Archive for the 'Aviation' Category
We have lost a truly great one. Military Historian and analyst Sir John Keegan, OBE, has died at the age of 78.
The Telegraph announced the death of this nonpareil author and military historian. No serious student of the Profession of Arms should fail to read Keegan’s seminal work, The Face of Battle, nor many of his other numerous and superlative works, including The First World War, The Second World War, Six Armies at Normandy, and The Price of Admiralty.
Keegan’s genius in explaining the incomprehensible, warfare, at all its levels, was simply remarkable. His was a once-in-a-century intellect, and he shall be missed.
Russia has been increasing the reach of its navy in recent years, sending warships further afield as part of an effort to restore pride project power in a world dominated by the U.S. military.
That throws a wrench in our Maritime Strategy, it would seem. Or does it? What should our reaction be, militarily? And what, diplomatically? Should there be any?
This post is part of a group covering a Lockheed Martin media event for the F-35 Lightning II. For an analysis of the fighter’s potential as an unmanned aircraft, visit news.usni.org. For my discussion of the Joint Strike Fighter as an international acquisitions program, visit the NextWar blog at the Center for International Maritime Security.
The F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has seemed to be the third rail of defense acquisitions. The aircraft program’s costs and operational role have been thoroughly discussed both here and elsewhere. When USNI kindly offered me the opportunity to represent them at a Lockheed Martin event, I felt daunted by the volumes of ink spilled to date on the subject. But, I think the JSF program as suffered from polemic coverage and needs some measured commentary. I learned a lot and hope this knowledge serves as an antidote to the vitriol surrounding this aircraft:
- Whatever its costs and however well the F-35 does or does not fit American strategic and operational interests, nobody says it isn’t an impressive aircraft in its own right. This is a point worth saying out loud. At one point, we were shown infrared video from a test flight. We could see on the camera an outline of a Joint Strike Fighter on the tarmac – that was the place where the aircraft was parked 45 minutes before. The F-35 could sense the difference in solar heating of the runway caused by the aircraft’s shadow after that amount of time – incredible! While I think President Eisenhower’s statements on the military-industrial complex are worth heeding, America and its partners are pioneering impressive new technologies to increase our military capabilities. The bottom line: how can we best leverage the capabilities of the F-35 in a continually evolving threat environment? And how can we use technologies pioneered in this program to support other platforms? Answering these questions would allow the United States to recoup more of its significant investments in this program.
- Lockheed was open to discussing the different cost estimates of the program. I was expecting to have a certain figure placed in front of me. But Sam Grizzle, Lockheed’s Director of Communications for Aviation, admitted on the subject of costs that “other folks may come up with a different number.” This transparency impressed me. Further, Lockheed employed an interesting defense of the JSF program’s cost. We often compare the JSF to other acquisition programs in the present or to similar ones of the past. Essentially, they argued that you would have to compare the JSF program to whatever alternative DoD would have pursued (each service independently pursuing different strike fighters, for example). It’s difficult to prove a negative – so we ultimately can’t know whether a different program might have been a better alternative. I can think of many counter-arguments to this line of reasoning, but they only made my head hurt. Ultimately, people with differing views on the cost of the program will continue to circle each other in a rhetorical dogfight, but the aircraft is in production and so I think that discussion is moot for those in uniform. Our civilian government will make financial choices to meet our national priorities. A very interesting dialogue does remain, however, on how the aircraft will be employed, and this is where we as a community can contribute – Galrahn has some interesting thoughts on the JSF as a command and control platform and I wrote a piece on unmanned JSF’s for news.usni.org.
