Archive for the 'Maritime Strategy' Tag
What direction do we need to go for our next maritime strategy? Using the recent article, Control of the Seas, as our starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Seth Cropsey, Senior Fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower.
He served in government at the Defense Department as Assistant to the SECDEF Caspar Weinberger and then as Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and Bush administrations, where he was responsible for the Navy’s position on efforts to reorganize DoD, development of the maritime strategy, the Navy’s academic institutions, naval special operations, and burden-sharing with NATO allies. In the Bush administration, Cropsey moved to OSD to become acting assistant secretary, and then principal deputy assistant SECDEF for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.
U.S. Navy photo by OSSN Andrew L. Clark
During the period that preceded the collapse of the USSR—from 1982 to 1984—Cropsey directed the editorial policy of the Voice of America on the Solidarity movement in Poland, Soviet treatment of dissidents, and other issues. Returning to public diplomacy in 2002 as director of the US government’s International Broadcasting Bureau, Cropsey supervised the agency as successful efforts were undertaken to increase radio and television broadcasting to the Muslim world.
Cropsey’s work in the private sector includes reporting for Fortune magazine and as a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and as director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asia Studies Center from 1991-94.
His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Affairs, Commentary magazine, RealClear World, and others.
Join us live or pick up the show later by clicking here.
Block some time out today to watch the speech by Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox that kicked off the AFCEA-USNI West2014 Conference. She was strong, direct, and the substance of her comments should be considered a good source of Indications & Warnings for what our Navy will be faced with going forward.
In some ways, she spoke as a prophet of the Church of the Hard Truth, and that was refreshing. More of that tone from her and others. It is healthy and gets people’s attention.
Some points to ponder from her speech as I heard it – with a little commentary from my part from what I saw, unspoken, between the lines;
Pacific Pivot: She rightfully reminded everyone of the fundamentals. The Pacific is predominately a maritime theater, and that aspect needs to be central to the military side of the refocus. This cannot be just a military effort, it must be a diplomatic, informational, and economic rebalance to the Pacific. Yep, she kicked off with D.I.M.E. It was at that point that I knew I was going to like a lot about what she had to say.
China: In the near term, we should look at the military growth of China in the maritime theater as a drive to thwart the freedom of movement of others in her sphere of influence, as China sees it.
Disengagement: If the influence and presence of the USA decreases, regional rivalries will increase. In the Pacific, American military presence is a stabilizing force, not a provocative force.
Complacency & Assumptions: We cannot assume American dominance going forward or that we can operate in the permissive environment we have enjoyed for the last couple of decades. We need to reassess our ability to bring force from over the horizon and under the surface in order to get around Anti-Access and Area-Denial systems.
LCS: Though she didn’t address LCS directly, it was clearly there in her warnings that we cannot build a Fleet for a specific kind of fight. Our platforms need to be flexible, and more importantly, survivable in combat. “Niche” platforms are not what we need to invest our limited resources in.
Unsexy but Important: She reminded all that in previous drawdowns, enabling forces were ignored in a rush to save “combat” assets. When actual war comes, we are significantly hampered by the lack of those enablers we ignored in the lean years. Sacrificing enablers for combat units in peace is a false economy.
Hollow Force: We know what creates a hollow force, all we have to do is look at the 1970s. We need to make sure we don’t ignore that history. This will be the 5th drawdown in living memory, and when the next conflict comes, forces will be used more than what was sold during the drawdown.
Personnel Compensation: The post-911 benefit plus-ups are not sustainable and the costs are impacting readiness and modernization. That and the fact we need a BRAC are well known, but there is no political will to address it.
Force Levels: The upcoming QDR will show that there will be no “Peace Dividend” from the last decade of conflict. That being said, the military must get smaller in the next 5 years. We just need to ensure a tighter fit between strategy and budget resources in order to get it right. In theory strategy should drive budgets, but the reality is that budgets force one to make strategic decisions and define priorities. Budgets and strategy are hard-linked together.
One final note on style. Yes, style. In both style and substance, Fox was strong. We are lucky to have someone like her at the front of the conversation, and if I may offer – whatever her future holds, the Pentagon needs to make sure a place is found to have her out front of the public and decision makers.
