Archive for the 'Navy' Category
Last week saw an interesting footnote for our Navy;
Simpson has turned into a ghost ship.
Its passageways are pitch black and steamy hot. It’s silent, the constant hum of machinery that’s the heartbeat of a warship eerily absent. Its windows are covered and ventilation sealed off. Its battle ribbons have been removed, its flag lowered.
But the ship still has a story to tell.
The U.S. Navy decommissioned the 30-year-old frigate Tuesday and with it shut the back cover on one of the most significant — yet little-heralded — stories in U.S. military history.
The Simpson was the last modern U.S. Navy warship to sink an enemy vessel in action. Of the 272 ships in the fleet now, only one ship can claim a similar honor: the USS Constitution, now a showpiece in Boston harbor, which sank British vessels in the War of 1812.
Not to take anything away from her, but SIMPSON’s exchange was a brief and lopsided affair – but well executed;
Chandler warned the Iranian ship via radio at least four times to stop approaching the U.S. group, according to published accounts of the battle.
“Finally it got to the point where he (Chandler) said, ‘If you don’t stop, I’m going to sink you,'” McTigue told CNN. The Iranian ship responded by firing a Harpoon missile.
McTigue said the Wainwright could not respond because of the formation the ships were in. Its missile batteries were obstructed.
Simpson, however, had a shot. Chandler ordered McTigue to take it.
“I turned to Mark and said “Shoot!” McTigue said. “Mark turned to Tom and said –”
“Shoot!” Tierney said.
Buterbaugh said the same to a sailor at his side, who pushed a button that sent a Standard missile screaming off the front of the Simpson at 1,900 mph and toward the Iranian ship.
“We were locked and loaded and ready to go,” Buterbaugh said. “We already had a war shot, a white bird on the rail, all of our fire control radars were pointing right at him. It was not going to take long for us to get the weapon away.”
McTigue said it all took less than three seconds.
The Iranian Harpoon missed, passing closest to the Wainwright, though McTigue said the U.S. ships couldn’t be sure which one was the intended target.
Simpson’s missile did not; about 15 seconds after launch, it slammed into the Joshan.
Three more missiles from the Simpson and late fire from the Wainwright hit the Joshan before it was destroyed.
It was the only ship-versus-ship missile duel in U.S. Navy history, with opposing missiles airborne at the same time, Tierney said.
Let’s pause for a bit and ponder where we are in our modern understanding of the reality of war at sea. Though we have good datapoints (mostly damage control) from COLE, SAMMY B, PRINCETON, TRIPOLI, scattered engagements in between Israel and her Arab neighbors, the Falkland Islands War and a few others – as an institution the US Navy is sailing without too many benchmarks about what her strong points and weak point are going to be when once again she finds herself at war at sea.
The known-unknowns are there, but we are not blind. First of all we should fully hoist onboard what we know from our ground combat brothers in the Army and USMC and their experience of the last decade and a half. They had to relearn a few things (such as cage/slat armor we learned in Vietnam) and accept other people’s lessons we ignored (South African counter-IED vehicle technology).
They had to redouble their efforts on fundamentals from small arms to making the best of every RW cargo flight – but they learned as they were forced to.
Some of these critical lessons were lost simply because the professional expertise retired and was not passed on (the Army RW CWO pilots in the Reserveds and NG helped mitigate this tremendously), and others were lost through the direct action of the accountants and those who convinced themselves that was was new.
We should accept that in our warships we have our counterparts to the forgotten essentials that are sitting there, waiting to show themselves when war breaks out … and to be obvious.
We also know some things that are always true when a peacetime ship has to go to war. They are items we should consider and look very closely at.
1. We do not have enough defensive weapons against attack from the air. More will have to be added. What we do have will be found to not have enough range for the job, or will have too small of a magazine. If you have too small or too tightly designed ships, you will run out of space, displacement, and righting-arm issues.
2. ASW weapons are exceptionally delicate and expensive things. They require a lot of maintenance and upgrades as technology advances. They tend not to be tested as much as they should be for scheduling and budgetary reasons. When they are tested, they are tested in optimum conditions. For the same reasons, you don’t have many of them to draw on in the magazine once the shooting starts. They may not work all that well. If you only have one kind of ASW weapon that can only be used in certain kinds of water and delivered in only a few ways – you may have a problem on your hands. Early WWII USN, Argentina, and more recently Sweden, along with a few other examples, are screaming this lesson.
3. You can quickly go through damage control parties. Are you overmanned, or are you manned to fight and survive after suffering casualities?
4. Automated systems fail. What is your offline backup?
5. People get tired. How many qualified people can competantly stand watch over extended periods of time? Weeks to months onstation?
6. He who punches first, often wins. Are you happy with the range, speed, quantity, and diversity of your offensive weapons? How do they measure up against what is coming over the horizon?
7. Especially in the modern context; ROE trumps paper capabilities every time.
Finally, two things that simmer in the background:
1. There will be an assumption that everyone has about what will or will not work that will not survive the first contact with the enemy. Do you have a Branch Plan to cover that?
2. You will not pick the battle you want, and a good chance not the battle your ship was designed for.
Do you have a peacetime fleet that will make do in war, or a wartime fleet that is trying to justify itself in peace? Which are you defending, and why?
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 4 October 2015 for Midrats Episode 300: USS Neosho (AO-23),USS Sims (DD-409) and the Battle of the Coral Sea
Wars are full of accidental battles, unexpected horror, and the valor of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
Often lost in the sweeping stories of the Pacific in WWII, there is a story that – if not for one man’s inability to properly recognize one ship from another – should have never have happened. Because of that one man’s mistake, and a leader’s stubborn enthusiasm to double down on that mistake, the lived of hundreds of men were lost – and possibly the course of a pivotal early battle changed.
Our guest for the full hour will be author Don Keith to discuss the tale of the USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Sims (DD-409) at the Battle of the Coral Sea in his latest book, The Ship That Wouldn’t Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho- A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea.
Don is an award-winning and best-selling author of books on a wide range of topics. In addition to being a prolific writer, he also has a background in broadcast journalism from on-the-air personality to ownership.
Don’s web site is www.donkeith.com
There is something sad in what should be a good news story about a young man in his last year of high school with an opportunity to go to do what he has always wanted to do – play D1 football.
First of all, let’s think about the young man;
… his 6-foot-3, 280-pound frame …
That is a large young man. An athlete in his late teens with that genetically blessed body shape is, in most cases, at the leanest he will be in his life. He isn’t even through growing. Odds are that with age he will get heavier and perhaps even taller. I’m roughly his height and kept growing until I was 20. That is just how, in most all cases, nature works.
D1 football is full of guys his size and even larger. No issue here, unless you are buying dinner. Good football schools look for men like that.
How about our Navy?
Well, check the Navy’s height-weight chart – at 75″ he will need to work on that neck to be in our Navy – your maximum weight is 217.
What if there is only one D1 school was interested in that young man, but he really does not want to “go Navy.” That is just a means to an end, but his primary drive will lead him to the one door opened to him, the US Naval Academy.
Would this be – in the long run for both USNA and the young man in question – the best path to take?
Why does he want to go to USNA? Football. He simply wants to play football.
The offer from Navy couldn’t have come soon enough for Ronnie Brooks. The Maret lineman had just wrapped up his junior year, and at the time, he said, it seemed like all his friends and former teammates were getting heavily recruited.