- Many have noted that the Navy’s F-35C has a single engine like all other variants – at first blush, this lack of redundancy would give me pause if I were alone over the ocean at night. But the F-35’s engine is shrouded as a stealth measure. I asked Lockheed officials whether this might mitigate foreign-object damage and increase the engine’s resiliency. They said, “That’s an interesting question.” I was surprised that they hadn’t studied this in detail. The bottom line: is the F-35’s single engine more reliable and survivable compared to past engines? Claiming that two engines are better because that’s how we’ve done it in the past is flawed reasoning. It’s also neglects our history, as many of the retired fighter pilots in the room reminded me. In 1958, the Navy was deciding between the single-engine Vought F8U-3 and the twin-engine McDonnell F4H. The safety record of twin versus single-engine airplanes was examined and determined to not be a deciding factor. The only twin-engine airplane at the time was the A3D Skywarrior, which had two engines because it was too big to be powered by only one. At 40,000 lbs. of thrust, the JSF doesn’t need two engines by this measure. Also, looked at from a different side, having two engines simply doubles the chance that one fails. There are control and stability issues on one engine and it’s unclear whether a dual-engined JSF could reasonably make a carrier landing on a single engine. Personally, I’d like to see more data – and anyone wanting to have a reasoned discussion of this issue should as well.
- I learned a lot about the international program, which I’ll cover extensively at the other blog I contribute to, CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.One interesting note: the event showed USNI’s influence in stark relief. Once the floor was open for questions, the first two focused on the Chief of Naval Operations’ recent Proceedings article “Payloads over Platforms.” These questions weren’t from me, but from bloggers from other venues. It was a moment that underscored how much the Naval Institute frames the discourse on maritime security.
Lockheed was reluctant to discuss the piece, at one point Lockheed’s Bob Rubino joked “CNO’s article? Didn’t see that…” Many have taken the CNO’s piece – especially his discussion on the limitations of stealth – as an indictment of the F-35 program. But if you read the piece closely, I think a better summary would be that stealth is important, but isn’t the sole determinant of a successful aircraft.
The Joint Strike Fighter inspires strong feelings in both supporters and detractors, and so it’s difficult to have a measured discussion of the program. What’s clear is that the Navy, the United States, and many allies and partners are counting on the program’s success. After today, any discussion of the program that isn’t constructive towards that end holds little interest for me.
Those were Adolf Hitler’s words in December of 1940, as he revealed to his senior Wehrmacht Field Marshals and Generals his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
At a few minutes past 0300 on the morning of 22 June 1941, the rumble of 8,000 artillery pieces shook the western positions of the Red Army, all along the new borders of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, more than 3,300 aircraft roared overhead on their way to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations, command posts, and artillery positions. The most fateful day of the Twentieth Century had begun.
In the west, the Wehrmacht of Hitler’s Third Reich consisted of 2.5 million men and more than 4,000 tanks comprising 180 divisions, organized into three massive Army Groups, which were poised to smash their ideological and political enemies, the Bolshevik dictatorship of Stalin’s Soviet Russia.
Opposing the German onslaught was more than 3 million soldiers of Stalin’s Red Army. Numerically superior to its German opponent in men, aircraft (4,000), and tanks (more than 7,000), the armies on the Soviet western boundary were nonetheless abysmally led and poorly trained. Still reeling from Stalin’s 1937-39 purges of most of its officer corps, and from the bloody humiliation of the disastrous “Winter War” with Finland in the winter of 1939-40, the Red Army was ill-prepared for war against a modern western foe.
The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, was a finely tuned weapon of mechanized warfare, having conquered Poland two years earlier, and overrun France in less than six weeks in 1940. Superbly trained and equipped with modern armor and the most advanced combat aircraft, the three German Army Groups shattered the Soviet forces opposite them. The Luftwaffe swept the Red Air Force, the VVS, from the skies and smashed it on the ground. By the end of the second day, more than 2,300 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed. The Red Army was already being shattered and destroyed piecemeal, in what would be the “great battles of encirclement” of that summer and autumn of 1941, from which few escaped death or captivity. The eradication of the VVS was nearly complete. Nearly. The Red Army almost bled to death. Almost. Yet, somehow, they held on.
Operation BARBAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, more than any other, was Hitler’s war. It was the war of Mein Kampf, the war for Lebensraum in the East, whose purpose was to open the great steppes for colonization by the Aryan race. It was a war not just of conquest but of subjugation and annihilation, fought with a brutality that had not been seen in Europe since the Tatar conquests of seven centuries before. It was a war of unspeakable horror and unimaginable suffering, by soldier and civilian alike. Prisoners on both sides died by the millions, worked to death as slave labor, starved, or simply shot or hanged out of hand. But it was also a war of grim and fatalistic heroism on both sides. The German-Soviet conflict, when it ended in the rubble of Berlin nearly four years later, would take the lives of almost twenty-three million souls.
