VADM Al Konetzni, USN (Ret.) – “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal…” – everyone who has met or worked with him has their memory. Mine was a brief and accidental encounter a bit over a decade ago at an event outdoors at Pearl. Adult beverages, cigars, and a magnetic leader who was that rare combination of fresh air and seemingly out of another time. Had the effect on JOs that I really never say another Navy Flag Officer have. In a word; unique.
Last week I ran in to Dave Booda’s recollections of his run in with Big Al once in Annapolis;
I just thought he was another guy using the urinal next to me at Riordan’s, a local bar in Annapolis.
“So, what do you want to do when you graduate?”
“Uh, I’m deciding now between Surface Warfare and Submarines”
“Ah, I remember those days. I keep thinking I’ll retire but they always pull me back in. The key is to just take it one tour at a time.”
We were taught to avoid living in the present by procrastinating our happiness. If you constantly say “I’ll be happy when I graduate”, you’ll miss out on what it’s all really about … Take it from Al Konetzni. Stop waiting to live in the future,
Good advice, and like much good advice – difficult to put in to practice.
That evidently has been simmering in my nogg’n for a week, because it came to the fore yesterday when I read the latest apologia on LCS – this time from our own pal, Craig Hooper, now with Austal;
DARPA is working on a program to use Independence variants of LCS as “platforms for medium altitude, long-endurance, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for strike and ISR missions,” Hooper said. “This is a sign of what is to come — energy weapons, rail guns, unmanned craft. Embrace this. The future is in flexible platforms that capable of quickly and cost-effectively integrating new payloads. That’s what my two ships can do.”
Stop. I’ve seen this movie before.
The homing torpedo will end the submarine threat. You don’t need carriers in the nuclear age. We will have an all nuclear surface fleet. The Royal Navy will never need guns again, everything will be missiles – and it won’t need those carriers either – the RAF can cover it. We must get rid of the A-6 so we can move forward with the A-12 …. errrr …. F-18. We must decom the SPRU-CANS early so we can invest and recapitalize with DDG-1000 (nee SC-21). We don’t need frigates. NLOS will handle the surface fires requirements.
Yes, it is always better to get rid of what you have that works now, because the promise of the future is perfect, clean, shiny and … well … new and perfect and clean and shiny … and transformational!
It is comfortable to live in the future, to assume that all plans, systems, and CONOPS play out in line with with you want – or need – it to be. Making the present work is hard – but going to war in the present when you have neglected the “now” for the fuzzy future is even harder.
Reality is tough to get right.
For each weapon, there is a counter. One tactic/weapon does not work in every situation. Money and technology is not universally accessible. A single point of failure is just failure. Technology risk is real and usually higher than industry and program managers think.
I think we have learned this lesson again in spades over the last decade from LCS to F-35. If nothing else, perhaps we should hedge and mitigate more; we should have a set of requirements and stick with them instead of chasing shadows that only add cost, weight, and lost treasure.
Are those lessons sinking in? I think so as things start to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (or not) – then yes, reality starts to overtake the PPT. That is what seems to be happening – goaded on by a gang of ruthless facts; a move away from the transformational mindset. Smart and inline with historical experience, if a bit late.
So, Craig has job to do, but so do others.
But any weapons changes on the horizon for LCS won’t happen until the Navy revises its requirements for its newest vessels, said Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, director of Surface Warfare.
“I’m the keeper of the keys for requirements,” Rowden said. “And I am here to tell you that LCS meets the requirements.”
Well, that is subject to debate – but at least he is sticking. Enough chasing shadows with LCS. Make it the best as we can, and move on with what treasure we have left to move on with.
Get what you have now right, or dump it. In the future, focus on the evolutionary, not revolutionary so we avoid another lost decade. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot. Prototype, test, evaluate, deploy. Work for the future, but in the spirit of Big Al; you are living, building, and deploying now – make the best of it.
As the budget cuts kick in – I’m having a few flashbacks to the 1990s “peace dividend” era. The key to getting through this process is communication. It takes away some of the uncertainty, and in a way it focuses attention to priorities. It is always interesting, and instructive, to see how different organizations start the process of thinking about what should and should not get the cut.
Via the SalamanderUnderground, the following notes from a Chief of Naval Personnel recent all-hands call is helpful, and adds a bit to Ryan’s post from the 21st.
VADM Van Buskirk’s MT&E priorities are to STABILIZE (at 320,000 personnel), BALANCE (overmanned and undermanned ratings) and DISTRIBUTE (between sea and shore) the workforce. Sailors need to be ASSIGNABLE, DEPLOYABLE and DISTRIBUTABLE in order to meet the Chief of Naval Operations tenets to be WARFIGHTERS FIRST, OPERATE FORWARD and BE READY.
