The following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) T. Holland McCabe and is published as submitted. This is the second of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.
In line with Vice Admiral Rowden’s model of distributed lethality for the surface navy, today’s changing maritime security environment will require a shift in the core focus of the composition of our fleet. Distributed lethality demands that “if it floats, it fights,” according to N96 Director Rear Admiral Peter Fanta. To adequately meet modern challenges, the Navy must invest in a more robust fleet composed of a larger number of small surface combatants (SSCs), in addition to the traditional capital ships. Over 50 years ago, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt first made the same argument in respect to the role of destroyers in the 1960’s Navy. In a 1962 Proceedings article, then-Captain Zumwalt argued for a mix of “complex” and “simplified” mainstream surface combatant designs. Later as Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Zumwalt continued to implement his vision of what has since been called the “high-low” mix of a variety of platforms intended to keep the Navy equally capable in the high-intensity environment of full-scale war, and in the low-intensity peacetime operations of maritime security and partnership building. For a variety of reasons, today’s surface navy remains composed mainly of the “complex” mainstream Zumwalt described as, “the exotic upper spectrum destroyers, which make the heart of every true destroyermen skip a beat.” In 2015, a variety of traditional and non-traditional threats faces the surface navy, and a more diverse surface fleet is needed to meet these challenges.
SSCs may not have the firepower or survivability of the fleet’s larger assets, but they provide a fiscally-responsible solution to a wide spectrum of modern threats and missions. Many day-to-day naval operations fall within the “simplified” spectrum of operations Zumwalt described, and increasingly the constant presence of forward-deployed naval forces is becoming more important to building and maintaining international partnerships. SSCs such as Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Patrol Coastal ships (PC), and inexpensive, low-tech platforms like Joint High Speed Vehicle (JHSV) and Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) are perfect candidates to be the primary assets in the Navy’s “simplified” mainstream. In times of peace they can provide a persistent, forward maritime presence without the large political footprint of traditional capital ships. In modern asymmetrical engagements they can operate in confined areas commanders may be unable to send larger platforms, or perform missions commanders may be reluctant to dedicate to a more expensive capital ship. Across the range of military operations, distributed lethality can only be administered by including SSCs in the high-low mix of distributed capability.
The message of distributed lethality – that the surface navy is once again on the offensive in a leading role – is a welcome message to a prospective division officer. That being said, the Navy’s acquisition budget will be severely constrained in coming years by programs like the Ford-class carrier, the carrier-based F-35C strike fighter, Flight III of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and the monumental Ohio-replacement. Debate and discussion has focused largely on how the Navy will overcome the budgetary challenges of these projects, all of which are high-end, high-cost assets. Relatively little discussion has focused on how the Navy will continue to meet the variety of low-end missions it faces day to day, the solution to which the author believes to be low-cost SSCs. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert recently acknowledged that the Navy is facing extreme budgetary constraints in the coming decades, and “repurposing and reusing existing capabilities” will be the way forward to keep the Navy capable of meeting operational demands.
More than changing mentalities and repurposing existing assets, new platforms and force structures must be developed to keep capabilities distributed across the surface fleet to meet the full potential of the distributed lethality concept. SSCs must continue to have a prioritized place in the future ship building budget in order for the Navy to maintain its forward presence and alleviate the burden of low-intensity peacetime maritime security operations from high-end surface ships. LCS has fixed its importance with the recent re-designation of later hull numbers to an up-gunned Fast Frigate (FF) configuration, as well as its innovative mission modules. However innovation inevitably comes with the price of delays, cost overruns, and growing pains as design flaws are corrected. To this end, programs like JHSV, AFSB, and a renewed PC fleet using proven, current designs can produce excellent returns on the initial investment. SSCs represent the best intersection between capability and cost in the current maritime environment. In a quick comparison, the recent Proceedings article, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” highlighted that a fleet of PCs is roughly comparable in size to the crew of a current DDG, operates at a cheaper cost, and requires less port infrastructure to operate. If current geopolitical trends are anything to go by, the littorals represent the most-likely location of any future maritime conflict. Large carrier and expeditionary strike groups are still vital to the core capabilities of the Navy, but too often assets from these high-value units are relegated to tasking that could more efficiently carried out by smaller craft at a significantly reduced cost.
Platforms like JHSV and AFSB have avoided most of the costs of innovation by simply not being terribly innovative in the individual systems they utilize. What they do present is a cheap platform that can mount a variety of weapon systems and equipment. Everything from electromagnetic railguns, to mine warfare drones and aircraft, to small Marine detachments can be embarked aboard JHSV or AFSB. Additionally, a variety of platforms exist that could be acquired to augment or replace the existing PC fleet. Corvette-type vessels are a favorite among many navies around the world, and an excellent candidate to augment the PC fleet has already been developed and produced in the U.S. under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Egyptian Navy Ambassador IV-class patrol craft was developed and produced in Mississippi by VT Halter Marine, and uses existing sensors and weapon systems to produce a powerful small combatant. Indeed, this article is not the first to advocate for the acquisition of the Ambassador-IV, or some other corvette-equivalent to augment the U.S. Navy’s littoral operations, but it is worth mentioning again. The Ambassador-IV possesses up to eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a large 76mm cannon, rolling airframe missiles, and a Phalanx close-in weapon system. While this vessel actually outguns the LCS while remaining smaller and cheaper, it is again not the perfect solution for the Navy’s low-intensity missions. Keeping distributed capability in mind, a mix of vessels can provide a wide, cheap baseline across a variety of missions that LCS’s modularity can augment depending on emerging threats. A future forward deployed task group composed of JHSVs carrying Marine raider units, AFSBs engaging in mine countermeasures, PCs conducting maritime security operations, and LCSs capable of supporting any one of these missions could be an incredibly capable force for a significantly reduced cost compared to a traditional carrier or expeditionary strike group.
Many senior Navy leaders recognize the importance of building partnerships and engaging regional powers to advance American interests. To this end, a number of current Navy operations are centered on conducting bilateral and multilateral training with foreign partners. The first rotational deployments of LCS to Singapore have already demonstrated the capability of SSCs to be highly effective tools of U.S. foreign policy, participating in a number of Combined Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises in 2013, with more planned in the coming year. Increasing the number of forward deployed LCS to four in Singapore and four in the Persian Gulf in the coming years will be a step in the right direction, but more platforms creates a more persistent presence. Despite modular mission packages, the planned flexibility of LCS seems like a much more remote reality. Each LCS hull remains limited to conducting a single mission at any given time, and must return to port to exchange modules. The nature of mission modules themselves makes them less than optimal as the sole solution to low-end operations, as each module requires dedicated manning and training that goes unused when the module is not deployed, and each crew must undergo work-up training to integrate a new mission module. 3-2-1 manning somewhat mitigates this drawback, but LCS’s flexibility is increasingly looking like a slower-adapting, strategic advantage capable of responding to theater-wide trends, rather than a fine-tuned tactical advantage. LCS can remain the premier, scalable asset for low-intensity operations, but other platforms like a new PC, JHSV, and AFSB have the potential to fill gaps in LCS’s mission coverage.
Forward-deployed minesweepers (MCM) and PCs have provided similar international engagement and maritime presence abroad in other parts of the world. For several years MCMs have been operating closely with foreign nations in the Persian Gulf and in the waters off East Asia. In the past months, several large mine countermeasures exercises concluded in Bahrain, Korea, and Japan. In Bahrain, the 2014 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise was the largest mine warfare exercise in the world and was hosted by U.S. Fifth Fleet. MCMs were in a leading role building partnerships for all of these exercises. In a recent Proceedings article, several officers who have served in the PC community highlighted the advantages of SSCs for building international trust and cooperation as “an unobtrusive and complementary member of the local civilian and maritime community.” Capital ships carrying large caliber guns and dozens of missiles, or fleets of amphibious assault vehicles and hundreds of marines, can be an intimidating presence the U.S. may not always want to project. The same article points to the vital maritime security operations the PC fleet is currently conducting among the oil fields and merchant traffic in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Southeast Asian archipelagoes and sea lanes present another environment ideal for SSC operations. Roughly 40% of world trade passes transits the Malacca Straits alone each year. Local navies are rapidly expanding, mainly with SSCs of their own, to police this lucrative trade and assert the bewildering number of competing maritime claims in the region. As China asserts greater power in the region, so too should the U.S. make its presence felt with more than four rotationally-deployed LCSs and several larger ships.
