Archive for the 'Navy' Category

scs_mapThe 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.

 Please join us on Sunday, 13 September 2015 at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 297: The Outlaw Ocean with Ian Urbina

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.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here or (also for later listening) by visiting our iTunes page

The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.

Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to


LT Tony Butcher commissioned through Air Force ROTC in 2005, and received an interservice transfer to the Navy in 2007. While in the Navy, he served as a Supply Officer on a destroyer based out of Norfolk, followed by tours ashore in Diego Garcia and Australia. He transitioned from active duty in 2014, and is in the second year of MBA studies at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

Why did you join the Navy?

My grandfather and six of his brothers were World War II veterans, most of who enlisted in the Navy the week following Pearl Harbor. When I was entering high school, my Great Uncle Bill told me his stories on the USS San Diego (CL 53): most notably the ship’s 18 battle stars without losing a Sailor and being the first U.S. ship to sail into Tokyo Bay after the surrender. My high school in Monterey, CA had a Navy JROTC program, and a military community represented from the Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute. That exposure drove my desire to become an officer in the Navy.

My path to a Navy commission took a circuitous route. I attended a university with an Air Force ROTC detachment and commissioned in the Air Force in 2005. However, I came in during the height of USAF force shaping programs as they ramped up officer numbers anticipating an increased Congressional authorization that never came. I used that as an opportunity to negotiate an interservice transfer to the Navy, which was approved at the end of 2007.

What was your favorite part of serving in the Navy?

The old slogan “Join the Navy: See the World” says it all. Before serving with the Navy, I’d never heard of the Seychelles, wouldn’t have been able to find Santorini, and if I’d been asked where Sydney Australia was I would have pointed at Perth. There were plenty of not so fun places as well, but I wouldn’t have erased those as they contributed just as much to the experience I gained. My exploring different parts of the world ashore and on the high seas gave me an educational experience not available in any classroom.

What did you find most frustrating?

Career management. When I transferred to the Navy it was as a Student Naval Aviator. Unfortunately, I was found to be not physically qualified to continue with aviation and was redesignated to the Supply Corps. This was frustrating because I’d listed the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) communities as my preference. In retrospect, it seemed like my only shot to select for an entire career path and involved more about timing than desire and skill set.

When I got to my ship and earned my surface qualification, I submitted a lateral transfer package. Although the IDC communities had openings for my year group, the Supply Corps community manager refused to release me, citing management of his numbers. Two years later, the next community manager reversed course and my release was granted, just in time for the IDC manager to shut the door to my year group. Further, I’d completed Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) certificate programs in Network Operations, Space Systems, and Cyber Security Fundamentals that the IDC community had recommended, only to find that they seemingly made no difference in my efforts.

With my current MBA internship, the private sector has been happy to utilize the Navy’s investment in my skills obtained at NPS. For its part, the Navy got absolutely no return on that investment. I find it hard to take articles from 10th Fleet stating they want more people with cyber skills very seriously when the current personnel system repels people like me from getting in.

When and why did you decide to get out of the Navy?

Ultimately, I left due to the inability to pursue an IDC designator as discussed in the previous question. I’d been on the fence about staying in for a full career for a while, but I made the decision while participating in exercise RIMPAC 2012. I didn’t find the work on my watch station to be adding value and was never excited about roles in the Supply Corps. My most memorable role was actually on a 5th fleet ship deployment where my C.O. allowed me to qualify and stand watch as Surface Warfare Coordinator. Anyway, I had this moment where I looked around the watch center and realized I didn’t like who I was working with and there was nobody there I wanted to be like when I grew up.

The mentorship that I was after was also lacking. The mentor that my detailer had set me up with was great for providing me with career path specific advice, but I can’t say any took the time to know anything about me personally. That’s the experience I felt with most senior officers I dealt with throughout several afloat and ashore commands. I don’t think they were being cold-hearted, but I was left feeling like we were all just cogs in a machine. Everyone seemed too serially focused on the series of wickets they needed to hit to reach 20 years of service and retirement.

If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?

Overhaul the personnel system. Give more flexible career management, and modify the up-or-out promotion system. I worked as a liaison to the Royal Australian Navy, and observed they did not have the up-or-out policy, which didn’t seem to wreck their officer corps. The current officer promotion boards serve as a very narrow high year of tenure checkpoint and punish anyone that deviates from a predefined optimal career path. Finally, if a Sailor leaves active duty, they’re essentially gone forever aside from a contribution in the Reserves. If a Navy veteran acquires significant skills and experience in the private sector, there’s no opportunity for the Navy to make use of that in a full time capacity.