As you watch the video, remember that though superficial, it is true that regardless of how good or important the information you want to present, you have to deliver it in a manner that gets and keeps people’s attention. You have to make sure your style matches your substance, or the substance is lost.
Fox was not dry, stilted, nervous, or excessively wonky. She was humble without being cheesy, but most important – the hard truths she delivered were presented with an upbeat but serious tone. Even a few smiles thrown in. The happy warrior style.
That is how you do it. Again, the national security community needs to encourage and create opportunities for Fox to come more from out of the background. This drawdown will be done right or wrong based on a the results of intellectual battles in the marketplace of ideas. In this conversation, I think we have identified a High Value Unit.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
- Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
VADM Al Konetzni, USN (Ret.) – “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal…” – everyone who has met or worked with him has their memory. Mine was a brief and accidental encounter a bit over a decade ago at an event outdoors at Pearl. Adult beverages, cigars, and a magnetic leader who was that rare combination of fresh air and seemingly out of another time. Had the effect on JOs that I really never say another Navy Flag Officer have. In a word; unique.
Last week I ran in to Dave Booda’s recollections of his run in with Big Al once in Annapolis;
I just thought he was another guy using the urinal next to me at Riordan’s, a local bar in Annapolis.
“So, what do you want to do when you graduate?”
“Uh, I’m deciding now between Surface Warfare and Submarines”
“Ah, I remember those days. I keep thinking I’ll retire but they always pull me back in. The key is to just take it one tour at a time.”
We were taught to avoid living in the present by procrastinating our happiness. If you constantly say “I’ll be happy when I graduate”, you’ll miss out on what it’s all really about … Take it from Al Konetzni. Stop waiting to live in the future,
Good advice, and like much good advice – difficult to put in to practice.
That evidently has been simmering in my nogg’n for a week, because it came to the fore yesterday when I read the latest apologia on LCS – this time from our own pal, Craig Hooper, now with Austal;
DARPA is working on a program to use Independence variants of LCS as “platforms for medium altitude, long-endurance, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for strike and ISR missions,” Hooper said. “This is a sign of what is to come — energy weapons, rail guns, unmanned craft. Embrace this. The future is in flexible platforms that capable of quickly and cost-effectively integrating new payloads. That’s what my two ships can do.”
Stop. I’ve seen this movie before.
The homing torpedo will end the submarine threat. You don’t need carriers in the nuclear age. We will have an all nuclear surface fleet. The Royal Navy will never need guns again, everything will be missiles – and it won’t need those carriers either – the RAF can cover it. We must get rid of the A-6 so we can move forward with the A-12 …. errrr …. F-18. We must decom the SPRU-CANS early so we can invest and recapitalize with DDG-1000 (nee SC-21). We don’t need frigates. NLOS will handle the surface fires requirements.
Yes, it is always better to get rid of what you have that works now, because the promise of the future is perfect, clean, shiny and … well … new and perfect and clean and shiny … and transformational!
It is comfortable to live in the future, to assume that all plans, systems, and CONOPS play out in line with with you want – or need – it to be. Making the present work is hard – but going to war in the present when you have neglected the “now” for the fuzzy future is even harder.
Reality is tough to get right.
For each weapon, there is a counter. One tactic/weapon does not work in every situation. Money and technology is not universally accessible. A single point of failure is just failure. Technology risk is real and usually higher than industry and program managers think.
I think we have learned this lesson again in spades over the last decade from LCS to F-35. If nothing else, perhaps we should hedge and mitigate more; we should have a set of requirements and stick with them instead of chasing shadows that only add cost, weight, and lost treasure.
Are those lessons sinking in? I think so as things start to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (or not) – then yes, reality starts to overtake the PPT. That is what seems to be happening – goaded on by a gang of ruthless facts; a move away from the transformational mindset. Smart and inline with historical experience, if a bit late.
So, Craig has job to do, but so do others.
But any weapons changes on the horizon for LCS won’t happen until the Navy revises its requirements for its newest vessels, said Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, director of Surface Warfare.
“I’m the keeper of the keys for requirements,” Rowden said. “And I am here to tell you that LCS meets the requirements.”
Well, that is subject to debate – but at least he is sticking. Enough chasing shadows with LCS. Make it the best as we can, and move on with what treasure we have left to move on with.