Lastly, and closer to the author’s concerns as one of the newest junior officers in the Navy, SSCs provide great leadership responsibilities on junior sailors who are pushed to step into roles generally above their pay-grades. Again, this point has been raised in Proceedings by other officers, but it is worth mentioning again. From enlisted sailors pushed to take on the responsibilities of non-traditional positions, such as standing officer of the deck, to junior officers placed in command, SSCs provide invaluable experience to upcoming generations of Naval leadership. Early Command has been one of the hallmarks of the surface navy – no other designator provides so much responsibility so early in an officer’s career – and this opportunity should be given to more officers who seek it.
As the Navy moves forward into an increasingly complex political and fiscal environment, the service as a whole should do well to remember 50-year-old advice from a former service chief. Admiral Zumwalt’s high-low mix of distributed capabilities must be considered to bring the new doctrine of distributed lethality to its fullest potential. While this article advocates for the place of SSCs in budgetary and strategic discussions, do not mistake that the author seeks to discount the “complex” portion of distributed capability at all, simply that they not be the sole focus. Both sides must exist in a balance for the Navy to operate effectively against the wide range of modern challenges.
 Sydney Freedberg, “’If It Floats, It Fights’: Navy Seeks ‘Distributed Lethality,’” Breaking Defense, 14 January 2015, accessed 13 April 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2015/01/if-it-floats-it-fights-navy-seeks-distributed-lethality/.
 CAPT Zumwalt, “A Course for Destroyers,” Proceedings 88 (November 1962).
 While not necessarily combatant vessels, for the purposes of brevity this article will generally combine all “low-end” assets like JHSV and AFSB with references to dedicated small combatants when referring to “SSCs.”
 VADM Rowden, RADM Gumataotao, RADM Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings 141 (January 2015).
 ADM Greenert, “Service Chiefs’ Update Panel,” 2015 Sea Air Space Exposition, National Harbor, MD, 13 April 2015.
 LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).
 Luke Tarbi, “US Navy Needs Fast Missile Craft – And LCS – in Persian Gulf,” Breaking Defense, 14 April 2014, accessed 16 April 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/us-navy-needs-fast-missile-craft-and-lcs-in-persian-gulf/.
 LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).
Please join us at 5pm (EDT), 2 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
This summer, the terrain shifted in the long war that we thought we needed to bring back one of our regular guests, Bill Roggio, to discuss in detail for the full hour.
Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.
As the Iran nuclear debate rages in the halls of Congress and the backrooms of Sepah’s leadership, skeptics point to this agreement as another piece of evidence that proves the United States (US) has lost its way in foreign policy. Meanwhile, they contend China has not only jockeyed into position as the clear cut number two world power in an increasingly multipolar system, but is arguably squaring off with the United States to ascend to pole position. Projections indicate that China stands to surpass the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within a decade, a startling outlook as the US plunges deeper into debt. With this follows US trepidation in terms of economic and military power as China continues to expand its physical territory on islands in the Pacific and establish diplomatic agreements elsewhere in the world. The ongoing pivot, or rebalancing of resources, assets and military forces to Pacific Command (PACOM) places the focus of the world’s dominant military force squarely on Chinese motive and intention.
How the United States and China avoid outright conflict, or the dynamic Graham Allison has termed Thucydides Trap, merits a closer examination of historical lessons of statecraft in order to deal with challenges unprecedented in scale. There are two lessons of leadership that would prove useful in avoiding escalating conflict between the US and China. First, President Nelson Mandela and his vision for transforming South Africa and charting a new course for his people through and beyond the next generation. His consideration of progress not only drove him to develop policies that would have an immediate impact, but also provide increasing stability beyond the present issues. Second, we can look to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s tasking of capable public servants in critical positions of responsibility during the end of the Cold War and reunification of Germany. There were a variety of challenges to overcome in Europe, yet President Bush had the wisdom and foresight to trust his team as they considered inclusive policy recommendations that incorporated interests on both sides of the equation. Both lessons provide important perspectives for current and future leaders seeking to protect national interests, but also improve stability of the international system in the long-term.
Thucydides Trap and Avoiding Conflict
Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, argues that the US and China ought to seek a way out of what he has termed Thucydides Trap; or the increasing probability of conflict between a dominant power and an ascendant power. Indeed, Chinese President Xi Jingping has embraced this as a goal of Beijing’s foreign policy: “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers … Our aim is to foster a new model of major country relations.” Both Allison and Xi have identified nationalism as an incendiary ingredient that could spark hostilities. This follows the historical lessons from Aristotle and Hobbes to Machiavelli, Niebuhr, and Morgenthau as putting reason and pragmatism above raw emotional drivers.
Similarly, Sino-US relations are disconnected and are growing antagonistic. The antagonism is sponsored in part by the US’s rebalance to PACOM. Dr. Ely Ratner, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security explains: “U.S. efforts to expand its military force posture in Asia, to strengthen security ties with allies and partners, and to enhance the role of regional institutions are viewed by many in Beijing as directly aimed at constraining China’s rise and as the principal cause of regional instability as well as the deterioration of China’s strategic environment.” Ratner goes on to note that China is plagued by an inferiority complex and that Chinese citizens routinely produce low US approval ratings, adding fuel to China’s acrimony. How these social, economic, political, and military factors shape ongoing relations between the two most influential countries in the world requires adept stewardship able to navigate the dangerous waters of national rhetoric and realpolitik competition.
Learning from Historical Precedent
Leaders should be mindful of historical parallels that can inform policies as new generations ascend to positions of influence. Avoiding predominantly raw emotionally driven policy should be of primary concern for leaders in Washington and Beijing as bad policies often emerge under the pressures of unexpected crisis. Existing mechanisms of internal cooperation, public debate, and information exchange should be strengthened to better understand partner motive and intent not only at the leadership level, but among political classes and citizens of both countries. A more thorough understanding of security concerns, education with respect for great power status, steeped in reasonable and rational national interests, are the best remedies to public paranoia, heightened rhetoric, and fear of the unknown.
If the US and China are inevitably moving toward a bi-polar world, lessons from the past can be invaluable in shaping an environment where cooperation and competition coexist. Studying leaders who have successfully managed the complexities of transformation can be useful now and in the future. In Nelson Mandela’s ending of apartheid in South Africa, and George H.W. Bush policy on German reunification, we see two positive examples where consensus, communication, and trust all played a role in shaping positive transformation. More importantly, these policies fostered long term stability in times that could have just as easily trended toward catastrophic upheaval.
South African President Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s legacy in South Africa transcends generations in the same way that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy transcends American lore. The transformation of the country is well known and will not be too detailed here. However, we will consider his critics as their most frequent criticism reflects the importance of time and generational change as it relates to the question of implementing new policies.
John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote an article published in Foreign Policy: “Think Again: Nelson Mandela”. He makes many valid points articulating that South Africa is not the iconic multiracial state that Mandela had set out to create. He highlights the continued segregation:
An astonishing 43.5 percent of South Africans rarely or never speak to someone of another race, according to one 2012 survey. Only about half reported interacting with people of a different race frequently on weekdays, and less than 20 percent regularly socialized with people of other races. As in the United States, racial interaction does increase as you climb the socioeconomic ladder. The black middle class interacts with other races, but largely because whites continue to control the economy. Many of those who rarely speak to people of differing races are rural or township dwellers with limited mobility — people whose social isolation simply mirrors the country’s starkly racial geography.