Brooks was not. In spite of a strong junior season and his 6-foot-3, 280-pound frame, there was little interest.
“I was a little down on myself, thinking this wasn’t going to come. Everything wasn’t working how I thought,” he said.
But his luck turned early in the summer after a one-day camp at Navy, one which he nearly didn’t attend. Brooks considered forgoing the camp since he hadn’t heard from the recruiting coach; he was going to instead spend that day looking for a new helmet.
“My dad was just like, ‘Why don’t you just skip the Navy camp?’” he said.
But Brooks convinced his father that the Annapolis visit would be worth their time, and he was right, as it resulted in an offer from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision school.
Catch that. Just another “school.”
“Schools” must be careful that they define who they are. Football is, rightfully, seen as an important part of the collegiate experience for all, and the desire to play is strong with young men. But, it is also seen as a supporting activity to what is the real purpose of the college/university/academy – education. For the service academies – it is also producing officers to lead Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers in to combat.
For schools with student population in the four-figures, what do you have to do to compete with schools who don’t have such a refined mission, and have a pool of “seats” in the tens of thousands to pull from? You have a smaller pool and are going to have to take exceptional measures to compete. You will have to make exceptions.
All of our service academies are D-1 FBS (nee 1-A) schools – the top level. Each year the pressure gets greater and greater for the best players as the level of play continues to get more intense.
Here and at other places, we have covered what kind of compromises USNA makes to play D1 football. Compromises to the mission of NAPS, academic, discipline, and other standards that support the broader mission of USNA. These compromises are only there because they have to be for USNA to unnaturally compete at the D1 level.
It brings us back to the core question: at what price to the institution and the players?
At what point do the compromises become too much? Is FBS really where we should be? Why not another division? Even D-III? What is wrong with D-III? Nothing. Good enough for MIT – why not USNA? Fewer compromises would be made – but you’d still have the game. This is, after all, just a game – remember that.
Would the desired mission-related effects of playing sports – leadership, character refinement, school spirit – still be there? Of course they would. So, why D1?
Sure, the highest paid person that works for the Navy is the football coach – paid for by alumni, of course … and there you go.
This isn’t about the best interests of USNA, the MIDN, or the Navy as a whole. If it were, then you wouldn’t need outside funds to pay for the quality coach you need.
So, this is about the alumni and desire for a D1 team to cheer for? If so, perhaps they should have gone to a different school with a NROTC scholarship? What compromises are they willing to have their USNA make to allow them to have USNA at D1? Would they be willing to make “sacrifices” in order to let USNA compete at its natural level, say D-III? If not, why not? Does the lack of D-1 football make MIT any less of a school? Attract any less a quality of student?
Let’s go back to Ronnie Brooks. Because this is where the real tragedy is. He loves football. He really wants to play football. After four years at USNA, will he want to go pro? In the highly unlikely event he would have an opportunity to go pro – will we let him – or force him to serve? Will he even be physically able to serve, or to even make the cut as a walk-on?
The most likely event, as it is for all college athletes, is that he won’t. Even more unlikely for someone from the service academies. As a result, is he positioned to compete in the highly competivive profession of being a Navy or Marine Corps officer? Even though this wasn’t a desire that brought him to think about USNA, after a few years, he may decide he does.
Once he joins the fleet, will he be able to make a physical standard that, as an officer, he will have to enforce on his Sailors? The years of special treatment will be over; he will just be one more ENS or 2LT.
Every year he has company making that challenge work – and I saw it in my career. Right now on the Naval Academy team we have a 6’3″ 300# MIDN, 5’11” 277#, 6’2″ 293#, 6’2″ 315#, 6’1″ 310# … and so on.
Few things are more depressing than seeing a 25-yr old man having an emotional breakdown because he can’t get below 215# even if he eats like a supermodel. It is not easy – but after demanding they do one thing so middle aged men can watch them play D1 football, on a dime their Navy will require them to drastically change their body shape … if they can. Not everyone can and still be healthy.
Are we setting him up for something he may, coming out the door, be doomed to fail in? Whose fault is it?
I don’t want to get in to a battle over the Navy’s height-weight standards – I happen to have significant issues with them. Was never a problem with me, as those who have met me know, I have your standard issue Anglo-Norman genetics of being about Ronnie’s height with a 33″ waist and 46L coat – as I have since high school +/-. What I have seen are some of the best people I have served with struggle simply due to their DNA to make it – and their career suffered for it. Love or hate – it is what it is and if you are on the wrong side of the tape – your career is over – or stunted where you are when your metabolism changes.
It was one thing when I was 22 to go from 225# to 185#. It is another to go from 300# to 215.9#. I wish them all well.
There is one last institutional side issue; would USNA recruit a 17-yr old 6’3″ 280# young man who was a winner at the Google Science Fair? If they did – would they let him stay at that weight? What about a 5’11” 210# female softball player?
Supported, or supporting?
I also wish that all those who invest so much of their own personal feelings of self-worth – and money – in to the NAAA and football would ask themselves, why? To what end?
Most Americans have little understanding of what our military can do – and not do. And far too many government officials have even less of an appreciation of what it takes – in people, materiel, and funding — to accomplish the missions that are deemed important to the national interest.
So far, in the 2016 campaign, there has been virtually no discussion of how we as a nation should be engaged in the trouble spots around the world. Equally disturbing, there has been even less debate about whether we are adequately funding – and thus equipping and training our soldiers, sailors, and marines — to do the jobs they are (and might be) asked to do.
This needs to change.
The debate – and it is a debate, for people of good will and thoughtful consideration – will have different opinions about how to answer these questions. But a serious conversation needs to take place in universities, civil organizations, and around dinner tables.
Next week, one such discussion is going to take place at Brown University. On the evening of Tuesday, September 29th, there will be a panel discussion entitled: “The American Military in a Dangerous World: How Much is Enough?”
The panelists include Senator Carl Levin, the former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; former Under Secretary of State and NATO Ambassador Nick Burns; and BGEN Paula Thornhill, former special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The moderator is former Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights Jeff Robbins.
You can watch a live feed of the discussion here:
A video of the program will be available later here: http://www.brown.edu/academics/taubman-center/
The next day, Jeff, August Cole, and I will conduct a seminar for interested students from Brown, West Point, and several ROTC units – encouraging them to think and write about the topics discussed by the panel.
“Brown?” you ask. Yes, I chose to organize this event at one of the most liberal campuses in America. Because those are the minds that need to be educated and the opinions that need to be influenced.
The bigger question might be: why am I doing this? I have a citizen’s rudimentary knowledge, but no expertise. (That hasn’t stopped me, or many other journalists from opining on complicated subjects.) In fact, the few times I have been invited to give talks based on Op-Ed articles I have written in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, I have been heartened by how much interest there is this topic. Consequently, my answer is intended to be provocative: because you, more qualified people are not.
So my request is simple: you, the members of the U.S. Naval Institute should be giving these talks: to Rotary Clubs, and Kiwanis, at local colleges; anywhere where thoughtful people are willing to engage. The stakes – for our nation and for the young men and women we send in harm’s way – are too high to allow these questions to go unanswered. Disagreement about the answers is not the problem; silence is.
Though a well worn phrase, we really can learn more from our failures than our successes. That only works if you are willing to accept your failures, identify what led to them, and strive to both understand not only the failure itself, but the steps that led you there.