Get what you have now right, or dump it. In the future, focus on the evolutionary, not revolutionary so we avoid another lost decade. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot. Prototype, test, evaluate, deploy. Work for the future, but in the spirit of Big Al; you are living, building, and deploying now – make the best of it.
What seems obvious in hindsight is not, for most, that obvious to those closest to it, distracted from it, or willfully floating along in a sea of indifference.
There are times, decision or pivot points for some, where the signs become clear. That steady, darkening, and thickening line starts to burn through the ambient noise. It looks familiar, it is harmonic of what you have seen before – it cannot be ignored. It demands action
You only get the Fleet your nation decides to buy, more people need to accept that … and the political and economic reality we are in.
Former Senator Hagel has been nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense. In an August 2011 interview with The Financial Times’ Stephanie Kirchgaessner, he stated the following;
The defence department, I think in many ways has been bloated.
I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I think we need the Pentagon to look at their own priorities.
There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back …
I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long, long time. Every agency needs to do that. The Department of Defence, and I’m a strong supporter of this … no American wants to in any way hurt our capabilities to national defence, but that doesn’t mean an unlimited amount of money, and a blank cheque for anything they want at any time, for any purpose. Not at all. Not at all, and so the realities are that the mess we’re in this country, with our debt and our deficits, and our infrastructure and jobless and all the rest, is going to require everybody to take a look, even the defence department, and make a pretty hard re-evaluation and review.
President Obama picked Hagel for very specific reasons, and his views above are not unknown and were part of that. Good people can agree or disagree on the substance of his argument, but that is the fact both sides will have to work with.
Next, let’s look to the uniformed side of the house. In a speech at SNA earlier this week, Vice Admiral Copeman stated the following;
Ultimately, (Copeman) warned, “if you don’t want to get hollow, you have to give up force structure.”
“Resources are going to drop. They’re going to drop significantly,” the admiral said. … “If it were my choice,” Copeman said, “I’d give up force structure to get whole. But it’s not always my choice.”
There are just a few tidbits of I&W to ponder.
In the last few years, we have heard a lot of talk about a Fleet of 313 and now 300. Many of us have been arguing for half a decade that neither is the number we should be looking at, that is not what the nation will fund; 270 to 240 is more likely.
“If we cannot have the navy estimates of our policy, then let’s have the policy of our navy estimates.”
If this is the maritime Zeitgeist for the remainder of this decade, then let’s embrace it. We can’t stomp our feet and hold our breath until the Pentagon turns blue.
How do we best do it? What do we need to preserve – what should we cut – what will we have to get rid of root-n-branch?
What are our priorities?
The smart money on the future is on who the CINC is hiring, what that hire’s recent statements say about his ideas, and what our senior officers are starting to send out trial balloons on to test the winds.
With significant budget cuts already underway and expected for years, how do we adjust through the Pacific Pivot as these cuts take place, yet still remain postured to influence the region in peacetime and defend our national interests in war?
What is the best way to match required capabilities inside an economically sustainable military budget?
While many are familiar with the concept of “Offshore Balancing” – what is “Offshore Control?”
Our guest for the full hour to discuss the concept he raises in his latest article in the United States Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Offshore Control is the Answer, will be Colonel T.X. Hammes, USMC (Ret.)
Col. Hammes served thirty years in the Marine Corps at all levels in the operating forces. He participated in stabilization operations in Somalia and Iraq as well as training insurgents in various places.
Hammes has a Masters in Historical Research and a Doctorate in Modern History from Oxford University, and is currently a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.
He is the author of “The Sling and the Stone: On War in the Twenty-First Century” and “Forgotten Warriors: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the Corps Ethos, and the Korean War,” and many articles and opinion pieces. He has lectured at U.S. and International Staff and War Colleges.
With the Big E coming home for good, the NIMITZ acting a bit old and busted, there has been a lot of discussion as of late about the ability of the US Navy to do what she has become accustomed to doing; projecting power globally from the sea with almost impunity – and the large-deck carrier being the tool primarily used to do so.
Through gross program mismanagement, myopic POM-centric rice bowl games, and simple parochialism – much of the nuance, depth, and flexibility of what was on those decks are gone as well, most notably the loss of the S-3, ES-3, organic tanking (fighters tanking don’t count, silly goose), and independent long range strike – gone and replaced with a deck of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none RW and light fighters with AEW thrown in for character.