Apartheid has been abolished yet cultural barriers remain and hinder South Africa’s societal progress. Upbraiding Mandela is unreasonable because historically it takes generations to cure the wounds of violence and oppression. This was true following the US Civil War, and it is arguable that time represents a similar challenge in US-Sino relations. Societal change will not occur over night, over the term of a single PACOM Commander or even one presidency. Refining US-Sino relations will take generations, but action must be taken now to show future generations that partnerships can be built despite previous rivalries.
Nelson Mandela left South Africa with a legacy of peace, equality, economic growth and moral prosperity. Though here, he stands before Sino-US leadership as nothing more than a single model of how historical successes can effectively guide modern decisions. The decisions that we make, for better or for worse, we bequeath to our beneficiaries. Therefore, one of two fates awaits our bipolarizing world: one where we have left our fate to chance by continuing down the path of ignorance; or we learn from our mistakes and break from cyclical patterns of self-destruction.
The Bush Administration and German Unification
At the end of the Cold War there was a high potential for instability over the question of German reunification. Many leaders within East and West Germany were uncertain about the wisdom of bringing together two different states that had coexisted with different economic models, political systems, and divergent trends in development. Much of the public in West Germany was concerned over the prospect of unifying with a less developed East German economic model that would weigh as an anchor on a prosperous and successful West.
Yet President George H.W. Bush threw America’s full support behind the idea of one Germany, and tasked his best and brightest advisors to manage that policy portfolio and complexities of a transformative moment. Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft were supported by a fluid and capable team fully committed to identifying, developing, and managing policy solutions to the concerns of leaders on both sides. Furthermore, behind the scenes reassurance to allies, adversaries, and defining this mutual interest for European powers provided important clarity for everyone involved. Open and honest communication on the big picture importance of a stable and prosperous Germany was not only an interest of the United States and Germany, but one that transcended the two parties to include both Europe and the wider international system.
As we look back through the lens of history, it becomes readily apparent the Bush Administration’s full commitment to the prospect of a stable Germany remains one of the most important case studies of wise statecraft in recent times. Despite surprisingly little fanfare and a careful framing of the debate, with mindful stewardship and inclusion of leaders from all sides, German unity became an interest for the world over. What can be even more appreciated is the lesson of trusting qualified, capable public servants to develop pragmatic, inclusive policies lasting a generation and beyond.
Remaining Stable and Balanced in the 21st Century
Fortunately, anxieties of an absolute American decline are quelled by the prospect that polarization will be jointly US-Sino in makeup. Yan Xuetong, Dean of Institute of Modern International Relations of Tsinghua University in China, substantiates this point that “in the next decade, no country other than China will be able to narrow its power gaps with the US. With the other major powers likely to be left behind farther than ever by both of China and the US, these two giants will probably serve as two poles in the coming world order.” While competition is inevitable in a bipolar world, history has shown that competition can be managed and balanced. Moreover, continued joint prosperity creates an environment where stability becomes a paramount goal for both sides. Stewards must be capable of managing lesser disputes before they spiral out of proportion and escalate into outright conflict. Provided the shift in global poles is an unstoppable force, the next generation of leadership in Washington and Beijing must make pragmatic application of historical lessons a top priority.
Last month, the People’s Liberation Army Navy held its first drill simulating the resupply of missiles in a combat environment. Live-fire exercises featured the firing of missiles and torpedoes, followed by maritime missile combat resupply. In addition to developing advanced new anti-ship missiles, the PLAN has also commissioned a new maritime logistics vessel. The PLAN is equipping its forces, and now rehearsing, for complex logistical coordination for sustained combat operations. At-sea replenishment of stores and fuel is routine for the United States. However, for all of its power projection capability, the Navy does not practice ordnance resupply. Given the increasing capabilities of the PLAN, and the imperative of Sea Basing, the US Navy must replenish this skillset.
Distributed Lethality calls for the surface fleet to go on the offensive. Ships and Surface Action Groups (SAG) should operate forward, seize the initiative, confuse the adversary through battlespace complexity, and strike targets both at sea and ashore. But to carry out this strategy, surface ships face a critical limitation: munitions capacity. The primary weapons of large surface combatants like the ARLEIGH BURKE Class DDG and the TICONDEROGA Class Cruiser include the STANDARD missile, Tomahawk, Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket (VLA), and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Those missiles are launched from the Vertical Launching System (VLS). Cruisers have 122 cells, Flight I and II DDGs have 90, and Flight IIA DDG have 96.
The specific quantities of each weapon loaded into VLS cells vary depending on mission and combat system configuration. Fully loaded, the large surface combatants pack quite a wallop, and are capable of destroying a broad array of aircraft, missiles, defended land targets and enemy warships. What they lack is magazine depth. 90 to 122 VLS cells is not enough. In the face of the sophisticated weapons that the PLAN has deployed to execute it anti-access strategy, one could easily conceive of scenarios where both the strike and defensive weapons’ cells on USN ships are quickly depleted. A day or two of combat operations may require several anti-aircraft weapons to be used against anti-ship cruise missiles and Tomahawks to be fired at targets ashore. After such operations, U.S. ships would have to travel hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of miles to a facility with weapons, equipment and people to re-arm. This takes our large surface combatants out of the fight for days, thus forcing the CSG and SAG to pull back, out of range of land-based opposing forces. That spells tactical victory for anti-access strategy.
Defeating the anti-access strategy may not require breaking into the defended bastion, destroying opposing forces, and commanding the seas right up to their shores. It could mean defending a regional status quo by preventing an anti-access actor from disrupting shipping, making claims on disputed territory, or invading another sovereign state. In many cases, the United States is the anti-access state. Today, credible military capability and capacity to impose localized sea control could make an aggressive violation of status quo undesirable. Maintaining credible presence is a multi-faceted problem that touches everything: procurement, maintenance, manpower, and supply-chain. In order to counter these anti-access strategies, we must keep our major surface combatants on station with full combat capability through forward replenishment of weapons.
Unloading spent canisters, loading new weapons, and unloading weapons from damaged units will be critical to maintaining presence and keeping the pressure on adversaries in their anti-access bastions. Unfortunately, reloading VLS at-sea isn’t incorporated into the Navy’s logistical DNA in the same way refueling is. Reloading VLS cells in today’s status quo demands an industrially robust port facility with heavy equipment, trained rigging crews, and a large munitions storage facility. It is not uncommon to damage equipment, and people have been seriously injured during VLS loading and unloading evolutions. Experts at the Naval Weapons Stations and some Naval Support Facilities use cranes to unload spent canisters, move gas management system equipment, and place loaded canisters in cells. Can the Navy achieve similar results, sending ships back into action with fresh ammo, from more forward but less capable locations?
To begin with, “at-sea reloading” is a misleading term. Swinging VLS canisters over the lifelines in comparable fashion to how it is accomplished at Seal Beach Weapons Station is not acceptable for Replenishment at Sea (RAS) at 13 knots. Since reloading during RAS is unachievable, I propose “forward” reloading, in a protected lagoon or calm harbor closer to the action. While out of the way locations may lack modern industrial equipment, many locations, with additional mobile support, could be used to reload magazines closer to the action.
A great deal of research and planning went into supporting supply chain management like this from 1897-1945, when Officers at Naval War College and OPNAV examined how to sail to victory against the Japanese Navy. Possible base locations were evaluated based on criteria such as ship capacity, number of entry passes, entry draft, and submarine protection to support operations in the Pacific Theater. Key requirements such as having a large lagoon and deep drafts were easily met. The Navy may be able to use islands and atolls that failed to satisfy the early 20th Century requirements for forward operating for VLS reloading. Availability of numerous forward locations prevents bottlenecks, and reduces the vulnerability to enemy disruption. It is important to explore the feasibility of forward locations for VLS reloading. Crisis or time of war makes rapid munitions replenishment critical. A strategy that accepts greater risk will need to be employed. A pier that lacks every convenience except navigational draft, a calm anchorage, or even the lee of a volcanic formation far out at sea may be sufficient for VLS reloading. We should plan for using these feasible locations for VLS reloading before a crisis emerges.