Some of the most enduring images of the Eastern Front, and for the Soviets the Great Patriotic War, are of columns of Russian and German prisoners forlornly marching to their fates (the Russians seemingly always in the dust of the summer, the Germans in the bitter cold of winter). And of grainy images of executions and hangings by the German SS Einsatzgruppen, and far less publicized, of the execution of suspected Russian collaborators by field units of the NKVD, the terror apparatus of Stalin’s brutal regime.
There are lessons and cautions abundant in examining this titanic struggle. Cautions about underestimating one’s enemy, his will to fight for family and homeland. The Russian soldier, deemed racially inferior and incapable of waging modern war, proved individually tough, able to endure hardship and privation in startling measure. He was also fanatical in the defense, fierce in the attack, and bore a hatred of the “blue-eyed oaf” that would be carried across the borders of Prussia with terrible effect.
The Russian was also capable of producing simple but highly effective weaponry, and of mastering its employment. The T-34 and KV-1 tanks that began to appear in the autumn of 1941 were superior to any German design. Soviet aircraft began to close the technology gap with the Luftwaffe far faster than anticipated. Soviet artillery, superior to the Germans even in June of 1941, would dominate the battlefield as the Red Army’s “God of War”. All these would surprise and confound the German commanders who were told to expect an enemy of limited intellect and poor character.
There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding the struggle between these oppressive dictatorships. Here are two:
- The Wehrmacht was not capable of winning a short (ten-week) war against the Soviet Union.
Because the Germans did not win does not mean they were not capable of winning, or the Soviets capable of losing. Had the Ostheer kept its focus on Moscow as the main objective (the plan was to surround, not enter the city), and had Hoth’s Panzers been unleashed in the first week of August, rather than frittered away in other operations until October, the capture of the European capital of the Soviet Union was within its capabilities. Perhaps even more important than the purely political prize was the massive Soviet war industry that occupied the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space”. Siberian forces did not begin to arrive to defend the city and its immediate area in significant numbers until late September, 1941. The capture of the Soviet war industry, which included the massive tank works at Gorky itself, and the aircraft engine factory at Kuibyshev, would have deprived the Soviet Union of its most valuable asset, the ability to replace the massive combat losses with more modern and capable equipment. Had those factories been destroyed or fallen into German hands, there would have been no MiG or Yak fighters, no Il-2 Sturmoviks, no PE-2s, or any of the other increasingly modern aircraft that would eventually sweep the Luftwaffe from the sky. There would have been no replacement divisions of T-34/76 and /85 tanks, no self-propelled guns, no artillery pieces to replace those lost in the massive battles or worn out in extensive combat. Without those factories and the hardware they produced, there would have been no rehabilitation of the VVS or of the Red Army into the juggernaut that crushed Army Group Vistula into bits and eventually subsume eastern Germany.
- The Soviet Union was capable of defeating Nazi Germany without Allied assistance.
While it is true that the Soviet Union bore the unquestioned preponderance of the weight of German arms (at various times, 80% of German combat power was employed in the East, and nearly 80% of all German losses were inflicted by the Soviets), and the suffering and casualties of the Soviet military and civilian population exceeded the rest of the Allies combined by a wide margin, Stalin’s Russia could not have won the war without Allied, and particularly American, assistance. While many are familiar with pictures of some of the 9,000 US and British tanks shipped to the Soviets under Lend-Lease, these represented only about 20% of Soviet tank production during the war. There is little question upon any examination, however, that there were two absolutely critical areas of direct assistance were the linchpins of the survival of the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1941-43, and their drive to ultimate victory in 1944-45. The first of these areas was in food production. The United States shipped more than seventeen MILLION tons of food, wheat and canned goods, to the Soviet Union whose agricultural bread basket was under German occupation. That food sustained the Red Army and Russian war industry workers when none other was available. Without it, the prospects for Soviet victory would have been slim indeed. The second item so critical to the Soviet war effort was the supply of more than half a million American trucks. Tough, six-wheel drive vehicles which carried logistical supplies from the rear areas to the front, and which mounted the famous 122mm Katyusha rocket launchers by the tens of thousands, allowed the Red Army to supply itself on the battlefield in the defensive struggles of 1942 and carried that Army to the great offensive drives that eventually smashed the German Ostheer. Those trucks represent more than 70% of total Soviet vehicle production, freeing their industries to produce the war weapons, tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles that equipped the Red Army.