Add to that the ongoing “to the right” extended deployment of our Amphib “small deck” carriers (yes, I know, I know, I know) and their ARGs, funkyesque methods of Fleet number counting, and the expected contraction in shipbuilding budgets that all but this ordered to say otherwise accept will be the new norm – then more and more smart people are trying to step back and get the larger view.
What exactly are the larger Strategic implications of the clear decline in the US Navy’s global reach?
As is often the case, to help break the intellectual gridlock, it is helpful to bring in outside views. Over at the UK blog Thin Pinstiped Line, Sir Huphrey speaks with big medicine. The whole post is worth a read – but everyone should ponder the below a bit.
The reality is that the USN now is probably in the same place as the RN found itself in the mid-1960s – mid 1970s. Reduced budgets, elderly vessels still in service, while the new designs (T42s, 22s) were taking longer than planned to come into service, and yet operationally committed across the globe.
The ability of the USN to operate with impunity across the globe, steaming where it wanted on its terms, and able to stand its ground against almost any aggressor has gone forever. Todays’ USN remains a fiercely capable and strong navy, but its ability to exert unlimited and unchallenged control of the high seas has gone, probably forever. Instead it would be more realistic to judge that the future USN will provide a capability to deploy power into some areas, but only at the cost of reducing capability and influence in others.
In a classic, “over to you” moment as the Royal Navy slowly retreated West of Suez after the late 1950′s unpleasantness, and with the final moment by Prime Minister Wilson in the annus horribilis that was 1968 – the world approaching mid-21st Century is stuck with a quandary.
The British at least were handing things off, indirectly, to her daughter; a relatively smooth transition to a nation that was cut from the same cloth and whose interests were more often than not those interests of Britain.
If, as Sir Humphrey states, we face a future where the global capability of the US will decline in proportion to her navy – then who will be there to fill the gap? Multiple smaller regional powers? A rising power? Status quo, but thinner? Nothing?
None of those three are in the interests of the US.
Willfully abandoning territory – enough of the “global commons” PR stunts, please – to the whims of whatever power has the will to take it, is a classic description of a nation in decline. In our case, that would be a willful decline – but almost all declines are willful.
Is everyone on board with that? It is a choice.
Hat tip BJ.
If you look to the performance of the US Navy in World War II – the ships that made victory happen came out of the shipbuilding programs of the 1920s and 1930s. At a time with no computers or modern communication equipment – and working through naval treaty limitations as well as the financial challenges of the Great Depression – we saw incredible innovation and steadily improving ship designs. Why?
A lot of the credit is given to something the Navy had then, but does not have now; The General Board.
What was The General Board, what did it do, and is the Navy today suffering for the lack of one?
Join fellow USNI Bloggers CDR Salamander and EagleOne this Sunday, 10 JUL at 5-6pm EST to discuss the issue and more for the full hour with CDR John T. Kuehn, USN (Ret.), PhD – author of the USNI Press book, Agents of Innovation, and and earlier Sterling book Eyewitness Pacific Theater with Dennis Giangreco.
If you are looking for an underlying theme for national defense in the USA for the next couple of decades, it will be one of fewer ships, minimal shipbuilding. It doesn’t matter if that is what you want or think is needed – it will be a byproduct of the response to the larger budgetary train-wreck that can no longer be avoided. This is national – and the defense budget will be part of the fix.
There will be less money, so we have to focus on maximizing the flexibility and utility of what money we do have. The luxury of spin & pray we used in the fat years is gone. The missed opportunities of the Lost Decade are just that – lost.
This fiscal constraint will combine with something percolating on the political front regardless of what party is in power; after a decade of war the American people are not in the mood for nation building or additional elective overseas military operations without a defined, short-term duration.
Adding to this is a growing understanding that we are well past point where the post-WWII, post-Cold War, post-post-Cold War need/want/desire to garrison large numbers of forces ashore in foreign lands makes any sense. Inertia no longer overrides the reality that these nations are more than capable of defending themselves without ten to hundreds of thousands of Americans garrisoned like mercenaries to do their fighting for them. We don’t need to be isolationist, just a friend they can call on; a friend who lives in his own house.