Tomahawks, SM-3 and SM-6 missile canisters are over 20 feet long, weigh thousands of pounds, and are filled with fuel and explosives. They’re hard to pick up, and you certainly can’t risk dropping them. What will ships need to do to execute a transfer away from the robust facilities that normally conduct these operations?
Cruisers and Flight I and II Destroyers previously used a VLS strike-down crane that occupied space for 3 VLS cells. These had been certified to reload SM-2 missiles and Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rockets (VLA). Maintenance burden and crew training requirements, combined with the inability to reload some of the larger weapons in the inventory, led to the strike-down crane’s exclusion from Flight IIA Destroyers. The cranes have since been permanently laid up or completely removed from VLS systems.[i] Simply replacing those cranes is not a solution since they would require extensive redesign and engineering to load Tomahawk, SM-3, and SM-6 missiles. Rather than adding equipment to the CG and DDGs, the Navy could explore options to deliver the necessary equipment to the ship in conjunction with the missile transfer.
The size of the missiles and the distances replenishing units must cover preclude airborne delivery. The existing fleet of replenishment ships is a natural options for VLS rearming. For instance, The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) has an open deck with ample room for containers and handling gear. Combined with low freeboard, and excellent low-speed maneuvering characteristics, it appears to be a useful platform for skin-to-skin mooring and weapons transfer. The MLP lacks dedicated magazine space and ordnance handling equipment, so development of ordnance storage containers and associated safety equipment would be necessary.
The T-AKE dry cargo and ammunition ship has ample ordnance storage capacity, however a high freeboard and large midship superstructure increases the risk of damaging mast electronics on the receiving ship during transfer operations. Moreover, though the T-AKE does have a crane, neither it nor the receiving ship has a crane capable of safely swinging VLS canisters across to set into VLS cells.
VLS reloading in sea states 1-2 is a critical requirement. During a routine RAS evolution, relative motion can exceed several feet, but during VLS reloading, the relative motion between delivery and receiving ships cannot exceed 6 inches. It will be necessary to maintain complete control of the missiles during transfer, not simply gauge the motion and use judgment to set it into place safely. Current research indicates that a specialized crane with a stabilizing system would be the best way to not only transfer missiles from one ship to the other, but to prepare the cells for ordnance. A crane with a stabilization system is the only way to ensure gas management equipment can be safely and securely placed, and that damage to cell openings and door mechanisms can be avoided while inserting loaded missile canisters into VLS cells.
While the stabilized crane helps, the best way to ensure the weapons are safely lowered into place is with a positive-control system, secured to the ship. Navies that operate the MK 41 system have experimented with developmental systems to perform this task. Prior to lifting canisters, the delivering ship would hoist a loading device and set it atop the launcher. This device would be used to pull canisters up from the cells, then lay them flat, parallel to the deck. The missiles would be secured to the crane and released from the loading device for transfer to the replenishment ship. Then, replacement missiles would be craned back to the CG or DDG, secured in place on the loading mechanism, then raised vertically for loading into the VLS.
The use of a stabilized crane and secure loading system would ensure the careful control and transfer of missiles between ships, and is essential for VLS reloading in forward areas.
A final key consideration for VLS reloading that could consume another paper by itself is ensuring enough ordnance is on hand to support ongoing operations. Requirements emerge from data models, and missiles are procured and maintained based on assumptions of potential combat regions and the threats that could be encountered there. As a conflict evolves, ships will request the missiles they need based on their combat usage, or the missions to which they’ll next be assigned. Careful tracking of what is being fired and what is being reloaded will be necessary to ensure Combatant Commanders know their inventories so that they may transfer ordnance or ships from one region to another to support combat requirements.
The speed that ordnance information must travel will increase dramatically relative to the current peacetime information deliver rate. Exercises and war gaming of these scenarios will undoubtedly prepare for the people and ordnance tracking systems for wartime speed and complexity. Weapons stations will be issuing weapons to replenishment ships, DDGs and CGs will be demanding reload, damaged vessels will need to transfer weapons to combat ready ships, and the entire system must be tuned to put the right missiles on the right ships and in the correct cells. In total, it will be a fast-paced, hectic process likely involving significant improvisation. Keeping count, maintaining order, and reloading VLS cells must be practiced, and there is more to the weapons supply chain than just cranes and rigging gear. The difference between the right munitions at the right time and a miscalculation or misplacement could be a crew watching the screen helplessly for a couple of terrifying minutes until an anti-ship missile reaches CIWS range because STANDARD missiles were not available for reload.
Forward VLS reloading: It can be done
Technologies to facilitate forward reloading of VLS are mature, but the Navy has no stated requirement for integration, testing, and certification of specific equipment needed to support it. Funding for further development of the at-sea (or forward) reloading capability will be a hard sell in the current budget environment, and because the current peacetime status quo is satisfactory.
The proliferation of guided anti-ship weapons, and the rise of PLAN anti-access strategy have driven the US Surface Navy to adopt a Distributed Lethality mindset. To keep more warships on station for as long as possible, losing a DDG in the midst of combat to conduct a multi-day transit just for rearming is not acceptable. To paraphrase Eisenhower: plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Funding for final implementation of forward reloading systems may not seem worth the expense today, but it is critical to supporting Distributed Lethality warfighting. Forward reloading of VLS cells is a technical, operational, and supply chain challenge, and it must remain a priority for research & development, war gaming, and strategic planning processes for it to ever be employed successfully in wartime.
 Ben Blanchard, “China Navy Holds First Missile Combat Resupply Drill,” Reuters, July 2, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/02/us-china-defence-drill-idUSKCN0PC19H20150702
 Mike Yeo, “China Commissions First MLP-Like Logistics Ship, Headed for South Sea Fleet” USNI News, July 14, 2015, http://news.usni.org/2015/07/14/chinas-commissions-first-mlp-like-logistics-ship-headed-for-south-sea-fleet
 Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao, Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings (1/2015), http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality
 Rowden, Gumataotao, and Fanta.
 Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. Naval Institute Press, 1991.
[i] Before decrying the removal of the knuckle crane for criminal shortsightedness, consider the implications of keeping those cranes in place. Cranes, like pallet conveyers and elevators, require considerable effort for upkeep. They also require manning consideration to include operation and maintenance classroom training for sailors, not to mention repetition of use to ensure that crews keep perishable skills sharp. It’s also ordnance handling equipment, which involves another level of inspections and certification. These are matters of personnel safety, where errors can cost lives. We can’t simply ditch the inspections and certifications of gear and the training and qualification of people because they sound like extra red tape. Rules that govern the operation and upkeep of these systems are written in blood. Occasionally, we are reminded that life at sea is dangerous, and we do not like to be reminded in peace time. Pile that onto manpower reductions, in-rate and professional training, and watch standing, and you may notice that sailors on afloat units are busy. In an era of fiscal austerity and manpower reduction, maintaining expensive gear and skills fell off the table. Something had to lose. This lost.
Mabus announced a plan to boost the sea service’s enlisted female recruitment efforts to at least 25 percent of all accessions during a mid-May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The move, he said, will help attract, recruit and retain women in communities in which they are underrepresented.
“[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.
“I’d like to do better than that,” Mabus told reporters Tuesday following an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think that one in four is a floor, not a ceiling, and if people keep using one in four, I think it’s going to be.”
“The services have got to be friendlier when you come in, because even if you get enough women, we’re losing too many between eight and 12 years,” he said.
In the last month, our Marine Corps provided those who were watching both an object lesson and a case study on how an organization can tear itself apart when it decides to operate under self-contradicting priorities – priorities that do not share the same understanding of what the goals are.
Like people, organizations can get by for a length of time in self-contradiction, self-delusion, and ultimately self-destructive behavior; as long as it is small and does not have a major impact on the end result, or can be mitgated with a little slight of hand.
