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r47ntIn what is clearly one of the more unfortunate moments in leadership we have seen in a while, we have seen in the discussions of women in Marine infantry the triumph of politics and personality over study and science; a raw forcing of a political agenda over mutual respect for the results of an honest study.

Civilian control of our military is one of the crown jewels of our system of government. Hard decisions are made and consensus is rarely there, and that is good. To function best, it relies on mutual respect and a default assumption of the best intentions of all parties.

Well – the last week saw a nasty counter-example pushed out in to the light in an completely unnecessary and unproductive way – and the fault starts at the very top.

It is one thing to argue about the validity of a study – but that is not what is going on. No, what we are seeing is a leader (SECNAV) asking a question and an answer is given based on study and facts. The answer happens not to be in line with the thinking, feeling, emotion, or desired outcome of the leader. The result? Well, let’s look.

From MarineTimes’s Hope Hodge Seck on the 10th;

All-male ground combat teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in nearly every capacity during a recent infantry integration test, Marine Corps officials revealed Thursday.

Data collected during a monthslong experiment showed Marine teams with female members performed at lower overall levels, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their all-male counterparts. In addition, female Marines sustained significantly higher injury rates and demonstrated lower levels of physical performance capacity overall, officials said.

The Marines’ Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force involved about 400 Marine volunteers, roughly 25 percent of whom were women. Over the course of nine months, teams that simulated integrated rifle, weapons, mechanized and artillery units trained to infantry standards and then executed a repetitive series of skills assessments under human testing conditions.

High injury rates among women were also a problem at the Infantry Training Battalion, the Marines’ basic infantry training school for enlisted troops that temporarily opened to women between 2013 and 2015. Researchers found that female ITB participants were injured at more than six times the rate of male participants, and nearly one-third of their injuries occurred during movement-under-load tasks, while just 13 percent of male injuries did.

Read it all to get a full flavor of the study.

After chewing for a day, on the 11th via WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, SECNAV took an angle as unexpected as disturbing;

“Part of the study said that women tend not to be able to carry as heavy of a load for as long,” Mabus told NPR. “But, there are women who went through this study that could. And part of the study said that we’re afraid that because women get injured more frequently, that over time women will break down more. That you will begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates, and I’m not sure that’s right.”

Let’s stop for a minute. Look at that last bit first,

I’m not sure that’s right.

That is a classic sign of someone who is having trouble getting their emotions and feelings in line with reality. This is where Spud Webb comes in.

There is always a Spud Webb. A Spud is someone who breaks well past three standard deviations from the norm that is expected from their biological makeup. In this case, the rare example of a 5’7″ guy who can play well in the NBA where the average height is more that a foot taller than he is. Not only that, in addition to being a great person, Spud can still dunk in his late 40s.

There are also individual women who can do most of the minimum physical requirements in the most demanding positions, but they are, in a fashion, the Spud Webb.

We all love Spud – but we can’t let our excitement about Spud force us to make decisions based on our desire that all 5’7″ men can perform as well as Spud if we just care enough and reserve enough court time. That is just immature, and not all that well grounded.

If the NBA forced all teams to have one non-Spud person 5’7″ or below on every team in one division, but not in the other divisions – would that be a zero-sum impact on one division’s performance relative to the others’? Of course not.

Anyone who denies the biological differences that bone density, muscle mass, and testosterone gives in physical performance of one sex over the other is simply, to use a phrase of the zeitgeist, a science denier.

A bit more from the SECNAV;

“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never able to do this,” Mabus said of the Marine Corps’ research. “When you start out with that mindset, you almost presuppose the outcome.”

Wow. He is assuming that no female Marines were involved in this? Does he assume that if they were they were part of some great misogynistic conspiracy? Does he believe that from the Commandant of the Marine Corps on down they are trying to force an outcome regardless of what the facts of the study are?

When the SECNAV calls in to question the integrity of your entire service, how do you respond? Well, at the initial post-slap shock, this sounds about right;

An official at Marine Corps headquarters said the service isn’t “going to “get into a debate with SECNAV.” The purpose of the service’s research was to “show scientific method and rigor that would help inform our military leaders and others about some of the possible considerations of gender integration into combat arms” jobs,” the official said. He spoke anonymously in order to candidly address Mabus’s remarks.

“It’s for leaders to weigh and consider,” the official said of the research. “The debate will continue in the near term, but in the end, we will effectively implement any policy the department decides.”

Over the weekend, if you were following the story, you knew this was not going to go in a productive direction. What I didn’t expect, was that this would unravel so quickly.

WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff on the 14th;

Marines involved in a controversial experiment evaluating a gender-integrated infantry unit say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus after he criticized the results of a nine-month study that found women are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately in simulated combat conditions.

“Our secretary of the Navy completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus,” said Sgt. Danielle Beck, a female anti-armor gunner with the task force.

OK SECNAV, what kind of mindset did Sgt. Danielle Beck, USMC bring in to the study?

Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as one of Beck’s monitors for the experiment, said he was frustrated with the secretary’s comments.

“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Frommling. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”

“All the work that the task force did, the rounds that we shot, didn’t mean anything if he had already made up his mind,” he added.

MabusThe SECNAV’s view of how men and women may be some toxic stew of his experiences in the early 1970s Hairy Navy stirred in the the fetid sauce his gender-studies dept. educated advisers on women’s issues are pouring in to his ears, but it isn’t reflective of what I saw on active duty from the late 1980s to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century – much less 2015.

The honest and direct teamwork of Danielle Beck and Joe Frommling is of this century and this generation – and their integrity and that of their entire uniformed chain of command has been brought in to question by their service’s senior leader – their Secretary of the Navy.

“If you were to look at our training plan and how we progressed from October to February, you’re not going to find any evidence of institutional bias or some way we built this for females to fail,” said one Marine officer who participated in the experiment.

The officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of his active-duty status, explained that for the first five months of the experiment the Marines of the task force trained as a unit in North Carolina to prepare for the testing phase in California. This phase of training is known as “the work-up,” with the second phase in California — where the trials would be held — acting as the deployment.

“We consulted physical trainers from [the school of infantry] to help develop an appropriate hike plan, and we fired roughly a year’s worth of ammo for a regiment in a quarter,” the officer said, referring to the massive amounts of ammunition used to train the relatively small task force at Camp Lejeune. “In the time that we had, there wasn’t a day wasted when it came to training for California . . . From the top down, we were trying to level the playing field.”

Though the entirety of Weapons Company, men and women, trained to the same standard before deploying to California for the evaluation period of the test, another criticism leveled by Mabus was that the women probably should have had a “higher bar to cross” to join the task force.

To Beck, a 30 year-old who was one of the strongest women in the company, Mabus’s remarks were insulting.

“Everyone that was involved did the job and completed the mission to the best of their abilities,” said Beck, adding that Mabus’s remarks about the type of women in the experiment were a “slap in the face.”

“The caliber of the women in Weapons Company are few and far between in the Marine Corps,” she added. “They are probably some of the most professional women that anybody will ever have chance to work with, and the heart and drive and determination that they had is incomparable to most women in the Marine Corps.”

That should, in normal times with normal leaders, cause at least some pause. Well, notsomuch here. On the 15th, as reported by DefenseOne’s Bradley Pensiton;

With more than three months to go before the year-end deadline, the Navy Secretary made it clear on Monday: he will not be requesting any exceptions to the Pentagon edict that all U.S. military jobs be opened to women.

“Nobody’s asking for an exemption in the Navy,” Mabus told an audience at the the City Club of Cleveland. “And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines.”

That may have come as a surprise to the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Joe Dunford; Marine Corps Times reported Thursday that Dunford had met with the secretary on the issue but had yet to issue his recommendations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter asked the services to complete their reviews of obstacles to full gender integration and report back by Oct. 1. If no service seeks or is granted an exemption, the military will open to women all 200,000 positions that remain closed to them on or before the first of the year.

There you go. The study and all the work by the Marines was for nothing. If he didn’t get the results he signaled that he wanted, he was going to do what he wanted anyway.

I don’t think we have any fraud here, but waste and a bit of abuse? An argument might be made in those two areas – but it really doesn’t matter.

This is the world view;

In the study, he said, “There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership.”

Opening all Marine jobs to women, he said, is “not going to make them any less fighting effective. In fact I think they will be a stronger force because a more diverse force is a stronger force.”

Back to the sports analogy arena, this time football.If the AFC decides that 20% of its team has to be female, and the NFC does not – where is the smart money going on the Superbowl? Would the AFC be, “A stronger conference because it is a more diverse conference?”

Thinking, feeling and believing is more important than knowing in the armed services now, I guess. That is where we are, and where we should accept that we are. It is how our system works.

No one really should be surprised. This SECNAV’s tenure has been one where the power of the office has been used to ignore unpleasant hard sciences, but the soft sciences as well as seen in the now forgotten anti-economic “Great Green Fleet” industrial planning vanity project.

We have seen the personal desires and political play in naming ships after a former Sailor who hated his time in the Navy, amphibious ships named after people who promoted blood libel against their former Marines, and has even named a warship after the worst Southern wartime Commander in Chief since Jefferson Davis.

Though in an open society of a free republic, we can disagree with decisions appointed leaders make, we also have to accept them.

You can reach a point as well where there is a point of honor.

And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines

I guess that puts the ball in the Marine Corps’ court. Not only does he question the integrity of hundreds of Marines from Sgt to Gen., the SECNAV has no intention of accepting your recommendations either – as is his privilege.

What a sad and unnecessary production of friction and distraction inside the lifelines of a nation at war. Women have made great strides in serving their nation. As as one who served in gender integrated units his entire career – it is the normal.

What is being done here is not normal. It is nothing more than the triumph of personality and the political over science and judgement.

That isn’t good for women, the Marines, or the nation they serve.

As Europe closes borders as waves of migrants come crashing against razor wire, islands are being created from ocean bottom in WESTPAC, and Russia is building bases in the Middle East the Soviets never could … our political and personal capital is being expended on this.

UPDATE: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has brought this issue a bit more in to focus, sending a letter to SECDEF Carter suggesting he call for SECNAV’s resignation.

naval baseThere are very few readers of USNIBlog who believe that we have an adequately sized fleet – especially those readers coming back from an 8, 9, or 11-month deployment. Sure, we may debate what types of ships should count towards or make up that fleet, but the bottom line number? No, few think we are where we need to be, much less that we should have a smaller one.

That does not mean that in the general conversation about the right size and composition of the USA’s national security apparatus, there isn’t a body of thought that not only is our fleet size fine, it may even be too large.

Via CNN, here is how the conversation usually starts;

While many analysts think the Navy needs to grow, others think it’s large enough — given its global dominance — and that funding realities mean there’s a limit to how much it could expand in any case.

The U.S. naval force is currently made up of 273 ships, which is the smallest number since the fleet stood at 245 ships in 1916. While fleet size has fluctuated significantly throughout history, topping out at 6,768 during World War II, today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

Part of me thinks we are not making a strong enough argument, or that we are not making our argument in a way that can penetrate the general population in a way that makes sense.

We can have significant defense policy thinkers put forth the following;

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, agreed with the Republican view that the Navy needs to have closer to 355 ships to maintain current deployment patterns and to carry out missions ranging from disaster relief to military deterrence.

He said that adding more ships to the fleet’s rotation would allow the Navy to shorten deployments, which would help personnel retention and avoid carrier gaps in the future.

