Archive for the 'Army' Category
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
-Admiral Chester Nimitz
America lost 6,821 of her sons on Iwo Jima. More than 19,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor and more than 200 Navy Crosses were awarded for heroism on that island.
Where is USS Michael Strank? USS Franklin Sousley? USS Harlan Bloch?
The large standing Army and active duty military we have known in our lifetime may seem the norm – but it isn’t.
Is there a way to maintain a strong military capability – available and scalable if needed – without the structure we have become accustomed to?
Is there a better way to balance our Reserve and National Guard forces that is better in line with our economic, national security, and yes – Constitutional requirements?
This Sunday, 19 FEB from 5-6pm EST, join us with our guest, General Ron Fogleman, USAF (Ret) for the full hour. Using his recent article in Defense News, Going Back to the Future: Militia Model Could Cut U.S. Expenditures as a starting point, we will discuss these ideas and more as we look for a way to maintain strength and options as the budget crunch starts.
You can listen live by clicking here.You can listen later by getting the show at that site, or from the Midrats podcast on iTunes.
Last Man Standing, The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu
by Dick Camp
Zenith Press, c. 2008
Retired Marine Colonel Dick Camp (Lima-6) whose writing has taken us from the battlefields of the Great War to the August 2004 fight for Najaf, produces with “Last Man Standing” an unvarnished account of one of the most tragic stories of Marine heroism, sacrifice, and bloodshed in the securing of a Pacific island objective in the Second World War.
The author’s duties as Aide de Camp to Marine Corps legend General Raymond Davis allowed Camp to compile a compelling and fascinating inside account of the savage and unrelenting combat on Peleliu. In addition to General Davis’ perspective (Davis was 1st Battalion commander in the 1st Marines under Colonel Lewis Puller), the author interviews Russ Honsowetz, also commander of a battalion (2nd) in 1st Marines, and makes extensive use of Eugene Sledge’s account of the fighting (With the Old Breed) to provide a day-by-day narrative of the unfolding of the near-destruction of Pullers’ First Marines in the coral crags of the Umurbrogol.
Operation STALEMATE, the seizure of Peleliu and Angaur in the Palau Islands of the Caroline Island chain, was intended to shield the flank of Douglas MacArthur’s drive to the Philippines. The airfield on Peleliu was of particular interest to US planners, and was believed to necessitate a major operation to seize it and the rest of the island. Despite the destruction of Japanese air power on Peleliu, and against the pleading of William Halsey to cancel STALEMATE, Admiral Nimitz ordered the landings on Peleliu and Angaur to proceed. Camp’s accounting of the fighting on Peleliu, illustrated with helpful maps and combat photographs, is nothing short of chilling. The airfield seizure was quickly accomplished, but in the rugged, forbidding coral croppings that ran the center of the island, a tragedy of bravery, sacrifice, and failed leadership played out.
The two Marine leaders whose performance, rightly, bear the most scrutiny are 1st Marine Division Commander BGen William Rupertus, and legendary Marine Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller. The reputation of General Rupertus is at best uneven, many of his peers and immediate juniors being somewhat unimpressed with the man, his tactical acumen, and his leadership. On top of his already identified shortcomings, Rupertus had badly injured an ankle in a rehearsal and was nearly immobile. His message to the Division that Peleliu would be a quick three-day affair highlighted Rupertus’ lack of understanding of the tasks at hand.
But it is the performance of “Chesty” Puller, commanding the 1st Marines, that is laid bare by the events on that hot and forbidding coral ridge. Camp’s book brings to the fore the human cost of Puller’s failure to understand the terrain and enemy his Marine rifle companies faced, nor the losses they incurred daily, for little or no gain. Puller was hobbled by a flare-up of the leg wound he had received two years earlier, commanding 1/7 on Guadalcanal, and despite his characteristic penchant for locating his command post within rifle range of the enemy, his lack of mobility prevented Puller from walking the ground with his Battalion and Company commanders. Had he been able to do so, he would have halted his stubborn admonition for wasteful and fruitless attacks against a disciplined and well-dug-in enemy in impossible terrain. In addition, as Camp makes clear, his unwillingness to heed the reports of his superb Battalion Commanders doomed his regiment to being bled white in the coral hills.