I am encouraged by recent statements by VADM Moran and SECNAV Mabus that change may be on the horizon. They seem keen to make reforms that will modernize the current officer year group system that constrains community numbers. However, many issues are driven by provisions of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and will require action from Congress for change to occur.

What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with naval leaders?

Take care of your people.

I have a statistics professor at my current university that says “show your guts, show your heart, don’t be just talk-talk.” Leaders need to take care of their people through actions, not words. Military justice comes with unique power that no other profession has over its people. With the power comes great responsibility to use it righteously.

In 2012, when several criminal incidents involving Sailors took place in Japan, the 7th Fleet Commander decided the solution was to restrict liberty across the entire PACOM theater. I still have not heard a rational argument that supports why Sailors in Singapore and Australia with no history of bad incidents were denied due process and punished. The Navy needs leaders that use their power wisely, not selfishly to protect their careers at the cost of the masses under their commands. Sailors suffering under such toxic leadership will lose faith in it, in turn weakening the mission, their retention, and ultimately the Navy. CDR Guy Snodgrass’s recent Navy Retention Study seems to back this up.

When I had the opportunity to lead, I used corrective action as a surgical tool and saw mass punishment as effective only in destroying morale. When my Sailors and Marines were getting their job done efficiently, I rewarded them with liberty wherever possible. Ultimately, I saw this improve their quality of life and morale, and created a healthy environment driving successful mission accomplishment.

What’s next for you?

My long term career intent is to become a Chief Information Security Officer. I’m halfway through an MBA at UC Davis and wrapping up a summer internship at a Fortune 50 firm. The role has been in a strategic technology management area which I would have liked to have held in the Navy. Once I’m finished with my MBA and re-enter the work force, I plan to start a part time M.S. in Computer Science with emphasis in Computer Security to further build on my NPS coursework and improve my core knowledge.

naval baseThere are very few readers of USNIBlog who believe that we have an adequately sized fleet – especially those readers coming back from an 8, 9, or 11-month deployment. Sure, we may debate what types of ships should count towards or make up that fleet, but the bottom line number? No, few think we are where we need to be, much less that we should have a smaller one.

That does not mean that in the general conversation about the right size and composition of the USA’s national security apparatus, there isn’t a body of thought that not only is our fleet size fine, it may even be too large.

Via CNN, here is how the conversation usually starts;

While many analysts think the Navy needs to grow, others think it’s large enough — given its global dominance — and that funding realities mean there’s a limit to how much it could expand in any case.

The U.S. naval force is currently made up of 273 ships, which is the smallest number since the fleet stood at 245 ships in 1916. While fleet size has fluctuated significantly throughout history, topping out at 6,768 during World War II, today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

Part of me thinks we are not making a strong enough argument, or that we are not making our argument in a way that can penetrate the general population in a way that makes sense.

We can have significant defense policy thinkers put forth the following;

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, agreed with the Republican view that the Navy needs to have closer to 355 ships to maintain current deployment patterns and to carry out missions ranging from disaster relief to military deterrence.

He said that adding more ships to the fleet’s rotation would allow the Navy to shorten deployments, which would help personnel retention and avoid carrier gaps in the future.

(Peter) Singer said better questions about the future of the Navy would be, “What types of ships are they going to be and how are you going to pay for them?”

At the same time, mainstream organizations are still tapping in to those with a shallow understanding of maritime issues, such as Gregg Easterbrook, to be their “defense expert” in order to make their point. I’ll let you research his background and writing for yourself – but he is listened to and on the national stage and if calls-for-comment are a measure, is making an argument as well as Hendrix and Singer to the general public.

This discussion goes back to March from Easterbrook, and addressed by Hendrix on this blog shortly afterwards. In spite of the additional thrashing of Easterbrooks’ article by Bryan McGrath, James Holmes, and even little ‘ole me at my homeblog, Easterbrook and the do-less-with-less caucus still gets traction.


Gregg Easterbrook, a journalist who has tracked fiscal policy and military strategy for Reuters and The Atlantic, argued that the U.S. Navy’s technological superiority makes it plenty big enough to maintain the dominance it has enjoyed for the last half-century

“The U.S. Navy is 10 times stronger than all of the other world’s navies combined,” Easterbrook said. “To say that the Navy is weak because the numbers are going down is classic political nonsense.”