(Peter) Singer said better questions about the future of the Navy would be, “What types of ships are they going to be and how are you going to pay for them?”

At the same time, mainstream organizations are still tapping in to those with a shallow understanding of maritime issues, such as Gregg Easterbrook, to be their “defense expert” in order to make their point. I’ll let you research his background and writing for yourself – but he is listened to and on the national stage and if calls-for-comment are a measure, is making an argument as well as Hendrix and Singer to the general public.

This discussion goes back to March from Easterbrook, and addressed by Hendrix on this blog shortly afterwards. In spite of the additional thrashing of Easterbrooks’ article by Bryan McGrath, James Holmes, and even little ‘ole me at my homeblog, Easterbrook and the do-less-with-less caucus still gets traction.


Gregg Easterbrook, a journalist who has tracked fiscal policy and military strategy for Reuters and The Atlantic, argued that the U.S. Navy’s technological superiority makes it plenty big enough to maintain the dominance it has enjoyed for the last half-century

“The U.S. Navy is 10 times stronger than all of the other world’s navies combined,” Easterbrook said. “To say that the Navy is weak because the numbers are going down is classic political nonsense.”

“No other country is even contemplating building something like the Ford-class carrier,” Easterbrook said. “We could cut the Navy in half in terms of ship numbers and still be far stronger than the rest of the world combined.”

Regardless of the reason, we need to rethink how we are telling our story. The fight for every fleet unit will get harder and harder as we work through the 2020s. As ISIS rages ashore, the problem of sea blindness will not get any better. As Dakota Woods stated in the CNN article, we need more depth to the discussion once we get people’s attention;

… today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

But former military officials say comparisons between the Navy of 1917 and today’s are an apples-to-oranges contrast. The modern Navy includes 10 aircraft carriers — more than the rest of the world combined — 90 surface warfare vessels and 72 submarines.

“It is a useful bumper sticker,” said Dakota Wood, a former U.S. Marine and senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation. “It resonates with people but doesn’t go into the details.”

Do we need the accountant’s details … or the story teller’s narrative?

hqdefaultThere is a lot more going on in the arctic than a visit by President Obama over the course of the last week. No reason to comment on some of the photo ops, but let’s look at the one item of substance he brought forward in to the discussion;

President Obama on Tuesday proposed speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers that can operate year round in the nation’s polar regions, part of an effort to close the gap between the United States and other nations, especially Russia, in a global competition to gain a foothold in the rapidly changing Arctic.

Exactly spot on. Most here should be aware of the embarassing state of the neglect of our ice hardened forces in the north.

Five weeks ago, Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, laid the facts out on the table;

The Coast Guard’s two existing heavy polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea—
have exceeded their originally intended 30-year service lives. Polar Star was placed in caretaker
status on July 1, 2006. Congress in FY2009 and FY2010 provided funding to repair it and return
it to service for an additional 7 to 10 years of service; the repair work was completed and the ship
was reactivated on December 14, 2012. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar
Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty; the ship was unavailable for operation after that.

The Coast Guard placed Polar Sea in commissioned, inactive status on October 14, 2011.
The Coast Guard’s third polar icebreaker—Healy—entered service in 2000. Compared to Polar
Star and Polar Sea, Healy has less icebreaking capability (it is considered a medium polar
icebreaker), but more capability for supporting scientific research. The ship is used primarily for
supporting scientific research in the Arctic.

With the reactivation of Polar Star in 2012, the operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet consists
of one heavy polar icebreaker (Polar Star) and one medium polar icebreaker (Healy).

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say this is a disgrace for the world’s premier maritime power with significant economic and national security interests in the polar regions.

Other nations are not playing games;

The region, home to some of the world’s largest undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves, is becoming a new frontier for a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West.

On 24 August, Russia kicked off a series of large-scale military exercises in the Arctic. A week earlier, Moscow informed the United Nations that it had laid claim to a staggering 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic shelf.

Russia also plans to reopen military bases it abandoned after the Soviet Union collapsed. Although the Kremlin insists its military moves are purely defensive, they come at a time of heightened tensions with the West over Ukraine that saw Russia increase its air patrols probing Nato’s borders, including in the Arctic.

… if Russia wishes to continue to be a leading oil and gas producer in the future, it must explore new oil and gas finds.

Russia’s traditional Siberian fields are aging and its liquefied natural gas plans are taking a hit, with more and more supplies appearing from competitors. And now that China’s energy appetite has stalled, the prospects of the oil price picking up soon are negligible.

If it is to survive, Russia needs other resources. These are found in the Arctic. For example, in September 2014, Exxon Mobil and Rosneft announced a major oil find in the Kara Sea, but cooperation had to be suspended due to the souring political climate.

In other words, Putin’s sabre-rattling over the Arctic is not just about diverting attention away from a troubled economy at home; it is equally about securing the country’s – and the government’s – long-term future.

That report from yesterday tops off the Russian moves for years.

Other nations are stretching their reach as well. Via WSJ:

Five Chinese navy ships are currently operating in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, the first time the U.S. military has seen such activity in the area, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The officials said they have been aware in recent days that three Chinese combat ships, a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship were in the vicinity after observing them moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are split between U.S. and Russian control.

They said the Chinese ships were still in the area, but declined to specify when the vessels were first spotted or how far they were from the coast of Alaska.

The Pentagon official said there were a “variety of opinions” on how to interpret the Chinese ships’ deployment.

“It’s difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region,” the official said.

“It’s different.”

Well Shipmate, that is a pretty safe statement.

We, as in the West, are at a distinct advantage here; NATO nations have the balance of the interest in the arctic; Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Canada and the United States. We also face off against our usual sparring partner, Russia. Other nations who are poking around, like China, we should just monitor and report – but don’t get distracted.