Camp also describes the foolishness of Rupertus and Puller all but refusing to accede to the presence of an Army Regiment to relieve Puller’s shattered 1st Marines after six bloody days, until Amphibious Corps Commander General Geiger came ashore and after meeting with both, ordered the relief.
How much Colonel Lewis Puller was affected by the debilitating pain in his leg, or by the death of his brother Sam on Guam some weeks before Peleliu is not known, but the author intimates both were draws on Puller, at a time and under conditions which required his absolute best.
Camp’s matter-of-fact treatment of an otherwise legendary figure in Marine Corps lore is a valuable reminder that perspective is an important component of historical analysis. While many enlisted Marines would revere “Chesty” even after Peleliu, many Marine Officers who understood the tactical situation and had a larger view of Puller’s performance are less forgiving. As an example, Camp includes the perspective of Captain Everett Pope, the lone surviving Company Commander who was awarded the Medal of Honor while leading Charlie Company in Davis’ First Battalion. Captain Pope is quoted in Camp’s book leveling harsh, if justified criticism of Puller’s understanding of the terrain and conditions, and complete disdain for his ordering futile and bloody attacks. “The adulation paid him these days sickens me”. In hindsight, while Rupertus should never have been allowed to command the Division with his physical infirmity, Puller should probably have been relieved of command of 1st Marines.
Thankfully, Peleliu was most decidedly not the end of the Puller legend. His leadership at the front of those same 1st Marines in November-December of 1950 in the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir is a study of inspirational leadership and determination. There, Puller would win a fifth Navy Cross, and earn Brigadier General ‘s stars. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1955 as a Lieutenant General.
Dick Camp’s book is an important work for understanding the history of the Marine Corps, one of its more tragic episodes, and a rather inglorious performance of one of its revered legends. This book should be on the shelf of every serious student of the Pacific War, and of the Marine Corps’s role in that war.
After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years,” said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.
The American military, mindful that Marines have spent most of their time in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001, said the goal was “to revitalize, refine, and strengthen fundamental amphibious capabilities and reinforce the Navy and Marine Corps role as ‘fighters from the sea.’”
The lack of practice at a craft that is immensely complex (amphibious assault) and requires extensive planning and rehearsal has been a concern of the Marine Corps for most of the past decade. Many junior Officers and SNCOs have never been afloat, let alone had anything to do with amphibious operations. Landing plans, serial assignment tables, scheduled, on-call, and unscheduled waves are terms unfamiliar to most. Fire support planning in amphibious operations, challenging in the best of circumstances, must now be done in an environment of austere Naval surface fires.
The BOLD ALLIGATOR exercises, and the war games that reinforce them (EXPEDITIONARY WARRIOR, etc.) will introduce those younger Marines to the art of projecting power ashore from the sea. Shortfalls in capabilities and capacity will be identified, new methods developed to leverage modern platforms, and assumptions either validated or proven incorrect. The bugaboo of every amphibious operation, the command relationship between CATF/CLF, will be examined anew.
The addition of our French allies in this exercise is crucial, as the interoperability of international forces in a coalition operation is always a challenge. Lessons on doctrine, equipment requirements and capabilities, as well as the personal command relationships between seniors, make for more lethal and efficient combat forces.
The landings in North Carolina and Virginia are not being conducted in a vacuum, either:
The threat of mines, anti-ship missiles and small boats in coastal waters conjure up Iran’s naval forces, but the commanders overseeing the drill, Admiral Harvey and Marine Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, say the scenario is not based on any particular country.
When asked by reporters last week, Harvey acknowledged that the exercise scenario was “certainly informed by recent history” and that it was “applicable” to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as other areas.
Harvey also said the exercise incorporated lessons from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, when Iran-backed Hezbollah forces hit an Israeli navy corvette with an anti-ship missile.
This event was important enough to have CNO Admiral Greenert in attendance, and highlights a significant shift in the Navy’s views regarding its role in the amphibious power projection mission. While always publicly supporting the Navy-Marine Corps team, the unofficial position of the Navy toward this mission seemed decidedly luke-warm and was at odds with the Marine Corps over requirements and resources. This is good news for Naval forces whose focus will be the western Pacific. One can bet a paycheck that the USN and USMC will be scribbling furiously, taking copious notes. Lessons will be learned, training will be invaluable.