“No other country is even contemplating building something like the Ford-class carrier,” Easterbrook said. “We could cut the Navy in half in terms of ship numbers and still be far stronger than the rest of the world combined.”

Regardless of the reason, we need to rethink how we are telling our story. The fight for every fleet unit will get harder and harder as we work through the 2020s. As ISIS rages ashore, the problem of sea blindness will not get any better. As Dakota Woods stated in the CNN article, we need more depth to the discussion once we get people’s attention;

… today’s Navy is only slightly smaller than it was in 2006 under President George W. Bush, when it employed 281 active ships.

But former military officials say comparisons between the Navy of 1917 and today’s are an apples-to-oranges contrast. The modern Navy includes 10 aircraft carriers — more than the rest of the world combined — 90 surface warfare vessels and 72 submarines.

“It is a useful bumper sticker,” said Dakota Wood, a former U.S. Marine and senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation. “It resonates with people but doesn’t go into the details.”

Do we need the accountant’s details … or the story teller’s narrative?

This week, the Wall Street Journal and several other news outlets reported that a small Chinese naval flotilla was operating off the Alaskan coast in the Bering Sea. Some reports have indicated that the flotilla includes three frigate/destroyer platforms, an oiler and an amphib. Although their impromptu visit coincides with President Obama’s trip to Alaska, the timing and presence of the Chinese navy in the Bering has raised a lot of questions.

Xue LongFor one thing, China and Alaska are not very close to each other. Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is approximately 3,800 miles northeast of Shanghai, in another hemisphere, and across the international dateline. Additionally, China has no historic claim or significant cultural interest in Alaska. Unlike Russia, which once colonized Alaska, or Japan, which is in close proximity to Alaska and fought over parts of it with the United States during the Second World War, China has had no significant history or interest in America’s 49th state. Thus, one must ask why China has sent warships to a distant land it has no ties or apparent interest in.

For the last few decades, and since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis in particular, China has embarked on an ambitious program of modernization and growth for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This has included the development and implementation of the PLAN’s first aircraft carrier battle group to support an eventual natively designed/home-grown carrier program, investment in new anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile technology, construction of new naval bases, and a ramp-up of domestic warship construction.

For most of the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), their surface fleet has primarily served a local, littoral role. Over the last decade, the PLAN has become increasingly involved in overseas exercises and efforts, and this confidence building has made it more comfortable with flexing its muscle and increasing its visibility abroad. In 2009 the PLAN began a more proactive role in patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden for Somali pirates, and has successfully intercepted multiple pirate vessels since then. In 2011 a Chinese guided missile frigate sailed into the Mediterranean and evacuated Chinese citizens from Libya. This past April, the PLAN sailed into Aden and evacuated Chinese and foreign citizens during the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

China’s recent chain of successful humanitarian and maritime security deployments has occurred simultaneously with several aggressive and unprovoked actions as well. In 2014, the PLAN was invited to participate in RIMPAC for the first time; it sent its newest and most advanced guided missile destroyer to participate, but it also sent a Dongdiao-class intel ship to spy on the exercise participants. For the last few years, China’s military has built artificial islands in the South China Sea to assert a claim to the area. During this time, the navy has significantly increased its presence in this region and has been in an increasingly aggressive series of standoffs with other regional navies over disputed territory, such as Scarborough Shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.

According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, China currently has the largest and most ambitious naval warship construction program in the world. With yearly increases in defense spending, the PLAN is on track to become the strongest naval power in Asia and one of the most powerful in the world. China’s military, and the PLAN in particular, is growing exponentially. It is not surprising, then, that the PLAN is continuously endeavoring to increase their visibility and presence in naval deployments all over the world as they transition from a regional to a global navy. More than this, however, is China’s need to project power and portray itself as unhindered by the United states Navy’s global reach

The PLAN’s presence off Alaska’s coast during President Obama’s visit is meant to be a clear message to the world that China’s navy can sail off the coast of America’s largest state during a presidential visit in the very same way that the U.S. Navy sailed off China’s coast in 1996 during the last Taiwan Strait crisis. As China’s military continues to grow and increase in confidence and ability, expect these types of activities to continue.


Aviation Week. “Why Did China Participate in RIMPAC With One Ship And Spy On It With Another?” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

BBC. “Yemen crisis: China evacuates citizens and foreigners from Aden.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

CNN.”China, Philippines locked in naval standoff.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

Time.”How China Is Battling Its Pirate Problem.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.,8599,1932402,00.html

The Washington Post. “China sends navy ship to protect Libya evacuees.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.