Two challenges here are: 1) Keep NATO united in how we work together in the arctic (Canada and Denmark, call your offices). 2) Do not give Russia an inch on additional claims. #2 requires #1, so make that the first step.

Some steps we could take would be to have a greater variety of options – and perhaps a few with teeth – for our Coast Guard to have in their tool kit. I especially like the Danish Knud Rasmussen class Ice-Resistant OPV (Offshore Patrol Vessel);

Knud Rasmussen class Inspection Ship
Displacement: 1,720 tonnes
Dimensions: length 61m, beam 14.6m, draught 4.95m
Complement: 18 crew (but can accommodate up to 43 )
2 x 2,720 kW (3650 hp) at 800 rpm, B&W Alpha 8L27/28 diesel engines, 1 propeller
Range: 3,000 nautical miles (3,452 mi / 5,555 km)
Performance: top speed 17 – 18 knots (31.5 – 33.2 km/h)

* Standard fit (which is lighter than that of the Agdlek class). As noted, containerized armament can include a 76 mm gun (M/85 LvSa), ESSM, and EuroTorp MU90 (M/04 antiubaadstorpedo).

Did you catch that? Using the STANFLEX concept, it is scalable quickly to a limited but effective ASUW, AAW, and ASW capable ship.

We could always dream … but for now, let’s watch for follow-through on President Obama’s call;

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search-and-rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.


OCIMF-Ice-accretion-iiWithout revolution and revolutionaries it is hard to significantly change large, hidebound institutions. It takes crisis, preferably one of the existential variety, to overcome the vested interest, power, influence nodes, and just plain habits that have been in place so long they have become part of the landscape everyone works around. With time, they grow as they collect accretions in a self-justifying cycle of mutual reinforcement.

In Wednesday’s post, RADM Bruner, USN frames his discussion around Col. Boyd’s OODA Loop concept. No reason to dive in there, the Cult of Boyd is well established and I have nothing to add to the canon, but it is what is inside the frame that I find of interest.

Inside that frame, Bruner brought his ship alongside that well established enemy of all that is good and holy, our self-defeating bureaucracy;

Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.

The reason it still exists is that changing it has not been a priority of civilian and uniformed leadership in the Pentagon and leadership of both parties on The Hill.

Why? Well to ask that question is to answer it. There are other priorities. For the last few decades we have rewarded and promoted those who are more interested in flash-in-the-pan concepts such as the Cult of Transformationalism, trying to garner political favors through focusing on socio-political agendas unrelated and antithetical to a well-run military, or giving speeches in support of failed programs that read more like defense industry spokesmen vice customers of the defense industry.

Where has the effort gone to bringing the edifice and infrastructure of our defense establishment in to the 21st Century? We are spending all our capital on paint, wallpaper, WiFi, and scented candles while the heat is supplied by a coal-fired furnace and the “facilities” are chamber pots and outhouses.

… if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.

We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.

Each year, those accretions grow. They only grow because they are allowed to. Why are they allowed to? Leadership and priorities.

We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly … We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today … We need flexibility to change programs …

Those are all great aspirations, and everyone who has to do their best inside the existing systems would love to do that, but they can’t. Why? It is because of the system they are forced to use. Who is forcing them to use it? The leadership of the Executive and Legislative Branches of government.

We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.

We have identified the “what” and outlined the “so what.” That leaves the “what next.”

Hate to say it, but we (those O-9 and below) must stoically wait.

During the English Civil War, in order to win, Parliament had to throw away all the English knew about how to man, train, and equip and army. From equipment to personnel policy, they stripped away everything that was not related to merit and performance on the field – they created the New Model Army.

That New Model Army could not have been created anywhere but during crisis and a break from the ruling establishment’s habits and privileges concerning the military. Sadly, absent some exceptional Executive Branch assignments, radical uniformed promotions from same, and the right leaders in the Legislative Branch of our government, the ossified accretions that are our system will not change.

Maybe we will get lucky and will change while at peace. With luck and the right people, maybe.

Change will have to start at the top. The first block will be something to replace Goldwater-Nichols. When that moves, more can follow – so watch that space. When that moves, the momentum will exist for other large-pixel reforms such as acquisition reform.

With all the vested business and political interest, it will be a rough and bloody battle that will leave in its wake a detritus of expended personnel and political capital, and more than one or two careers on the butcher bill. Worth the price; but the time is not ripe for that battle – there are no leaders, no plan, and as of yet, no massing of force to tilt against the Iron Triangle.

Until then? All we can do is what Bruner recommends, with little hammers tapping away at places we can access to make,

… small and necessary steps …

The big battles must wait.

Think, plan, prepare, ponder; and watch the horizon for sails.

SOHjpgWe all know the old phrase, “nations don’t have friends or enemies…nations only have interests.” As a rather young and insular nation, we can often forget about the interests and history of other nations, especially ones that don’t show up on a regular basis in the news cycle.

There are some nations who are geographically exceptionally important, but politically stable inside the last couple of decades. Stability, like civilization in general, is never a given and can fall apart in the blink of an eye to either internal or external conflict. What do you do then?

When reading up on some of the possible second and third order effects of Iran’s recent diplomatic victory over the West, I came across a great article from Amir Taheri on Oman. Anyone involved in maritime or national security over the last two decades do not need a refresher on how important that nation has been to us.

Taheri’s article brings to light some important points to consider because, if a stable Oman and reliable access to her facilities are one of your Planning Assumptions, then I sure hope you have a Branch Plan.

Let’s set the stage.

Determined to press its claim as “the regional superpower”, the Islamic Republic has decided to develop its maritime units into a full-fledged blue-water navy.
Three events have spurred the Iranian program for projection of power. The first is US President Barack Obama’s declared intention to drawdown and eventually conclude American military presence in the Middle East. If Obama’s policies are continued by his successor, the US would leave a huge gap to be filled in the region. The Islamic Republic hopes to fill it.