In order to meet these goals, his emphasis is to attack undermanned ratings and increase the quality of recruits as currently evident on entry level exam scores. Quality of recruits is key to keep apprised and abreast of technological changes. He noted that Perform to Serve (PTS) is at 90 percent acceptable in-rate quotas with averages at over 95 percent over the last four months. Retention is historically high but a continued focus is on resiliency of the force. He indicated continued FY funding for sailor support and family readiness programs.
Q&A session discussion included impact of sequestration/CR regarding as well as the following topics:
– USN continuation of tuition assistance (TA) through this FY (all other Services have curtailed this benefit). 45 thousand sailors are recipients of TA with over 90 percent receiving degrees.
– Possible changes in advancement to include consideration of multiple scores such as sea duty.
– Priority of Cyber training but fiscal pressures including civilian furloughs may slow training pipelines.
– Attack undermanned rates with new accessions. YTD have had 41,000 new accessions. Previous years were approximately 35,000-37,000. Looking at a summer surge of recruits.
– Provision of health care with possible civilian furloughs requiring referrals to civilian specialists in town. Possible contributory payments for pharmacy co-pays and increased retiree payment for Tricare for Life.
– Discussion of option to obtain NECs on-line leveraging technology for training. Limitations include current training infrastructure and classification limitations.
– Active duty IAs (except for specific specialties such as dog handling) will be transferred to reserve component. Expect closure of Gulfport MS and other IA training centers.
– STA-21 IW program closed this year. Accession options adjusted based on ROTC, OCS and related accession pipelines. Look for adjustments in future cycles.
– Number one priority is stabilizing the work force ensuring proper distribution and balance. Cross deck sailors may receive special pays and other incentives.
This is going on throughout the Navy and other services. As budgets continue to contract, expect to see more and more of this.
Priorities; time to rack-n-stack ‘em.
As we stomp our empty Natty Lites flat to make room in the blue-bin, wrap our Costco chicken wings in foil, and enjoy cheap high-speed air travel – it is easy to forget that just outside of living memory, aluminum was considered a precious metal.
According to Jefferson Lab, “Scientists suspected than an unknown metal existed in alum as early as 1787, but they did not have a way to extract it until 1825. Hans Christian Oersted, a Danish chemist, was the first to produce tiny amounts of aluminum. Two years later, Friedrich Wöhler, a German chemist, developed a different way to obtain the metal. By 1845, he was able to produce samples large enough to determine some of aluminum’s basic properties. Wöhler’s method was improved in 1854 by Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville, a French chemist. Deville’s process allowed for the commercial production of aluminum. As a result, the price of the metal dropped from around $1200 per kilogram in 1852 to around $40 per kilogram in 1859. Unfortunately, the metal remained too expensive to be widely used.”
Although aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, it is never found free in nature. All of the earth’s aluminum has combined with other elements to form compounds. Two of the most common compounds are alum, such as potassium aluminum sulfate (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O), and aluminum oxide (Al2O3). About 8.2% of the earth’s crust is composed of aluminum.”
Pure aluminum was so rare at that time it was considered a precious metal. Charles Martin Hall’s method of processing the metal ore was to pass an electric current through a non-metallic conductor (molten sodium fluoride compound was used) to separate the very conductive aluminum. In 1889, Charles Martin Hull was awarded U.S. patent #400,666 for his process.
In 1888, together with financier Alfred E. Hunt, Charles Martin Hall founded the Pittsburgh Reduction Company now know as the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). By 1914, Charles Martin Hall had brought the cost of aluminum down to 18 cents a pound and it was no longer considered a precious metal.
1914. Sound familiar? The start of WWI.
In roughly the same distance in time as from DESERT STORM to now, Aluminum went from a rarely used metal in the military with only the German Junkers J.I making it to war, to being a strategic commodity ubiquitous in its use from eating utensils to intercontinental bombers.
Were the fathers of economic aluminum Charles Martin Hall, Paul Heroult, and Karl Joseph Bayer thinking about how aluminum would change the way war would be fought? No.
Did the military know right away the way aluminum would transform the strength and performance of established technology? No … but some had an idea.
I thought of the story of aluminum earlier today when another funny sounding word came in my ear; graphene.
Do you know what graphene is? Well, I think you will more and more – just as Teddy Roosevelt’s generation started to hear aluminum and bauxite more and more as it slowly transformed their world. Not overnight, but year by year with a quickening as smart minds saw new ways to take advantage of this new advance.