The Washington Post. “See China’s rapid island-building strategy in action.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.



September 2015



Odessa, Ukraine, is known as the “Pearl of the Black Sea.” As the Commander of the US Sixth Fleet, I was in this beautiful city for the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2015, a two week, multi-national maritime exercise co-hosted by the US and Ukraine. The choice of locations reiterated the purpose of the exercise, to promote security and stability within a region where these goals are under threat. The commitment of likeminded nations to these common goals becomes increasingly important in time of crisis.

The size of the exercise speaks for itself: eleven nations (Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States), 1300 personnel, and 18 ships. The Sixth Fleet contribution includes divers, Marines, staff support, a P-3 Orion aircraft, and the USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75), one of our Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) based in Rota, Spain. Equally important to the size is the complexity of the events. Participants will undertake rigorous training both ashore and at sea.

The at-sea phase focuses on maritime interdiction operations as a primary means to enhance maritime security. Other warfare areas to be tested include air defense, damage control, search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare and tactical maneuvers to enhance interoperability. The increased complexity of Sea Breeze 2015 is another indicator of how important maritime security is to the Black Sea region.

Prime Minister Yatsenuik meets Ensign Audrey Petro, Communicator, onboard USS Donald CookJoining the opening ceremony were the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuik, who still made the time to travel to Odessa despite the tragic events in Kyiv the night before; U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt; Ukrainian Minister of Defense General-Colonel Stepan Poltorak; and Commander of the Ukrainian Naval Forces Vice Admiral Serhiy Haiduk.


Together we toured the Ukrainian flag ship, HETMAN SAHAYDACHNIY (U130) and the guided missile destroyer USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75). Throughout my career, every ship I have embarked has its own personality shaped by its history and its crew. These two ships were no different. Each embodied the strong characters of their respective namesakes and of the sailors aboard.

DONALD COOK was named after a Marine Captain who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his unwavering resolve to protect his fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam. Throughout his time as a POW, Cook’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” helped him maintain his personal integrity in the most difficult of conditions.

DCK Motto Faith Without Fear...The ship’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” came to mind frequently during my visit to Ukraine as I thought about the challenges confronting the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukraine’s Minster of Defense General-Colonel Poltorak said it best when he summarized what Ukrainian armed forces face today, “protecting Ukrainian boarders, fighting in the East, reforming, and training… all at the same time.”

The Ukrainian flagship’s namesake was a military leader of the 1600s who united Ukraine’s Cossacks into a regular army. Hetman Sahaydachniy’s vision is alive today as his nation hosts the participants of Sea Breeze 2015 as they work to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea.

Ukraine is a maritime nation with agricultural roots. Looking out the aircraft on the way in, the patchwork quilt of green, amber, and tan farmland reminded me of the U.S. Midwest. The yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag symbolize wheat fields waving under clear blue skies and a potential that is just as expansive. With 40% of the country’s exports flowing through the port of Odessa, the importance of Ukraine’s Navy to the nation is clear.

Regional security and stability provides the environment necessary for economic prosperity. When there are common goals it makes sense for nations to work together to achieve them. Routine exercises like Sea Breeze are valuable for this very reason. The experience of operating together as one team enables us to be more interoperable with allies and partners in peace and times of crisis.

The Sea Breeze opening ceremony coincided with the first day of school in Ukraine for all schools including the Ukrainian military academy. Of the 404 cadets who walked thought the academy’s portals on 1 September, over 25% arrived with frontline, combat experience. This bodes well for the enhancement of a professional officer corps. Like the men and women of USS DONALD COOK, these cadets embark the honorable profession of arms with faith, but not fear in the defense of their homeland.

Prime Minsiter Yatsenuik and VADM Jamie Foggo discussing SEA BREEZE 2015Ukrainian people have endured much hardship throughout the events of the last year. There is a lesson in the determination of the sailors whom I met and in the story of cadets returning from the front lines to study, go back, and lead others. “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR” is a mantra that is not only appropriate for USS DONALD COOK and our partners in Ukraine, but also for all members of the global network of navies as we work together to maintain peace and stability with people who share the same values, the same visions, and the same goals.

On Inevitable Sickness:meehan post

5 November 1943

Dear Mom,

When in Rome, speak as the Romans’ – The Indians always have to have some ailment or other – or their friends get suspicions that they’re getting something extra to eat. So I got Malaria. The first couple of days I was hot and cold in relays – since then I’ve felt fine – but a little weak. I don’t think they’ll let me out of the hospital for another week yet.