By almost any measure, SC-21/DD-21/DD-X/DDG-1000 has been a failure. One of the best things we did was to halt the program at three ships. The better route might have been to just cancel it altogether, but I think good people can disagree on if there is value in keeping what we have as a technology demonstrator that will deploy now and then so we can harvest the good ideas for future programs. An expensive lesson, but a turnip that does have some blood.
The rump-DDG-1000 class is also a perfect icon of the Age of Transformationalism. As with all the programs of that era, we will continue throwing seabags full of money at the problem to try make the best it.
On the surface side of the house, there are the three Hulls of Transformationalism, LCS; LPD-17, and our bespotted DDG-1000. As was foretold, with enough money the Tiffany LPD-17 class would be made functional. That gilded line that leads to acceptable adequacy has yet to be made with LCS/FF, but as of now we are fully vested in making the best of that too – and eventually we will. All will be content as long as no one looks at the opportunity cost and what might have been done if we did not fully embrace the Cataclysm of the Age of Transformationalism.
In the Age of Transformationalism we turned “Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot” on its head in to “Build a Lot, Test Nothing, Pray a Lot.” That was the largest sin; we believed that we were so smart and our force of will so strong, that we could ignore decades of shipbuilding and program development lessons.
Technology risk? That was for people with negative energy. We piled layers of unproven – or even unbuilt – weapons, manning concepts, personnel policy, engineering plants, sensors with cross-dependencies, on top of each other. Playing long odds that there wouldn’t be cascading technology failures and tempting the programmatic gods, we just assumed that those in the PCS cycles that followed would find the money and “make it work.”
Budget risk? We assumed that, unlike all other programs, that these would stay on budget – and if they didn’t – that Congress would just find more money. Regardless, we assumed that the money unicorn would prance on by, and from the skiddles, a 300+ fleet would emerge. Of course, none of that happened – but it was predicted over a decade ago, but to deaf ears.
Manning? People are expensive, so we will find people who will tell us that they know how habitability and damage control can be made anew – that one person can do 36 hrs of work in 18 hrs. How? Because we told them we wanted it, and the PPT said so.
We decided that desire and personality would trump experience and engineering. Those who brought up problems were reassigned until the table was full of people who would make the approved vision flesh. Of course it would all work, no one told decision makers it wouldn’t.
Most know this story, but it bears repeating as there is still an afterglow in the decay of what is left of the Age of Transformationalism. Part of that is that we suffer from a cadre that does not understand the basics of economics. One point; we still do not understand the economic concept of sunk cost.
If we are, and we are, in a period of tighter budgets with growing demands of a finite slice of the pie – then we have to find inefficiencies and cull them without sentiment and mercy. When you find yourself in a cash squeeze, you don’t worry about what you spent in the past – there isn’t anything you can do about that – you have to focus on what you are spending now and in the future.
What about the GRAF SPEE sized DDG-1000? If the ship class itself has degenerated in to little more than a technology demonstrator that will be used a little in the fleet on occasion – why do we need three?
Here is one side of the argument;
Under intense budget pressure, a Pentagon cost-cutting team is pushing the Navy to cancel its third and last Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Lyndon Johnson (DDG-1002).
The DDG-1000 Zumwalts are expensive; three ships will cost almost $13 billion. About $9 billion of that was spent on research and development alone.
the Defense Department’s independent Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation office (CAPE) is considering cutting the third ship — which is in large part already built and paid for.
Counting the current fiscal year (which ends nine days from now), Congress will have appropriated $11.8 billion for the DDG-1000 program, out of a projected total of $12.8 billion. So the maximum possible amount left to save is $979 million, less than 8 percent of the total. (It might be more if the Pentagon somehow recouped funds spent in prior years, which is theoretically possible but awfully unlikely).
But that figure assumes you somehow manage to cancel the program immediately as of October 1st and you don’t spend another penny.
In brief, you’re forgoing a $3.5 billion ship — as third in the class, Johnson costs less than the first two — to save at most $1 billion and more likely less than half a billion (possibly zero). The marginal cost of just finishing the damn thing already is not high, in Pentagon terms.
There are of course years of operations and maintenance costs to consider, …
Let’s not go with the high number – but the low number. $500 million. Is that pocket change? Forget what has already been thrown down the hole – do we need that third ship that is full of immature technology, questionable “stealth,” and a highly debatable “optimal” manning concept that is already demonstrating its inadequacy on LCS?
What is the other side of the argument?
“If they wanted to kill the third ship , they’re about two years late,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst and consultant — and member of BD’s Board of Contributors — who’s criticized the Navy’s handling of the Zumwalt program. “You will lose an entire warship, but you will only reclaim a fraction of the cost. So, given the likely political fallout, why would you do it?”
But that figure assumes you somehow manage to cancel the program immediately as of October 1st and you don’t spend another penny. That is legally and administratively impossible. The more likely scenario is that the requested figure for 2016 is appropriated too — there’s strong support for that in Congress — and the cut only takes effect with the fiscal 2017 budget, which is the one the Pentagon is currently working on. That means another $520 million gets spent and potential savings drop to a maximum of $458 million. And you can’t save all of that, either.
First, some of that half-billion is to complete the first two ships. They are not being canceled. Second, you would need to pay program shutdown costs and contract termination penalties.
The Maine delegation has led the charge so far, since the Zumwalts are being built in their homestate’s Bath Iron Works (a General Dynamics subsidiary). But walking away from a mostly bought-and-built destroyer would also infuriate powerful chairmen like Senate Armed Services Committee’s John McCain, a retired Navy officer himself, and the House seapower subcommittee’s Randy Forbes.
“It’s unlikely that the third Zumwalt will be canceled because the amount of money saved isn’t commensurate with the political capital expended,” Thompson told me.
Read it all and let it soak in.
Why cancel it? Well, it is the right thing to do – but we are slaves to a system of our own design that “won’t” let us. We need the money, but not enough will to do what needs to be done. As a result we will force on the Navy an exquisite 3-ship fleet experiment.
Though I may hate to admit it, Thompson is partially right here – but only on the politics. It is a bit too late to act in a way to save a half-a-billion dollars and more in the out years. There isn’t the political support, and no one, it seems, is willing to make the logical step to do the right thing.
The article mentions Sen. McCain (R-AZ), but we don’t know exactly what his position would be. If I were advising him, I would have him keep this USS LBJ expenditure in his back pocket to use next time someone is in front of them looking for a few hundred million dollars for their pet project.
“Oh, that’s cute. You could have used the money you insist we spend for the DDG-1002 that seems welded to the pier. I think we need that for the SSBN replacement. Have a nice day.”
One of the many great joys of a billet at USNA is the ability to reconnect with former professors and professional mentors. As someone who graduated 5 years ago, I am fortunate enough to see many of them still on the Yard.
I want to share with you a conversation I had with someone whom I really didn’t know during my time here. If you attended USNA anytime from 1991 onwards you may have seen him around. He’s likely barked “Strike!” at you during Plebe Summer’s introduction to martial arts or has evaluated your ability to perform a wrist lock during a PE course. He may have even coached some of you in gymnastics.
If you didn’t go to USNA, you’ll still find his story fascinating and revealing about two nations’ abilities to heal following history’s most destructive, fearsome war.
Sho Fukushima was born in Hiroshima, Japan in September 10, 1946, a little over a year after the bomb was dropped on the city. His family ended up in Hiroshima after the war during which his father was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army in Pusan, Korea. With the war’s end, the Japanese were expelled from Korea, and his parents hopped on a freighter bound for Japan. Sho’s parents had heard “a new type of bomb had wiped out everything” in Hiroshima and it was rumored that nothing could grow there for the next 70 years.