Back to the Navy. What gets a lot of futurists excited as they look for the next kinetic and/or weaponeering leap? That is easy; rail guns, lasers, and particle beam weapons. In our early 21st Century tool box, what is holding these promising technologies back? What is the long pole in the tent that everything else requires to be there? In a word, energy.
Many more cards need to come out of the deck – but if you are interested in the offensive potential of rail guns, and the defensive promise of lasers and particle beam weapons – but are humbled by the very real limitations there are to making them operational – then I offer you the below.
Not revolution, but evolution. Evolution with the possibility of a quickening that 100 years ago the world saw with aluminum. Graphene based super-capacitors? Use the next generation of the DDG-1000 engineering plant? Watch the below if you can or click here, and ponder with me.
Yes, we live in interesting times as our Chinese friends might say – but rejoice dear hearts; the future has potential.
No, I not writing words of encouragement to veterans suffering with PTSD; though they are out there and probably need it. No, I am not writing to veterans who are suicidal; though they are out there and probably need it. No, I am writing to those who are sick of the drumbeat of articles, news stories, or listening to the empathy addict down the street that just won’t shut up about how much she cares and only wants to hear things that validate her preconceived notions.
If you are irritated, skeptical, and suspicious of the whole chattering – you’re in good company, and history and facts are on your side. Ignore the compassion trolls, it is ok to push back. We are not broken vessels, and those who maliciously imply that we are such things are no better than those who would spit in your face, as their goals are the same – to degrade your status as a equal.
A starting point for any post on this topic has to be B.G. Burkett’s book, Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History. There was a pattern set after the Vietnam War that tried to paint veterans as broken vessels. If you have not read Stolen Valor, then go order your copy now. What was done then is being done now – it even looks the same.
Almost a decade ago, a lot of people heard the first few beats of what is now steady and loud. From the murder of Chief Kyle to the kidnapping of children, to the poseurs written about in the homeless articles in your local papers, it is there.
It comes from two sources; one honorable and one malicious. The honorable sources are those who want to help those who serve or have served, but don’t know how to. They tend to look for things to be saved, victims to be helped – and using a legitimate case or two of veterans who have transition challenges as a template, start to see all veterans in that template. There are also those who know someone who has real PTSD or has suicidal thought, and then applies the classic logic error of applying the specific to the general (I saw a duck with a green head today; therefor all ducks have green heads). They are well meaning and should be respected for wanting to help, but if they go too far, their compassion can be counterproductive by feeding the other half of the problem; the anti-military malicious.
We all know the type; the only time they have any respect for those in the military is when they can use them to attack the nation and military they were part of. They also are resentful of the respect those in the military are given in civic culture, and want to do whatever they can to bring that respect down; to marginalize the veteran.
If the veteran is a victim; he is to be pitied. If he is to be pitied, then he must be helped by his betters. If he has to be helped by his betters to function in society, then he is not an equally contributing member of society. If he is not an equally contributing member of society, he can be marginalized. If he can be marginalized, he can be dismissed and his input ignored. If he can be marginalized politically and his contribution to public discourse ignored, then he cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas and influence. If he cannot compete, then he has no power.
That attitude manifests itself in strange places now and then. MSNBC talking head Chris Mathews is a case in point. Reflecting on Sen. McCain’s (R-AZ) aggressive questioning of Chuck Hagel last week, Matthews reflected on McCain’s performance of his Constitutional duties thus;
“Let me start tonight with this — why is John McCain so angry?” Matthews said. “Forty years after the Vietnam POWs came home, the most famous of them is angrier than ever. Why is America — why are we fighting the Vietnam War all over again in the United States Senate? The ticked-off vitriol against Chuck Hagel, what is it about? Is it for show? Is it about something Hagel said in the cloakroom?”
“Is it about the basic unfairness of Vietnam itself, that some went and some didn’t?” he continued. “Is it about Lyndon Johnson’s inability to either win that war or end it? What is it that burns so deeply in John McCain these days?”
“Well, tonight, we dig into the deep well of resentment burning in John McCain’s patriotic heart — a resentment not against the North Vietnamese who imprisoned and tortured him all those years, not against George W. Bush and his political henchmen who tried to stain McCain’s reputation back in 2000 — but against a guy who fought against fear and rallied against wounds, just like he did in the same army of America’s long nightmare in Vietnam, Chuck Hagel. A nightmare, by the way, whose flashbacks must haunt still the mind and heart of John Sidney McCain. … I’m absolutely convinced we’re watching a flashback.”