I haven’t received any of the Air Mail packages you sent – I’ll let you know as soon as I do. Glad to hear Bill likes it and I certainly hope he can get deferred and continue with medicine…

…Well they still won’t let me out of bed. With nothing to do, I’m slowly going nuts. This morning, while counting the cracks in the ceiling plaster, Coresia in the next bed says – look Meehan – and points behind my head, so I roll over and raise my head and ½ inch in front of my nose is a monkey. He scowled and I jumped ten feet – Coersia roared. I’ve been sitting here sharpening my dagger and eying his throat. He’s laughing a bit nervously now. The monkey is a pet of the medics and has been inoculated as much as the G.I.s.

How are you all doing? I haven’t had a letter for several days – Pat, Betsy and Lou should be able to get along now. Dad should try to get some gold in – his only hobby seems to be politics. Interested in hearing how Doc and Lou made out.

I think we should finish Germany next summer and Japan in ’45, which is the earliest I to expect to get home.




27 Mar 2014

Hello dearest family!

Allow me to enlighten you on the last few days. Now, the Navy has inoculated people against smallpox for years, but they stopped doing it a few years back. I thought I got lucky and avoided it but nooooo, they were just building up their vaccine quantity. So this year, when we deployed, the docs informed us all that we were getting Anthrax (most painful shot of all time six times) and oh, btw, you’re getting smallpox post-Turkey. Grand. … I have an entirely new perspective on the Black Death. Officially the most disgusting/worst way to die of all time. Oh, and your body is trying to fight it so your immune system is wrecked and everyone, I mean EVERYONE on the boat is sick. So anyways, that’s the scene. Hopefully it will scab over soon and then please send massive quantities of Mederma. That’s about all on my end! I love you all so much and I hope everything is going well! I’ve LOVED some of the emails I’ve received…Mom, I love the decorating emails and STM updates…Dad, I have more books for you! Read ‘em for me, cause I have zero time right now …Kelse, we LOVE reading your emails…we miss college! And they’re hilarious!…and PAT…WRITE ME AN EMAIL BRO :-) Love, Mere


On Holidays and Missing Good Food:


1 January 1944

Dear Mom,

A beautiful cool New Year’s afternoon with not much doing – just lying around. Received your package containing soap and shaving supplies, Asprin – I’ve never had a headache since I’ve been in the army – except when I had malaria, and little liver tablets! Now I know I’ve probably bitched and griped about the food, but with all, it’s never been that bad. Never took them in my life and don’t intent to start now. I have never felt better.

Cards from Don Damice’s, Louise and ten-spot from Harry- no good here, but negotiable in China where U.S. money is called “Gold.” News from Germany sounds good with the Russians cutting off the Germans at China. I don’t think they’ll last long and Japan should be out a year after Germany falls.

Love Jimmie


4 July 2014

Great Americans,

Hoping this email finds all of you quite well this 4th of July! Please have some corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and that jello and pretzel dessert stuff (is there actually a name for it? C’mon, you know what I mean!), for me…and a beer! Or two…or five… While life is fairly insane at the moment (no fireworks or celebrations for me this year), I spent the day up in the control tower and then out went out to the LSO platform (Landing Signal Officer), and watched some jets land. Now if that doesn’t scream “‘Merica!” I don’t know what does! On a more serious note, things have been quite interesting around here, which has added to the already complex ops of day-to-day life onboard the boat. We all faced a steep learning curve over the last few weeks as certain international events unfolded, and I have learned vast amounts on a variety of subjects. The current situation means that we have an extremely high op-tempo, and just as our aircrew have been busy flying, our maintainers have been working incredibly hard to keep our airplanes up and functioning. The other day, one of my AEs (I’m the Avionics Division Officer), fell off a ladder while he was fixing an engine component with his arm wedged all the way inside the engine nacelle, and he now his entire arm is mottled purple, red and yellow. Despite this, he was back to work three hours later, with a smile on his face, happy that he got the plane back up and ready to fly! These are the type of awesome guys and gals that make up my squadron, and I couldn’t be more proud of them, especially on a day like today. Happy 4th, everyone!



It may be hard to see the similarities in experiences that are separated by so many years, policy changes and shifts in generational mindsets. But they are there. And they remind us that despite the differences, we share (at least) one fundamental commonality: we all wear/wore the uniform of a United States Armed Forces service member.