The final victory of the Soviet Union is, however, a testament to the tough, fierce, and brave Russian soldier. His image, the hardened veteran soldier sitting atop a T-34 with PPSh in hand, scanning for a glimpse of the hated enemy, his mustard-colored quilt uniform covered with dust and snow, will endure for centuries in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union has never been comprehensively treated. The subject is far too large. It is too complex and incapable of being understood, except gradually, within the context of its salient events, and those of the rest of the world during and since. A thousand volume work on the subject would still require an explanation and a qualification that such a work was by no means all-inclusive. Yet, it remains one of the most compelling subjects for historians, social and military, because of the world-altering impact of the events themselves and their decades-long aftermath. The magnitude of the struggle defies modern understanding. As does the agony of the armies and the peoples locked in the grips of that mortal struggle.
And so it is likely to remain. And it began with the flash of cannon and the roar of engines, in the morning darkness, seventy-one years ago today.
(Cr0ss-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)
* Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace The Bad Old Days
Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed
Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
- Peter Allen, ‘Everything Old is New Again
There was a point, a decade or so ago (OK, maybe two decades back), when I thought some of my bete noirs, like medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missile-armed supersonic bombers were going to go skulking off into that not-so-gentle night. Alas, it appears not so:
A move by Russia to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China for US$1.5 billion to China was confirmed by the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission two years ago and the bomber’s name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports the state-run China News Service … The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force. One of world’s fastest long-range bombers which can also carry atomic weapons, the plane can cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific. Sources here and here.
So now, along with pondering MRBMs that may be the Pershing II re-incarnated, alongside bulked up Badgers, we have the prospect of the Backfire being introduced into the increasingly volatile mix that constitutes the Far East Theater. Mah-velous. Previously rebuffed in the late 80′s/early 90′s by the Russians who didn’t want to upset the balance of forces in theater, the Chinese evidently closed the deal in 2010 to domestically produce up to 36 Tu-22M3 Backfires (Domestic designation: H-10) with the engines to be supplied by Russia – an agreement all the more curious because of the very real anger the Russians have (had?) over the Chinese knock-off production of the Su-27SK that formed the basis of the J-11 family and the navalized J-15 without paying the attending license-fees.
While it is easy to wave the “game changer” flag, the appearance of the H-10 in the region, especially in terms of coverage in the SCS and as a possible LACM platform for strikes against Guam, will be cause for more concern and an additional complication in the “Pacific pivot.” Already, H-6′s and H-6K’s running around the region with a variety of sub- and supersonic cruise missiles are cause for concern, and now, just as in the ‘Good/Bad Old Days’ the appearance of the Backfire on the stage once again places a premium on our ability to reach out and touch at long ranges, the archer before he has the option to shoot his arrows – rebuilding the Outer Air Battle as it were, but in an updated form to handle an updated threat and under conditions we didn’t necessarily have to face in the Cold War. It also means stepping up our training and putting renewed emphasis on countering the reconnaissance-strike complex that would support the H-6/H-10 (and ASBMs for that matter) – time to get serious about OPDEC, EMCON and a host of other TTPs we became very practiced with during the 80′s but have let atrophy over the years. Oh, and did I mention the need for some really, really good AEW?
And do-on’t throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again
Crossposted at steeljawscribe.com
Over at OpFor, old comrade LTCOL P asks some thought-provoking questions as he links to an article by AOLDefense’s Sydney Freedberg. The article covers the happenings at UNIFIED QUEST, the United States Army’s Title 10 Wargame being held at The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.
Go there. Ponder his questions, and read the article. Well worth your time.
UNIFIED QUEST is usually a pretty illuminating event, a “futures game” which posits the incorporation of as-yet unfielded technology or force structure, and the effects of that technology or structure on tactics and doctrine. Occasional bits of self-delusion occur (tactical “offensive cyber” being launched at a Bn Commander’s say-so with a server dropped into a remote airfield comes to mind), but overall, the game is well conducted and has had (in my years of participation at least) a very sharp and aggressive “Red Team”. This year appears to be no different.
What stands out in the AOLDefense article, fairly leaps from the page, is this exchange:
“You needed ports, [the enemy] knew you needed ports,” he said. “They were ready for you.” While the US-led task force maneuvered elaborately by sea and air to deceive the enemy commanders where they would land, ultimately the coalition had no way to bring in the supplies its own forces needed, let alone humanitarian aid, without controlling a handful of major seaports. So the enemy commanders ignored the feints — their militiamen lacked the kind of mobile reserve force that would have been needed to try to counter them anyway — and simply dug in where they knew the US would eventually have to come to them.
“We had to go here; we’re very predictable,” sighed one US Army officer later in the briefing. The military has invested in the capability to bring forces ashore where there is no port — formally called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over The Shore — but the Army and Navy together only have enough such assets to move supplies for one reinforced Army brigade, while the Marines can land another brigade-plus. That’s only a fraction of the force required in this scenario. While the the resulting dependence on established infrastructure — seaports, airfields, bases in friendly countries — is often thought of as a purely logistical problem, in this kind of conflict it can have bloody tactical consequences.
We have spent a decade and a half (or more) talking about seizure of ports as the cheap and easy alternative to landing over a beach. Time and again, the refrain that port seizure was the far preferable alternative to coming ashore at the surf line was drummed into our ears. “Ports are smart, beaches are dumb” was how one senior Navy Officer explained it, somewhat condescendingly. Problem is, seizing a port which is surrounded by built-up area, under the noses of an enemy that knows you need it and knows it is, in fact, your critical vulnerability, never was going to be as easy as those port seizure advocates assumed it would be. (I did happen to notice none of them ever seemed to be infantrymen.)
Urban combat is never easy in the best of circumstances, but becomes especially challenging when you have a limited ability to transition forces from afloat to ashore without securing the very objective you are fighting for. Even an unsophisticated and largely immobile adversary can defend effectively if he knows where you are going and why. Cherbourg was destroyed by second-rate German garrison troops in June of 1944, even as US forces drove into the Cotentin Peninsula. The loss of that port affected the Allied drive across Europe into 1945.
One other point worth mentioning: The aforementioned JLOTS is not a system that can be used in an assault echelon. The loading of the ships and craft are not according to the Commander of the Landing Force’s (CLF) Landing Plan. JLOTS is a national asset which requires a secure beach over which to transit. The brigade coming ashore isn’t doing so in fighting trim. Very effective for bringing in follow-on assets, but not for forcing an entry.
So once again the value of landing combat-ready forces over a beach is highlighted. As is the paucity of current capacity to do so, which includes the near non-existent Naval Gunfire capability of the United States Navy.
Kudos to the Red Team at UNIFIED QUEST. Their job is to poke holes through the invalid assumptions in Blue Forces’ planning and execution, and they have done so here in a major way. Our assumptions regarding port seizures are at the top of this year’s list.
With a “Strategic Pivot” toward the Pacific, let’s hope those who read the Lessons Learned from UQ 12 are paying attention.
Over at Information Dissemination, there is a very telling post of a Q&A with Mike Petters, President and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries. Cruise on over, it is well worth the read.
Mr. Petters has been a panelist at several shipbuilding sessions at USNI West in the last several years, and always provides an invaluable and informed opinion on our nation’s ability to produce warships. His basic point is that shipbuilding is a “use it or lose it” proposition, a similar message to what he delivered at West 2012 and previous panel sessions. Also of note is his very pertinent assertion that shipbuilding, because of the complexity and long lead time to produce, must be anticipatory and not reactive.
