Archive for the 'Aviation' Category
As the sun’s rays broke over the top of the eastern hills this morning, the military blogging community was coming to grips with the loss of a truly remarkable man. Retired Navy Captain Carroll LeFon, who was known to thousands by his “nom de blog” of Neptunus Lex, died when his Israeli-built F-21 Kfir single-seat fighter aircraft crashed at NAS Fallon at around 0915 yesterday morning.
The challenge in writing about such a man is that my command of the language to do justice to him is insufficient for the task, yet his mastery of words gave vivid understanding on most everything he chose to chronicle. “Lex” was one of the first and perhaps the best of those military bloggers (milbloggers), with a large and faithful readership that included his former Navy shipmates, other military types (including myself), former military types, and civilians of all descriptions. That readership came and stayed because Lex was far more than a milblogger who wrote about all things military. He had a wonderful gift with the written word, speaking to his readers as if engaged in a conversation at a back table of a favorite pub. His eloquence about military issues, his witty and often brilliant commentary on things political and social, always provided thought provoking reading. His commenters, even while disagreeing and adding rich commentary of their own, respected each other and revered their host.
His post was a daily read for me, and several times a week I would push my chair back from the desk and think (and sometimes say) “Damn! I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I could write like that!” Lex wrote eloquently of the human condition, both in and out of uniform, and had an appreciation for others who did, as well. We had in common a love of Kipling and the classics of martial poetry and other such works, and I would always smile to read them quoted at some appropriate juncture or situation. His remarkable Rhythms, a superb narrative of a day in the life aboard a CVN, is suitable for publishing. (USNI?)
But Lex did something extraordinary in his missives. In the impersonal world of the internet, he gave us glimpses of himself. His writing brought his readers into his cockpit, where he described in common terms the joys and challenges of flight and what it took to be the exceptional pilot he was. He also wrote incredibly lovingly about his wife and children, his love for them and pride he felt, and the worries he carried as a husband and father. And he managed to do so without intruding into their lives or his, but in a way that allowed us all to share just a little of him.
Lex chose to re-grip the flight controls to serve again the Navy he loved, by doing what had been his passion (outside of his wife and children) for his far too brief time this side of heaven. He helped to train Navy pilots to be better Navy pilots, and accepted the concomitant risks long after his time in uniform ended. The value of men such as he cannot be overestimated. His loss leaves a hole, a void, that never really is filled.
Our thoughts and prayers to his wife, his Navy pilot son, and his lovely daughters. Theirs is a deep grief that cannot be assuaged by the words they will read today and in the coming days. But perhaps, as that grief lessens, they can be warmed with a pride of having been the greatest treasure of such a remarkable man.
Captain Carroll LeFon, United States Navy (Ret.) has stepped into the clearing. Far more than most, he will be missed.
When I first thought about serving my country, I considered the Air Force, but decided I’d rather be in the military instead. My father told me once that in the Army, you’d live like rats and die like gentlemen. In the Navy, you’d live like gentlemen, and die like rats. I rather counted on living, and that has made all the difference.
Quote Yeats to me and you’ve won my heart…
The guy could write. In three sentences in his first freakin’ post he managed to pull up a forgotten truism, allude to the poet Robert Frost and mention Yeats. It’s not all grunting and emoting in this world, you know; there is poetry in it, and too few military people admit to being poets. CAPT Lefon was a prose poet. He referenced Guinness and The Hobbit and poetry and classical history. He treated people as equals and kicked the tails of fools. There was a beloved wife, two daughters and a son, a beloved Old Dominion and a San Diego, California house draining him of extra money, his sincere dislike of the night trap. All of these came up in occasional conversation, and would include painfully honest hints–and then a full monty confessional description–of a troubled child on the brink. We remembered that he was once XO of TOPGUN, and that it was one word and all caps. We knew how much he hated being competent in a cubicle, and the joy of being able to escape the rule that “once you retire you never are in full grunt again”. We know enough of his family to mourn along with them. Could write, I tell you.
He even linked me every once in a while, inspiring me to better work on my now-defunct blog (I work in a bit of a sensitive field nowadays, thankee–I used to be okay at writing, I suppose). He was gracious when I called him on things (even a defense of Mr. Rogers). I could depend on the man. Lex had an unashamed faith and had beliefs as well. He even has–crap, had–an entirely separate site, the Flight Deck, for people to hang out at the bar and jaw about whatever.
He took care to support and help out newer milbloggers. That support was needed in the 2005-2007 timeframe. I remain firmly convinced that the milblogs were essential to combating information warfare and the narrative of the 2005-2007 Iraq kerfuffle, putting truth out there when untruth was on the airwaves, and providing stories and comments you could not find anywhere else.