The Way It Was

September 2015


Having just finished two glorious weeks in Coronado at Helicopter Control Officer school in March 1999, my first time in San Diego, I hadn’t had the time nor the mental capacity to fully prepare to embark on what was about to become the two most difficult years of my life. Ever. In retrospect, I really had no way of knowing it at the time.

I joined the Navy to see the world. Early on during service selection night, the second of only two female billets available on board USS La Salle, the then-U.S. 6th Fleet flag ship homeported out of Gaeta, was taken by a fellow woman SWOrrior candidate from the top third of our class.

I was in the bottom third.

I quickly reviewed my hand scripted cheat sheet to discover the only other overseas homeport option with billets available for women was Japan, Yokosuka or Sasebo. Since Yokosuka was closest to Tokyo, Yokosuka it was.

Out of sheer naiveté I had chosen the Aegis cruiser option because I thought if I was going to be a SWO – my second choice, the default career option – I was going ALL-in. CRUDES was the way to go. Cream of the crop. Best of the best.

Sidebar: Because what I really wanted to be was a public affairs officer, not an option straight out of the Academy, Marine Corps was my first choice since it was the quickest path to becoming a PAO. This is now utterly laughable. Thank God the Jarheads told me, “Thanks, but no thanks, Suzanna. And don’t let the door kick you in the ass on the way out.” Best rejection I ever received.

From SAN to HNL and then on to GUM, I reported for the billet I chose that fateful night in Annapolis eighteen months earlier, an FDNF (forward deployed Naval forces) CG serving at the “tip of the spear” in the U.S. 7th Fleet.

Since stepping off that plane, everything was a blur. Jetlagged and on a quasi-foreign island, I was rudely awakened to the fact I was no longer on my San Diego training boondoggle. I would later learn that Guam is actually a little slice of America in the vast Western Pacific, and I would look forward to return port visits there to ail my homesickness with some semblance of Western culture.

Before I arrived I had known for some time that I would be part of the Navy’s effort to properly integrate surface combatant crews. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1994, Congress repealed the prohibition on women serving on combatant vessels and aircraft.

I remember vividly as a youngster when the brigade received word that beginning with the class of ’96, women were not only able to serve on board combatants, but indeed would serve on board combatants. There was no choice in the matter. At the same time, women could no longer choose among a handful of restricted line or staff corps career options such as cryptology or supply corps that were generally reserved for NPQs (not physically qualified).

Unbeknownst to me, this seemingly small change in military policy would provide the seedlings of a seismic shift in the misogynistic subculture at USNA. A subculture with origins that could be traced back to when women were first admitted into the Service Academies twenty years earlier. This momentous cultural change was for the betterment of every possible outcome for our nation and our national defense. Furthermore, I have to believe that any remaining misogyny at the Academies has seriously diminished today. Culture is hard to change, but right is right and actions feed perceptions, which ultimately underpin cultural change.

Back on board my cruiser, I quickly learned that I was one of only four women comprising the entire crew of 350. With an air wing embarked, that number grew to about 375 (and no, the air wing from Atsugi did not bring any women aboard with it). The Navy’s strategy was to first integrate the combatant wardrooms, and then later bring aboard enlisted women. I served a whole year as one of four women officers on board ship before we welcomed aboard thirty women enlisted crew. When we did, I noticed my quality of life increased significantly.

To be perfectly blunt, I was not at all prepared to be “living in a fishbowl” environment, or “under a microscope” was more like it, as part of the 1% minority within the microcosm of ship life. (While I was at the Naval Academy, women comprised nearly 14% of the brigade of midshipmen.) And to make matters worse, I was equally unprepared to endure the loneliness from isolation of living as an American woman in Japanese society and within the broader context of Eastern culture. These were distinct choices that I had made on my own as a young adult, and when they came to fruition the end result was almost all that I could bear.

Learning to be an FDNF surface warfare officer in the late ‘90s was not for the faint of heart. It gave new meaning to the old adages that “SWOs eat their young” and “back-stabbing SWO.” Because we were forward deployed, we were underway A LOT. The one saving grace was that this was before 9/11, and we had visited nearly every single port imaginable in the Western Pacific, save for the Philippines. Twice, at least. We even hit Australia, though our port visits there were curtailed due to genocide that erupted in East Timor. Serving as part of the INTERFET forces was a noble and valiant mission, of which I am proudest.

With so few women on board and all four of us having very distinct personalities, pooling our forces to band together seemed futile. In the end, we really just tried to survive. Ours is not a story of girl-power or a “band of sisters” conquering all, but rather a story of individual perseverance for all four of us. Eventually, we did all earn our SWO qualifications and individually moved on with our Navy careers. I later became a public affairs officer, and still am one today.