Quod erat demonstrandum. If they will do that to a Senator and once Presidential candidate – what message does that send to other veterans?
Like I mentioned earlier, a book has been written on the topic, so let me just pick one little vibe out of the zeitgeist; veterans suicides. Just googlesearch it; you’ll get the idea.
In a great, fact-based reply, let’s go to Greg Jaffe’s superb article in the Washington Post. He wanders in to a few fever-swamps of the zeitgeist, but is otherwise a solid article if you read closely and critically.
Every day about 22 veterans in the United States kill themselves, a rate that is about 20 percent higher than the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2007 estimate, according to a two-year study by a VA researcher.
The VA study indicates that more than two-thirds of the veterans who commit suicide are 50 or older, suggesting that the increase in veterans’ suicides is not primarily driven by those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Has the war fought as of late been one fought by residents of The Villages? No.
“There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true,” said Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study. “The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.” The number of suicides overall in the United States increased by nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the study says.
As a result, the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, even though the total number of veterans who kill themselves has gone up, the study says.
Statistics are tough; the truth is in the details. See if you catch it.
The veterans’ suicide rate is about three times the overall national rate, but about the same percentage of male veterans in their 50s kill themselves as do non-veteran men of that age, according to the VA data.
Ok. Females make up ~15% of the military, and for those involved in combat, then males are well in to the 90%. American males kill themselves at a rate four-times that of females. The military heavily skews male. Starting to see where their story starts to get wobbly?
Sooooo….. anyone who has made even a blogger-in-PJs effort will soon see that you cannot compare veterans suicide rates to that of the general population unless you want to skew the numbers for effect.
Are we also controlling for age, race, socio-economic background, etc … all highly significant factors in suicide? No, of course not. That would get in the way of a good story and/or the non-profit that pays a hefty six-figure salary.
In many cases you have read, you have either lazy journalism, advocacy journalism, or the deliberate contribution to the smearing of veterans – something that has been a regular feature for the last 40 years.
Yes, the compassion trolls will get grumpy at you, and the compassion addicts will think you are a cold and heartless sociopath (she will probably whisper to others that your behavior is just a manifestation of your own PTSD), but they are not the problem – only useful idiots to those who are the problem and deserve your push back – the smear merchants.
Is there a problem with PTSD and veteran suicide? Sure there is – but this constant picking at a sensitive spot until you make it worse does not help fix anything. At worst, it plants seeds of ideas in to the nogg’n of the vulnerable who may act. At the least harmful it impacts the ability of veterans to get civilian jobs when they get out. After all, who wants to hire a bunch of traumatized, suicidal, time bombs? Yea, that is a topic for another day.
Until then, let’s see serious studies done by serious statisticians – a study that publishes all the data and variables with the regression analysis. Age, sex, race, ethnicity, regional origin, education level, combat exposure … all those and more.
While we wait for that – buy or re-read Stolen Valor – and push back some. It’s not just you
What seems obvious in hindsight is not, for most, that obvious to those closest to it, distracted from it, or willfully floating along in a sea of indifference.
There are times, decision or pivot points for some, where the signs become clear. That steady, darkening, and thickening line starts to burn through the ambient noise. It looks familiar, it is harmonic of what you have seen before – it cannot be ignored. It demands action
You only get the Fleet your nation decides to buy, more people need to accept that … and the political and economic reality we are in.
Former Senator Hagel has been nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense. In an August 2011 interview with The Financial Times’ Stephanie Kirchgaessner, he stated the following;
The defence department, I think in many ways has been bloated.
I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I think we need the Pentagon to look at their own priorities.
There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back …
I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long, long time. Every agency needs to do that. The Department of Defence, and I’m a strong supporter of this … no American wants to in any way hurt our capabilities to national defence, but that doesn’t mean an unlimited amount of money, and a blank cheque for anything they want at any time, for any purpose. Not at all. Not at all, and so the realities are that the mess we’re in this country, with our debt and our deficits, and our infrastructure and jobless and all the rest, is going to require everybody to take a look, even the defence department, and make a pretty hard re-evaluation and review.
President Obama picked Hagel for very specific reasons, and his views above are not unknown and were part of that. Good people can agree or disagree on the substance of his argument, but that is the fact both sides will have to work with.
Next, let’s look to the uniformed side of the house. In a speech at SNA earlier this week, Vice Admiral Copeman stated the following;
Ultimately, (Copeman) warned, “if you don’t want to get hollow, you have to give up force structure.”