The second event was the “deal” made with the so-called P5+1 group over Iran’s nuclear project. If implemented, the deal would unfreeze Iranian financial assets estimated at between 120 billion US dollars and 150 billion US dollars, providing enough resources for a massive upgrading of the navy. The new Iranian budget has, in fact, raised defense expenditure by almost 23 percent, part of it devoted to the projection of naval power.

Another foreign power signals withdraw, so what are the small nations left behind to do as their foreign friends leave? They need to come to terms with their powerful neighbors. It is only natural that they go back to habits of the past and historical connections. Regression to the mean, if you will.

The third event was the speedy signing by Oman, with which Iran had its longest maritime border, over 248 miles (400 kilometers), of a treaty demarcating the limits of the two neighbors’ territorial waters. Prepared by the Iranian Defense Ministry, the treaty was sent to the foreign ministry in Tehran last spring with a demand that it be negotiated and finalized with Oman over a three-year period. As it turned out, however, the Omanis did not need such lengthy negotiations and quickly ratified the treaty which was signed by Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id in July.

How does this change things from a maritime security point of view?

… Iranian media have reported that the new treaty would systematize a series of arrangements that Iran had made with Oman in the early 1970s. At that time the Shah had sent an expeditionary force to crush a Communist rebellion backed by South Yemen in the Omani province of Dhofar.

For years, Iran has used the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz in its game of chicken with adversaries. The strait is 54-kilomtere long body of water that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and thus the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hormuz is, in fact, cut into two channels by the 110-kilometre long Iranian island of Qeshm.
… the part to the south of Qeshm, touching on the Omani enclave of Ras Mussandam that is of strategic importance because of massive international traffic including the passage of tankers carrying more than 30 percent of global oil trade.

Two islands are of strategic importance as far as commanding the southern part of the strait is concerned. To the north of the waterway is the Iranian island of Hangam, a satellite of Qeshm, which is already highly militarized. To the south is the Omani island of Beit Al-Ghanam.

“By having a presence in both islands, Iran would control the two halves of the gate,” says Hamid Zomorrodi, a former captain of the Iranian navy. “That island and the neighboring Ras Mussandam have been important in Iranian naval planning since the time of Nader Shah in the 18th century when Iran decided, for the first time, to build a navy in its southern waters.”

There you go. Is that connection made by Zomorrodi a stretch?

In the early 18th century, Iran returned to the region in a big way. Nader Shah bought four warships from the European powers and hired the British seafarer Captain Cook as naval adviser. His admiral, Latif Khan, launched a series of naval raids that ended with the capture of Bahrain, the crushing of pirate tribes, and a brief conquest of Muscat. However Nader Shah’s naval adventure didn’t last long. His assassination replunged Iran into civil war and chaos, deviating attention from tis southern waters. It took almost two centuries for Iran to return to its southern waters under Reza Shah who built a navy with help from Germany and Italy in the 1930s. In 1941, the British sunk the Shah’s navy when they, together with the Russians, invaded and occupied Iran in the name of the Allies fighting the German-led Axis.

In a sense, Oman is like an island because, with the exception of a link to a thinly inhabited fringe of southern Yemen, it is sealed off from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula by the uplands of the Batinah and the Rub Al-Khali, and surrounded by water on the remaining three sides. In geopolitical terms, Oman is a top prize for anyone who wishes to project naval power in the Indian Ocean.

It is not surprising that Oman features prominently in Iran’s long-term planning for naval projection of power. Omanis think they owe Iran a debt of gratitude for having helped them crush the Communist challenge launched from South Yemen in the 1970s.

In a gesture of friendship to the Sultan of Oman, in 1970s Iran rejected a demand by the sheikhs of Khassab and Diba, in the Mussandam Peninsula where the Shihuh and Kamzari tribes, speaking an Iranian language, once ruled, to secede from Oman and set up independent mini-states.

Oman has always tried to project a distinct political profile. In the 1971 celebration of the foundation of the Persian Empire, Sultan Qaboos was the only Arab head of state present.

There is more than just Oman in play if you run this scenario out.

Courting Oman is part of a broader policy of the Islamic Republic to Finlandize the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, by persuading and/or threatening them not to take sides in any conflict between Iran and tis regional or extra-regional rivals.

So far, Oman has managed to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy. But how long that could last depends on how far Tehran wishes to push its regional ambitions.

A friendly Oman is a big asset for Iran’s national security let alone its regional ambitions. A hostile Oman could force Tehran strategists to think twice before they bite more than they can chew.

Wargame that. Throw in a successful Shia uprising in Bahrain and an ongoing one in eastern Saudi Arabia. Well. Interesting times.

Posted by CDRSalamander in History, Strategy | 8 Comments
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687474703a2f2f32372e6d656469612e74756d626c722e636f6d2f74756d626c725f6c6f737837336e4a567531717a796468326f375f3235302e676966They will just keep coming. Make it happen.

Via Kris Osborne over at;

The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.

“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”

That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.

Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.

When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?

The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.

The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.

The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;

Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?

What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.

For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.

To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.

Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.

18171For the better part of a quarter century we have become comfortable reigning over a domain we do not have title to. Many know and are preparing for it – but as we rack-n-stack priorities, mitigating this critical vulnerability often gets lost in the crunch.

We have comfortably placed a significant portion of our weaponeering, navigation and other essentials at the mercy of peacetime access to GPS, and entire CONOPS assuming the access, use, and utility of networks reliant on the electromagnetic commons.

The warnings about about this complacency show up on a regular basis, and we have another one via DefenseNews;

… the commander of US Army Europe says Ukrainian forces, who are fighting Russian-backed separatists, have much to teach their US trainers.