If they need our help once they are fully engaged, then we can help them. Germany, Japan, and Korea are not weak nations. We are not an empire, nor a nation that needs to send its young abroad as mercenaries for hire by rich and lazy nations too busy to properly defend themselves.
As an maritime nation whose land borders relatively small and friendly nations – one would think that an emerging Strategic reset would favor a homeland based, flexible, expeditionary mindset – one with a bias towards using air and sea power to project national will and assist our friends as needed. The emerging economic and global security reality is tailor made for the Navy Marine Corps team along with parts of the Air Force skill set.
For some reason though – it doesn’t look that people in the “right” circles are buying what we’re selling. The recently released released report by the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is a data point telling us that our core power-projection force structure and the tools that make it possible are seen as easy-picking for the budget battles to come.
It is easy to dismiss as yesterday’s news the recommendations of the commission – but don’t. Generally considered DOA by the press – its ideas are far from dead. Busy people take other people’s ideas.
If you want to get an understanding of what suited establishment Washington DC thinks we should look in the defense budget for savings to close the budget gap – it would be helpful to start with the commission.
Like all human endeavors, politics and budgetary maneuvers will default to the path that requires the least amount of work. If you can steal someone’s idea that is good enough, then you can move your billable hours on to other things. Knowing the intellectual borrowing that goes on, one needs to take a serious look at and be prepared to respond to each part of the commission’s recommendations in case they gain a second life under a different name.
As outlined earlier, I don’t see very many other options than moving away from the static, Cold War, quasi-imperial mindset of garrisoning forces globally, and towards a more flexible, homeland-based expeditionary mindset better suited for a mercantile representative republic. We need mobile, quick, and flexible forces that give you the ability to create desired effects globally where needed. Along with certain parts of the Army’s light forces, and Air Force logistical and long-range air; that skill-set is a crown jewel of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Strangely, with the list of recommended cuts, not only does the commission go after the archaic overseas garrisoning of ground forces which is part of our problem – they go after the heart of our future expeditionary capabilities embodied with the Marine Corps – which weakens the solution and leaves us with the question; how do we get where with what?
Review paras 44-48. They recommend:
- End procurement of the V-22.
- Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
- Substitute F-16 & F/A-18Es for half of the F-35 buys.
- Cancel the USMC version of the F-35.
- Cancel the Future Maritime Prepositioning Force and abandon sea-basing.
Ponder that for a moment. Just as an example, because the Navy is building an amphibious fleet to Tiffany standards such that it does not want to close within 25nm, we would also find ourselves without the possibility of getting to the shore … therefore …. Tiffany must get close. Close with a fragile logistics tail and sketchy top-cover.
Paint; corner – some assembly required.
That isn’t the story. The story the fact that the Navy Marine-Corp team has failed to make the sale to decision makers.
Why? There are a few possible reasons to consider: one messaging and the other programmatic.
From a messaging stand point, the results are clear: we have failed to consistently, clearly, and credibly describe what the Navy-Marine Corps team brings to the table. If we had, there would not have been a feeling that you could get rid of all the equipment that makes power projection possible.
Why have we failed in the messaging dept?
- The Maritime Strategy is unclear, ineffective, and seen as irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. When looking forward, our maritime strategy documents should be Ref. A. They are not. That is probably part of the problem, for reasons I covered over at my home blog over three years ago.
- Selling the Navy-Marine Corp team’s capabilities has not been a priority. Well, we know it isn’t the # 1 priority, and when you review the Navy’s latest speeches and press releases, you don’t see that story being told. If you don’t tell everyone your story, no one will. The Marines have done a good job, but they need the Navy to work with them – though they may say differently, they cannot do this alone.
If the problem isn’t messaging, then is the problem programmatic?
- When it comes to the programs we have invested our intellectual and political capital in over the last decade – where are the major successful programs that we can use to increase our credibility? DDG-1000? LCS? ACS? LPD-17? You can argue that the LEWIS & CLARK T-AKE, VIRGINIA SSN, P-8, and Riverine have been a success, but besides the VIRGINIA none of those are above the fold programs.
