Over at my place I’ve been following a news story and am crossposting it here. Here’s a snapshot of how the story changed as the reports became more available, newest on top. We’ll know more tomorrow, but as of right now the stories are mostly unreliable. Bottom line as of this moment: Something happened to a French SSBN, and maybe something happened to a RN SSBN, and there might be a connection. It’s worth watching news stories like this just to see how the narrative frame is built, how the information presented changes, and what lasting impressions come from the trail of reports even if some reports are factually wrong.
Update: Earlier this week the story was that Le Triomphant bonked some kind of shipping container upon submerging off Brest, and that’s what caused minor damage to the sonar dome. Information’s pretty weak; first reports always wrong/always believed…
Update: Daily Mail confirms. They say the French boat’s sonar dome was wrecked in the collision.
Amphibian sailor Ken Adams heps me to an “exclusive” from the Sun UK (I know, I know). Single source, I can’t find anything in French on the web or English, it’s on Wikipedia already but only sourcing the Sun article. Removing the hyperbole and speculation, the article says:
The Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard and the French Navy’s Le Triomphant are both nuclear powered and were carrying nuke missiles.
Between them they had around 250 sailors on board.
The collision is believed to have taken place on February 3 or 4, in mid-Atlantic. Both subs were submerged and on separate missions.
A senior military source said: “The lines between London and Paris have been hot.”
The MoD insisted last night there had been no nuclear security breach.
She was last night towed into Faslane in Scotland, with dents and scrapes visible on her hull. Triomphant limped to Brest with extensive damage to her sonar dome.
Update 16 Feb: Welcome Joel’s fellow bubbleheads! The post’s getting a little cluttered, so further updates are in the comment string.
From an interview with the senator, an interesting comment:
RCP: Now that John Warner has retired, you’re the only former Secretary of the Navy in the Senate. There was a report recently that our Navy fleet is dwindling from 600 twenty years ago down to 200 in the next ten years. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, what can you do or what you have done to ensure we have the best Navy fleet possible?
When I was commissioned in 1968, we had 930 ships in the United States Navy. It went down to 479 in 1979 after Vietnam. And then we had it up to — I think I had it up to around 580, 586. When I resigned as Secretary of the Navy I made a statement — it was over a budget issue with cutting the Navy back — I made a statement: ‘I did not choose to become the father of the 350 ship Navy.’ Little did I know, it got down to the 270s. It’s now 282.
I think the Navy has huge challenges right now. They got leadership challenges. They came in $4.6 billion in unfunded requirements. They’re trying to get it up to 313 ships. Their air procurement programs are in disarray. They had ship building programs in disarray, cancelled. They really need a stronger focus, and they need to be rebuilding their structure and those sorts of things. So we’ve been back and forth on this. They need to really get a much stronger focus on where to use their money.
Michael Yon posts one of the periodic national security status updates from General Barry McCaffrey. This one’s pretty much what you’d expect, but it’s useful to see what people are reading.
Okay, I’ll yank the band-aid…
My email inbox is afire, message boards are muttering, posts are being made based on this here blog and comments on Steeljaw’s post. The bottom line is that a flag officer’s comments are getting some play around the blogosphere. Kudos to the man for engaging; stand by for return fire, I guess. New media is sometimes more like the JOPA sitting around with a beer than Dust Covered Minutiae Quarterly, but you can’t miss those golden nuggets you pick up with the JOPA. If we on active duty don’t get engaged effectively with new media, and I don’t mean by “information prevention” methods, then we cede any relevant arguments to whoever actually shows up and is effective. Worse, we could shut down the “forceful backup” we should be getting and wind up with silly decisions that cost a lot or drive the sailors crazy. We could also find ourselves in the same situation that a former Air Force Chief of Staff did in realizing the need to engage with media too late to learn and make public communication mistakes at a junior level (from an article in the Autumn 1998 Airpower Journal) :
Of all the freedom-of-speech cases involving high-ranking military leaders, that of General [Michael] Dugan is, to me at least, one of the most troublesome. On taking up the reins as chief of staff of the Air Force in the summer of 1990, General Dugan announced publicly that he wanted senior Air Force officers to be more open with reporters: “I think that the leaders . . . need to be upfront, they need to take the gaff that goes with it.”
This policy of openness would prove his undoing. In September 1990 during a tour of US forces deployed in the Gulf preparatory to Operation Desert Storm, General Dugan took the risky step of making himself and five senior generals of the Air Staff available for press interviews focused on US strategy, with particular emphasis on the prominent role to be played by airpower. The resulting story made front-page news in the Washington Post on Sunday, 16 September 1990, with the headline reading “U.S. to Rely on Air Strikes If War Erupts.”
In his autobiography My American Journey, Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up what he regarded as the objectionable positions expressed by General Dugan during the interviews: “Among the things Dugan was quoted as saying in the Post article were that ‘airpower is the only answer that’s available to our country’; that the Israelis had advised him ‘the best way to hurt Saddam’ was to target his family, his personal guard, and his mistress; that Dugan did not ‘expect to be concerned’ with political constraints in selecting bombing targets; that Iraq’s air force had ‘very limited military capability’; and that its army was ‘incompetent.’ ”
The next day, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney peremptorily relieved Dugan, charging the general with “lack of judgment” in disclosing “operational details” and in addressing “decisions that may or may not be made by the president in the future.”
The need to engage with media is more important in a war where the enemy looks at the information effect before he executes. From the .pdf file in this link:
We typically design physical operations first, then craft supporting information operations to explain our actions. This is the reverse of al-Qaida’s approach. For all our professionalism, compared to the enemy’s, our public information is an afterthought. In military terms, for al-Qaida the ‘main effort’ is information; for us, information is a ‘supporting effort.
Countering the Terrorist Mentality,
New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict
However, an officer interacts at career peril even in public affairs issues, making it terribly difficult to warm to thinking about media. (An example discussion of this, from a 2004 post).
Here’s a small roundup of response to the admiral’s comments.
- Small Wars Journal is happy about the shout out. They deserve it; they’ve done good work. Don’t get cocky, y’all.
- Galrahn responds more directly, with a assertion of credibility and standing, and an implied challenge for the blogosphere to be taken seriously by Big Navy.
But here is an unavoidable truth. No one from the Navy has ever contacted me to suggest information I am presenting is inaccurate, but both the industry and members of Congress have. If the Navy is frustrated about the accuracy of information on blogs, then quit conceding the conversation to others; engage it. It isn’t like the authors on the blog are hard to reach, the email address is posted on the top of the blog.
- Lex responds with a different challenge: for Big Navy to catch up with new media.
But there are senior officers out there who would dearly like to constrain the limits of what’s considered acceptable debate. Used to be folks could vent on the pages of the Naval Institute Proceedings, and we could have a real professional discourse. Then a couple of heretics got burned, and everyone else got a whiff.
There aren’t any easy choices when you get to the three-star and above ranks: There are never enough resources to go around, someone has to decide, and everybody else is charged with making it happen. Otherwise it becomes the State Department, and we’ve already got one of those.
Still, there’s something to be said for transparency in the airing of alternate viewpoints. Flag officers, brilliant though they often are, tend to live in a bubble, surrounded by those who have a vested interest in ensuring them that everything’s fine, no reason to worry. Step away from the window.
- Maggie hopes she isn’t the target of the broadside.
- Jules Crittenden takes the comments “mainstream” (blogosphere-wise, anyway) and gets an Instalanche for his trouble.
- CDR Salamander also rounds up and mentions CAPT Toti’s cautionary article about publishing and avoiding being the one used to pour encourager les autres.
- Update: Spencer Ackerman weighs in as well, emphasizing the value of the conversational nature of blogging as journalism vice straight reporting.
Dave Dilegge points out an analysis by Dr. Leonard Wong that should be embarrassing to Army guys and worrisome to us if anybody goes a-lookin’…
The number of days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders. Company commanders somehow have to fit 297 days of mandatory requirements into 256 available training days.
More at the link.
This isn’t something you see every day: An Air Force blogging flowchart highlighted on BoingBoing.
I wonder what Navy does–a NATOPS procedure?
I’m active duty, so these opportunities are not for me. However, the New Media Directorate at ASD-PA has some great opportunities
to stir up trouble to provide blog fodder. They’ve got phone bank roundtable discussions available with various high up muckety mucks a few times a week, and a couple of interesting Navy embarks / embeds coming up.
Some of the comments being made here would be illuminated by a phone call or two, or a couple of days visiting at sea. How about it?
Former PACOM, ADM (ret.) Dennis Blair, has been reported as the new administration’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, according to MSNBC.
Blackfive has a guest post from BG Abe Abrams, USA, soliciting input for their new field manual for training full spectrum ops.
Every so often, like clockwork, this question comes up and not much gets moved. I call ‘em “36M-4R questions”, questions like “bring back the battleships”, women on subs/in combat/aboard ship, the draft, when two carriers overlap in Gulf deployments and somebody every time gets convinced we’re about to invade Iran, et cetera. These questions come up but don’t do much more than feed a bull session. I’m not much changed from my 2004 take on the diesels question, except to note the price of ASDS, we still say we’ll make things up in the outyears, and Taiwan still without new boats. Part of that post:
That cost-vs-capability drives us to a prisoner’s dilemma logic. If the less capable thing is six and a half bucks, the more capable thing is ten bucks, and you have eleven, you always pick the more capable thing. This is, however, a short term logic–if you figure out that the national value of six SSKs is more than the national value of four or two SSNs over the long term, then you make another decision. (Note that I say “national value” here, not “equivalence”–comparing the two directly may not be the correct measure to make.) Add in other things like a different structure for a different kind of ship, too.
Buying SSN vs. SSK requires a decision bigger than the first couple years of budget–and nothing that is in the POM outyears is recognizable by that time. When the Navy buys a gadget, they put a request in the budget that goes via the President to Congress, in a Politburo-style Five Year Plan. The next year’s money gets approved, and the “out years” at the end of that plan aren’t necessarily what happens the next year when we send another budget up to Congress again. So here lies another conundrum. We always say we make up the shortage in the out years, but there isn’t really a hammer to force a service to do so–and that’s probably not all bad, since it’s too long to react to changing technology or strategic situation.
A diesel sub can’t drive at ahead flank for two weeks, then spend three months sitting off the coast of
mumblewith no support. A nuclear-powered boat can. With thousands of miles between home port and your destination, that makes sense. Our diesels, before they got paid off, were forward deployed to save that time and gas–but it was still harder for them. Nuke aircraft carriers like having the sub sprint ahead. Diesels can’t do that well. With this lower capability, coupled with the prisoner’s dilemma, we stopped building diesels.
Taiwan wants subs, as their WWII U.S. handoffs (Guppy conversion, actually) are old old old, and they realize that an asset in the strait is better for them than a promise of a carrier later. They got a massive case of sticker shock…and then found out that several previous attempts at building non-nuclear subs in the US have been killed off.
So let’s say you’re not a submariner or a strategy guy and haven’t thought of this question before. Alternatively, you weren’t swayed by the inevitability of my deathless prose and want to work through this on your own. Here’s how I’d frame thinking about the question: by asking other questions.
–What strategy does this support? What mix of the rest of the Navy and DoD determines this choice?
–What do you want to do with the SSKs, since you can’t steam one at flank across the Pacific and sit off the coast of mumble until the food runs out?
–If these boats are for the USN, how many ships or other boats don’t get built due to the resource move to diesels, since diesels cost a lot more than people assume–and you have to add in the cost of tenders, replenishment and forward basing since we need the offensive capability to move forward, which requires infrastructure. This hidden cost outside the hull’s cost can get appropriators into trouble. So can first-of-class costs. See the Collins price tag, or the reaction of the Taiwanese government when the cost to them became clearer. Also, the build cost of an SSN includes the fuel–a huge factor and a completely different way of looking at resource allocation. How many surface ships don’t sail as scheduled because the quarter’s gas money ran out for that group? How would it be done differently if you planned fuel cost over decades instead of months?
–Are you really saying “should we allow US yards to make diesel boats to rival the HDW export program”? If so, to whom and why?
An SSK is like an intelligent mine; a trump card, but tied to the supply chain and its need to recharge. An SSN is able to drop everything, race to station, carry more stuff, stay longer and move farther…and the comparison is essential because money is not unlimited and the missions aren’t as different as they would be if you were arguing more about an overall hi-low mix for the Navy ships.
Some previous discussions of the issue, which have useful comments:
- Bubblehead on Joe Buff’s Proceedings article
- Posing the question in 2006, CDR Salamander, and replies from Bubblehead and DCS Sec