They can live multiple lives and promote nested systems under a polite agreement to keep the contradictions below the surface and both sides agree that that larger of the two will work harder to mitigate the contradiction of the smaller. As we Southerners like to say, a polite pretense.
There comes a point of inevitable friction when one party decides to not live by the agreement, or the smaller party gets unmanageably large – or both. There is a point someone stands athwart the whole arrangement and yells, “Halt.” Then the brewing conflict breaks out in to the open.
The organization makes a decision to pretend that the conflict is not there, or can be managed as before. The comfort of the “now” remains the priority, the unknown discomfort “later” identified by the challenge will be someone else’s problem.
When that person comes forward with grit, passion, and a steadfast belief in their cause, it then becomes a story of the reaction as the entrenched inertial of the status-quo resists the challenge that cannot be pushed to another PCS cycle. Via C.H. Chivers at NYT;
For decades the Marine Corps has tolerated, even encouraged, lower performance from the young women who enlist in its ranks, an insidious gender bias that begins with the way women are treated immediately after they sign up and continues through their training at boot camp. The results are predictable – female Marines risk being less confident and less fully accepted than their male counterparts, because the Corps has failed them from the outset.
We have often discussed at USNIBlog the importance of our leaders to “… dare to read, think, speak, and write …” – what can happen when you do?
That is the position of Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty Marine officer who commanded both a Marine recruiting station in San Diego and a segregated all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina. Colonel Germano presented this argument in a draft article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” that she wrote early this year and in which she argued for tougher standards and higher expectations, or, in her words, a movement toward “radical change.”
The article, which does not address full integration into combat roles but details institutional patterns that Colonel Germano suggests ensure female Marines will not be fully respected by their male peers, had been slated for publication in September in the monthly Marine Corps Gazette, a private publication that serves as the Corps’ de facto professional journal. Then matters grew complicated.
That is just one part of the story – read C.J.’s article not only for the full detail, but to also read LtCol Germano’s article that was spiked;
Colonel Germano was relieved of command at Parris Island in June under circumstances that remain contentious, setting off a controversy about whether she was being punished for what the Corps calls an abusive leadership style, or for forcefully expressing her views about the how the Corps trains and integrates women into its male-dominated ranks.
Soon after she was relieved, the editor of the Gazette, John Keenan, who is also a former Marine colonel, dropped Colonel Germano’s article from the journal’s publication lineup. Her arguments taking the Corps to task for what she depicted as a record of double standards and complacency stood not to reach Marines’ eyes, including such passages as this: “The performance double standard extends to virtually every aspect of recruit training. Over the past decade, female recruits have consistently scored below their male counterparts in every quantifiable category minus the gender-normed physical fitness test. Yet despite the statistics, historical records do not indicate that anyone has ever seriously considered why females have consistently been outperformed at boot camp. Acceptance of the status quo has simply become the norm. Ironically, notwithstanding the delta in female-male performance, a greater percentage of female recruits are promoted by contract to private first class upon graduation, meaning they are also more swiftly promoted to lance corporal in spite of potentially being less qualified. This is essentially where the Marine Corps meritocracy cart goes off the rails.”
A few more quotes, this time from LtCol Germano’s spiked article that gives some context to the below;
In general, from the instant a female applicant joins the delayed entry program (DEP) she faces lower expectations for accountability and performance than her male peers. Females are often allowed to miss applicant physical fitness training, seldom hold leadership positions within their respective recruiting substations, and are frequently allowed to ship to recruit training in spite of not having made progress with their physical development, all of which is observed firsthand by their male counterparts. As a result of this double standard, many female recruits arrive at boot camp utterly unprepared for the mental and physical rigors of training. Even more significant, their male counterparts arrive at recruit training with well-established preconceptions about the difference in accountability for men and women in the Marine Corps based on their observations in the DEP. The double standard is reinforced by the fact that, despite most females having an average of five months in the DEP, their IST failure rate is historically nine times greater than that of their male counterparts.
For years, the females and males on Parris Island conducted the nine-mile hike back from the Crucible separately, only to link up for a joint Emblem Ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue after the hike. Conspicuously, a line of chairs would be staged behind the female formation for recruits who were too “exhausted” or sore to stand. Conversely, there were no chairs staged behind the male formation. It was simply expected that the females would fall out of the formation, and fall out they did because there was no set expectation that standing through the ceremony was part of earning the title of U.S. Marine.
High standards for performance should never be gender-normed and, barring physiological differences, concrete evidence shows that women can perform to the same standards as their counterparts if it is demanded of them. In Fiscal Year 15, the Fourth Battalion witnessed this phenomena firsthand at the rifle range. For decades, the female initial qualification rate on the rifle range at Parris Island hovered between 67% – 78%, compared to 85% – 93% for the male training battalions. The male battalions also produced significantly greater percentages of rifle experts and sharpshooters. In Fiscal Year 15, however, the Fourth Battalion drill instructors received a defined intent for success on the rifle range, and through a strong partnership with Weapons and Field Training Battalion were able to achieve an unprecedented 91.68% female initial qualification average. The key to success was establishing the firm expectation that change was both possible and necessary to improve the credibility of our female recruits- come-new-Marines. Once the drill instructors, coaches, and primary marksmanship instructors began to see success, the movement became contagious. For the first time in history, female recruits are competitive with their male counterparts on the rifle range, proving it is not an insult to “shoot like a girl”. However, for lasting improvement across all of the testable categories to be realized, the Institution must be willing to critically examine the environment in which Marines are made and implement radical changes.
Like I said; read it all. I have not even touched on equally important issues of leadership by investigation or the commissarish use of statistically bad DEOMI surveys.
Back to the big picture.
It is this dynamic we have seen this summer in the story of LtCol Kate Germano, USMC, and her desire to bring the standards of performance and accountability to a higher level in the training of female Marines. For her efforts and passion, she was relieved of her command. The why, how, and the environment it all took place in deserves a screen play – so stick with me as we review it here. Follow every link and read it all where the links take you. There is a lot here. Here is the base conflict as I see it.
There are two pressures in the further integration of female Marines; one is from a socio-political camp of the senior civilian leadership, the other is from the operational side of the Marine Corps. The former has two sides to it as well – a paternalistic passive-aggressive vibe that doesn’t expect as much from women as men and therefor sees no reason to demand it , and another that is driven by the worst of sophomore gender-studies seminar course theory.
The later knows that female Marines will be put in harm’s way as much as the men and if that is the case, then they need to be able to perform, be respected by their male peers, and not be a net drag to their unit. The enemy does not care if you are XX or XY, they just want to kill you. You need to be able to kill them first with equal ability. I’m not going to spend much time on the paternalistic passive-aggressive side of the bureaucracy and some of the uniformed leadership, as the that is not where the central character is coming from. No, let’s stick with the source of the friction – a Marine leader who wants her Marines to be the absolute best to serve her Corps, and the socio-political bureaucracy that wants one thing – numbers to feed the metrics.
As part of the Department of the Navy, the USMC must respond to the demand signal of the Secretary of the Navy. That is how it works. As quoted at the top of this post, he has made his goals quite clear. To make it happen though, there is a pipeline problem with that goal that the real world is putting in their way.
It is a well documented challenge to not just recruit women who have the inclination and desire to be in the service, but also to find enough women who have the physical stamina to meet what should be tough but fair physical requirements to be a Marine. Anyone involved in female athletics knows exactly what that basic challenge is.
If you have an artificial numerical goal of a difficult to gather sub-set, every number counts – especially if achieving that number is your priority. To achieve that goal, you have to look hard at every barrier in your way. What are structural, what are required, what are optional. What is the cost and benefit of the removal of each barrier relative to the value you place on each variable? There is the rub.
What if everyone in your organization does not agree that strict numbers of that sub-set are the priority, but quality is? If each barrier from recruiting interview to graduation has a given attrition rate and can impact that final number, what if instead of removing barriers, another person with a different value system decides that many of these barriers are not barriers at all – but are performance gates. Not only should some of them not be removed or lowered, but a few might need to be added, and others raised.