History, as one might expect, bears out Mr. Petters’ assertion. The mighty United States Navy of 1944 and 45 had its origins long before the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Indeed, ten of the 24 Essex-class CVs had been ordered, and two laid down, prior to 7 December 1941. More than half of the 96 Benson/Gleaves DDs, and a number of the ubiquitous Fletchers, had been laid down by that date as well, as had a number of heavy and light cruisers, on the heels of the New Orleans-class CAs commissioned in the late 1930s. The three Yorktowns were brand new. The battleships North Carolina and Washington were nearing completion. The South Dakotas were laid down, and work was proceeding on all three. In short, when the demands of a two-ocean global war prompted the building of warships, auxiliaries, merchantmen, submarines, oilers, transports, and smaller vessels of all types, the United States had a running start.
Today, with just Huntington-Ingalls and General Dynamics, we are at a dead stop.
Mr. Petters also points to an immutable truth in all manufacturing, large and small; the great advantages of serial production. The interruption, the delay, the reduction of orders below the point of profitability have a cataclysmic effect on retaining a work force in sufficient numbers, and with the requisite long-lead skill sets that shipbuilding demands. Constant fiddling with the 30-year shipbuilding plan is a major problem for shipbuilders, and for their suppliers.
What is called for, he very rightly points out, is a long-range Navy strategy, one that is more than just bullet phrases with a thin and shrinking capability to accomplish even some of what that strategy calls for. From where I sit, I couldn’t agree more. In this year’s West 2012 Conference, I asked two questions of the Naval Officers on the shipbuilding panel. What is the size of the Navy required to execute the new Maritime Strategy? And what is the high-low mix? Both answers were largely the same. “We don’t know”.
For the sake of what is left of our shipbuilding capability, that answer is not acceptable. The security of the United States as a maritime nation depends on it.
As a historical aside, sixty-eight years ago today, preparations were being made for the landing of 130,000 men on a defended shore, from a force of more than a thousand ships, against a determined and skilled enemy. Power projection from the sea in a decisive battle. The landings I mention are those which were to be made on Saipan ten days later, on 15 June 1944.
Simultaneously, on the other side of the world this very night, half a million men were en route across the stormy and rain-swept English Channel, borne in 3,000 ships, to land on the coast of France and crack the walls of Festung Europa. D-Day, the invasion of occupied Europe, was about to begin.
Five years earlier, not one in ten of those ships which carried all those men and supplies, existed. We were, then, the “Arsenal of Democracy”, and our industrial might saved the world from German and Japanese tyranny. If we had to be so again, even on a much smaller scale, Mr. Petters’ question is a good one. “How long would it take?”
In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. – SJS
Of the 200-some odd models that populate my study and other places around the house, there is but one on my desk. It isn’t a plane that I have flown (though not for a lack of desire), nor is it even one I have had a working relationship with when I was on active duty. Indeed, it is one I have yet to even see in person except in a museum. That plane? It is an SBD-3 Dauntless – but not just any Dauntless. It is in the colors and markings of the VB-5 “Black B1” Dauntless flown by LT Dick Best at Midway. The reasons I have it there are manifold and it serves as a daily reminder thereto and are compiled and summed below.
“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” – Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, December 2004
The Navy in 1942 was very much that kind of Navy — the one “you have.” Ships and aircraft that were in transition from an earlier age of technology and warfighting that hadn’t quite got the kinks worked out, whose replacements that did were still on the drafting boards or just now beginning construction and were months, if not years away from combat. Tactics that had been developed by “disruptive” innovators that had, as yet, to be fully tested in battle. A command structure that suddenly found itself engaged in worldwide fleet and joint operations. In light of these conditions, several actions had to occur prior to 4 June 1942 to enable the American victory at Midway.
Every era has had something that service members came of age with. From the Dreadnaught era to the advent of submarines; the Sailors of the interwar period saw naval aviation come of age; Jets after the close of the second world war, guided missiles and nuclear propulsion.
For my generation, among the first of the 21st Century, we have seen the initial steps towards cyber capabilities and the mass adoption of unmanned systems. But, we’ve seen something more as well tangentially related to cyber: blogging and the online discourse writ large concerning the maritime services.