Ukrainian forces have grappled with formidable Russian electronic warfare capabilities that analysts say would prove withering even to the US ground forces.

“Our soldiers are doing the training with the Ukrainians and we’ve learned a lot from the Ukrainians,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. “A third of the [Ukrainian] soldiers have served in the … combat zone, and no Americans have been under Russian artillery or rocket fire, or significant Russian electronic warfare, jamming or collecting — and these Ukrainians have. It’s interesting to hear what they have learned.”

Hodges acknowledged that US troops are learning from Ukrainians about Russia’s jamming capability, its ranges, types and the ways it has been employed. He has previously described the quality and sophistication of Russian electronic warfare as “eye-watering.”

How is the Army doing on its rack-n-stack in keeping up with the evolving electronic threats?

… and it is developing a powerful arsenal of jamming systems, but these are not expected until 2023.

As we defined it awhile ago, that is over two worldwars from now. Hmmmm.

Maybe Ukraine will inform their priorities as they look at the challenge ashore with fresh eyes – and in a fashion – help us look again at the challenge at sea.

Mabus announced a plan to boost the sea service’s enlisted female recruitment efforts to at least 25 percent of all accessions during a mid-May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The move, he said, will help attract, recruit and retain women in communities in which they are underrepresented.

“[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.

“I’d like to do better than that,” Mabus told reporters Tuesday following an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think that one in four is a floor, not a ceiling, and if people keep using one in four, I think it’s going to be.”

The services have got to be friendlier when you come in, because even if you get enough women, we’re losing too many between eight and 12 years,” he said.

hqdefaultIn the last month, our Marine Corps provided those who were watching both an object lesson and a case study on how an organization can tear itself apart when it decides to operate under self-contradicting priorities – priorities that do not share the same understanding of what the goals are.

Like people, organizations can get by for a length of time in self-contradiction, self-delusion, and ultimately self-destructive behavior; as long as it is small and does not have a major impact on the end result, or can be mitgated with a little slight of hand.

They can live multiple lives and promote nested systems under a polite agreement to keep the contradictions below the surface and both sides agree that that larger of the two will work harder to mitigate the contradiction of the smaller. As we Southerners like to say, a polite pretense.

There comes a point of inevitable friction when one party decides to not live by the agreement, or the smaller party gets unmanageably large – or both. There is a point someone stands athwart the whole arrangement and yells, “Halt.” Then the brewing conflict breaks out in to the open.

The organization makes a decision to pretend that the conflict is not there, or can be managed as before. The comfort of the “now” remains the priority, the unknown discomfort “later” identified by the challenge will be someone else’s problem.

When that person comes forward with grit, passion, and a steadfast belief in their cause, it then becomes a story of the reaction as the entrenched inertial of the status-quo resists the challenge that cannot be pushed to another PCS cycle. Via C.H. Chivers at NYT;

For decades the Marine Corps has tolerated, even encouraged, lower performance from the young women who enlist in its ranks, an insidious gender bias that begins with the way women are treated immediately after they sign up and continues through their training at boot camp. The results are predictable – female Marines risk being less confident and less fully accepted than their male counterparts, because the Corps has failed them from the outset.

We have often discussed at USNIBlog the importance of our leaders to “… dare to read, think, speak, and write …” – what can happen when you do?

That is the position of Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty Marine officer who commanded both a Marine recruiting station in San Diego and a segregated all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina. Colonel Germano presented this argument in a draft article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” that she wrote early this year and in which she argued for tougher standards and higher expectations, or, in her words, a movement toward “radical change.”

The article, which does not address full integration into combat roles but details institutional patterns that Colonel Germano suggests ensure female Marines will not be fully respected by their male peers, had been slated for publication in September in the monthly Marine Corps Gazette, a private publication that serves as the Corps’ de facto professional journal. Then matters grew complicated.

That is just one part of the story – read C.J.’s article not only for the full detail, but to also read LtCol Germano’s article that was spiked;

Colonel Germano was relieved of command at Parris Island in June under circumstances that remain contentious, setting off a controversy about whether she was being punished for what the Corps calls an abusive leadership style, or for forcefully expressing her views about the how the Corps trains and integrates women into its male-dominated ranks.

Soon after she was relieved, the editor of the Gazette, John Keenan, who is also a former Marine colonel, dropped Colonel Germano’s article from the journal’s publication lineup. Her arguments taking the Corps to task for what she depicted as a record of double standards and complacency stood not to reach Marines’ eyes, including such passages as this: “The performance double standard extends to virtually every aspect of recruit training. Over the past decade, female recruits have consistently scored below their male counterparts in every quantifiable category minus the gender-normed physical fitness test. Yet despite the statistics, historical records do not indicate that anyone has ever seriously considered why females have consistently been outperformed at boot camp. Acceptance of the status quo has simply become the norm. Ironically, notwithstanding the delta in female-male performance, a greater percentage of female recruits are promoted by contract to private first class upon graduation, meaning they are also more swiftly promoted to lance corporal in spite of potentially being less qualified. This is essentially where the Marine Corps meritocracy cart goes off the rails.”

A few more quotes, this time from LtCol Germano’s spiked article that gives some context to the below;

In general, from the instant a female applicant joins the delayed entry program (DEP) she faces lower expectations for accountability and performance than her male peers. Females are often allowed to miss applicant physical fitness training, seldom hold leadership positions within their respective recruiting substations, and are frequently allowed to ship to recruit training in spite of not having made progress with their physical development, all of which is observed firsthand by their male counterparts. As a result of this double standard, many female recruits arrive at boot camp utterly unprepared for the mental and physical rigors of training. Even more significant, their male counterparts arrive at recruit training with well-established preconceptions about the difference in accountability for men and women in the Marine Corps based on their observations in the DEP. The double standard is reinforced by the fact that, despite most females having an average of five months in the DEP, their IST failure rate is historically nine times greater than that of their male counterparts.