And best of all, an entirely new generation of Marines will be introduced to the smell of paint, exhaust fumes, crude oil, salt water spray, and vomit that are indelibly etched on every Marine who has climbed down the cargo net, ridden the tuna boats off the well deck through the surf, or splashed ashore from the LCUs. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Perspective is important. The ability to see events as others might see them is a talent that is mightily handy when navigating the shoals of international relations. It would seem that NATO and the US did not conceive of a point of view that could not agree with what is defined now as the “international norm” of the Right to Protect (R2P).
The disbelief and outrage expressed at the veto votes of both Russia and the People’s Republic of China over the UN Resolution regarding Syria leads one to believe that our State Department believed a contrary position on R2P did not credibly exist. Au contraire, points out STRATFOR in this morning’s Geopolitical Diary. STRATFOR posits that perhaps a couple of widely held assumptions are not quite as universal as we had believed. To both the Russians and Chinese, the preservation of human life, and prevention of crimes against innocent civilians or mass killings, still needs to be weighed against the spreading influence of potential geopolitical, military, and economic rivals. Responsibility to Protect, R2P, was for the West in reality E2I, excuse to intervene:
The Russian and Chinese view was that this doctrine opened the door to unlimited interventions not in response to mass murder, but in order to prevent mass murder. From the Chinese and Russian perspective, this would allow intervention based on fears. Fears can be feigned and anyone can assert the threat of mass murder and war crimes. Therefore, the Libyan precedent seemed to be a doctrine that justified intervention based on suspicion of intent. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Russian and Chinese view was that the intervention in Libya was designed to achieve political and economic goals, and the threat of impending mass murder was simply the justification.
China and Russia viewed the Syrian resolution as a preface to more aggressive resolutions also based on the doctrine of preventing atrocities much greater than those already committed. They felt that this would set a permanent principle of international law that they opposed. Their opposition was based on the perception that this was merely a justification for interventions against regimes of which the West disapproved.
Also, an America stretched thinner than its shrinking military resources can reasonably secure works to the advantage of both Russia and China. Not only that, but freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz or elsewhere is not necessarily a universal desire, especially when that freedom means possible interdiction or interruption of vital energy supplies.
Iran is in the process of establishing a sphere of influence in which Syria plays a strategic role. If al Assad survives, his regime will be heavily dependent on Iran. Neither China nor Russia would be particularly troubled by this. Certainly, Russia does not want to see an excessively powerful Iran, but it would welcome any dynamic that would tie American power down in a long-term duel with Iran. Creating a regional balance of power would divert U.S. power in directions that would provide Russia with freedom for maneuver.
The same can be said of China, with the additional proviso that the Chinese do not want to see anything interfere with their energy trade with Iran. So there were two issues for China. First, China did not want a precedent set that might allow an American intervention in Iran. Second, China, like Russia, welcomed the diversion of American power from the South China Sea, where it had been planning to shift forces.
None of this should surprise us. Unfortunately, China and Russia continue to play realpolitik at a time when the US foreign policy team seems unwilling to admit that such power politics even exist. Russia’s dispatch of a Naval flotilla (which included an aircraft carrier) last month to the Syrian port of Tartous was a message strongly sent to both NATO and the United States. The Russian vessels comprised an “influence squadron” if ever there was one. The clear signal to NATO, the members of which share the continent with Russia, was a not-so-subtle “HANDS OFF”. With Russian resurgence a distinct possibility amongst a largely disarmed Europe, and Russian control of the natural gas valves that supply the key NATO economies, the message will be heeded. For the United States, that message, and the message of China’s and Russia’s veto, is slightly more ominous:
What we have now seen is that China and Russia recognize the battlefield and for now are prepared to side with Iran against the United States, a move that makes clear sense from a balance of power perspective.
Perspective. Spelled out very well by STRATFOR.
The above statement is a part of the comments from US Representative Randy Forbes, R-Va, who chairs the House Readiness Subcommittee. He made the remarks in July, but it hardly seems as if things have been on the upswing since.
Stars and Stripes is reporting that USS Essex (LHD-2), flagship of ESG-7, will not be participating in Cobra Gold. Seems, she is broken. That’s twice, inside of a year. BEFORE the coming Defense cuts.