“Resources are going to drop. They’re going to drop significantly,” the admiral said. … “If it were my choice,” Copeman said, “I’d give up force structure to get whole. But it’s not always my choice.”
There are just a few tidbits of I&W to ponder.
In the last few years, we have heard a lot of talk about a Fleet of 313 and now 300. Many of us have been arguing for half a decade that neither is the number we should be looking at, that is not what the nation will fund; 270 to 240 is more likely.
“If we cannot have the navy estimates of our policy, then let’s have the policy of our navy estimates.”
If this is the maritime Zeitgeist for the remainder of this decade, then let’s embrace it. We can’t stomp our feet and hold our breath until the Pentagon turns blue.
How do we best do it? What do we need to preserve – what should we cut – what will we have to get rid of root-n-branch?
What are our priorities?
The smart money on the future is on who the CINC is hiring, what that hire’s recent statements say about his ideas, and what our senior officers are starting to send out trial balloons on to test the winds.
In the course of reading Robert Kaplan’s article in the Wall Street Journal, I had to back up and read this twice.
The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy.
Wait … what?
OK, that reality has sunk in over the last decade – but we are still a bit of an Anglophile navy, and even with the Pacific Pivot, we still give the mother country a lot of heft for historical and emotional reasons.
In their constitutional quasi-isolation, Japan’s very real power has
Here is the context;
… in Asia. Nationalism there is young and vibrant—as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race, featuring advanced diesel-electric submarines, the latest fighter jets and ballistic missiles. China, having consolidated its land borders following nearly two centuries of disorder, is projecting air and sea power into what it regards as the blue national soil of the South China and East China seas.
Japan and other countries are reacting in kind. Slipping out of its quasi-pacifistic shell, Japan is rediscovering nationalism as a default option. The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy. As for Vietnam and the Philippines, nobody who visits those countries and talks with their officials, as I have, about their territorial claims would imagine for a moment that we live in a post-national age.
The disputes in Asia are not about ideology or any uplifting moral philosophy; they are about who gets to control space on the map.
Silly Transformationalists … dreaming is for kiddies. Get ye back to your history books!
Back on topic though; yes, the facts are clear.
Though you can find +/- difference depending on source, definitions, and recent com/decom; here are the numbers:
Helicopter Carriers: 2
Amphibious Ships: 2
Submarines: 6-SSN, 4-SSBN
We’ll call that 24.
Helicopter Carriers: 2 (technically 4, all of which are helicopter carrying destroyers. The SHIRANE Class of 2 are only half decks and are really just destroyers. HYUGA Class of 2 are no-kidding helicopter carriers. Two more much larger 19,500 ton ships on the way this decade as well).
Amphibious Ships: 5
We’ll call that 67. If you are what Salamander defines as “major combatants” then you have 2.8 times, not 4x, but there are lots of ways to count. Perhaps they are looking at smaller ships as well. By either definition though, it should give one pause not only to reflect about the decline of the Royal Navy – but more importantly – the latent and potential power of the Japanese Navy.
Anyone who has worked with the Japanese will agree with me as well that from a professional point of view, they are an exceptionally quality force.
Here is the tie in.
Did you catch this little memo?
Japan’s Defense Ministry will request a second boost to its military budget, according to reports, just a day after the government announced the first Defense budget increase in 10 years.
The boosts, although relatively modest compared with Japan’s overall defense spending, coincide with increasing tensions in the Asia Pacific region.Japan’s Defense Ministry intends to ask for 180.5 billion yen ($2.1 billion) from a government stimulus package – on top of an increase of more than 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) to its military budget announced earlier this week – in order to upgrade its air defenses, according to the BBC..
Good. Japan needs to continue to do this, and we should welcome the move as long overdue (though don’t get too excited, their larger budgetary problems are even greater than ours). Europe fades, Royal Navy withers … where can the USA look for its major partner at sea?
We don’t have to look far. With the tweaks they are on the road to make in their Constitution – Japan is right there.
With the Big E coming home for good, the NIMITZ acting a bit old and busted, there has been a lot of discussion as of late about the ability of the US Navy to do what she has become accustomed to doing; projecting power globally from the sea with almost impunity – and the large-deck carrier being the tool primarily used to do so.
Through gross program mismanagement, myopic POM-centric rice bowl games, and simple parochialism – much of the nuance, depth, and flexibility of what was on those decks are gone as well, most notably the loss of the S-3, ES-3, organic tanking (fighters tanking don’t count, silly goose), and independent long range strike – gone and replaced with a deck of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none RW and light fighters with AEW thrown in for character.