For years, the females and males on Parris Island conducted the nine-mile hike back from the Crucible separately, only to link up for a joint Emblem Ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue after the hike. Conspicuously, a line of chairs would be staged behind the female formation for recruits who were too “exhausted” or sore to stand. Conversely, there were no chairs staged behind the male formation. It was simply expected that the females would fall out of the formation, and fall out they did because there was no set expectation that standing through the ceremony was part of earning the title of U.S. Marine.

High standards for performance should never be gender-normed and, barring physiological differences, concrete evidence shows that women can perform to the same standards as their counterparts if it is demanded of them. In Fiscal Year 15, the Fourth Battalion witnessed this phenomena firsthand at the rifle range. For decades, the female initial qualification rate on the rifle range at Parris Island hovered between 67% – 78%, compared to 85% – 93% for the male training battalions. The male battalions also produced significantly greater percentages of rifle experts and sharpshooters. In Fiscal Year 15, however, the Fourth Battalion drill instructors received a defined intent for success on the rifle range, and through a strong partnership with Weapons and Field Training Battalion were able to achieve an unprecedented 91.68% female initial qualification average. The key to success was establishing the firm expectation that change was both possible and necessary to improve the credibility of our female recruits- come-new-Marines. Once the drill instructors, coaches, and primary marksmanship instructors began to see success, the movement became contagious. For the first time in history, female recruits are competitive with their male counterparts on the rifle range, proving it is not an insult to “shoot like a girl”. However, for lasting improvement across all of the testable categories to be realized, the Institution must be willing to critically examine the environment in which Marines are made and implement radical changes.

Like I said; read it all. I have not even touched on equally important issues of leadership by investigation or the commissarish use of statistically bad DEOMI surveys.

Back to the big picture.

It is this dynamic we have seen this summer in the story of LtCol Kate Germano, USMC, and her desire to bring the standards of performance and accountability to a higher level in the training of female Marines. For her efforts and passion, she was relieved of her command. The why, how, and the environment it all took place in deserves a screen play – so stick with me as we review it here. Follow every link and read it all where the links take you. There is a lot here. Here is the base conflict as I see it.

There are two pressures in the further integration of female Marines; one is from a socio-political camp of the senior civilian leadership, the other is from the operational side of the Marine Corps. The former has two sides to it as well – a paternalistic passive-aggressive vibe that doesn’t expect as much from women as men and therefor sees no reason to demand it , and another that is driven by the worst of sophomore gender-studies seminar course theory.

The later knows that female Marines will be put in harm’s way as much as the men and if that is the case, then they need to be able to perform, be respected by their male peers, and not be a net drag to their unit. The enemy does not care if you are XX or XY, they just want to kill you. You need to be able to kill them first with equal ability. I’m not going to spend much time on the paternalistic passive-aggressive side of the bureaucracy and some of the uniformed leadership, as the that is not where the central character is coming from. No, let’s stick with the source of the friction – a Marine leader who wants her Marines to be the absolute best to serve her Corps, and the socio-political bureaucracy that wants one thing – numbers to feed the metrics.

As part of the Department of the Navy, the USMC must respond to the demand signal of the Secretary of the Navy. That is how it works. As quoted at the top of this post, he has made his goals quite clear. To make it happen though, there is a pipeline problem with that goal that the real world is putting in their way.

It is a well documented challenge to not just recruit women who have the inclination and desire to be in the service, but also to find enough women who have the physical stamina to meet what should be tough but fair physical requirements to be a Marine. Anyone involved in female athletics knows exactly what that basic challenge is.

If you have an artificial numerical goal of a difficult to gather sub-set, every number counts – especially if achieving that number is your priority. To achieve that goal, you have to look hard at every barrier in your way. What are structural, what are required, what are optional. What is the cost and benefit of the removal of each barrier relative to the value you place on each variable? There is the rub.

What if everyone in your organization does not agree that strict numbers of that sub-set are the priority, but quality is? If each barrier from recruiting interview to graduation has a given attrition rate and can impact that final number, what if instead of removing barriers, another person with a different value system decides that many of these barriers are not barriers at all – but are performance gates. Not only should some of them not be removed or lowered, but a few might need to be added, and others raised.

Additional performance gates – standards if you will – and enhanced standards will have two results; first they will ensure at the end of the process you have a higher quality product of that subset, but it also means that you will have fewer numbers of that sub-set.

A thought exercise; if you have a job to do that requires 10 people, does it matter if six are wearing blue shirts and four are wearing red shirts if all 10 people are equally qualified? No. OK, what if eight wear blue and two red? Again, does not matter.

What if all six in blue are qualified, but of those in red, only two are? What is the sane and right thing to do?
1. Being that you are out of people wearing red shirts, but have a bench full of blue shirts, replace the two unqualified in red with qualified blue?
2. Instead of making the swap out, you insist that you like the 6/4 color ratio because it looks good in pictures, and your team will just have to deal with it?

If a competitor comes out on the field, they are all wearing yellow by the way, with 10 people who are all fully qualified, who wins? Where do you put the smart money?

LtCol Germano has only done what we have always asked our leaders to do; take the job you were detailed to do, and make it better. Take care of your people, enhance the ability of the service, and accomplish the mission.

It appears that LtCol Germano thought her mission was to help produce the best female Marines she could. She tried to do that, and was fired.

I guess she was wrong. It looks like there was another mission, one founded on the soft-bigotry of low expectations, lower standards, a fear of Star Chamber like investigations, and ultimately a fealty to metrics.

You see, the numbers are needed for the right metrics, because, we must feed Vaal.

Of course, this internal conflict has a frag pattern. There are good people up and down the command structure that were put in a difficult position. How do they respond to this internal self-contradiction?