Additional performance gates – standards if you will – and enhanced standards will have two results; first they will ensure at the end of the process you have a higher quality product of that subset, but it also means that you will have fewer numbers of that sub-set.
A thought exercise; if you have a job to do that requires 10 people, does it matter if six are wearing blue shirts and four are wearing red shirts if all 10 people are equally qualified? No. OK, what if eight wear blue and two red? Again, does not matter.
What if all six in blue are qualified, but of those in red, only two are? What is the sane and right thing to do?
1. Being that you are out of people wearing red shirts, but have a bench full of blue shirts, replace the two unqualified in red with qualified blue?
2. Instead of making the swap out, you insist that you like the 6/4 color ratio because it looks good in pictures, and your team will just have to deal with it?
If a competitor comes out on the field, they are all wearing yellow by the way, with 10 people who are all fully qualified, who wins? Where do you put the smart money?
LtCol Germano has only done what we have always asked our leaders to do; take the job you were detailed to do, and make it better. Take care of your people, enhance the ability of the service, and accomplish the mission.
It appears that LtCol Germano thought her mission was to help produce the best female Marines she could. She tried to do that, and was fired.
I guess she was wrong. It looks like there was another mission, one founded on the soft-bigotry of low expectations, lower standards, a fear of Star Chamber like investigations, and ultimately a fealty to metrics.
You see, the numbers are needed for the right metrics, because, we must feed Vaal.
Of course, this internal conflict has a frag pattern. There are good people up and down the command structure that were put in a difficult position. How do they respond to this internal self-contradiction?
That is where you have a whole series of interesting character stories. From the immediate superior in command, first General Officer in the chain of command, the SNCOs, the Junior Officers – and ultimately the recruits themselves. Are they in the right? The wrong? Both?
What lessons do they take away from it all? What do we?
UPDATE: If you want more detail and a rather sad showing of “feelings vs. facts” and leadership by DEOMI survey and investigations – click here.
Beginning on Women’s Equality Day (26 August), the Naval Institute Blog will be running a “Women in Writing Week,” highlighting the writing of female commissioned officers and enlisted personnel in the sea services.
Women comprise more than half of the US population and 18% of naval officers between O-1 and O-4, yet they make up fewer than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog.
We invite ALL females–active, reserve, retired, civilian–to write for the Naval Institute Blog on any topic of their choice. We also invite all writers of any gender to write about their favorite female writers in the military, and those role models who have paved the way for others to follow.
Blogging is not a gender-specific sport. We invite all men and all women to participate, to share in their equal voice and contribute to our great naval debate.
Interested authors may submit their writing (whether it is a final product or simply a draft with which you would like a little help) to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Thanks for writing!
OK, great, what does that mean though? What value are we adding to a boat? Well, the North Dakota employed a REMUS 600, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of achieving depths of over 4,900ft, speeds up to 4kts, and a battery life of up to 24 hours. It’s a little over 10ft long with an inertial navigation system and a lithium battery powering it all.
So what could you possibly do with this thing? How about finding the resting place for a WWII TBF Avenger and her crew? Here, a team from the Bent Prop Project and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography used a REMUS with an add-on side-scan sonar to localize a crash site and find the plane and her crew. Around 6:00 you can catch the REMUS in action.
I know we’re still rolling out Virginia class boats, but it’s not hard to envision the future SSNs acting as a mothership for drones.
Naval warfare, at the lowest level, revolves around destroying something before it can destroy you (an observation more akin to an utterance of John Madden than Sun Tzu, I know). So as result, we talk about warfare a lot in terms of ranges. How close can I get before something detects me? How far away can I detect it? At what range can I shoot it? When can it shoot me? The race to shoot the furthest led to the development of weapons systems (Phoenix air-to-air missile and Trident missile) before we built the platform to shoot it.
And while we often describe the range of a nuclear-powered submarine as unlimited, that doesn’t mean we can go just anywhere in the ocean. We’re constrained by water depths, and the minimum operating depth of a small, submarine-launched unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV/drones) would likely be shallower than the launching platform.
We’re expanding the area of where a submarine can make life miserable for the enemy. Check out that video again. Do you think we could put a submarine there to accomplish that task? We’ve now demonstrated that a submarine launched drone might able to access that territory. That’s why we should be excited about “DRONES.”
One of the best panels at a USNI/AFCEA West conference in recent years was the 2014 “What About China” panel that included some folks in my pantheon; VADM Foggo, James Holmes, and CAPT Fanell in the company of CAPT Adams and the duty JAG, CAPT Belt.
Part of the discussion involved using lawfare to gum up the Chinese works, and use this if not to shape developments, then at least to slow down Chinese actions in the western Pacific.
In the July 18th edition of The Economist, they outline a perfect example of lawfare on if not the tactical, then at least the operational level.
On July 13th a tribunal in The Hague concluded a first week of hearings related to its bitter dispute with China over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. China insists that its claim, which covers most of the vast and strategically vital sea, is not a matter for foreign judges, and was not represented.
Such has been China’s position ever since the Philippines lodged a case in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, arguing that the U-shaped, nine-dashed line used by China to define its claim is illegal. But in its anxiety to dismiss the validity of the case, China may have blundered. The tribunal has ruled that documents issued by China to explain its objections “constitute, in effect, a plea”. The tribunal has sent all the relevant papers to the Chinese government and given it time to respond. China has become a participant in the case, despite its absence.
Well played my Philippine friends; well played.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets out how different maritime features generate claims to territorial waters and “exclusive economic zones” (EEZ). A reef submerged at high tide generates nothing, while a rock above water has a 12- nautical-mile (22km) territorial claim around it. A habitable island generates an additional EEZ of up to 200 nautical miles from its shore.
The Philippines argues that none of the features China occupies in the Spratly Islands is an island. At best, it says, each is entitled only to a 12-nautical-mile claim and none generates an EEZ. For almost the past two years China has been frantically reclaiming land around these features and expanding their size, adding buildings and, in some cases, new airstrips and harbours. But UNCLOS is clear: man-made structures do not count.
The tribunal must first decide whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the case at all. If it concludes that it does, which may not be known until late this year, a verdict may take several more months. If the Philippines wins, China will almost certainly refuse to accept the decision. Even the hope that a moral defeat would have a chastening effect on China’s behaviour seems a little tenuous, given the gusto with which it is filling in the sea.
This is worth a try – and is just in line with CAPT Belt’s COA. Very well played.
As for China’s sand castles, I think we are one Bull Halsey memorial super-typhoon away from Mother Nature taking care of that problem – but until then, launch the ready lawyers.
The liberty in The Hague is top notch.
As a final note, if you didn’t catch the panel the first time, here it is.
The following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) Steven Hallgren and is published as submitted. This is the first of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.
On September 25th, 2011 in the Northeastern port city of Dalian, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) brought the newly-refurbished aircraft carrier Liaoning into service. The commissioning came as the result of a decades-long endeavor to acquire such a ship, and perhaps more importantly represented China’s ambitions to establish blue-water naval capabilities. Though the Liaoning itself will only serve as a test bed for Chinese carrier aviation and ostensibly will never see operational service, it nevertheless shows progress towards China’s ultimate goal of bolstering its fleet with home-built carriers. A PLAN fleet with power-projecting aircraft carriers would profoundly expand China’s naval capabilities in the hotly-contested waters of Southeast Asia. As the initial sea trials of Liaoning usher in the age of the Chinese carrier fleet, it is worth examining how the PLAN would employ such assets within its greater maritime strategy.