And he talked of homecoming. From 2003:
At that moment, everything you have experienced is almost worth it. The moment will not last forever, but it is enough.
I miss him already. I’m unable to write more; too many deaths close to me hit home this week. He’d like some Yeats. So, some Yeats and thoughts of his family. I don’t know if it’s a good choice or not–it might hit a little close to home. It’s Yeats. He liked Yeats.
TO A CHILD DANCING IN THE WIND
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
DANCE there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?
More – So much More
Chap – Pardon Him, Theodotus: Neptunus Lex: Carroll LeFon
UltimaRatioReg – A Remarkable Man Has Stepped Into the Clearing; Captain Carroll LeFon USN (Ret.) 1960-2012
CDRSalamander – Neptunus Lex: Thank You and Farewell
LCDR Benjamin BJ Armstrong – Laughter-Silvered Wings and Chasing the Shouting Wind
A Note from CEO Pete Daly to the LeFon Family
Susan Katz Keating: Neptunus Lex / Carroll LeFon: 1960-2012
Bill – There is a Universal Fraternity of Aviators…
The Armorer – We were bloggers once, and young.
The Armorer – Lex doing what Lex did best, and enjoyed the most. Flying
FbL – Hole in Our World
Milblogging – RIP Milblogger Carroll LeFon (aka Lex) of Neptunus Lex
Bouhammer - God Speed to a Warrior and a Milblogger
CDR Salamander – Neptunus Lex – Thank You and Farewell
AW1 Tim – One of our own
Grim – Sic Transit Lex
Steeljawscribe – Ave Atque Vale
Homefront Six – Fair winds and following seas…
Steve (The Woodshed) – Don’t Blink
Taco (The SandGram) – Carroll ìLexî LeFon, you are cleared due West
Teresa (Technicalities) – A Story Has Ended
Kanani (Kitchen Dispatch) – RIP Neptunus Lex: One writer pays tribute to another
Jonn (This Ain’t Hell) – RIP, Lex
MaryAnn (Soldiers’ Angels Germany) – Fair Winds, Lex
Cassandra (Villainous Company) – Lex
The Sniper - RIP Lex
Mark Tempest (EagleSpeak) – Beat the drum slowly
caltechgirl (Not Exactly Rocket Science) – Fair Winds and Following Seas
Navy Times – Crash kills pilot who blogged as Neptunus Lex
Soldiers’ Angels – Captain “Lex” Lefon
Tailhook Daily Briefing – Neptunus Lex
U.S. Navy Aircraft History – Well, That Sucks
Carmichael’s Position – Talk Among Yourselves
K-Dubyah (Little Drops…..) – Mourning…
Boudicca’s Voice – Lex
James Joyner (Outside the Beltway) – Captain Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex, Killed in Crash
streiff (RedState) – Milblogger Neptunus Lex Killed In Plane Crash
Bookworm (PJ Tatler) – Another Light Went Out : Milblogger Neptunus Lex Died Yesterday
xbradtc (Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid) – RIP- Carroll LeFon ìNeptunus Lexî
ALa (Blonde Sagacity) – In Memoriam: Capt. Carroll LeFon, Ret. a.k.a. Neptunus Lex
Sean (Doc in the Box) – Remembering Captain Carroll, Neptunus Lexî LeFon USN (Ret.) 1960-2012
Bullnav (Op For) – RIP CAPT Carroll Lefon, USN (ret), aka Neptunus Lex
LTC John (Miserable Donuts) – A Milblogger passes on…
DrewM. (Ace) – Captain Carroll “Lex” LeFon (USN, Ret)…RIP
Villainous Company: Lex
The January 2012 issue of Proceedings Magazine contained an excellent article from Dr. Norman Friedman (“A Different Kind of Blast”, pg. 88-89) referencing the May 2011 testing of a cruise missile containing a Counter-Electronics High Microwave power (CHAMP) warhead. As Dr. Friedman explains, high-power microwave (HPM) is a short-range and non-nuclear alternative to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), something which the US Military is becoming reacquainted with after a post-Cold War hiatus.
Dr. Friedman goes on to explain the differences between those two phenomena and that of electronic jamming:
EMP and HPM differ from electronic jamming in that they operate at much higher power and across a broad frequency spectrum; their users do not need intimate knowledge of how their targets function in order to disable them.
The applicability of this weapon in beginning to reduce the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threat, and thereby helping to enable Operational Access, is potentially very interesting. Among the chief concerns to strategic and operational planners is the proliferation of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, the latter in supersonic and hypersonic form, which are likely to saturate US Navy missile defenses with lethal warheads, even a small number of which would cause significant damage. This is not a new paradigm, as any Destroyer sailor on the Okinawa picket line in 1945 could attest.