Following the optimistic tone of the USNI/AFCEA West 2012 speakers and panels, VADM Burke, DCNO for Readiness, provides a somewhat less upbeat analysis:
Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, told the committee that the Navy has “a limited supply of forces.”
“When you have these additional deployments, you sometimes impact the maintenance, or you impact the training, which will impact the maintenance,” he said. “So what we have is one event cascading into another, so we don’t get either of them quite right.”
While a TF 76 spokesman attributes the problem to “wear and tear”, and declares the 21-year old Essex “no spring chicken”, the true cause of the problems are systemic and not mechanical. To wit, Lt Anthony Falvo from 7th Fleet:
Lt. Anthony Falvo, 7th Fleet spokesman, said the Essex may have been impacted by missing maintenance.
“Pacific Fleet ships adhere to rigorous maintenance standards and maintenance periodicities per the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual and other Navy directives,” Falvo wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “On any given day we have roughly 40% of our ships underway and we are meeting the requirements of the combatant commanders.”
Ya think? The absurdly shortsighted experiment with “optimal manning”, the deferring of maintenance because OPTEMPO is too high for the numbers of ships in commission, the idea that we can DO MORE WITH LESS, those are the problems. Wear and tear? It becomes a problem without proper maintenance of subcomponents and systems. “No spring chicken”? Remind me how old the Austins were?
Over on Nate Hughes’ excellent post is some significant discussion about the economics of maintaining a Navy and getting the most for the taxpayers’ treasure. This ain’t it. Some in the Navy or associated with it will tell you that the most “cost effective” course is to decommission and dispose of ships like Essex, even though they will not be replaced one-for-one. This lays bare the absurdity of that notion. The most cost effective course is to properly maintain the vessels in commission, and if capable vessels for their mission, keep them in commission to the end of their expected service lives, or even longer if viable.
Under Secretary Work, tell us again about the National Military Strategy that won’t stretch our shrinking resources past the breaking point?
Thursday morning, Under Secretary of the Navy (and more importantly, former Marine artilleryman) Robert O. Work skilfully executed his own “pivot”. Secretary Work had intended to deliver remarks regarding the program choices associated with the recently-released Defense budget. Well, you go to the podium with the speech you have, not the one you wish you had. It seems SECNAV was not going to publicly comment until later in the day, so Secretary Work chose not to publicly do so ahead of that, and instead delivered an enthusiastic and decidedly upbeat address on the challenges and opportunities facing the Navy-Marine Corps Team in the coming century.
Secretary Work referenced former CJCS Admiral Mullen’s talk of the previous day, and lived up to his well-deserved reputation for his grasp of history and its relevance to future events. Diverging from Admiral Mullen’s views of the uniqueness of the path ahead, Secretary Work outlined the challenges faced by President Eisenhower in 1953, an ongoing war far larger than the current and recent conflicts combined, an existential threat from a peer enemy about to detonate a thermonuclear device of their own, faltering allies asking for assistance in remote regions of the globe, and an electorate very tired of war. Indeed his example speaks to the tendency to consider present challenges as groundbreaking and unprecedented, when in point of fact, they are usually not nearly quite so.
Secretary Work proceeded to provide a Huntington-esque perspective on the history of America’s military eras, as defined by salient policy events. That perspective is worth summarizing here.
The Continental Era
July 4th 1776 to December 1, 1890
America’s Army was dominant, with an intermittent and largely coastal (with notable exceptions) Navy and small Marine Corps, no overseas bases, and a focus on western expansion across the North American continent. The era ended with the tragic events at Wounded Knee, which was the last of the frontier fights. During the Continental Era, for every month the United States was at war, she spends approximately six months at peace.
The Trans-Oceanic Era
December 1, 1890 to March 12, 1947
America becomes a two-ocean Mahanian maritime nation once and for all, and after massive military commitment to winning two world wars, is a world power with overseas bases, with far-flung interests, and security commitments to allies and former adversaries (whom we have to build up from virtual ruin) on almost every continent. The era ends with the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, and the beginning of the Cold War. For every month of war during the Trans-Oceanic Era, there are 5.2 months of peace.
The Cold War
March 12, 1947 to May 12, 1989
Containment of the Soviet Union, a peer adversary, which dominates Eastern Europe and makes serious inroads in Asia, southern Europe, and Latin America. Large wars in Korea and Vietnam, the respective growth and contraction of the US Military in the aftermath of those wars, and lots of little wars by proxy, and an existential threat of Soviet first strike. The Cold War is declared over on May 12, 1989, by President George H W Bush. Indeed, in 1990-91, forces from Europe are sent to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, more than a year before the final collapse of the Soviet Union. In this increasingly active era, aside from a Cold War for the entirety, for each month of hot war, the United States is only at peace for 2.67 months.
The Global Era
May 12, 1989 to December 31, 2011
Two wars in Iraq, 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, protracted and expensive efforts at nation-building are the events of the most active time for America’s military in her entire history. For every month at war during this Global Era, America will have just 1.08 months of peace. The Global Era ends, according to Secretary Work, with the end of the war in Iraq
The beginning of 2012 is the beginning of the “Naval Century”.
This era, says Secretary Work, will be one of global American sea power, focused on the western Pacific, always a maritime region, and the Middle East, which is becoming increasingly so.
Secretary Work asserts that this nation’s military, its people and equipment, are tired out. They need to be refreshed, revitalized, and allowed to recover from the strain of two protracted wars. And the military needs to shrink. Especially in manpower, the single highest cost category.
I reproduce Secretary Work’s perspective in near entirety because I believe it is cogent and well-thought, from someone whose grasp of history is superb, and because it is worthwhile. It also allows us to put current conditions in context. Some of his points are excellent, and provide an insight into how Mr. Work thinks of what he calls the Total Force Battle Network and its shape in the coming decades.
This Total Force Battle Network will be characterized by a Navy-Marine Corps team capable of forcible entry and power projection globally, and an ability to keep vital SLOCs open to freedom of navigation. This Naval force will be characterized by thoroughly networked platforms and weapons, unmanned systems in all three dimensions, with technology-enabled combat power second to none. An increased emphasis on SOF throughout the services, Navy and Marine Corps included, and a more capable maritime domain awareness using unmanned and manned platforms to cover vital areas nationally and globally. Forward presence in vital regions will be credibly maintained. This force will be maintained and sustained by personnel strengths equal to the task, a break from the “optimal manning” experiment that went “too far”.
This will also be a force that is used less frequently than were forces in the Global Era, allowing for time to train and maintain, and to test and experiment with new technologies and new methods of employment. And, passionately, Mr. Work reminded us that the people who make up our Naval forces, Sailors and Marines, will remain the single greatest asset the Total Force Battle Network can employ. They will remain the professional, motivated, educated young warriors that are exemplified by CDR Ernest Evans, who told his crew of Johnston (DD- 557) “This is a fighting ship, and I intend to take her into harm’s way!”. And at Samar, when eight Japanese capital ships appeared on the horizon, turned his destroyer toward the vastly superior force and interject his little ship in between the Japanese and the escort carriers of his task force. The decision cost him his ship and his life, but helped save the Task Force and possibly the Leyte landings further south. It also earned CDR Evans a posthumous Medal of Honor. Our people and our Navy and Marine Corps will do the things that are required to be the best in the world, because, as in the past, they will be “great by choice”.
Secretary Work’s words should be inspirational to any Sailor or Marine who takes pride in his service. The Navy Undersecretary is definitely on our side. He is a man who says what he means and means what he says. The coming cuts, the $480 billion in the next ten years, are challenging but workable. They represent a drawdown of some 24% of the US Military, which Mr. Work points out is rather less than that of other post-war draw-downs, including the years of the “Peace Dividend” following the Cold War and Desert Storm. His was definitely a tone of confidence in the future of our Naval forces.
I hope he is correct. I hope we have a strategy commensurate with our capabilities, and our reach doesn’t exceed our grasp. And that our focus on SOF and unmanned systems will not require the “Plan B” of conventional forces in great numbers, because they simply will not be there. Whatever the numbers of ships, systems, and personnel we settle on, that cannot be the starting point for the ill-conceived concept of further pinching of pennies by chasing temporary savings (“Optimal Manning”, deferring maintenance, retiring warships at half their service lives) that result in driving up long-term costs and reducing effectiveness.