Add to that the ongoing “to the right” extended deployment of our Amphib “small deck” carriers (yes, I know, I know, I know) and their ARGs, funkyesque methods of Fleet number counting, and the expected contraction in shipbuilding budgets that all but this ordered to say otherwise accept will be the new norm – then more and more smart people are trying to step back and get the larger view.
What exactly are the larger Strategic implications of the clear decline in the US Navy’s global reach?
As is often the case, to help break the intellectual gridlock, it is helpful to bring in outside views. Over at the UK blog Thin Pinstiped Line, Sir Huphrey speaks with big medicine. The whole post is worth a read – but everyone should ponder the below a bit.
The reality is that the USN now is probably in the same place as the RN found itself in the mid-1960s – mid 1970s. Reduced budgets, elderly vessels still in service, while the new designs (T42s, 22s) were taking longer than planned to come into service, and yet operationally committed across the globe.
The ability of the USN to operate with impunity across the globe, steaming where it wanted on its terms, and able to stand its ground against almost any aggressor has gone forever. Todays’ USN remains a fiercely capable and strong navy, but its ability to exert unlimited and unchallenged control of the high seas has gone, probably forever. Instead it would be more realistic to judge that the future USN will provide a capability to deploy power into some areas, but only at the cost of reducing capability and influence in others.
In a classic, “over to you” moment as the Royal Navy slowly retreated West of Suez after the late 1950’s unpleasantness, and with the final moment by Prime Minister Wilson in the annus horribilis that was 1968 – the world approaching mid-21st Century is stuck with a quandary.
The British at least were handing things off, indirectly, to her daughter; a relatively smooth transition to a nation that was cut from the same cloth and whose interests were more often than not those interests of Britain.
If, as Sir Humphrey states, we face a future where the global capability of the US will decline in proportion to her navy – then who will be there to fill the gap? Multiple smaller regional powers? A rising power? Status quo, but thinner? Nothing?
None of those three are in the interests of the US.
Willfully abandoning territory – enough of the “global commons” PR stunts, please – to the whims of whatever power has the will to take it, is a classic description of a nation in decline. In our case, that would be a willful decline – but almost all declines are willful.
Is everyone on board with that? It is a choice.
Hat tip BJ.
A couple of years ago here, I posted about the danger of getting too close to the media, I described what is the downfall of many GOFO;
Vanity. Non-mission related, non-value added vanity that degraded or destroyed the “brand” of men who gave decades of service to their nation and rose to its highest levels.
In his self-immolation, General Petraeus, USA, has provided, in a fashion, a very good object lesson for leaders from LPO to CNO. It is not a new lesson, it is not a unique lesson – as a matter of fact it is a lesson that echoes throughout human history. It isn’t limited to the military environment either, it is just part of the human condition; ego, power, and sex.
Do we talk about this enough? Not really. Not in the direct manner we need to. We talk around it. As it can be a bit touchy for some in a socio-political context, usually we only discuss the second and third order effects after it all goes south. We are more than willing to talk about the externalized manifestation of the ego-power-sex dynamic; the person who abuses their power to gain sexual favors or to force themselves on subordinates, but we do not talk enough about the internalized version of it; the magnetic draw and seductive nature of power itself, how it warps the ego, and how it morphs in to the emotional and mammalian drive towards sex.
Power is an aphrodisiac that can make even the physically or personally repulsive person attractive. It draws in certain personalities to men with power and influence. Can it happen male to female as well as female to male? Sure, I’ve see the “scalp hunters” in action – but that would be the extreme exception to the rule, and frankly silly to discuss. In the real world we are talking about the man in power and the women who are drawn to them. We see that dynamic at NJP, in the relief of Commanding Officers, and all the way to the 4-star level.
Perhaps some leaders who are not fully self-aware may have missed it, but in a gender mixed environment, almost all male leaders will have females of lower status attempt to get closer than they should – in a heterosexual context via a way a male colleague cannot. We are all adults here, we know how the bouncing ball goes from that brief moment of enjoying the company of a woman’s voice a little longer than one should.
About the whirlwind unleashed by General Petraeus’s very human weakness, more details will come out, and others will be writing about every aspect of this for awhile. Get used to it, as this has all the aspects of power, sex, infidelity, and intrigue that a story with legs needs. It is much more interesting to the general public than sequestration, the Afghanistan withdraw, or fiscal cliffs. Let that work its way out, but for us – what is the base lesson that should come out of this at the deckplate level – specifically for male leaders?