- How many times have we heard senior leadership go in front of Congress to say “313?” How many here actually believed that was achievable? How many here thought that those in uniform saying “313” to Congress didn’t believe it was achievable either? What does that do to credibility inside and outside? When you lose credibility, eventually no one takes anything you say seriously.
If everything is critical; nothing is critical. If you say “313″ when you know it isn’t achievable – then why should you be believed when you say something else is a must? If none of the things you said about DDG-1000, LCS, LPD-17 or other programs worked out well – then why should someone invest effort in believing what you say about the F-35B?
Read carefully the cuts recommended. Long after this commission is forgotten, their ideas will be re-cycled a few times.
Don’t expect them to go away. Our nation is under an exceptional fiscal crisis of our own creation, and will be for the next couple decades. Europe is about 5-10 years ahead of us in this regard. Look what has happened to their military budget over the last few years. It will happen here.
We are about to see even more change in senior leadership for the Navy-Marine Corps team. The primary challenge for that leadership isn’t so much to manage decline – but to repair our ability to communicate to decision makers and the taxpayer so they know what they are buying for their national security buck.
They will need to speak clearly, with credibility, and with a message that is consistent in the YouTube age where anyone can get what you said 6-months ago and repeat it with what you said yesterday. Promote creative friction. Re-build a strategic concept that makes sense and is heavy on reality and light on the “crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years.”
They will need to make hard choices – get rid of billets that are not essential. Slash Staff redundancy. Lead personnel cuts from the front through larger than average cuts in Flag Officer and SES billets. Make Shore scream in pain before you demand more from Sailors at Sea. Demand from program managers performance we demand from COs. Focus on the affordable evolutionary vice the sexy revolutionary. Revisit the Cruiser development between WWI & WWII, the guided missile program of the ’50s and ’60s, and Aegis for benchmarks. Take out all the dirty laundry from DDG-1000, LCS, and LPD-17 so we can see it and smell it – and by example – not repeat those mistakes. That will help programmatics. Oh, sure it cost him a star – but review VADM Connelly’s record as well.
Ponder and prepare. Something must go. Find a counter argument, or lose. The game is afoot.
Sebastian Abbott from the AP had a nice article from AFG last week that got me pondering again on what the Navy is missing that the Marines and Army are receiving by the metric ton; combat experience. Outside SEALS, SEABEEs, and a few other specialized units – for all intents and purposes our Navy has not been stressed by prolonged, direct combat with the enemy during this conflict. FRP and presence ops are not combat.
This is what got my attention – after nine years of continual combat, even a learning institution such as the US Marines are still relearning fundamentals;
The Marines patrolling through the green fields and tall mud compounds of Helmand province’s Sangin district say they are literally in a race for their lives. They are trying to adjust their tactics to outwit Taliban fighters, who have killed more coalition troops here than in any other Afghan district this year.
“As a new unit coming in, you are at a distinct disadvantage because the Taliban have been fighting here for years, have established fighting positions and have laid the ground with a ton of IEDs,” said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “You have to evolve quickly because you have no other choice.”
Despite the previous occupants, the Marines who pushed out with Ceniceros that fateful afternoon said they didn’t realize how dangerous the mud compounds to the south of the base were until the Taliban unleashed a stream of machine-gun fire, pinning down two Marines.
“We kind of snuck our nose in the south to see what the south was about and we found out real quick that you don’t go south unless you have a lot of dudes,” said Sgt. Adam Keliipaakaua, who was leading the patrol.
All the services have history departments, they have recommended reading lists, they teach military history at the Service Academies and War Colleges – but does it sink in where it need to sink in the most, in the places where decisions are made on how to train, equip, and otherwise prepare this nation for war?
There are few things in this line of work that can bring clarity to the mind more than actual combat. It has always been true that at the end of a conflict a military has a fairly good handle on what works and what does not. True in 1945 in Europe and the Pacific, 1972 in Vietnam, and 2008 in Iraq.
After a war winds down though, the rough concensus starts to break down as the second guessing takes place, the think tanks start overthinking, and some advocates do a better job than others in selling their version of victory. That starts the process of separation of what is needed, and what is wanted.