I realize, back then, not all women called to integrate crews suffered the same fate that the four of us did my first year on board. I know this because when my ship performed a hull-swap/crew-swap mid-way through my tour, and I alone stayed aboard our original hull, the three new roommates I gained in the women’s JO jungle were more like sisters to me. We were from the same tribe.

The author, left, with two of her sea sisters in Newport, RI in April.

The author, left, with two of her sea sisters in Newport, RI in April.

Navigating the SWO qualification process and life aboard ship was still just as challenging as it had been before, but it was a lot more fun after I had found my sea sisters. Their friendship, laughter and all-out feminism radiated through me for the rest of my time on board. Just being present during the second-half of my one and only SWO tour, I am forever grateful for them.

And that’s the way it was. For me, anyway.

Posted by Suzanna Brugler in Navy | 9 Comments

The laws and norms surrounding the movement of economic goods across geopolitical boundaries are well-defined. By contrast, the ability to create and manipulate information has become ubiquitous and robust legal frameworks governing how state actors, individuals, and institutions interact with the information ecosystem do not yet exist. This creates risk and opportunity for state and non-state actors looking to devise new information manipulation tactics and make claims on this evolving space. Information control has always been a key component of strategy; however the current speed of evolution provides an advantage to potential disruptors, who do not have sunk costs in existing expensive processes and techniques. Whereas during the medieval period, a limited number of literate clergy had the ability to control the information space (which was explicitly linked to the capacity to wage war), today both state and non-state actors, no matter how marginal, have the ability to contribute to the information battlespace. Even a single, well-placed YouTube video, such as the beheading videos released by ISIL can influence military response.

Information is a non-rivalrous commodity, which should fundamentally change military investment profiles. In FY10, the United States spent $160B for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to CIA estimates of Al Qaeda’s 2010 operating budget of $30M. Despite 5,000 times more investment by the US, Al Qaeda continued to expand its influence throughout the region with involvement in Yemen, Russia, Syria, and by facilitating the eventual destabilization of Iraq. In the information age, spending and traditional military definitions of success no longer correlate with stable end states. It is more difficult to characterize 21st century conflicts in terms of definitive winners and losers than traditional industrial conflicts. It follows that post-industrial, digital-age conflicts will be characterized by informational pluralism, and that single source-point information control is no longer viable for military organizations.

The Department of the Navy’s (DON’s) information construct is currently divided along two objectives. One objective is to disseminate propaganda about the DON’s agenda and operations to a small circle of military-industrial and congressional elites who can afford 4-digit subscriptions to defense publications. The approach is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also flawed in its assumption that “authoritative information” flowing out of the Navy information channels actually holds value in the information economy. The Navy information organization relies on humans to do the searching, processing, and dissemination of information, while most private-sector organizations, rely on advanced algorithms to fulfill these functions. Relying on humans results in slower processing speeds, increased error rates, and the bias that occurs from having associative, rather than random access, memory. Humans are subject to confirmation bias and will continually reinforce existing hypotheses with new information, rather than allowing the data itself to guide conclusions. In a world where decisions are made based on multiple sources, curated by digital systems, human-centric, centralized information systems are decreasingly relevant.

The second objective is to manipulate the information space as it is perceived by our adversaries, via network operations and psychological operations, for example. However, the efficacy of this construct is challenged by adversaries, many of whom recognize that they can achieve strategic objectives at minimal cost by creating a multiplicity of equally viable perceptions within the information space. While the US Navy continues to rely on an outdated approach to information, countries such as Russia and China understand how to apply pressure to their adversaries by insidiously manipulating information through a broad range of channels. This is evident in Russia’s substantial investments not only in internal propaganda machines such as RussiaTV, but more disturbingly Washington D.C. think tanks and London banking. Similarly, China’s ability to map connections and place pressure on individuals through data gathered in the OPM breach clearly indicates how information is valued in the Chinese defense paradigm.

The primary goal of the current battlespace information agenda is to have real-time ‘perfect’ information that is consistent from the tactical to the strategic level—the battlefield equivalent of the Waze app for traffic or Uber for transportation services. These capabilities are being developed using today’s information paradigms and technology, although they are unlikely to be operational for several years. However, with minimal investment, unsophisticated actors have the ability to disrupt this approach by making it impossible to distinguish real from fabricated threats. This is comparable to populating the Uber app with fake cars, eliminating users’ ability to distinguish between real and avatar drivers and therefore efficiently travel between points. The Russians demonstrated this approach in 2014 when they flooded social media channels with false reports of a chemical spill in Centerville, Louisiana. Optimizing the battlefield information ecosystem for real-time, perfect information piped through singular channels creates tremendous vulnerabilities when the potential for information oversaturation by an adversary is high.