It is simply this; you will find yourself in a place sooner more than later where a female subordinate will make herself available to you. It can cover the entire spectrum from raw and physical immediacy, to a slow growing relationship based on professional respect and friendship that intensifies with proximity.
There was more than one decision point in the relationship that brought down General Petraeus where he should have diverted then-Major Broadwell back to the gym solo, but he didn’t. As a result, a reputation is in tatters, a critical agency has lost a leader, a war’s leaders are distracted, and two families are in turmoil. In time I am sure we will all know more than we want to, but one thing is clear. He is the person responsible for this. He was senior in age (almost two decades) and position (at the start we think O-4 to O-10). It was his inability to control his weakness, his ego, and his actions that brought him here. He knows this too, or at least he does now.
As young leaders grow in positions of authority they need to keep simple human nature in mind. You will be tempted, even if you try to avoid it. You can end it as quickly as it comes up, and all will go along as before. We are all human, and at a weak moment, you may pause – but don’t pause long – there are too many lives, families, and careers that are riding on you being a leader and doing the right thing.
If you fail, that is on you. Same with General Petraeus; this is on him. Not the woman on the other side of the story; not the media; not the FBI; not his staff; not anyone above him in the chain of command, other agencies, or political parties.
There are many positive things to benchmark with General Petraeus’s career, and now you have a negative one. Don’t want to have all your hard work blow up in your face? Look at the poor decisions he made, and look for those decision points in your life where you will have to make the call – you will be there – do it right.
In his twitter feed, our co-blogger here at USNIBlog and SHAPE, Admiral Stavridis, points to a link for a very nice story that really is worth your time to read, as it does represent the very best of our partnering with the ANSF – and what should have been the general condition of our relationship in 2012, vice just a specific instance;
1st Lt. Michael Molczyk had heard stories about “insider” attacks — and the Afghan soldiers and police officers who grew to see their partners as enemies. As a platoon commander, he couldn’t ignore those assaults on American troops, which during bad weeks were reported day after day.
But to him, he said, the stories sounded like news from a different planet. In Molczyk’s corner of eastern Afghanistan, uniformed Afghans had saved American lives time and again. They had developed a brotherhood with their U.S. partners that felt earned and unassailable. … no relationship mattered more to Molczyk than his partnership with Jalaluddin, the head of the Afghan police in Jaji district …
Sadly, that relationship between two specific individuals is not in line with the general trend in Afghanistan – and with each Green on Blue we need to look that fact square in the face. While there are always individual stories that can tell any side of an issue – it is the general trend that you need to keep an eye on.
The bottom line is this; we are well along the scheduled withdraw on a calendar-based vice conditions-based OPLAN. That is a polite way of describing a retreat under fire. Those we will leave behind, and those who will fill the vacuum after we leave are acting in a rational manner, and the second and third order effects of our decision to leave the field will continue to fill your news feed as the process takes its natural course. We have been here before.
As noted last month;
The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
Actually, it was four years ago that the uplift of forces started – but let’s not quibble.
That little note from last month was one of the critical junctures following President Obama’s 2009 West Point Speech where he announced the end of conditions based planning for AFG. Gone was the “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build”, and in was the race to slap something together with bailing wire and duct-tape until our then 2011 (and now 2014 thankfully) drive to whatever will be our version of the Friendship Bridge.
Defeat, like decline, is more often than not a choice. In AFG, it is/was unquestionably a choice. We threw away a good chance for an acceptable outcome the minute we told our enemies, and more importantly our friends and those on the fence, that we lacked the strategic patience to follow through on our promises, creating in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. They have seen this before.
As the cliche states, “Hope is not a plan.” In war, hope is a path to self-delusion and defeat. So it has always been, so it will always be.
In the executive summary from the International Crisis Group’s, Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition, they cut right to the chase;
Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organising a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections’ chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition. In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim. The electoral process is mired in bureaucratic confusion, institutional duplication and political machinations. Electoral officials indicate that security and financial concerns will force the 2013 provincial council polls to 2014. There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favoured proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.
Yes, our timing is that bad.
Quiet planning should, nonetheless, begin now for the contingencies of postponed elections and/or imposition of a state of emergency in the run up to or during the presidential campaign season in 2014. The international community must work with the government to develop an action plan for the possibility that elections are significantly delayed or that polling results lead to prolonged disputes or a run-off. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should likewise be prepared to organise additional support to Afghan forces as needed in the event of an election postponement or state of emergency; its leadership would also do well to assess its own force protection needs in such an event well in advance of the election.
Does anyone see a ISAF, post-USA withdraw, getting involved in AFG domestic police actions? Really?