And I hope he is right about sequestration. Because, as upbeat and slightly sanguine as Secretary Work’s words were, even he admits that the cuts that would come in that event will devastate our nation’s defenses and make any meaningful National Military Strategy impossible.
“…now it is time to think!”
This statement, alternately attributed to Winston Churchill and Ernest Rutherford, was the baseline theme of all of yesterday’s speaking and panel sessions here at USNI/AFCEA West 2012.
But is it a fair statement? And is it accurate?
The implication of that statement is that senior military and civilian officials in the Defense Department have been accustomed to throwing money at problems rather than thinking through a solution. And this questionable practice is the reason for “bloated” Defense budgets in the post-9/11 world.
I disagree. While undoubtedly there are inefficiencies in Defense spending, and more can be purchased for the dollars spent, I simply don’t buy into the notion that the statement implies.
Much is made of the “doubling” of the Defense budget between 2000 and 2011, but little is said of the effects of the “Peace Dividend” and the acquisition “holiday” of the 1990s. In yesterday’s shipbuilding panel, of which more will be written soon, Mr. Mike Petters from Huntington Ingalls Industries (the shipbuilder formerly known as Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, among other names) gave us some interesting insights as to the effects such uneven procurement and “holidays” have on building ships. The cost to the manufacturer of sitting idle, and of sudden restart at a surge level, is considerable. Elsewhere, in the Navy-Marine Corps Team panel, there was also significant discussion of the very real problems experienced by prime and sub-contractors when production drops below minimums for business solvency, or unpredictable dry spells and cancellations occur.
The costs of fighting two wars that represent a level of commitment of a single Major Regional Conflict (MRC) in 1990s parlance undoubtedly drove up Defense budgets, with personnel increases for the Army and the Marine Corps, operating costs, ammunition and fuel, aircraft and ground equipment maintenance and repair, and rapid acquisitions of vital equipment like MRAP vehicles as the dollar drivers. Many of those rapid acquisitions centered on burgeoning technology and unanticipated requirements, and anticipated requirements that had not been met (up-armored M1114 HMMWVs) in anywhere near sufficient numbers over the previous decade.
However, I cannot agree that the services, especially the notoriously tight-fisted Marine Corps, suddenly spent the last decade as profligate spenders without rhyme or reason, as if they had their parents’ credit card on a college weekend. If they did, then such did not occur at the tactical level.
Today, with US military involvement with Iraq at an end, and Afghanistan employing a small fraction of the US Military (90,000 of 1.44 million, just 6.2% of personnel), the “pivot” of the focus of our military to the Pacific region and the execution of the Cooperative Strategy requires meaningful commitment of adequate resources to counter the capabilities of a fast-rising near-peer in China.
While comments from each of the speakers and most panel members were couched in terms of required and critical capabilities, there was acknowledgement of the budget axe that will be the final arbiter of which capabilities we can afford, and which we cannot. Where and when that axe falls will determine this nation’s ability to execute its National Military Strategy, and by extension, its National Security Strategy.
Doing “more with less”, another phrase often heard yesterday, is a hackneyed and trite bit of platitude that is a signal that what we truly have is not a capabilities-based Defense budget, but budget-constrained Defense capabilities. You do not do more with less, you do less with less. That, whether it is a popular sentiment or not, is an inviolate fact of life. To the vast preponderance of the men and women of the US Military, who have always done as much as possible with what was given them through two protracted wars, the idea that thinking only takes place when all the money has been spent is an affront to them and is dismissive of their courage and commitment.
If I don’t hear Churchill’s words applied to our Military ever again, it will be too soon. If there is a ringing of truth in them, it should be in the ears of those who wear stars and wide gold stripes. The rest of us have been thinking all along.
The morning panel discussion at USNI West 2012 was entitled “The Navy-Marine Corps Team: Hang Together or Hang Separately?”
Excellently moderated by Frank Hoffman, the panel members were:
VADM Gerald Beaman, Commander, Third Fleet
VADM John Blake, DCNO, Integration, Capabilities, and Resources (N8)
BGen Dan O’ Donohue, Capabilities Development Directorate, HQMC
MajGen Melvin Spiese, Deputy CG, I MEF
Panelists were unanimous in their comments as to the new appreciation of the truly integrated nature of the Navy-Marine Corps team, and the necessity of that close and long-standing relationship as US focus “pivots” toward the Western Pacific. The unique combined capabilities of the Navy-Marine Corps team to project power globally and to gain entry, as Admiral Vern Clark once stated, “without a permission slip”, was acknowledged to be as important in the coming decade as it has ever been in our nation’s history.
As such, the integration of Navy-Marine Corps fixed-wing air, the maintenance and enhancement of amphibious assault capability, and the return of the Marine Corps to its nautical roots after two protracted land campaigns, all were indicators of the new-found sense of teamwork between the services. Several panel members commented pointedly on just how closely the guidance of CNO Admiral Greenert and Marine Commandant General Amos align. This is not coincidental, as in the coming budget challenges the Department of the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, needs the capabilities of each of the respective services to execute the Maritime Strategy in the growing A2AD environment. Joint Operational Access must indeed be accomplished jointly, with each service enhancing and complementing the capabilities and mission sets of the other.
This represents a much more harmonious situation than the somewhat discordant voices (behind the scenes, at least) which were heard in the last several years. That is good news. Because the assertion of how much each service needs the other to operate in the vast expanse of the ocean to our west is difficult to overstate.
There was much discussion regarding the F-35B, which General Spiese termed the most important program in the Marine Corps. He stated that its capabilities to operate off big-deck amphibs and high sortie generation rate are keys to USMC warfighting doctrine. With a current and near-future paucity of sustainable Naval surface fire support, General Spiese’s assertion is spot-on.
A question to the panel from your humble author regarded identified capabilities gaps, lack of viable NSFS, and mine warfare, specifically counter-mine capabilities. As the Amphibious Operations Area expands exponentially, a necessary result of fielding of longer-range systems of delivery (MV-22, a future ACV), those two tasks in particular have been flagged as being an even greater gap than exists with current systems and methods. (Simply, the farther from shore the amphibs launch the landing force, and the farther inland the Ospreys can execute vertical envelopment, then the larger the mine-clearing task and the more expansive the target list. This is true even if the landing area is lightly defended.)
The answers were instructive, as Admiral Beaman asserted that prioritization of systems in the current budget environment might mean modification of requirements. Moderator Frank Hoffman identified the need for a low-cost and high-volume FS system to fill the gap until newer systems are fielded (rail gun, possibly) and existing systems improved. (An ability to UNREP VLS, perhaps?)
BGen O’Donohue talked in positive terms about the mine-clearing module of the LCS, and it is clear there is a tremendous amount riding on the success of that system. Admiral Blake explained that the migration is taking place from current methods of mine clearance where the sailor is in the mine field to methods where the sailor is not, and the clearance is performed remotely.
The panel espoused the distinct and realistic view that the current proliferation of A2AD systems make for a very challenging operating environment, and the emergence of a near-peer potential adversary in China raises the ante for getting it right with our Naval forces. But at least those challenges will be met together by the Navy-Marine Corps team.
This week in San Diego, USNI/AFCEA West 2012 will be examining the issues and challenges associated with a US Military that has reached a “crossroads”.
As has happened so many times in the last century, the signposts to that crossroads are fiscal and not operational. Even with the drawdown in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan employing just a small fraction (about 90,000) of the 1.44 million US servicemen and women, the driving forces for the coming cuts are budget shortfalls, and spiraling national debt.
Panel sessions include discussion of the future of the Navy-Marine Corps Team (which doubtless will encompass amphibious capabilities), information and INFOSEC requirements for Naval forces, the balance between the warfighting head and the logistics tail, and the looming question of our new Pacific orientation, China.
Speakers include former CJCS Admiral Mullen, Navy Undersecretary (and former Marine Artilleryman) Robert Work, David Hartman, and Medal of Honor Winner SFC Leroy Petry, USA.
As usual, USNI will have a reinforced fire team of bloggers to tell you about it. The unit symbol is below. We will begin in a wedge formation for all around security and flexibility, and then we will do whatever SWMBO tells us to.
If you are going to ask tough questions, and give tough answers, San Diego in January is a pretty good place to do it. The forecast in Vermont is for snow.