesions in the prescribed career path by having sabbaticals and other changes, why not broaden our aperture a bit more? Are we really saying no to that officer for his own good, or are we saying no to that officer because he makes things too complicated for the detailing shop in Millington? Who is the supported and who is the supporting institution?

The second answer I received was equally old school and on the surface, easily fixed. “No, everything is fine, but … I wish there was some way that we could actually have Sailors show up at the command already finishing the schools they need to work with our equipment. It gains me nothing to have a First Class with all the quals PCS, only to be replaced with another First Class who can’t do anything and is lost to the command for months as he goes to school.”

A decades old problem that still is not fixed. We have to spend money to move people. We have to spend money to send people to schools. Ships have to go to seas, ships have to be full of Sailors. Are our systems so rigid, our procedures so ossified that we cannot in the second decade of the 21st Century match up the requirements of a specific billet with the training required for replacement personnel? Again, supported or supporting? Which organization is which?

Is it so bad that a warfighter is not so worried about what weapons he will be asked to go to war with, but if someone on shore duty could help a brother out by putting the horse in front of the cart?

Just those two examples above, do they require additional funds to accomplish? No. They do require a change of mindset, one for career management, and the other priorities.

Why not? If we are going to make big, new changes … why not the old little?

Listening to the always superb Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Tuesday AM at the opening of West2015 should be on everyone’s short list of things you need to watch. As when he was the Under Secretary of the Navy, at such events he gives those in the audience a good outline of what he is working on, what concerns him, and what the priorities are for the administration and nation he serves.

How you look at the challenges he describes depends on the time-frame you are thinking about. Much of it covers the short term, to say 2016, and also to the medium term, up to 2020. Sure, there are some technology big pixel items that may mature that he discusses at 2020 and beyond, but much of what he shared was inside the 2020s.

He started out with a snapshot of the President’s defense budget proposals in the world of sequestration – a world he describes as one defined as lower budgets (than desired) with higher demands; a $534 baseline budget plus $51 OCO budget. that gets you a bit over a 7% increase above the present budget.

Yes, that is an increase, but as defined by a strategy driven budget, that he envisions, it isn’t enough to do what national security requirements need – especially if sequestration continues forward.

As he discussed what happened during 2014, one almost felt as if the Pentagon wished it could stand athwart history and yell, “STOP!” as they did their best to see what they wanted to do and how to get there.

There was much discussion of shifting money in a resource constrained environment on the fly – adjusting and rebuilding as they went along reacting to developing events. He reminded us that are still working under the March 2014 strategy even though since then, Work stated that they have three “surprises” that caused them in September to do a baseline review. The Big-3 surprises were; 1. Russian aggression in Ukraine; 2. Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria in conjunction with the military collapse of the Iraqi army; 3. Ebola.

In spite off all that, they decided that their strategy was not broken, and the outlines of the QDR remain intact.

The five priorities from the Pentagon and the administration remain; the pivot to the Pacific, stability in Europe, counter terrorism, strengthening partnerships with allied nations (nations, he notes, are from a capability and capacity point of view tapped out), & modernization of the force. That is the short term. A short term challenge where the Administration has sent to Congress a proposal $150 billion above sequestration and will challenge the other branch of government to respond accordingly in the direction they propose.

The near term crisis is getting rid of the pressure of sequestration, as that keeps us from growing the force. From the perspective of the Pentagon, anything below will cause problems and will make things unmanageable. Can something be either unmanageable or unsustainable? Perhaps … we’ll get to that.

Moving to the medium term, they are already working on POM-17, trying to find the right balance where we have to accept a defined shortage of ISR & missile defense, while keepin a viable forward presence to deter possible enemies and support our allies. While all that is going on – somehow we have to find a way to structure things so we have a chance to reset our military to win one conflict while denying success to an enemy in a second.

Sound hard? It is … and there is no clear and simple answer … for the short term.

Trying to get to the medium term is not going to be easy either. At the end of past wars – and we have been at war for 13-years – there has always been a planned 2-3 yr reset to replace worn out equipment, relieve personnel stress, and retrain for all services to be ready to respond and be ready for full spectrum conflict.

It isn’t easy to do this reset because of our present OPTEMPO. The world won’t wait.

Events are coming up from the Islamic State and elsewhere that are causing us to try to do a reset on the run. As a result, though our deployed forces are full up, our surge force is not in good shape and cannot start to fully do the reset they need. What he described falls in perfectly with an action back home we call, “shooting up the horse” or in more familiar terms, a readiness death spiral.

Work believes that given what they see now and using the post Vietnam War reset as a rough baseline, it will take to 2020 for all services but the USAF, who will need to get to 2023, to reset to get back to full spectrum readiness.

A lot of positive things will have to flip our way to make that unfold as outlined. Not impossible to get everything set right for 2020, the end of the next President’s first administration, but not simple.

The argument can be made that the struggle in the short and medium term up to 2020 is actually the easy problem. The real challenge, and one where it is difficult to see how you fix it, comes once you start the third decade of this century. That is where one should start to try to propose a way forward now, we are only five years away.

This is the point where those who have been following my writing for the last half decade know where we are going; The Terrible 20s – and there was nothing in Work’s opening that addressed how our Navy is going to deal with this challenge that is only now creeping in to the general conscienceless. All the points the Deputy SECDEF brought up are true and important and rightfully the things he needs to focus on – they are the crocodiles closest to his canoe, but the real fiscal challenge and budget squeeze are coming – he knows this – but that crocodile is out of sight right now.

It is no secret that a mix of factors are going to make the 2020s a decade of incredible challenge for the US military in general, and the Navy in particular. You can follow the link above for details on The Terrible 20s, but there are two major causes in descending order of importance; SSBN recapitalization and the expected roosting of the debt interest chickens.

In the latest edition of USNI‘s Proceedings, Eric Labs’s article, Finding Funding for a New Boomer has a graph that tells the story well of what is coming up. We’ve been down the SSBN road before.

Over the entire Trident era, spending on ballistic-missile submarine construction consumed 14 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. However, it is the beginning of that period, 1974–78, that seems particularly relevant as we look at the Ohio replacement program in the coming decades. Average shipbuilding budgets in that period were over 50 percent higher than average shipbuilding budgets over the 1968–73 period. The Ohio class represented about a quarter of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, receiving a substantial fraction of those higher budgets.

Yet the Navy paid a price from other parts of its budget to buy those additional ships and submarines. Its average topline budget remained flat. Compared to 1968–73, it was only 1 percent higher over the 1974–78 period. To pay for new ships, including Ohio -class ballistic-missile submarines, the Navy sacrificed force structure. Its Fleet fell by over 40 percent, while both Navy and Marine Corps end-strength declined by 20 percent. The Vietnam War had come to an end, so it is perhaps not surprising to see those declines, but clearly in this early period of the Trident era the Navy was not receiving more money overall, although money was found within its budget to pay for new ships, including SSBNs.

Read the full article to understand how the Navy reacted to these previous periods, but the underlying fiscal facts remain; that money will need to come from somewhere, or we will simply have to do Strategic Deterrence on the cheap.

If you are waiting for a magic bag of money to show up next decade, there is something that will manifest itself that our nation has not faced, as a percentage of GDP, since the end of WWII. This time, we are not a nation with a big demobilization freeing up assets. We are not a nation untouched, astride a world in ashes. We do not have a clear path to growth in a wide open nation with economic potential of a new age. This time it is very different.

Let’s shift to Josh Zumbrun over at The Wall Street Journal and his article, The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending;

Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates. Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.

By 2021, the government will be spending more on interest than on all national defense. according to White House forecasts. And one year later, interest costs will exceed nondefense discretionary spending–essentially every other domestic and international government program funded annually through congressional appropriations. (The largest part of the budget is, and will remain, the mandatory spending programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Mandatory spending is over $2 trillion and is set to double to $4 trillion by 2025.)

Here’s the graph for you visual types.
BN-GT738_ristid_G_20150203110744This begs the question; if we have a challenge now to meet our national security requirements, then what are we going to do in The Terrible 20s?

We have a zero option for SSBN if we wanted (not recommended) – but what we don’t have a zero option on is the servicing the national debt.

How do you manage these converging train wrecks? If we think that the pressures of sequester are almost unmanageable, then what is the plan for both of these challenges? Don’t forget, the Baby Boom generation that generated all that taxable income post-WWII will all be at retirement age by the 2020s – note the voting pressure that will come with it.

I am confident of the next couple of POM periods, but … soon.

“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, USN (Ret)

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