No, they/we won’t. The Taliban also know we won’t. They know we have left the field for them, and they are patient. We no longer have the ability or will to break their back, and with only one more fighting season left until we are totally focused on withdraw – we can’t.
I am reminded of one of the heartbreaking scenes – for a military professional – from the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields.
In the background as Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg watch the fighting between Khmer National Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge, we see Tom Bird’s US military adviser character do what he can to push his Cambodian forces on, to let them know that the USA was with them. Pointing to himself (in bold below);
00:27:00 What did he say?
00:27:01 He said he thought all American people left already.
00:27:05 Made in the USA.
00:27:10 Are we winning?
00:27:12 No, you’re not winning.
We have seen this before, and so have those who were our friends.
Much more will be written about our AFG experience over the next couple of decades. Somewhere there is a young man or woman who will be the next McMaster, who will cut their PhD teeth on how this all came apart. How a conscious decision was made to slide from a position of strength and progress to one of weakness, vacillation, insecurity, and decline. Why thousands of years of sound military experience was thrown away one evening in New York State, pretending that the lessons of history didn’t apply to us. We thought that because it was spoken, so it would be done; that hope and luck would beat the calender and patience. Through it all, the silence of “make it happen” marched forward in to the maw, again.
Rest assured, we won’t be leaving these problems behind in AFG. No, then enemy has a vote – and they too have seen this before.
“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”
She made a passionate case that our government is downplaying the strength of our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a rationale of getting us out of the longest war. We have been lulled into believing that the perils are in the past: “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight. In your arrogance, you think you write the script.”
The Taliban and al Qaeda, she made clear, “want to destroy the West and us,” and we must fight fire with fire, She appeared to leave the assembled alternatively riveted and just a bit troubled by a critique with interventionist implications clearly drawn from her reporting.
When you have the person who just tried to kill you on the ground, with your knee on his chest and your knife at his throat, but then you get off and try to walk away without finishing the job – should you be shocked when he gets up and attacks you? Should you be shocked if he does not stop his attack simply because you stopped it? Will he stop if you cry uncle? If you bow, apologize, and plead?
So there we are; we have emphasized the meme of the weak horse, and the butcher’s bill will be dear because of it.
What is the solution? Frankly, I think it is too late to get back to where we were in late 2009. We are almost three years in to the signal of retreat that we sent. Those allied nations in ISAF who have not already left will soon. Those AFG on the fence have already made plans and associations with our enemies to protect the interests of their families, villages, and tribes in the expectation that we will abandon them. Smart move, if I were them I would do the same thing.
A precursor to the Soviet withdraw were their version of Green on Blue – the AFG remember that and are seeing it again. They have indications and warnings too.
Could the NOV USA election change anything? No. With the lack of top-level support and enthusiasm for the mission, the American people lost whatever will they had to aggressively sustain operations in AFG – and with much of the uplift gone and force levels back to late-’09/early-’10 levels and falling, that momentum is gone and even if the will was there – it would be difficult to get back.
We are at the point now where the die is cast. This version of the war in AFG for USA forces will soon be over regardless, by design. All that remains is to see if we drive across our version of the Friendship Bridge, or leave in a helo under fire; all the while doing our best to avoid Gandamak.
Until then, there are things that can be done on the margins, but one question remains; if we are not in this to win it – do we have the political will, rules of engagement, and operational plan to create the effects on the ground to further our national interests besides just “getting out?”
Is, “Do the best we can until the summer of 2014 and then wish them luck.” now by default our Mission Statement? Has the military leadership been realistic about what can be achieved inside the POLMIL guidance it has received? What Decisive Points have we achieved in our Lines of Operation? Are they in-line with expected time-line dates? What about our Effects Matrix?
District by District, Province by Province – is the Afghan government on, behind, or ahead of schedule to take over security responsibilities? Are the criteria used to determine that status tighter or looser than they were three years ago?
Yes, much of that is classified – but it won’t be forever. This story will be told, and people will be held to account. If history is any guide, that won’t mean much to the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions who will die because we did not finish what we started.
The last time we abandoned a nation like this, the losses were in the millions.
After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwellt in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.
It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?
Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.
From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211
To: Squadron Attack Pilots
Subj: COMMANDER’S GUIDANCE FOR SQUADRON ATTACK PILOTS
1. Professional hunger.
My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.
If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.
If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.
2. Professional focus.
Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”
Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.
I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”
Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.
4. Moral courage.
Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.
We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.
If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.
Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”
6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.
The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.
It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.
To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.
C. K. RAIBLE
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC