Archive for the 'Navy' Category


Recommend Low Vis Calls

October 2015


The Chief of Naval Air Forces has been roundly pilloried in the last 24 hours by the military blogging establishment. The conspiracy theories about a recent E-mail he sent to Naval Aviation leadership are at a high warble. You can read about them here and here.

OK. The ship is still in Case I, but it’s a little hazy out there. Before we do irreparable damage to our collective reputation, make a call to Tower. Let us say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Consider what we know:

  1. Air Boss sent a message–a “PFOR”–to leaders in Naval Aviation. Presumably, these are people he should be able to trust since they are charged with leading planes, pilots, and payloads into harm’s way.
  2. That message leaked outside of its original intended channel. Given our “information everywhere” environment, perhaps that was inevitable.
  3. The message deals with Aviation Major Command selection. Clearly, the operative section is this: “I will have the authority, if I so chose, to adjust the category for which an officer was selected. As I stated earlier, my intent is to closely follow the board’s recommendations, and only shift selected officers between categories to better manage Naval Aviation’s talent, or to address a future need/requirement or officer preference.”

So, who is the Air Boss?

Recently, a small group of junior officers (myself included) has been openly critical of the Aviation Major Command selection process. We wrote an article in Proceedings and asked pointed questions of leadership at CSIS and Tailhook.

No one has been more supportive of our efforts–throughout the process–than Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker. He was under no obligation to be, but he considered our point of view and engaged us respectfully.

This is not to say, “Aw shucks, what a guy.” It is an anecdote that reflects his three decades of honorable service and wise counsel.

I trust the Air Boss. I trust him both as a naval officer and as the leader of our Naval Aviation Enterprise.

Though recent posts have allowed that he is a “good guy,” this sense is getting lost. If we trust the Air Boss, we should take him at his word. Under no obligation to give this word–he could have kept this to himself, and exercised truly “behind closed doors” (as has probably been happening for years already…)–he came out and communicated to his fellow leaders, which is exactly what we expect of a person in his position. Is this naivete, or is it how a professional organization of warfighters operates?

So, if we take him at his word, is it not conceivable that his new position is a reflection of last year’s almost-unprecedented burn-list of Major Commanders? Folks who had no mechanism to have their preferences heard, who instead turned down their selection in frustration?There is nothing wrong with a leader standing up and saying, “I am going to take an active role in the future of the leadership of my community.”

For the critics, considering hypotheticals is important. But safeguarding the sanctity of the process is an annual job regardless of what anyone in any position says–mine the results, consider red flags, address appropriately. Mass hysteria and finger pointing before there are even facts to dispute is not right.

We are collectively suffering from confirmation bias. We bite off on one anecdote–the rumors of last year’s AMCSB slate and the favorite leadership pariah to some–and use it to nod our heads vehemently in unison. This is just a personal guess, but I do not believe the Red Phone between SECNAV’s office in the Pentagon and CNAF’s in Coronado is used for topics of this caliber. Not knowing all of the facts about the situation, we infer comfortably–and unfortunately.

Naval Aviation has suffered a lot of bad press over the past few decades. We have too often been on the defensive. The overwhelming majority of officers did not deserve this. However, it is where we are.

But again, too often, our attempts at an offense end up being offensive. We are often so busy trying to defend ourselves from those within our own service that we end up mortgaging away that which we cherish most deeply–trust in us.

If we are going to build public trust in our processes and in our leadership, we have to debate in the open, constructively, and with respect. We must work to prove that the way we select our leaders is above reproach. This was true before any alleged “cronyism” last year, and is still true now. As this year’s AMCSB Precepts now reflect, we are making improvements.

Certainly, we should watch board results and stay engaged with the process. We should raise a red flag when blatant injustice appears. There are ways to do all of this without insinuating that the leader of our enterprise–a human being that we trust–is now a nefarious opponent. We should be leaders–not complainers.

No process is entirely fair to all people all the time. And, as the authors of “On Becoming CAG” can attest, the topic of Major Command Selection espouses sharp emotions. But we should not fear open, constructive debate about how we make those processes better. We should not fear the discussion of change just as we should not fear the defense of tradition. In fact, this makes us more credible as a community.

We are a professional organization of warfighters. We fly naval aircraft in the most austere conditions. We do so far from home, in moments of maximum danger, in defense of the land we love. This is what defines us as a community–not a board, not a FITREP, not a cushy shore tour.

Everything else is just a false indicator light.

Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.

As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.

However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.

After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).

He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.

Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:

1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.

As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.

As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.

The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.

The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.

Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.


A Woman of Substance

October 2015


stockdalesAs my father let me know early on in my life, the most important decision a man can make is the woman he marries. It wasn’t until I was much older, and well in to my own marriage, that I realized how true his observation was.

While all relationships have their own dynamic, there are some who are a benchmark – a spouse who match the greatness of the man they helped make. They are the scaffold all else was built around.

If someone is about to join another on a journey with a spouse that is serving, Sybil Stockdale is a good benchmark to use.

She has left us to join her husband after a long time away. Via the DailyMailUK;

Sybil Bailey Stockdale, a Navy wife who fought to end the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam, has died.

Stockdale’s son, Sid Stockdale, said Tuesday that his mother died Oct. 10 at a hospital after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She was 90.

Stockdale is the wife of the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. She found her calling after her husband’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of the prisoners of war, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Convention.

Stockdale helped found the League of American Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and she served as the organization’s first national coordinator.

She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. At the same time, she worked closely with the CIA to be able to write secretly encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.

The military credited Stockdale with helping secure the safe return of her husband and other POWs in 1973.

James Stockdale, then a commander, disfigured himself so he could not be used in Vietnamese propaganda films — an action for which he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, according to the Navy Times.

Sen. John McCain, a naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hanoi Hilton with Stockdale’s husband.

“Sybil’s selfless service and sacrifice fighting for American prisoners of war, those missing in action, and many who are still unaccounted for has left an indelible mark on this nation that will never be forgotten” McCain said in a statement to the newspaper.

To know the full background on what this incredible woman did in a challenging time, I highly recommend you get a copy of the book, In Love and War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years;

“I think the book’s message was to recognize that there’s a place and time and need to be loyal and recognize the military is a unique institution with a big job to do, but then at the end of the day, it’s very important if you feel as though you need to speak up, then you should do so. I think it’s a fantastic message,” he said.

Her papers and memoirs from the Vietnam era, written in long hand on yellow legal pads, today are kept at the Hoover library.

Until the end, she continued to meet at her home monthly in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.

A memorial service will be held for Stockdale in Coronado and she will be buried beside her husband on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

We all benefited for her love and passion for her husband, her Navy, and her nation.

Please join us at 5pm (Eastern) on 11 Oct 15 for Midrats Episode 301: Confessions of a Major Program Manager, w/ CAPT Mark Vandroff, USN:

One man’s chore is another man’s hobby. Another man’s dread, is the other’s fantasy. Such, in a fashion, is Program Management in the Navy.

To be a good one, step one is to be self-aware. From his latest article in USNI’s Proceedings, Confessions of a Major Program Manager, Captain Mark Vandroff, USN just lays it out; “Face it: Everyone hates MPMs. For the budget-conscious officials in the Pentagon, our products are never cheap enough. For technologists both inside and outside the Department of Defense who want military progress to be state of the art, our products are never fielded fast enough. For the fleet users and their advocates, products could always be more capable, usable, or maintainable. Industry gets upset when we treat the taxpayers’ money like it is worth saving rather than help Wall Street with its next earnings report. Our uniformed brothers and sisters, support scientists, contractors, and comptrollers all loathe us—and if

you aren’t in one of those groups, you probably quit reading already.”

Coming back to Midrats, we will have the author on for the full hour to discuss the dark art of the program manager, what it takes to be one, and why at the end of the day someone would – really – come to love it all.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or you can find the show later on out iTunes page here.

Watts-Blue Ridge

U.S. Navy – The USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19), flagship of the 7th Fleet, patrols the South China Sea in March. Forward presence remains a conventional-wisdom cornerstone of U.S. strategy.

It is disconcerting to read that the U.S. Navy is making itself into “an unsustainable liability” in the pages of PROCEEDINGS. This is the argument made by Captain R. B. Watts, USCG (Retired) in his essay, “Advocating Naval Heresy” in the June 2015 issue of this magazine. Captain Watts writes that since irregular warfare is the most pervasive form of warfare confronting the United States now and into the future, the U.S. Navy should have a “small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare.” However, he continues that because the Navy is a traditionalist organization, unthinkingly wedded to a Mahanian principle that capital ships remain the primary instruments of seapower, this need for a small combatant will go unmet as the Navy continues to focus on the aircraft carrier as its primary capital ship.

The Navy does not define seapower in terms of capital ships such as the aircraft carrier. Seapower is the enduring ability to project influence through the control and exploitation of the maritime domain to include the maritime littorals and the air above it to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives. Seapower gives the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than 2/3’s of the planet’s surface into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States, one so ubiquitous and longstanding that it can be easy to overlook or taken for granted. Projecting seapower is independent of a capital ship, and relies, instead, upon numerous ship types to include, surface combatants, amphibious ships and attack, cruise-missile, ballistic missile submarines, and aircraft carriers—along with underway replenishment ships for logistic support.

Furthermore the Navy bases its need for the type of ships it operates on enduring geopolitical realities and not Mahanian theory. First the United States exists as an island nation between two great oceans. Second the United States is and will remain a global leader with world-wide interests and responsibilities. Third most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in other hemispheres, particularly Eurasia.

In response to these realities the United States has designed its Navy to cross broad expanses of ocean to protect America’s global interests, and if required, conduct sustained, large-scale operations upon arrival. Countries in other hemispheres do not design their navies to do this for the very basic reason that they exist in that hemisphere, where the action is, and consequently do not confront the “tyranny of distance” or the conduct of operations without shore bases. Far from home base and operating in distant waters, the Navy uses the sea itself as its base to conduct the full range of military operations. Although bases on foreign soil can be valuable, they are not a requirement for the Navy, as they are for land-based ground and air forces. The Navy can position its forces near potential trouble spots without the political entanglement associated with the employment of land-based forces. Moreover Navy ships are integral units that carry much of their own support, and mobile logistics support can maintain them on forward stations for long periods of time. The United States needs a Navy with ships that have the range, mobility, endurance, speed, resiliency, multi-mission capability, survivability, and most importantly, lethality for global operations. This is the principal reason why the Navy has large, blue-water, ocean-going ships.

According to Captain Watts, the Navy continues to “assume that a modern Jutland” will be its future and builds capital ships such as the aircraft carrier that are no longer relevant to today’s threat environment—especially against the irregular threat. The aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing executes the full range of military operations—from deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations, and to irregular warfare—to protect our national interests. Indeed history has shown time and time again that when our national interests are at risk, the aircraft carrier will be the first to answer the call.

There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of a carrier on global events than the initial U.S. military response to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in early 2015 during an irregular warfare scenario no less—the very form of warfare that Captain Watts states is irrelevant to the carrier. The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH with its embarked airwing, provided for 54 days the only armed response option for the Nation to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. During Operation Iraqi Freedom from March to April 2003, because of regional basing restrictions, five carriers provided very different roles. For Northern Iraq two carriers provided eight aircraft “24/7” for on-call, close air support for small, independent ground units, keeping Iraqi Army divisions tied down. For Southern Iraq, three carriers exercised the full range of airpower missions from electronic warfare, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, to strike and interdiction. Again because of basing and overflight restrictions, carriers provided majority of air support to special operations forces in the fall of 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) that resulted in toppling the Taliban regime. They were the only viable option.

Without question many recent operations would not have been as effective or even possible absent carriers—they are an indispensable tool for national security. Studies have consistently shown the aircraft carrier provides the best combination of sustained on-station time, sortie-generation capability, sea-keeping, and defensive ability at the most reasonable value for the defense dollar. The aircraft carrier remains relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, the Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats through its Air Sea Battle concept. Looking more broadly at how a carrier operates with an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the carrier remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary. The aircraft carrier provides the Nation with an unequaled hard, soft, and smart power advantage in a single, responsive, flexible, and mobile package, unfettered by geopolitical constraints.

Captain Watts asserts in broad-brush statements that, “we need a small combatant that can deal with the complexities of irregular warfare and missions that move beyond our traditional paradigm.” Regrettably he does not describe what these irregular warfare complexities are beyond generalizing about the need for “developing a small, capable combatant to deal with the lower ends of conflict.” Offering no requirements for why the Navy needs a smaller ship, he opines that the Navy simply “hates small” despite the growing numbers of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in the Navy’s Battle Fleet Inventory and a recently announced program to upgrade their weapons and sensors. Not surprisingly he condemns the Navy over the LCS as ships that were “never wanted” and that will likely be replaced by “new and larger combatants.” Yet on numerous occasions the Chief of Naval Operations has publicly promoted LCS with its associated adaptive force package concept as a prime means for the Navy to respond to the entire spectrum of military operations to include irregular warfare.

Captain Watts considers the rise of the China’s Navy as a non-threat that is “at best, a public-relations event for the United States.” Seen in this light the rise of the China’s Navy must also be of little concern to Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. Many security analysts agree that China is and will remain the most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come. China continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Additionally, its military modernization program has become progressively more focused on investments for a range of missions beyond China’s periphery, including power projection, sea lane security, counter-piracy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. For these reasons the Navy assesses China to represent both an opportunity and a security challenge.

The premises Captain Watts offers in his argument do not support his conclusion to the needed degree. The Navy does not have an animus to small ships such as the LCS. Additionally the Navy is an innovative, forward thinking organization as witnessed by its numerous efforts: (1) to leverage new technologies such as bio-fuels, directed energy weapons, rail gun, and unmanned vehicles in the air, on the surface and below the surface; (2) to develop new operational concepts such as Sea Basing, Distributed Lethality, and All Domain Access; and (3) to employ its ships such as the Joint High Speed Vessel and Mobile Landing Platform in alternative roles. Moreover the Navy understands seapower and comprehends that seapower’s effort must be directed at an effect ashore. The Navy fully recognizes that the United States must be a seapower nation if the United States is to influence global security conditions. Freedom to use the oceans is absolutely essential for any United States defense policy to insure the security of the United States and our allies and partners. The current fleet of Navy ships—to include the aircraft carrier—with their unique combination of combat power, mobility, sustainment, and multi-mission flexibility are well suited to operations in a global security environment in which threats cannot be anticipated and prepared for long in advance. The Navy’s fleet of ships provides the United States with the ability to use the sea for whatever purposes are necessary to the Nation.

Captain Watts concludes his argument by calling for a “time for heresy.” The Navy welcomes his call to examine contrary opinions but that examination must be based on facts and underwritten by critical thinking that is fair and objective.

[ Stuart Swan] USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere 19 August 1812 This painting by Anton Otto Fischer depicts the first victory at sea by the fledgling US Navy over the mighty Royal Navy.

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

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or you can also retrieve the show later (along with any of our other shows) from our iTunes page.

460xThere 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?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 111 Comments


September 2015


U.S. Navy: Rear Adm. Peg Klein, senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for military professionalism, speaks with members of the Edmond Kiwanis Club. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Vazquez/Released)

U.S. Navy: Rear Adm. Peg Klein, senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for military professionalism, speaks with members of the Edmond Kiwanis Club. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Vazquez/Released)

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:

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.

G40pLDm3iLhInbU7O4pFOjl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9Though 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.”

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