That is where you have a whole series of interesting character stories. From the immediate superior in command, first General Officer in the chain of command, the SNCOs, the Junior Officers – and ultimately the recruits themselves. Are they in the right? The wrong? Both?

What lessons do they take away from it all? What do we?

NB: If you are interested in the environment all this took place in, and you have the stomach for the After School Special nature of some of it, you can find the redacted Command Investigation here.

UPDATE: If you want more detail and a rather sad showing of “feelings vs. facts” and leadership by DEOMI survey and investigations – click here.

20150718_ASM949_1One of the best panels at a USNI/AFCEA West conference in recent years was the 2014 “What About China” panel that included some folks in my pantheon; VADM Foggo, James Holmes, and CAPT Fanell in the company of CAPT Adams and the duty JAG, CAPT Belt.

Part of the discussion involved using lawfare to gum up the Chinese works, and use this if not to shape developments, then at least to slow down Chinese actions in the western Pacific.

In the July 18th edition of The Economist, they outline a perfect example of lawfare on if not the tactical, then at least the operational level.

On July 13th a tribunal in The Hague concluded a first week of hearings related to its bitter dispute with China over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. China insists that its claim, which covers most of the vast and strategically vital sea, is not a matter for foreign judges, and was not represented.

Such has been China’s position ever since the Philippines lodged a case in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, arguing that the U-shaped, nine-dashed line used by China to define its claim is illegal. But in its anxiety to dismiss the validity of the case, China may have blundered. The tribunal has ruled that documents issued by China to explain its objections “constitute, in effect, a plea”. The tribunal has sent all the relevant papers to the Chinese government and given it time to respond. China has become a participant in the case, despite its absence.

Well played my Philippine friends; well played.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets out how different maritime features generate claims to territorial waters and “exclusive economic zones” (EEZ). A reef submerged at high tide generates nothing, while a rock above water has a 12- nautical-mile (22km) territorial claim around it. A habitable island generates an additional EEZ of up to 200 nautical miles from its shore.

The Philippines argues that none of the features China occupies in the Spratly Islands is an island. At best, it says, each is entitled only to a 12-nautical-mile claim and none generates an EEZ. For almost the past two years China has been frantically reclaiming land around these features and expanding their size, adding buildings and, in some cases, new airstrips and harbours. But UNCLOS is clear: man-made structures do not count.

The tribunal must first decide whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the case at all. If it concludes that it does, which may not be known until late this year, a verdict may take several more months. If the Philippines wins, China will almost certainly refuse to accept the decision. Even the hope that a moral defeat would have a chastening effect on China’s behaviour seems a little tenuous, given the gusto with which it is filling in the sea.

This is worth a try – and is just in line with CAPT Belt’s COA. Very well played.

As for China’s sand castles, I think we are one Bull Halsey memorial super-typhoon away from Mother Nature taking care of that problem – but until then, launch the ready lawyers.

The liberty in The Hague is top notch.

As a final note, if you didn’t catch the panel the first time, here it is.

2015-02-15-ALASAConceptImage2From hapless Norwegian coastal battleships in WWII to last decade’s unarmored HUMVEEs, there are things that look good on paper and are highly functional for a nation at peace, that in hindsight do not seem all that great once an enemy gets a crack at them.

There are a few reliable constants to war at; one is that the things you rely on the most, your critical vulnerabilities identified by the enemy will always be targeted first.

A competent commander is self-aware of his own critical vulnerabilities, and makes a reasonable effort to protect them. Understanding the chaotic and dynamic nature of war, no critical vulnerability can be fully protected and needs backups – you need redundancy, especially if you have a critical requirement that is also one of your critical vulnerabilities.

For so long we have assumed access to the electromagnetic spectrum as a given, and access to satellites – those gloriously exquisite linchpins of the modern navy – as a given, then perhaps we should consider how we can provide Carrier Strike Group Commanders and Maritime Component Commanders the ability to replace wartime losses and complicate the enemies targeting our satellites.

Satellite constellations set up in peace are the fixed coastal defenses of the modern age – easy to target and plan against – and most likely first on an enemy’s targeting priority list.

What if a local commander could re-establish capabilities or even create new ones using those units under his command, at his discretion?

What if that capability wasn’t just an idea, but close to making a shadow on a ramp? This is something I pondered while reading about DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program, or (ALASA);

If all goes according to plan, a series of 12 orbital flights would then commence in early 2016 and wrap up by the middle of the year, DARPA officials said.

“The plan right now is, we have 12 [orbital] launches. The first three are fundamentally engineering checkout payloads,” Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said Feb. 5 during a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. “The other nine will be various scientific and research development payloads that we’re after.”

The ALASA military space project consists of an F-15 fighter jet carrying an expendable launch vehicle underneath it. Once the F-15 gets up to a sufficient altitude, the rocket releases and ignites, carrying its payload to orbit. The F-15 would then return to Earth for a runway landing, after which it would be prepped for another mission.

Perhaps we are at the point that it is still too big for anything smaller than an F-15E … but … put the engineers on it. Platform or payload, one of them should be able to be modified at a reasonable cost.

Additional satellite communications, ISR, etc – all just a magazine elevator away. Ponder it a bit.

In war, few things are better than for your opponent to think you are blind and helpless and then they move in for the what they think is the quick and easy victory … or that they think that is what you want them to do … but if you don’t have that capability then, well … you don’t. You miss an opportunity to deceive your enemy, or to sow doubt and confusion in the mind of their commander – two things anyone would like to have in their quiver.

… and no, “Call the USAF and have them do it for you from CONUS.” is not the correct answer. To call the USAF from WESTPAC, you need … ahem … satellites – or still have low-baud HF TTY. Oh, and … well … priorities.


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