However, with a weapon such as the CHAMP warhead, which by all reports is a more or less directional weapon, the ability to much more effectively and efficiently eliminate the targeting radars of air defense and anti-ship missile systems we would likely find in an A2/AD environment may be realized.
Previous discussions as to how to counter such numerous systems had centered around destruction with kinetic warheads, or disruption with “cyber” (there’s that word again) disruptions. The first is likely beyond the reach of current capabilities. Hardened and concealed positions will require precise, complete targeting and a prolific expenditure of munitions into areas where collateral damage may be considerable. The second, the “cyber” option, assumes a level of networking that most of our adversaries have not achieved, and with known and assumed US capabilities, something that is often purposely avoided. Indeed, a good deal of the air defense and anti-ship radars operate on purpose-built and relatively closed-loop networks, making intrusion into those networks a doubtful prospect.
Rather than destruction with kinetic munitions, or through disruption/intrusion, CHAMP/HPM offers the ability to blind those systems by burning out the processors and microprocessors of their operating equipment.
The recently-published Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) has a number of key imperatives that would be greatly enhanced by such capabilities that a directional HPM weapon can provide:
- Prepare the operational area in advance to facilitate access.
- Exploit advantages in one or more domains to disrupt enemy anti-access/area-denial capabilities in others.
- Disrupt enemy reconnaissance and surveillance efforts while protecting friendly efforts.
- Create pockets or corridors of local domain superiority to penetrate the enemy’s defenses and maintain them as required to accomplish the mission.
- Attack enemy Anti-Access/Area-Denial defenses in depth rather than rolling back those defenses from the perimeter.
While I am always hesitant to employ the overused and hackneyed term “game-changer”, it would appear that countermeasures to something like CHAMP may be difficult to develop and expensive. The technology required to produce the HPM-protection equivalent of a “Faraday Cage” may be beyond many countries and non-state actors to develop and employ. The result of such limitations may render the A2/AD systems of smaller adversaries vulnerable to US capabilities. Such may also significantly reduce the number of effective nodes of near-peer adversaries, who will have to choose which of the critical A2/AD systems they wish to make survivable.
As with every emerging capability, we need to be aware of the effects of such weapons on our own weapons systems and information/operating networks. We aren’t the only ones developing such systems. The back-and-forth of measures and counter-measures will be the future of such development. With the widespread industrial espionage capabilities attributed to some of our adversaries, their development cycle will be foreshortened by the ability to steal information and technical data.
The myriad challenges of Anti-Access and Area Denial environments will require continued development and experimentation with equipment. technology, and doctrine. However, the capability of a directional HPM weapon such as CHAMP provides a potential key to one of the A2/AD challenges that has increasingly become the focus of those thinking Operational Access.
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?
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.
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?
Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work provided the USNI West 2012 Conference with a very good and stirring speech on Thursday morning. The remarks were covered in a previous post, along with my personal concerns for whether Secretary Work’s perspective represented a too-sanguine assessment of what the budget situation would leave us for the coming decades. Indeed, over at Information Dissemination, Bryan McGrath summarizes well precisely the balance between the truth of the Secretary’s words, and the operational and tactical realities on the other side of the coin:
News reports and Pentagon statements indicate that the Navy will retire 7 cruisers and 2 LSD’s early, while cutting its shipbuilding totals 28% from the FY12 estimate for 2013-2017 (57 ships) to 41 ships in the same period with this budget. Retiring assets early from a Fleet already stressed to meet its commitments, and then eating your shipbuilding “seed corn”, strike me as odd ways to demonstrate an emphasis on Seapower. I’ve talked to some in the Navy who suggest that under the new plan, we’ll be able to field as many ships in 2020 as we do now, which is put forward as evidence of great progress and victories within the Pentagon bureaucracy. How this reconciles with the fact that the Fleet we have NOW does not meet the needs of the COCOMS–let alone the Fleet some project to be necessary to underwrite East Asian security in the face of Chinese expansion and modernization–evades me.
Mr. McGrath also emphasizes the realities that networking and technical sophistication is not a panacea, or a replacement for PRESENCE.
Clearly, the number of hulls as a measure of Naval power ain’t what it used to be. However, the suggestion that networks and precision guided munitions make hull counts unimportant points again to the basic physics problem that Naval planners have faced since the Phoenicians–a ship can only be in one place at a time. Quantity does have a quality all its own, and as I’ve advocated many times on this site, networks and PGM’s are of incalculable value when the Navy is fighting; however they are less important when the Navy is doing what it does the vast majority of the time–deterring and assuring.
Precisely. And not in the guided munitions sense.
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.
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.