I am willing to say that at no other time has the discourse been as important for the maritime services as it is today. Certainly, it has never been more well appointed or contributed to. From those with an earnest interest in naval and maritime affairs, to deckplate Sailors and junior officers, to even the most senior admirals and generals. Their voices are present and count towards our understanding of ourselves, profession and the way forward for the Nation and Services.
For five years Information Dissemination has played a vital role in this discourse and enhanced discourse at USNI/USNI blog. To Raymond and the gang at Information Dissemination thanks for five years of great posts and for adding much appreciated voices to the dialog. Cheers!
The conversation on professional naval issues is alive and well. It happens in many forums and at many levels. From seamen on the mess decks to admirals in the Pentagon, wardrooms to Proceedings, the conversation is happening, but what are we talking about? My feeling is that the conversation is weighted entirely on the strategic level. Heated discussions occur on how many ships should be in the Navy? How many carriers should we have? Is China the next Russia? These are all important conversations that should continue but we are missing something important. Where are the conversations about how best to tactically incorporate new systems like the LCS and the predator drone? Where were the tactical lessons learned from Operation New Dawn? What is the best way to find and approach pirates off Somalia? In the last year there has been a call out to Junior Officers to join the professional discussion. However, the discussion that was happening was at the strategic level. Junior Officers have something to add in that arena as well, but the strategic level issues are not the ones that most JOs handle every day. As a Junior Officer we should be reading, writing, and studying to perfect our knowledge of the tactical employment of whatever platform we are on. That is what the JO discussion should focus on and we as a community are not fostering that discussion.
Naval Officers join the navy to lead sailors and be officers in the profession of maritime war. We did not join Maersk or MSC. Those sailors are excellent at their craft but that is not us. I joined to be a Surface Warfare Officer but I have to seek out the conversation that supports the warfare side of my community. In the CNOs “Sailing Directions” he says that we need “warfighting first, be ready to fight and win today, while building the ability to win tomorrow”. But could we do it if we were called on? We have the platforms but do we know how best to employ them in combat? Instead of talking tactics we have been preparing for the next certification or inspection. While the country has been heavily involved in two land wars, the navy has been largely at peace, and we have gotten complacent in our thoughts.
Twenty-six years ago, Captain Wayne Hughes wrote Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, which is still regarded as one of the preeminent works on Naval Tactics. In it he stated “Good tactics in wartime derive from good tactical study in peacetime” and then went on to state:
Articles on tactics should dominate the Naval Institute Proceedings, as they did in the period from 1900 to 1910. The hard core of the Naval War College curriculum should be naval operations, as it was in the 1930s. War games should stress not merely training and experience but the lessons learned from each game’s outcome, as in the 1920s and 1930s.
I don’t know that tactics need to dominate the entire naval discussion, as with most things in the Navy, it is important to have a “hi low mix”. The discussion also no longer has to be limited to Proceedings. USNI would like to have more discussion on tactics there, but so would the USNI blog, Information Dissemination, CIMSEC, Sailorbob, Small Wars Journal, Alidade and a host of other online forums. This is a huge topic and there is enough to go around for all.
In many of these forums innovation has been a buzzword recently. LT Benjamin Kohlman started a wonderful conversation about Disruptive Thinking and innovation on the Small Wars Journal Blog that has gone viral. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I agree with many of his points and I do believe that innovation at all levels is important; however, as Wayne Hughes would say, technical innovation without tactical innovation that will incorporate new technologies is useless in naval battle.
One thing that is hindering the open discussion of tactics is the concern that it will endanger classified information. Many believe that it is impossible to have a true discussion of tactics in an unclass forum. This is not true. Those that are in the conversation need to be very careful to know what is and what is not classified but there are plenty of important conversations that can be debated and learned from in an open forum. The use of historical examples, hypothetical environments, and general tactical principles all provide ways to have that open discussion without crossing the boundary into the classified realm.
The conversation on tactical innovation is especially important for the Junior Officers but it should not be limited to them. Senior officers and those that have gone before us have a wealth of knowledge on tactics. They have been there and know where the sinkholes are. Only by learning what has been done before can we keep from making the same mistakes over again. We have the forums. Once again it is time for us to read, think, speak and write about tactics.
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