From a broad perspective, China’s quest for a carrier fleet is a manifestation of its need to defend its territorial claims from foreign threats in much the same way that it had to defend its tremendous landmass from continental threats throughout history. More concrete ideology launched a fervent pursuit of an aircraft carrier dating back to the 1980’s when Soviet-trained Admiral Liu Huaqing began shaping China’s maritime direction. Increasing strain across the Taiwan Strait primarily fueled what he described as the “extremely necessary” urge to manifest China’s maritime—and, ergo, national—power in the form of a carrier. Since the 2000s, waning tensions with Taiwan have shifted China’s maritime focus towards new areas—though the pursuit of a carrier has remained constant.
Liaoning began her peculiar life as Varyag, intended to be an aircraft carrier of the Soviet Navy. Her construction halted with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, and Varyag was left incomplete to rust in a Ukrainian shipyard until the Chinese purchased the empty hull in 2000. After an elaborate trek out of the Mediterranean and around the world to Dalian, Varyag entered a decade-long refit period, culminating in her renaming and commissioning as Liaoning.
As with many aspects of its military, the PLAN is far from forthcoming with the features and capabilities of its infant carrier. However, its expected specifications can be approximated based on the small amount of information China has released and the Soviet Admiral Kuznetzov class to which Varyag belonged. The carrier will host a modestly-sized air wing totaling around 50 aircraft, divided between J-10 and J-15 fighters and an assortment of helicopters used for anti-electronic warfare (AEW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Additionally, Liaoning’s ship-board weapons include a CIWS defense system, air-defense missiles, and ASW offensive missiles.
In analyzing the impact of carrier developments on the PLAN fleet, care must be taken to avoid falling into the trap of directly comparing Chinese capabilities to those of the American Navy. As a result of this practice, many analysts tend to be overly dismissive of the carrier.  While by any measure the Nimitz class aircraft carriers objectively outperform Liaoning, such comparisons are only illuminating insofar as the two ships would be expected to meet each other in combat. Direct naval combat with the American Navy is not only substantially unlikely, but also entirely beyond the strategic maritime scope of the PLAN.
Further, even assuming the current state of Liaoning to be the effective extent of the Chinese carrier program is rather short-sighted. As mentioned previously, the PLAN does not even intend for Liaoning to become an operational ship. That being said, it serves as a useful proxy for future carrier development as it not only will become a “modestly capable” ship in its own right, but will also serve to train the PLAN in the tactics and employment of such an asset. As such, although direct contrast with the more familiar and transparent capabilities of Western navies is simple, a more useful analysis is achieved through a localized assessment of the impact of a PLAN-operated carrier strike group in the Western Pacific. After all, Asian waters currently host a power vacuum waiting to be filled by the first Asian nation with a fully-operational carrier.
Having broadly established the current state of China’s carrier program, the question then becomes how a fleet with operational aircraft carriers would change China’s ability to achieve its strategic maritime objectives. Naturally, the strategy of the Chinese military is every bit as wide-sweeping and nuanced as that of any other major power. Even still, it is possible to observe recurring themes within those plans, isolate the capabilities needed to achieve them, and analyze the extent to which a carrier navy would bolster those capabilities. From a regional security perspective, perhaps two of the most important strategic objectives are China’s desires to establish a broad territorial claim over the South China Sea and to define itself as a major power of the Western Pacific.
China continues to assert ambiguous and expansive territorial authority over the islands and waters of the South China Sea. Its claims have engendered considerable regional maritime disputes over the status of small islands, reefs, and even rocks that now define foreign relations in the Western Pacific. China’s maritime neighbors and several members of the international community continually contest China’s state position to prevent it from becoming legitimized. One of the primary means by which China strengthens its position in such disputes is through its own maritime patrols conducted by the PLAN. Such patrols aim to simultaneously use military force to assert control over the region while also effectively deterring its Pacific neighbors from doing the same. Analysts typically categorize such operations as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), which describes the general maritime strategy of restricting competitive access to a region.
Ultimately, A2AD campaigns and the defense of territorial claims fundamentally cannot be supported entirely from shore. As a case study, consider the Johnson South Reef Skirmish fought between China and Vietnam in 1988. The Spratly Islands are just one of the numerous contested territories that China lays claim to. These islands, located over 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, are also claimed by Vietnam, among other parties in the region. When a skirmish broke out between the two nations, the Chinese faced unexpected difficulties countering attacks on their fleet by Vietnamese aircraft.
During the conflict, Chinese aircraft had to operate from a distant Chinese-controlled airfield. The transit time from the base to the area of operation was so long that the aircraft were left with only four to five minutes of time on station, dramatically limiting their effectiveness against their Vietnamese adversaries. Admiral Chen Weiwen, a commander during the battle, noted later that “if…we had our own [air] cover from a nearby aircraft carrier, we would simply not have had to fear Vietnam’s air force.” Land-based assets play a critical role in their own time and place, but that place is frankly not in rapidly changing, forward operating areas.
Aircraft carriers are occasionally caricatured as being “several thousand tons of diplomacy,” but the aphorism does hold weight. In the Spratly scenario as with the rest of China’s maritime claims, no act of diplomacy or demonstration of force can compare to moving an aircraft carrier on station. For one, even the mere presence of a carrier would be a deterrent against further escalation, as the resource allocation would demonstrate China’s commitment to the claim. Moreover, the capabilities the carrier brings would be better able to respond to emergent threats than perhaps any other tool in the Chinese arsenal. This combination makes the aircraft carrier virtually indispensable for the preservation of maritime claims. In fact, the United States routinely employs its carriers for this exact purpose, as demonstrated by the stationing of the USS Nimitz and USS Independence off the coast of Taiwan during the height of cross-strait tensions in the mid-90s.
Simultaneously, China has shown interest in becoming the leading nation in the region beyond merely maintaining territorial control. The PLAN has noticeably shifted its development efforts towards acquiring naval capabilities beyond mere defense and offense, to include the mission sets of counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR). Such military operations other than war (MOOTW) on behalf of the international community require the foundational capabilities of forward presence and power projection coupled with the platforms and equipment necessary to carry out such tasking.
Accordingly, the utility of aircraft carriers extends far beyond strictly military endeavors. For the same reasons that they are vital to power projecting operations, carriers can also play an instrumental role in virtually any military staging operation far from home. China will almost certainly employ carriers to expand its gradually growing peacekeeping and HADR mission set. Recently, the PLAN has only just begun to dip its toes into these waters. Since 2008, the PLAN has continuously participated in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, marking its first foray into conducting open-water MOOTWs.
Such operations ultimately are diplomatic tools used to not only strengthen China’s reputation in the international community, but also to establish China as a major regional power. While counter-piracy operations can be effectively conducted with a frigate- and destroyer-based fleet such as China currently has, the addition of aircraft carriers into its arsenal opens up substantially more potential MOOTWs.
Consider again an example from the United States. In 2011 after Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami, the United States started Operation Tomodachi to provide HADR support to the region. USS Ronald Reagan served as the centerpiece of naval resources and manpower during this operation and coordinated rescue efforts for nearly one month off the coast of Japan. Arguably only an aircraft carrier could offer the combination of endurance, flexibility, and capability required for such a long-term coordinated effort. A PLAN equipped with an aircraft carrier and a healthy complement of rotary wing assets would be capable of conducting similar HADR operations in the South China Sea. The regular completion of such operations would indisputably mark China as a dominant power in the region, and may even fundamentally alter the perceptions Southeast Asian nations have towards China.
Possessing an aircraft carrier is a tremendously potent tool of diplomacy in a way comparable perhaps only to developing nuclear weapons. Though the PLAN’s carrier program is by all accounts still in its infancy, it is maturing rapidly. As initial carrier training is conducted on board Liaoning, reports indicate that work has already begun on China’s first home-built carrier. The reality of a Chinese carrier fleet is no longer a question of “if” so much as “when.” Whether that fleet would pose a legitimate threat to a US carrier strike group is immaterial. A PLAN with carriers will irreparably alter the nature of Southeast Asian relations and indeed the face that China presents to the world.