The unsexy and difficult tend to be starved or forgotten in time. New and upproven theories come to the front in a time of peace with the promise to go around the unsexy and difficult to make war all shiny and new – or better yet, distract from the requirements of the unsexy and difficult, as only in peace can you get away with ignoring the sexy and difficult things such as logistics, damage control, and young men holding ground with a rifle.
The problem is less the cliche of “Fighting the last war” as much as forgetting what happened during the last war. Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s central theme of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam is in a large part the question of the degree our military is a learning institution. Unlike peacetime where a PPT or White Paper can avoid the hard truth of reality if sponsored well – in combat, the truth comes out through blood and treasure.
The wars of the last decade have been land wars and the ground services, Army and Marines, have had to learn more than the air and sea services. Just the nature of the war. Though there are many – some of the Lessons Learned/Identified are not new at all. No, they are things that were learned and written in blood decades earlier- but forgotten in the ease of peace. Just a few examples from the ground side of the house.
- RPG cages/Slat armor: Plenty of pictures of them on Strykers and other armored vehicles now, but not so starting early on in this war. The RPG dates back to WWII, so you can’t say their impact on light armor is a new issue. When RPGs became common in Vietnam, we put our 113′s in cages of one type or another. Very effective – and very forgotten. Like the next example, lives were lost, memories came for the fore, redneck engineering held the line until official production – and now we have them again. No excuse.
- Unarmored HUMVEEs/MRAP: All you needed to know about their need was learned and forgotten in Somalia. Israel and Apartheid South African experiences spanning decades also gave clues. The story by now is well known – as it was on 10 SEP 01. No excuse.
- Inadequacy of the M-16/M-4 and its varmint round, the .223/5.56mm: Tired but true argument. All discussion should have ended when the M-14 was brought out of storage wholesale mid-decade and serious talk came up towards a 6.5/6.8mm round – but the G4 guys seem to have beat the G3 guys, again, on this with a classic bureaucratic holding actin – sadly. Same institutional concept that ignored Gen. Mattis when he was MARCENT and wanted MRAPs for his Marines. The amount of our own countrymen’s blood on the hands of our accountants and non-warfighting Staff Weenies is enough to leave anyone gobsmacked. Back to the subject at hand, I recommend anyone who wants to defend M-16 series talk to MG Robert H. Scales, USA (Ret.). No excuse.
- The joy of armor. I love the Canadian example from AFG on armor, a lot. It isn’t that they didn’t learn the lessons – it is just they learned the wrong lessons. Too much peacekeeping since the end of the Korean War and the lost perspective from the end of garrison duty in Germany after the Cold War had left the Canadians within a year of getting rid of all their tracked armor. They also let the wrong people run their internal national messaging – tanks are symbols of masculine militarism, etc. When reality squatted on their national bellybutton picking, they just had a few Leopard 1s left. It didn’t’ take long for the Canadian dead from AFG to scream for tanks, as the reality of combat brought the unique skill-set of the tank to the front. Where do we find our Canadian brothers now? With a nice gaggle of Leopard A2s. They also are bringing back the CH-47. No excuse.
- Irreplaceable tracked vehicle: In the same line as the Canadian idea – we too had fallen in love with the wheeled vehicle. They have their place – but are not all things for all places. Strykers are great as long as you don’t, ahem, have to worry about IED – but if you can’t leave the road to engage the enemy or get away from a kill zone – then all you are is a death trap. We mostly knew that —- but this still makes the cut because there was a growing school that wanted to get rid of all tracks – they are still around – experience in the field says you can’t …. again.
- The gun on aircraft (USAF): Everyone knows the story from Vietnam, but as we can see with the USMC & Navy’s version of the F-35, we have not learned the importance of the gun as well as the USAF (gunpods don’t count). Infantry always enjoys a good strafing run – but recently it has also come to the attention of the COIN crowd that the aircraft cannon is a very precise and discriminating weapon. No GPS coord problems or laser designation challenges. No excessive explosions. Man in the loop accountability.
- Infantry: You never have enough infantry: Enough said. What is less sexy to a peace time green eyeshade number cruncher than a guy with a rifle in his hand? They are a pain until you have to go to war – then all of a sudden you remember that the Marines may have something there; everyone a rifleman. Talk to the Army non-infantry types who have done nothing but infantry work.