“I asked them why did they really come back to Hiroshima, where there was nothing. It was because our relatives were there.”
He, his four siblings, mother and father lived in a “wooden structure, with a metal roof.” There were no real buildings yet.
His kindergarten teacher passed away from a bomb-related illness. His 1st grade teacher, who had facial scars from glass shards from the blast, died from leukemia. He lost an aunt, uncle and 5-6 cousins to the bomb. On that day his grandmother was 20-30 miles outside the city and saw a “bright, white flash” followed by the mushroom cloud. A search of the city the next day by the surviving family members revealed those in downtown had simply “evaporated.”
Hunger was a central feature of childhood. “We just didn’t have enough food to eat,” Sho explained, “so all four kids had to learn to share.” The staple dish was rice mixed with wheat or sweet potatoes, and was considered an adulteration–“not white rice.”
Growing up in Hiroshima, he remembers playing with one of his “best friends,” the “shadow man” of the city’s bank. “Mom had a couple of bottles,” artifacts crystallized by the blast. “She told me if I could break that thing she would give me a 100 yen. Even with hammers and throwing it against the rocks, I couldn’t break that thing. It became a family joke.”
During our talk I tried to imagine growing up with such stark, ever-present reminders of war and death. I asked Sho if all of this seemed normal. “It was totally normal. I didn’t know any other life,” he responded. There were parts of Sho’s childhood that seemed normal. “The ocean was my playground. I had a little fishing pole and starting fishing. I loved to fish. Besides that, I remember playing with my brothers and sisters. My older sister was an avid reader so at least once a month we would get a new book.” Yet, Sho was quick to point out that fishing also served to supplement their food.
Meanwhile, his father, despaired with losing the war and escaping death. A graduate of a professional military academy, all of his classmates had died in the South Pacific while he served in the national guard in Korea. “How would you feel about cheating death?” Sho asked me. “He was the strongest military guy before the war, but after he lost the war and he lost his classmates…he lost a kind of spirit,” as he struggled with the thought of suicide.
Sho’s gymnastics talents led the University of Washington to recruit him. Hearing about the promises of America from his grandfather, who had lived in Seattle and San Francisco, Sho jumped at the opportunity.
The son of a IJA officer, Sho found himself staying in the home of a Pearl Harbor survivor, Jack, who offered to sponsor him. “My father asked him to take care of me, and my American father promised he would. He did everything like a father was supposed to. The families stayed in touch, hosting one another in Japan and the US.
I was most struck by Sho telling his father of his job offer at the Naval Academy. Sho had maintained a green card, but with the job offer his father suggested something more. “Such an honor,” his father told him, “that you can get a job like this at the Academy. You have to show them your commitment.” His father meant applying for American citizenship. “That’s him–Japanese military guy,” Sho explained.
In October, Sho will retire after nearly 25 years at the Academy. As a child, his mom would take him once a year to see US Army doctors, who would give him a cookie and check him for radiation related illnesses. He plans to search for his medical records at the University of Maryland, which archived many records of Japanese patients affected by the bombs.
“I always dreamed of being a bridge between the US and Japan,” Sho mused towards the end of our talk. I think he has done just that.
In what is clearly one of the more unfortunate moments in leadership we have seen in a while, we have seen in the discussions of women in Marine infantry the triumph of politics and personality over study and science; a raw forcing of a political agenda over mutual respect for the results of an honest study.
Civilian control of our military is one of the crown jewels of our system of government. Hard decisions are made and consensus is rarely there, and that is good. To function best, it relies on mutual respect and a default assumption of the best intentions of all parties.
Well – the last week saw a nasty counter-example pushed out in to the light in an completely unnecessary and unproductive way – and the fault starts at the very top.
It is one thing to argue about the validity of a study – but that is not what is going on. No, what we are seeing is a leader (SECNAV) asking a question and an answer is given based on study and facts. The answer happens not to be in line with the thinking, feeling, emotion, or desired outcome of the leader. The result? Well, let’s look.
From MarineTimes’s Hope Hodge Seck on the 10th;
All-male ground combat teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in nearly every capacity during a recent infantry integration test, Marine Corps officials revealed Thursday.
Data collected during a monthslong experiment showed Marine teams with female members performed at lower overall levels, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their all-male counterparts. In addition, female Marines sustained significantly higher injury rates and demonstrated lower levels of physical performance capacity overall, officials said.
The Marines’ Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force involved about 400 Marine volunteers, roughly 25 percent of whom were women. Over the course of nine months, teams that simulated integrated rifle, weapons, mechanized and artillery units trained to infantry standards and then executed a repetitive series of skills assessments under human testing conditions.
High injury rates among women were also a problem at the Infantry Training Battalion, the Marines’ basic infantry training school for enlisted troops that temporarily opened to women between 2013 and 2015. Researchers found that female ITB participants were injured at more than six times the rate of male participants, and nearly one-third of their injuries occurred during movement-under-load tasks, while just 13 percent of male injuries did.
Read it all to get a full flavor of the study.
After chewing for a day, on the 11th via WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, SECNAV took an angle as unexpected as disturbing;
“Part of the study said that women tend not to be able to carry as heavy of a load for as long,” Mabus told NPR. “But, there are women who went through this study that could. And part of the study said that we’re afraid that because women get injured more frequently, that over time women will break down more. That you will begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates, and I’m not sure that’s right.”
Let’s stop for a minute. Look at that last bit first,
I’m not sure that’s right.
That is a classic sign of someone who is having trouble getting their emotions and feelings in line with reality. This is where Spud Webb comes in.
There is always a Spud Webb. A Spud is someone who breaks well past three standard deviations from the norm that is expected from their biological makeup. In this case, the rare example of a 5’7″ guy who can play well in the NBA where the average height is more that a foot taller than he is. Not only that, in addition to being a great person, Spud can still dunk in his late 40s.
There are also individual women who can do most of the minimum physical requirements in the most demanding positions, but they are, in a fashion, the Spud Webb.
We all love Spud – but we can’t let our excitement about Spud force us to make decisions based on our desire that all 5’7″ men can perform as well as Spud if we just care enough and reserve enough court time. That is just immature, and not all that well grounded.
If the NBA forced all teams to have one non-Spud person 5’7″ or below on every team in one division, but not in the other divisions – would that be a zero-sum impact on one division’s performance relative to the others’? Of course not.
Anyone who denies the biological differences that bone density, muscle mass, and testosterone gives in physical performance of one sex over the other is simply, to use a phrase of the zeitgeist, a science denier.
A bit more from the SECNAV;
“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never able to do this,” Mabus said of the Marine Corps’ research. “When you start out with that mindset, you almost presuppose the outcome.”
Wow. He is assuming that no female Marines were involved in this? Does he assume that if they were they were part of some great misogynistic conspiracy? Does he believe that from the Commandant of the Marine Corps on down they are trying to force an outcome regardless of what the facts of the study are?
When the SECNAV calls in to question the integrity of your entire service, how do you respond? Well, at the initial post-slap shock, this sounds about right;
An official at Marine Corps headquarters said the service isn’t “going to “get into a debate with SECNAV.” The purpose of the service’s research was to “show scientific method and rigor that would help inform our military leaders and others about some of the possible considerations of gender integration into combat arms” jobs,” the official said. He spoke anonymously in order to candidly address Mabus’s remarks.
“It’s for leaders to weigh and consider,” the official said of the research. “The debate will continue in the near term, but in the end, we will effectively implement any policy the department decides.”
Over the weekend, if you were following the story, you knew this was not going to go in a productive direction. What I didn’t expect, was that this would unravel so quickly.
WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff on the 14th;
Marines involved in a controversial experiment evaluating a gender-integrated infantry unit say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus after he criticized the results of a nine-month study that found women are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately in simulated combat conditions.
“Our secretary of the Navy completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus,” said Sgt. Danielle Beck, a female anti-armor gunner with the task force.
OK SECNAV, what kind of mindset did Sgt. Danielle Beck, USMC bring in to the study?
Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as one of Beck’s monitors for the experiment, said he was frustrated with the secretary’s comments.
“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Frommling. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”
“All the work that the task force did, the rounds that we shot, didn’t mean anything if he had already made up his mind,” he added.
The SECNAV’s view of how men and women may be some toxic stew of his experiences in the early 1970s Hairy Navy stirred in the the fetid sauce his gender-studies dept. educated advisers on women’s issues are pouring in to his ears, but it isn’t reflective of what I saw on active duty from the late 1980s to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century – much less 2015.
The honest and direct teamwork of Danielle Beck and Joe Frommling is of this century and this generation – and their integrity and that of their entire uniformed chain of command has been brought in to question by their service’s senior leader – their Secretary of the Navy.
“If you were to look at our training plan and how we progressed from October to February, you’re not going to find any evidence of institutional bias or some way we built this for females to fail,” said one Marine officer who participated in the experiment.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of his active-duty status, explained that for the first five months of the experiment the Marines of the task force trained as a unit in North Carolina to prepare for the testing phase in California. This phase of training is known as “the work-up,” with the second phase in California — where the trials would be held — acting as the deployment.
“We consulted physical trainers from [the school of infantry] to help develop an appropriate hike plan, and we fired roughly a year’s worth of ammo for a regiment in a quarter,” the officer said, referring to the massive amounts of ammunition used to train the relatively small task force at Camp Lejeune. “In the time that we had, there wasn’t a day wasted when it came to training for California . . . From the top down, we were trying to level the playing field.”
Though the entirety of Weapons Company, men and women, trained to the same standard before deploying to California for the evaluation period of the test, another criticism leveled by Mabus was that the women probably should have had a “higher bar to cross” to join the task force.
To Beck, a 30 year-old who was one of the strongest women in the company, Mabus’s remarks were insulting.
“Everyone that was involved did the job and completed the mission to the best of their abilities,” said Beck, adding that Mabus’s remarks about the type of women in the experiment were a “slap in the face.”
“The caliber of the women in Weapons Company are few and far between in the Marine Corps,” she added. “They are probably some of the most professional women that anybody will ever have chance to work with, and the heart and drive and determination that they had is incomparable to most women in the Marine Corps.”
That should, in normal times with normal leaders, cause at least some pause. Well, notsomuch here. On the 15th, as reported by DefenseOne’s Bradley Pensiton;
With more than three months to go before the year-end deadline, the Navy Secretary made it clear on Monday: he will not be requesting any exceptions to the Pentagon edict that all U.S. military jobs be opened to women.
“Nobody’s asking for an exemption in the Navy,” Mabus told an audience at the the City Club of Cleveland. “And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines.”
That may have come as a surprise to the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Joe Dunford; Marine Corps Times reported Thursday that Dunford had met with the secretary on the issue but had yet to issue his recommendations.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter asked the services to complete their reviews of obstacles to full gender integration and report back by Oct. 1. If no service seeks or is granted an exemption, the military will open to women all 200,000 positions that remain closed to them on or before the first of the year.
There you go. The study and all the work by the Marines was for nothing. If he didn’t get the results he signaled that he wanted, he was going to do what he wanted anyway.
I don’t think we have any fraud here, but waste and a bit of abuse? An argument might be made in those two areas – but it really doesn’t matter.
This is the world view;
In the study, he said, “There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership.”
Opening all Marine jobs to women, he said, is “not going to make them any less fighting effective. In fact I think they will be a stronger force because a more diverse force is a stronger force.”
Back to the sports analogy arena, this time football.If the AFC decides that 20% of its team has to be female, and the NFC does not – where is the smart money going on the Superbowl? Would the AFC be, “A stronger conference because it is a more diverse conference?”
Thinking, feeling and believing is more important than knowing in the armed services now, I guess. That is where we are, and where we should accept that we are. It is how our system works.
No one really should be surprised. This SECNAV’s tenure has been one where the power of the office has been used to ignore unpleasant hard sciences, but the soft sciences as well as seen in the now forgotten anti-economic “Great Green Fleet” industrial planning vanity project.
We have seen the personal desires and political play in naming ships after a former Sailor who hated his time in the Navy, amphibious ships named after people who promoted blood libel against their former Marines, and has even named a warship after the worst Southern wartime Commander in Chief since Jefferson Davis.
Though in an open society of a free republic, we can disagree with decisions appointed leaders make, we also have to accept them.
You can reach a point as well where there is a point of honor.
And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines
I guess that puts the ball in the Marine Corps’ court. Not only does he question the integrity of hundreds of Marines from Sgt to Gen., the SECNAV has no intention of accepting your recommendations either – as is his privilege.
What a sad and unnecessary production of friction and distraction inside the lifelines of a nation at war. Women have made great strides in serving their nation. As as one who served in gender integrated units his entire career – it is the normal.
What is being done here is not normal. It is nothing more than the triumph of personality and the political over science and judgement.
That isn’t good for women, the Marines, or the nation they serve.
As Europe closes borders as waves of migrants come crashing against razor wire, islands are being created from ocean bottom in WESTPAC, and Russia is building bases in the Middle East the Soviets never could … our political and personal capital is being expended on this.
During the period of August 17-21, a short informal survey querying desire for command was promulgated by junior officer across junior officer forums. When the survey closed on the 21st, we had collected 442 responses, from all of the unrestricted line communities, plus many more. We found that of the survey respondents, 53% did not desire command, 23% did desire command, and another 23% were unsure. These results anecdotally validate our hypothesis that fewer than half of today’s junior officers seek command. In the unrestricted line communities, where we had enough responses to draw some conclusions from our data, we found that while men and women desired command at approximately the same rate, that rate was not uniform across communities. In the Surface Warfare Community, 33% of respondents desired command, while only 13% of Aviators and 14% of Submariners did.
We promulgated our five survey questions via the US Naval Institute Blog, the JOPA Facebook page, the Female Navy Officers’ Facebook page, and our own personal accounts. The survey was available online for four business days.
This survey serves as a baseline, and is not sufficient to analyze trends. Additionally, the survey methodology does not guarantee an unbiased respondent population; it is likely that we are seeing a response bias in favor of those with strong opinions about the likelihood of their continued service. We do hope that these results will serve to help gauge the current climate amongst the JO corps.
A few questions for discussion:
- Are these numbers actually a problem?
- Junior officers tend to be instructed that they should aspire to command. Do these numbers indicate a disconnect between the institutional expectation of command aspiration and the reality?
- Should we “do something” about the aviation community’s apparent lack of desire for command? If so, what?
- What other questions should we ask in future surveys?
- Is there a place in the Navy for those who desire continued service, but don’t aspire to command?
We found that the responses we received from our 442 survey-takers were extremely thoughtful. Most respondents wrote us at least a paragraph; some wrote several. We have curated a representative sample below:
Any other reason to stay in is wasting my time. If I stay in, then I stay in for the whole deal. Too much time away from my family to just sluff off and not add value to my community, get an opportunity to lead a squadron into combat, set my expectations for leadership and mentorship within the squadron. I like that it is very hard to get to be a skipper, it makes me want to be the best and eventually (if the almighty timing is right) get selected for command.
In my limited 6 years of submarine service, I have had both good and bad leaders (Dept Head and above). When I was leaving my last submarine, I had a check out interview with my CO. I asked one final question before shaking his hand and walking off the ship: “Sir, has your command tour been worth it?” He responded, “I always thought that being a CO would be very tactical, but I am often surprised that tactics in today’s navy make up a smaller percentage of the job. I often have to take a moment to look past the fact that I am mostly getting the ship ready for inspections and evaluations to I realize that I am afforded the opportunity to go on deployment and do what we constantly train to do. In those moments, I feel very satisfied. I was somewhat shocked to find out that my CO (a great CO by the way) had the same perspective as that of a Junior Officer. It was at this moment that I aspired to be a CO and could possibly do his job someday.
It’s an exciting time for the SWO community – where we’re placing an emphasis on talent, tactics, innovation, options, work-life balance, and FUN! I want to mentor JOs and help change SWO culture for the better.
You don’t spend a career as a SWO to execute someone else’s command philosophy.
I love working with Sailors. I’ve served under two amazing Captains and an amazing Executive Officer now moving on to CDR command of his own. Their mentorship, guidance, and leadership have been inspiring and refreshing in a sometimes negative climate/community.
All the pain and suffering up until command is the investment that pays off when you’re sitting on the bridge wing of your own ship watching the sunset. Not striving for command wastes all of the effort that comes before. I’m in it to win it! — NOTE: No interest in Flag.
I can think of no better test of my personal will, creativity, character, and moral courage than to command an operational squadron. The number of people and value of the mission make it a task that seems immensely daunting but equally rewarding.
Command at sea is the pinnacle of the leadership challenges that the Navy offers to me as a Surface Warfare Officer. At no other point in my career do I have the enormous responsibility that command at sea requires. I am responsible for the ship and its most important asset, the Sailors and Marines that serve aboard the ship. I chose to continue serving in the Navy because of the incredible leadership opportunities that this job presents to those lucky enough to have the honor of command.
My happiest moments in the Navy are building successful teams. No better way to do that then be a CO. Because I’d like to change and be a positive leader. Especially for so many enlisted females that we have, I’ve never had a female DH, much less female CO and I think it is important for our sailors to see both
I desire the opportunity to test my leadership and decision making capability in a harsh, remote environment. I believe in our mission and am committed to leading our country’s brightest men and women to achieve victory in battle.
I aspire to only early command, and want no part of CDR command or major command. Command is not what it used to be, and I do not want to be second guessed on every single decision I would make as CO. As with many things in the SWO community, I believe a mentality shift would be required away from our zero-defect and administrative warfare obsessions before I would put any serious thought into CDR command or higher.
I desire to have the ultimate responsibility for a ship, her crew, to craft her into state of readiness that reflects my standards, and to slip the lines, sail over the horizon to do our job. I love Sailors, I love the pressure, I’ve thrived on the competitiveness required in getting to the precipice of command, and I think there’s something supremely traditional about command at sea; I think across all warfare areas, commanding a ship at sea reflects the core warrior ethos of the American Navy.Did I always want command? No, I didn’t as a division officer. Not at all. However, once I made a decision to be a department head and really began to thrive professionally, my heart changed. I think if you’re committed to your profession, and for me, I’m a professional mariner-Surface Warfare Officer, then why wouldn’t you aspire to have the opportunity to do things your way, change it up, apply your standard, train a ship how you see fit, sail a ship down range under your guidance to fight and win? If you haven’t committed to a career, then I get it—I didn’t aspire to command at that point. But if you’re in for the long haul, why wouldn’t you? I speak strictly as a straight-stick SWO; I acknowledge there are alternative career paths.
It seems every O-4 and O-5 I’ve worked for is chained to a desk and email. I have yet to talk to LCDR that said they actually enjoyed their job.
Politicization of the officer corps and the loss of reality that comes with it.
Our department heads are miserable and we are taught that the only way to make CO is to follow the Golden Path, a path that no one actually wants to take. The amount of time we waste at work to “show face” is absurd. Most of our “work” on days when we are not event planning or flying could be accomplished in two hours, but we stay at work all day so that we can be “seen” because in the long run this is what influences your fitrep. I just feel that so much time and talent is being wasted at the JO level and that the job is not what we all thought it would be.
The challenging nature of the job has been lost; furthermore, I have spent enough time away from family. I performed the last 6 months of my DIVO tour essentially performing a DH job. I lost the enjoyment in the job and I do not want to spend 2 years performing that job. I explored other communities, but the ones of interest won’t allow me to lateral transfer into them, even though I am in most cases qualified if not overqualified with schooling.
Because it seems the number one goal of COs these days is to NOT get fired. Everywhere you look there is some ridiculous reason why a CO is getting fired. Publicly elected officials and political appointees are held less accountable for their actions. I joined the military to join the military, not to work on the Hill or in politics. Command should not be viewed or held equal as to someone in politics. We don’t “elect” our COs. Firing COs don’t solve the problems for certain issues. Their job is to make sure the job gets done. If the Commodore or Admiral didn’t personally select them for command of a ship or boat in their squadron, then they should fire themselves. There is WAY too much overhead in the Navy and an organizational structure that is in place right now within the Navy would never last or even be put into place within a corporate environment. It also seems that the overhead takes the wind out of sails of CO to actually take command and run the ship how they want to run it. Within the first 6 months as an Ensign onboard a DDG, I knew that I had zero aspirations to shoot for Command at Sea. The COs I’ve had just seemed like puppets vice leaders.
There was a time when I would have served the Navy for no compensation at all and now seeing the models that I have to follow of “look better than the next guy” and DH’s who use you and your work as a stepping stone whilst slandering your name for not being as good as they are, I have little interest in playing a game to stay on a golden path instead of doing something I love. Think I’m being melodramatic? Observe, if you will, your DH’s when FITREPs are rounding the corner and also then note the number of JO’s that don’t have a DH living inside their behinds. How could command ever seem appealing when I would apparently have to make up things to do to appear busier than the next guy as a stepping stone to the next job and where I’ve got to monkey around instead of focusing on how to actually be good at something useful, meaningful, and important for my growth as a naval officer? Admittedly, many JO’S of my generation tend to expect success to fall into their laps but I believe it’s because we don’t have the right kind of mentorship, someone to clone good habits into us. What we do have are entitled and jaded O-4’s and O-5’s that just want you to know they’ve been there/done that already without considering that young JO’s will emulate that same attitude which in turn only inspires the people who want to step on the next stone to command without considering the magnitude of the responsibility to people other than yourself and your career. This path is just extremely unappealing and just sucks the enjoyment out of what I once thought would be a really satisfying job.
I feel as though CO’s are always needing to “look over their shoulder.” CO’s fear getting fired for “poor command climate” or worse, collision at sea. I feel like if I were to take Command at Sea, I would need to literally live on the bridge to ensure that if anything happened, I felt I did everything possible to not get fired. I do however, feel like I would love to take command of a Small Boat Unit, ACU or something “non-due-course.” This is not what the Navy wants from its SWO’s though. And I think that is a real issue with the SWO community. There needs to be other options for SWO’s that don’t necessarily want to take command of a warship, but still want to continue their career in the Navy.
Transitioning to civilian work force and spending time with family. Tired of moving every 2 to 3 years; Doing more with less; Inability to tell Chain of Command that we can not accomplish a mission or project without the fear of getting fired; Big Navy saying “Taking Care of Sailors”, when it is all lip service; Right sizing or down sizing, or what every catchy phrase they dream up that utilizes the slash and burn technique vice targeting the Sailors who really are not doing anything for the Navy vice your star performers; Navy not getting ride of more E7-E9 personnel that are underperforming; Get ride of CMDC rating, they have become bureaucrats and have lost touch with deck plate issues; The ugly and uncomfortable NWU’s that make us the circus clowns of the DOD; The crappy PT uniform; Intrusive leadership, I really don’t want to know or care if a 21 year old Sailor is out drinking at 2 AM, they are adults and such be treated like it. Sorry for rattling on. Some of these items are trivial, but I was on a roll.
Someone in the comments said a piece of it best… It’s not (necessarily) that I don’t aspire to be a CO, it’s that I don’t want to grind in the bureaucracy to get there.
1- we are required to change duty stations and jobs almost every 2 years
2- we package crap jobs with the best (IA/GSA to Bahrain, get xxxxx job) so performance doesn’t help me get the best job, no one wants does.
3- we’ve become a “GS” mentality Navy. Instead of working to get a job done, the vast majority of commands require their personnel to be present during certain hours, regardless of op-tempo, duty, deployment schedule, etc. As a Suppo, I’m busier at the end of the month, so I stay late then- why must I keep my folks until 1600 at the beginning regardless of workload, etc.
4- training – NKOs and training have literally wasted HUNDREDS of hours of my life. They do NOTHING to stop criminals, rapists, sexual assault, computer hacks, etc.
5- stop being zero fault… Everyone screws things up. Not everything has to go into the system, or people’s personal records. You can teach and most great sailors by mentorship and LEADERSHIP, vs using njp, drb, xoi, etc.
6- Evals/fitrep system is COMPLETELY broken. EACH CYCLE is and should be independent of the previous one, and have nothing to do with it. “Progressing” and “improved superior performance” is crap. If I’m the best, and I leave one command and go to another- odds are, I’m the best there. Why do I have to come in as an MP so I can progress to an EP?! And if someone who’s been at the command longer than me was “pretty good” before I got to the command and was the EP, why is his career crushed, if I get an EP he moves down to an MP? EVERY CYCLE IS SEPARATE from the one before.
7- stop being risk averse. Let people make decisions and mess things up. Let JOs speak out at meetings, and question decisions… In the end, the CO is going to make the decision, but we have become a navy of “yes men,” and if I speak up, KNOWING I’m right, it doesn’t matter. “HEAD DOWN, MOUTH SHUT-PROMOTE”.
Complete a technical PhD outside the Navy, on my own terms, own time, and take control of my career.
Why leave? We are less about warfighting and more about the sanctification of the bureaucracy, careerism and political manipulation at the highest levels of government, and increasingly delusional about the reality and nature of today’s threats. Commanders do not command anymore – they are simply cogs in a greater machine, and when they get squeaky or deviant, are either smashed back into place or replaced altogether. Perhaps when we lose a few ships and subs in some yet unforeseen calamitous conflict, the Navy will rediscover it’s gritty purpose. Until then, not interested in playing full time! Two days per month will do it for me.
Does not look like any of my three COs were having any fun. Angry, plagued by so many regulations and directives that their hands are tied when it comes to being able to make decisions that actually affect people in any positive way. Submarine COs are no longer, and have not been for some time, the maverick independent actors given wide latitude in judgement – they feel the heavy hand of a cautious, risk-averse bureaucracy every day and night.
The Navy has a system set up for officers that essentially forces everyone who stays in long enough to lead more and more people and eventually lead an entire command. “Force” isn’t really the right word since if you do not show forward progression by leading more and more people as you progress through to the O-3 ranks, then you will not get promoted to O-4 and get booted out of the Navy. The Navy has to realize that not everyone who join the officer corps are meant to be leaders. Some can lead small teams but will fail when they are in charge of a larger group. Some have no desire to lead but instead want to spend their time as operators. The Navy has to be willing to accommodate different people’s character traits. If someone starts off their Naval career as an extraordinary operator, whether it’d be operating keyboards for a computer network operation, or standing engineering officer of the watch on a nuclear submarine, they should be allowed to remain at that level. Imagine how good they would be if that’s all they ever did and that’s all they ever wanted to do? Leadership and command isn’t for everyone and the career pipeline shouldn’t be catered specifically towards that. They should be given the option to stall at a certain level and have a successful and fulfilling 20 year career doing what they love. It’s unfortunate, the Navy will lose a lot of good talent to private industry due to the way the current system is set up.
I’m not sure
I started my career as a submarine officer and command was clearly not my goal because I was fortunate enough to transition into a career in medicine. I stayed in the Navy to pay for school and I enjoy the sailors in the Navy and would like to serve them. Aspiring to be the skipper of my own submarine didn’t interest me because it’s an extreme sacrifice of your time and life for a mission that wasn’t particularly rewarding. Driving boats and going on deployment for me didn’t justify the strain it puts on a family. It’s difficult to not sound bitchy talking about this because the overwhelming sentiment during my time on a fast attack was negativity. Alcoholism was a major problem for officers and enlisted alike, it was a toxic environment to be in. Some guys really liked being on a submarine, it’s certainly unique and the enlisted sailors on subs are generally great people who for one reason or another ended up enlisting instead of finishing college. For me I realized that the submarine force is just a job, and it’s a ****ty one. When you deploy you can’t communicate at all with home for months at a time, the work you are doing is usually tedious and is dictated to the letter by rules and regulations, and it’s thankless. Outperforming your peers meant you got more responsibility while the ****bags got less, and that doesn’t translate into better pay or faster promotions or a bigger bonus, just better fitters, maybe a medal, and eventually screen for rank and put it on a little faster. If you’re competent and work hard you can be infinitely more successful elsewhere, have a better family life, make more money, do work that is rewarding and maybe even helps others. That’s obviously specific to my own aspirations but I know a lot of guys who share that sentiment. The Navy is good at dangling a carrot for people and convincing them they have it good.
Too much guide by wire from upper echelons. Command by negation is nearly extinct in the surface fleet. Rather than reading the DIMs and executing smartly, we have Chat terminals and Voice over IP phones at every command and control station- including next to the CO’s chair on the Bridge – so his boss can take him in close control and essentially assume command authority instead of relying on him to execute IAW the “special trust and confidence” commensurate with his position of authority. I may stay for Command, but it would take a drastic change in culture to move back to trusting your subordinates… In our increasingly connected world and reliance on technology to execute C2 and avoid risk at any cost, I don’t think we’ll get there before I’m in the right-hand seat.
The scale and pace of China’s construction of and on artificial islands in the South China Sea over the past year has been remarkable. In the Paracel Islands, the work of Chinese dredgers has doubled the area of land on Duncan Island, and China has completely rebuilt and extended the runway on Woody Island. In the Spratly Islands, China has built up nearly 3,000 acres of land on seven reefs and has constructed a new 3,300m runway, multi-storey buildings, ship docks, radar towers, and a harbor that can accommodate the Chinese Navy’s largest combat ships. Other claimants to the Spratlys have built on their respective occupied features before, but as a new Department of Defense report indicates, China has created 17 times more land in the past 20 months than that of all the other claimants combined over the past 40 years. Why is China so eager to develop these maritime features now, when the disputes around them have existed for decades? And why is it so deeply concerning to the United States?
I suggest that the construction of and on artificial islands in the South China Sea is one way China is challenging the existing U.S.-led regional order and attempting to shape the rules and norms in its favor. As it is, China’s claims are not recognized by international law, and the legal freedom of the U.S. military to operate in what China considers to be its backyard is constraining China’s power ambitions in the region. With the growing power of the People’s Liberation Army and the maritime law enforcement agencies, China finally feels confident enough to challenge these circumstances. China’s artificial island-building campaign is intended to force acceptance of its territorial claims in the South China Sea and provide logistical support for its increasing maritime operations in the region. These efforts safeguard what China calls its maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and are critical to the continued domestic legitimacy of the Communist Party, so they cannot and will not be easily abandoned.
China’s Alternative Vision for the Region
This tension can be seen within the broader context of a conflict of interests between a rising power and the dominant power. Indeed, China has a vision for the region to look differently from the current order the U.S. has been upholding since the end of the Second World War. And as China’s capabilities improve, so do its ambitions to shape that order to its liking. The U.S.-led maritime order is based on ensuring both commercial and military freedom of navigation, freedom on which U.S. interests depend. Freedom of navigation is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the U.S. has acceded to but has not ratified, due in part to concerns over the seabed mining regulations.
China has ratified the convention but is unhappy with several aspects of UNCLOS, like its denial of maritime claims based on historic rights without a formal historic title by Treaty or Act. China is also unhappy that UNCLOS allows any country to carry out military activities within the 200 nm exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of another country. China ‘interprets’ UNCLOS to apply only to commercial activity, so it attempts to inhibit foreign military activity within its EEZ, activity that may be irritating and even threatening, but is legal by current international law. The regional order China seeks to shape instead would restore China to its former position of regional primacy, whereby its relative size and power allow it to dictate the rules of the region without restrictions on or interference with its ambitions. Getting the other regional actors to accept China’s claims, whether by legal or coercive means, is part of China’s attempt to impose this alternative order.
Seeing the Vision Through
The legitimacy of the Communist Party depends in part on its ability to ensure the territorial integrity of what China believes to be its sovereign land and waters, including its claims in the South China Sea. Sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the nation are part of China’s stated “core interests”, matters of the absolute utmost importance to the Chinese leadership. Failing to secure China’s core interests would be political suicide for the Party, as the Party has linked its right to rule with its ability to protect for the people these interests. Furthermore, the nationalism created by the Chinese leadership’s emphasis of national rejuvenation and the so-called China Dream fuels an expectation that the Party will be a strong representative of a China on the rise and not compromise China’s core interests.
Demonstrating Administrative Control
China is rapidly enhancing features (not technically performing land reclamation, as China claims and the media parrots) because it bolsters the claims to sovereignty over the Spratly Islands that China is trying to get others to accept. China does not officially acknowledge that its claims need supporting evidence to back them up; it declares that the entirety of the Spratlys is its own sovereign territory. However, Chinese actions suggest that the leadership recognizes, at least privately, that a more substantial presence on the reefs could help it secure recognition of the legitimacy of its claims by other parties. The Permanent Court of International Justice ruled in the Eastern Greenland case in 1933 that a claim to sovereignty based on continued display of authority rather than by Treaty or Act requires “the intention and will to act as sovereign and some actual exercise or display of such authority”. Demonstrating administrative control in 2015 will not provide evidence of the same during the Xia Dynasty, by which China makes its historic claims in the Spratlys. However, it can strengthen China’s position in a political resolution of the disputes, which may be the only option because historic claims are rendered illegitimate by UNCLOS and international law can only resolve competing claims based on the law.
Hopes for Territorial Sea and EEZ Claims
China also hopes its enhancement of the features will improve its case in claiming the corresponding maritime zones – territorial sea, contiguous zone, and even exclusive economic zone. These zones would allow China to enhance its sea control and access to resources in the South China Sea. Unfortunately for China, this could only happen extra-legally because UNCLOS considers eligibility for maritime zones based on the naturally-formed state of the features. By these classifications, most of the features are ineligible for any maritime zones at all, much less a full 200nm EEZ. And turning them into artificial islands does not grant them further maritime entitlements.
Most Chinese-occupied features are considered “low-tide elevations” by UNCLOS because, before they were artificially enhanced, they were submerged at high tide. “Low-tide elevations” are not entitled to any maritime zones when they are outside an existing territorial sea (especially not when they are nearly 600 miles from China’s territorial seas, as the Spratly features are).
Three of the Chinese-occupied Spratly features are considered “rocks” because they are permanently above water but unable to sustain human or economic life on their own. “Rocks” are entitled to a 12nm territorial sea and contiguous zone, but not an exclusive economic zone. China’s construction on these features to allow them to accommodate inhabitants does not change the rocks’ inability to sustain life naturally.
China feels deeply constrained by UNCLOS, in part because UNCLOS cannot be interpreted to entitle China to the maritime zones it desires. Its assertiveness in the South China can be seen as the use of power politics to achieve its goals where international law is unfavorable to China’s vision for its future.
Support for Increased Civilian and Paramilitary Operations
China needs logistical support for its fishing fleets, oil and gas exploration vessels, and maritime law enforcement vessels in the South China Sea. The increasing scope and frequency of maritime law enforcement patrols in disputed waters requires refueling stations and safe harbors farther south than the naval base on Hainan Island can provide. Not only do these patrols assert China’s rights over its claimed territory, but they are also part of a broader initiative to expand the scope of China’s maritime operations to increase China’s sea power. The 2015 Defense White Paper on Military Strategy, the first of its kind, directs the People’s Liberation Army to safeguard China’s expanding overseas interests and to defend its maritime territorial claims. China’s military and paramilitary forces are being used as an effective tool in coercing China’s neighbors to acquiesce to its ambitions for greater sea control.
China’s Challenge to the Existing Order
There is a struggle for power and influence playing out in the South China Sea. The United States continues to enforce the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and seeks to maintain the regional maritime order on which its interests rely. China is working to reshape that regional order by consolidating its territorial interests and expanding its power projection capabilities. China’s construction of artificial islands is an attempt to consolidate its claims to the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, as well as an indication of its intention to use the reefs to support future military and paramilitary activity in the South China Sea. The sheer pace of the efforts and the increasing power projection capabilities to defend such efforts makes this past year’s events of particular concern for the United States. China is challenging the prevailing regional order whereby the equality of international law trumps exploitation of relative power, and the result is acute tensions between the rising and the existing regional power.
By Mark Tempest
Stowaways, poaching, piracy, smuggling, and murder – the global commons of the open ocean is as wild of a place as it is vast.
Using as a baseline his series on lawlessness on the high seas in the New York Times, The Outlaw Ocean, our guest for the full hour to discuss the anarchy of crime and violence on the high seas in the 21st Century will be Ian Ubina.
Ian is a reporter for The New York Times, based in the paper’s Washington bureau. He has degrees in history from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and his writings, which range from domestic and foreign policy to commentary on everyday life, have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Harper’s, and elsewhere.