. Ananth Krishnan, “China Commissions First Aircraft Carrier Liaoning,” The Hindu, 26 September 2012, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/
. Stew Magnuson, “China’s Navy Takes Great Leap Forward,” National Defense Industrial Association, April 2014, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2014/
. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “Drawing Lines at Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 137, no. 11 (November 2011), 48-51
. Ian Storey and You Ji, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Ambitions,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 57, no. 1 (Winter 2004), 76-93.
. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “China’s Carrier: The Basics,” U.S. Naval Institute News, 27 November 2012, http://news.usni.org/2012/11/27/chinas-carrier-basics.
. “Liaoning (Varyag) Aircraft Carrier, China,” Naval Technology, http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/varyag-aircraft-carrier-china/
 See, for instance, James R. Holmes, “Top 5 Reasons Not to Ballyhoo China’s Carrier,” The Diplomat, 2 October 2012, http://thediplomat.com/2012/10/top-5-reasons-not-to-ballyhoo-chinas-carrier/.
. Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey, “The Real Reason China Wants Aircraft Carriers,” Real Clear Defense, 16 April 2014, http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2014/04/16/
. Andrew S. Erickson et al., “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps,” Naval War College Review, vol. 65, no. 1 (Winter 2012), 15-54.
. Donald Kirk, “Asian Aircraft Carrier Race—China Vs. India Vs. Japan,” Forbes Magazine, 13 August 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/donaldkirk/2013/08/13/aircraft-carriers-first-chinathen-india-and-japan-all-want-one/
. Vice Admiral R.N. Ganesh, Indian Navy, “Maritime Ambitions of China”, Indian Defense Review, 19 February 2013, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/
. Kevin Baumert and Brian Melchior, “Maritime Claims in the South China Sea,” Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 5 December 2014, http://www.state.gov/
. Peter Dutton, “Three Disputes and Three Objectives: China and the South China Sea,” Naval War College Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 42-67.
. “China’s Activities in Southeast Asia and the Implications for U.S. Interests,” United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 4 February 2010, http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/transcripts/2.4.10HearingTranscript.pdf.
. Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Introducing the Liaoning: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 September 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/
. Chun W. Chiang, “Crisis Management in the Taiwan Strait,” U.S. Army War College, 7 April 2003, handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA415086
. Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 23 December 2014, http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33153.pdf.
. Zhou Bo, “Counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden: Implications for PLA Navy,” China-United States Exchange Foundation, 30 December 2013, http://www.chinausfocus.com/
. Ryan Zielonka et al., “Chronology of Operation Tomodachi,” The National Bureau of Asian Research, http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=121
. Charles Clover, “China Media Confirm Second Aircraft Carrier,” Financial Times, 10 March 2015, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0339399a-c6f7-11e4-9e34-00144feab7de.html
Serious students of the US national security enterprise are likely familiar with Dr. Amy Zegart’s Flawed by Design. In her 2000 work, she examines the creation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, concluding that from the start, these organizations never received the appropriate authorities to effectively lead, to ensure our nation’s security and fight our nation’s wars. Her insights proved prescient in light of the 9/11 attacks and military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since the National Security Act created the DoD, JCS, CIA and the Department of the Air Force in 1947, there have been repeated attempts to build using this broken design. Each subsequent reform effort, particularly the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reform Act of 1986, added to the size and complexity of the Pentagon. Layers upon layers of oversight got added to fix and re-fix the fundamentally flawed concept. The total cost to maintain this leviathan of tens of thousands of staff is enormous and takes scarce resources away from actual warfighting needs. Significant overhead costs are not the only negative impact from this flawed design, as many DoD-wide efforts are simply not effective.
In a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus provided examples of the DoD’s “4th Estate” dysfunctionality. He particularly focused on the growth and operating costs of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services and the Defense Logistics Agency but similar criticisms could be made against most defense organizations.
These organizations were created to efficiently provide common support functions for the military services but, over time, that concept seems to have been lost, as the size and roles of the defense establishment expanded. Today, the military services often have to change their practices to support the defense agencies, instead of the reverse.
Similar to Mr. Mabus’s criticism of the 4th Estate, Senator John McCain has been a vocal critic recently of the Defense Acquisition System and has even called for revisiting the sacred cow of Goldwater-Nichols. Sweeping changes to these two broken processes are long overdue.
While the shared interests of Secretary Mabus and Senator McCain are somewhat unusual, some may view them simply as inside-the-beltway political banter. However, DoD’s outdated organizational structure has also hampered military operations over the past decade.
My experience highlights the broad impacts from centralized oversight. Having served in both the Navy and Marine Corps for over a decade apiece, I understand naval integration is difficult to achieve; even after 200 years, it is still a work in progress. To think that four services can fully integrate to support the shared-lie of “jointness,” to confront and solve fast-evolving crises today, is an expensive fool’s errand.
General Stanley McChrystal asserts in his new book Team of Teams, that the “Limiting Factor” in our war against al Qaida was our own management of operations. He experienced first-hand the cumbersome layers of bureaucracy, siloed information sharing and over-centralized decision making, even within his own Special Operations community. My own experience at the MNC-I HQ in 2005 supports his assertions and has made me question the value of joint organizations and processes as well.
Many are familiar with the US Army’s seizure of the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) in the initial run-up to Baghdad in 2003. There was a second, lesser known, battle for BIAP in 2005 – which pitted Marines against the Air Force.
Briefly, the Marines operated in the areas west and south of Baghdad and routinely conducted counter-fire missions through a section of the air space on the same side of BIAP. The Air Force staff at the Combined Air Operations Center wanted to expand the air space control measures above BIAP for safety of flight concerns. This change would prohibit Marines from quickly responding to attacks on ground forces—shooting back, in other words–in the area.
Despite Joint doctrine clearly favoring the ground commander, a joint staff running operations, and even having a neutral Army three star as the Corps Commander, the Air Force refused to support the ground commander’s operational needs. Eventually, a few mid-level officers and Staff NCOs worked out a solution, albeit one held together with duct tape and 550 cord, that resolved the coordination issue.
This event occurred nearly 20 years after the passage of Goldwater-Nichols and following significant investments in joint commands, joint doctrine, joint programs and the brainwashing of an entire generation of military officers on the virtues of jointness. Interservice coordination seemed no better than it was in previous military operations. Problems in Iraq were resolved by military professionals working towards common goals, as I’m sure was the practice in every war before the flawed legislation.
For the past 60 years, DoD and Congress have slowly worked towards unification of the military services. In the industrial age, centralization and the emphasis on process efficiency were widely accepted management practices. However, the complex, interconnected future, characterized by ubiquitous data and technological changes occurring rapidly, will require smaller, decentralized and agile organizations to succeed – just the opposite of our current organization design.
Not only is the idea of creating enormous Defense-wide systems, programs and organizations a bad one, it is a dangerous management approach in the information age. The recent OPM data breaches provide crystal-clear evidence of how catastrophic risk increases when we put our all of our eggs in a single basket. We cannot wall-off our stovepipes in single places and rest assured that no one can get in to our information.
Preparing for future conflict, particularly against modern professional militaries, requires more than simply investing in expensive weapon systems. It requires us to have candid conversations about what’s not working in DoD – far beyond just the broken acquisition process – and recognize the fundamental design flaws of the Department.
Over the next few years, we have a great opportunity to leverage the work started by Secretary Mabus and Senator McCain. With former naval officers Undersecretary Bob Work and General Dunford holding key positions in the 4th Estate, as well as a new Commandant and CNO both recognized for innovating thinking, and several naval officers on the Hill, we may actually be able to make some meaningful changes in the defense organization which will ensure success in the future. Making significant changes to the entrenched DoD bureaucracy are a longshot indeed, but history has shown that naval officers working together are capable of great things.
- Capstone Essay: Distributed Lethality Requires Distributed Capability Across the Surface Fleet
- On Midrats 2 Aug 15 – Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
- Historical Leadership Dynamics for US China Relations
- VLS At-sea Reloading
- Self-Contradiction, Priorities, Conflict, and Women in the USMC