To forget and to wish away; this is human nature – and it is unavoidable. Things are forgotten either by neglect or intention – and when conflict comes, people are killed, battles are lost, and if you forget something bad enough – your nation is put at Strategic Risk because in the comfort of peace things were forgotten for the wrong reasons.
The longer you go between conflicts, the wider the gulf seems to be between what is needed and what is actually there when you show up. As it has been a very long time since the US Navy has been challenged at sea, the experience of the Army and Marines had me thinking, “What are the half-dozen problems waiting for us when war at sea comes?”
Oh, it will come – I don’t know when, and I don’t know with whom – but it will come. There are some things out there that we don’t know that will work well and others won’t. That is why you can’t put all your hopes in one system – you might have picked the lemon. There are, however, somethings that we will have no excuse for forgetting. History is too clear – the gaps too obvious to ignore. These are some of the known knowns.
- Damage Control: COLE, PRINCETON, TRIPOLI, STARK, FORRESTAL, ENTERPRISE and the whole British experience in The Falklands War demonstrate that automated DC is a myth and pipe dream. Destruction has its own plan. There is one critical thing you need to save a damaged ship and fight hurt; manpower. Multiple DC teams. Optimal manning is only good in a permissive peace time environment when you don’t have to deploy for more than a few weeks. Manning for ships such as LCS will make them a one hit wonder. They take one hit, and you’ll wonder what happened to them. Taking away DDG manning to such obsurd levels – including the DDG-1000 manning concept – and you will simply wonder, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” When we worry a lot about at-sea manning while our shore staffs bloat – you need to wonder if we are a serious, warfighting institution.
- Underway replenishment. Is there anything less sexy than an oiler? Follow the link and look at Hooper’s article here. Worth a deeper ponder.
- Organic refueling. So, does buddy tanking from one light strike fighter to another light strike fighter make you feel comfortable about our ability to project significant power ashore while keeping the CVN a healthy distance away? Do you really think we will always have USAF tankers based close to where we need to be to support us? Really? Fewer shorter range light strike fighters with their CVN closer to shore. Really? Speaking of unsexy, think the C-2 will last forever? Really? Who is doing your ASW again?
- Numbers in the game of ASW: You always … always … run short of platforms and weapons. Once the shooting starts and people start seeing submarines under every herring pod – check your Light Weight Torpedo inventory. If for some, ahem, reason your peace time LWT training and testing wasn’t what it should have been for the expected targets and environment, and they don’t work – what is your back-up weapon? How many SSN do you have, and they are doing what where? No excuse here at all. From WWII to the Falklands history is screaming at us, again – no excuse.
- NSFS: Anything less than 5″ is an insult and an embarrassment. Not archaic – ask anyone from the Falklands to Five-Inch Friday about it – again. Talk to the Marines what they think about a single mount 57mm gun with a non-functioning NLOS onboard as their NSFS.
- Redundancy in offensive and defensive weaponry: Back to the ASW example in part and a review of your standard issue WWII DD or DE. Ever wonder why they had so many different types of weapons – and so many? Well – in combat, things break or get broken – different types of targets are better addressed by different weapons. There are no training time outs in combat. A little close to the modern timelines … there was a reason certain warships were on the gun line off Vietnam and others weren’t. Numbers are hard from a PMS and manning perspective – but no one wants to be an O-ring or golden BB away from being Not-Mission-Capable when people are trying to kill you and a few hundred of your shipmates.
There, that is my dirty half-dozen of things that can/will be a problem due to neglect and complacency in peace. Your list may be different.
We should know the lessons of history, but are we applying them? I firmly believe that the Transformationalists are good people who are trying to find a better way – but they are putting too much on hope and not enough on critical thinking about practical matters. When you tell people your Amphibious Ships are too valuable to get close enough to shore to put Marines ashore – your idea of NSFS is a single 57mm gun and a few dozen missiles so bad the Army doesn’t want them – your open ocean ASW plans involve remotely piloted center consol fishing boats – and you tell people with a straight face that a Graf Spee sized warship with a huge superstructure radiating like there is no tomorrow within visual range of shore is “Stealthy” – then we should stop, pause, and reflect.
When our Fleet is challenged at sea again, will a modern day nautically-minded Tallyrand say of those who designed the Navy, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.“?