Often times, DON assessments of novel approaches to the legal uses of information and weaponization (notably the use of disinformation) devolve into rights-based arguments focused narrowly on injunctive norms and “ethical” applications of information within defined legal realms such as intellectual property and privacy. While important, these conversations amongst military and political leadership often contribute little in terms of practical solutions and tend to overlook evolving challenges within the information space. The DON has been efficient in developing sweeping statements about the “importance of information” that never get adopted locally, while our adversaries continue to experiment with novel approaches in the information space. The military is the catastrophic backstop for the United States, and as adversaries invest aggressively and disruptively to control this evolving space, the DON will undoubtedly have a role to play in informing future frameworks and tactics.

In order to influence the information space, the DON must make investments in global cultural understanding. Cultural proficiency within the information space is not only paramount to generating information that produces the desired effects, but also critical to the DON’s ability to effectively mine the data of our adversaries. Effective use of information requires first-hand knowledge and cannot be outsourced to the intelligence community or communicated through powerpoint briefs. It requires understanding consumption habits, means of ingestion, and technical and semantic characteristics of information in a particular context. Close collaboration and immersion is necessary to understand subtle cultural constructs and the DON must grow this expertise or develop partnerships to provide the depth and breadth of cultural understanding across the DON needed to function in the information age.

Secondly, perhaps the greatest threat the DON faces is having its information ecosystem saturated with disinformation, or false positives. This mandates the use of advanced algorithms to parse the information ecosystem efficiently. Complex models and algorithms are often more art than science and heavily influenced by their creators. This capability must be developed organically, allowed to grow, and continually adapted by experts and integrators. This is a way of thinking that has become a core capability in an information world that resides in a small subset of synthesizers. It is non-transferable, cannot be trained, and cannot be outsourced. The DON must invest in finding and cultivating this unique set of talents. The US Navy must acknowledge its role and invest accordingly or it will find itself increasingly unable to compete on the information battlefield.

suni williams USNI blog

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 5, 2012.

During the six-hour, 28-minute spacewalk, Williams and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide (visible in the reflections of Williams’ helmet visor), flight engineer, completed the installation of a Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) that was hampered by a possible misalignment and damaged threads where a bolt must be placed. They also installed a camera on the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

Image Credit: NASA


Sunita Williams

Williams received her commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy from the United States Naval Academy in May 1987. After a six-month temporary assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she received her designation as a Basic Diving Officer and then reported to Naval Aviation Training Command. She was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989. She then reported to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 3 for initial H46, Seaknight, training. Upon completion of this training, she was assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8 in Norfolk, Virginia, and made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida for Hurricane Andrew Relief Operations onboard USS Sylvania. Williams was selected for United States Naval Test Pilot School and began the course in January 1993. After graduation in December 1993, she was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer, and V-22 Chase Pilot in the T-2. While there, she was also assigned as the squadron Safety Officer and flew test flights in the SH-60B/F, UH-1, AH-1W, SH-2, VH-3, H-46, CH-53 and the H-57. In December 1995, she went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an Instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and the school’s Safety Officer where she flew the UH-60, OH-6 and the OH-58. From there, she was assigned to the USS Saipan (LHA-2), Norfolk, Virginia, as the Aircraft Handler and the Assistant Air Boss. Williams was deployed onboard USS Saipan when she was selected for the astronaut program.

She has logged more than 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in June 1998, she reported for training in August 1998. Astronaut Candidate Training included orientation briefings and tours, numerous scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training and ground school to prepare for T-38 flight training, as well as learning water and wilderness survival techniques. Following a period of training and evaluation, Williams worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency on the Russian contribution to the space station and with the first Expedition Crew. Following the return of Expedition 1, Williams worked within the Robotics branch on the station’s Robotic Arm and the follow-on Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. As a NEEMO2 crewmember, she lived underwater in the Aquarius habitat for 9 days. After her first flight, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She then supported a long duration mission as Flight Engineer for Expedition 32 and International Space Station Commander for Expedition 33. Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions; she ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female. With 50 hours 40 minutes, she also holds the record total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.

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