Archive for December, 2008

Sure, he was talking about fuel consumption – but I found this nugget coming out of NAVSEA’s senior leadership refreshing.

… I don’t think that there was a fully informed decision process arrived at in the development of LCS …

You should read the whole thing for the correct context of the quote above by Rear Admiral Eccles, Deputy Commander for ship design, integration and engineering at NAVSEA. It is a good start. Perhaps we can discuss survivability in the littoral next. Maybe.

Also, as for Galrahn’s question from yesterday,

So why is it the US Navy surface strike group lacks the capability to establish forward deployed sea surface capabilities to dominate the sea against the 21st century fishing profession of Somalia?

Part of the answer lies with the fact that numbers matter. When you have a limited budget, you can only have a certain number of hulls. If you make the decision to create a Tiffany Navy, then you have to accept the second and third order effects from that decision. If you also follow the mirage of the Cooperative Maritime Partnership (nee 1,000 Ship Navy) as well – then do not be shocked when the National Command Authority wants something done by the Navy we have to hobble together an inadequate excuse …. err …. answer.

This past weekend, we learned of a new website with a focus on the tools to stop maritime terrorism:, published by Phillip Null, an experienced Coast Guard coxswain. Notes the “about” page:

With only rare dramatic bursts, the maritime environment has remained relatively calm in the

Global War on Terrorism. That may not be the case in the near future. Despite the inherent challenges, terrorists can attack, have attacked, and will continue to attack maritime targets. Given the intent of al Qaeda and associated terrorist organizations to attack U.S. and Western economic and military assets, and the large, lucrative targets maritime vessels present, recent activity may indicate a coming and expansive maritime terrorist campaign.

The goal of this site is to provide a collective of information about terrorist attacks occurring at sea in an attempt to facilitate awareness and ultimately enhance national security. The focus of the content is singular, with maritime security of the United States being the primary concern.

Mr. Null recently started a thread, MSST Hype vs Reality, at the CGBlog Google Group, a somewhat old-school forum designed to give people “an opportunity to discuss Coast Guard related topics in an open forum.” In his analysis of the current state of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety & Security Team program, Mr. Null, an accomplished tactical coxswain, arrives at a stunning conclusion:

Without program changes, MSST commanders should accept that the concept will fail at a time when America needs this capability.

Mr. Null is both knowledgeable and forthright in his analysis.

For those interested in counter-terrorism in the maritime environment, I urge you to check out as it builds its reference and knowledge base.

A version of this post is cross posted at AN UNOFFICIAL COAST GUARD BLOG.

As I observed the news last week, the most interesting news in my opinion came out Thursday when the Associated Press ran an article discussing US political goals to get an United Nations Security Council resolution to hunt down pirates on land in Somalia. According to the AP article, “The resolution proposes that all nations and regional groups cooperating with Somalia’s government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery ‘may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia.'”

That is interesting, because Reuters ran an article on Friday suggesting that Somalia would back the US plan to hunt pirates on land. I think it is fair to say that Somalia has been an unofficial front on “The Long War” for awhile now, unless we have been shooting Tomahawks into Somalia for no good reason. Unlikely. For the most part the activities in Somalia have been covert to date, SOF and CIA in nature, and not a conventional military operation. Should the UN pass a resolution authorizing US military action against pirates on the ground in Somalia, I think we can officially remove the “unofficial” label regarding Somalia as a front in the global war effort, even if this front isn’t against the extremists targets the other fronts focus on. Indeed, by definition, when we send military forces into a foreign country, is it inaccurate to suggest we are essentially going to war?

I think that creates an interesting dynamic to the Somali piracy issue, because apparently the activities of these pirates can create a situation where our nation commits ground forces in a war. I think everyone understands that piracy is best solved on land, not at sea, and yet the US Navy hasn’t really even tried to solve the pirate problem off Somalia at sea. Here is my issue, I agree for the most part with the camp best represented by Commander John Patch, U.S. Navy (Retired) in the December issue of Proceedings that piracy is at best, trivial in context, and based on any realistic cost estimate it is virtually impossible to figure out how piracy off Somalia costs more than around $200 million annually, adding insurance costs and all. With that said, I find it particularly frustrating that the US Navy is being outflanked tactically and humiliated politically by the savy tactics of a bunch of Somalian fisherman still early in a new career change. If these guys can outflank us at will on the seas, we are in for a world of trouble in the future when trained professionals do it with larger strategic ends in mind.

The US Navy’s maritime strategy prints in both bold and italics for emphasis a mission statement: We believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars. Yea? Well I’m not sure I believe that is true, because actions don’t match words.

To be candid, the policy of the United States has been to ignore Somali piracy and view it as a nuisance, which in fairness is probably the best word to describe the problem. However, we are now seeking a political mandate by the UN Security Council to exercise military options that can be realistically described as war. Understanding that the solution to Somali piracy is on land, is our national effort to get this political mandate by the UN for land forces action represent a failure of US Maritime Strategy in that we are clearly failing in our stated objective to prevent a war? Is the resolution actually a means to an end of winning the war against Somali piracy, therefore not a failure to prevent a war but success towards winning war? I’m looking at Somali piracy as an observer, noting that the economic impact is insignificant at best, will not reach the cost level of any military activity taken on the ground in Somalia anytime soon, and noting the EU Atalanta Operation is already more expensive than the actual economic impact globally for the entire year to date. I’m also observing a political process unfolding that leads our nation to yet another front for ground forces.

With this in mind, I have a question…

If we weren’t being flanked tactically at sea by a bunch of fisherman who recently changed careers, would we be seeking a political mandate for war in the United Nations? Wouldn’t the ability to make a significant tactical level impact against Somali piracy at sea be a way to align our national strategy of dealing with this problem with the Navy’s own maritime strategy, and thus emphasize the part of the strategy that suggests “preventing wars is as important as winning wars?” It seems to me the problem isn’t piracy per se, rather the problem is that the US Navy is being outflanked by fisherman because our force structure has significant gaps that prevent the Navy from being effective in applying its own strategy.

Have I driven off the road with my line of thought? If not, then put in blunt terms, force structure decisions specific to our surface combatant capabilities is as of right now the enabler of failure for the United States Navy in executing its own maritime strategy.

The US Navy has Carrier Strike Groups to establish forward deployed aviation capabilities to meet just about any challenge outside major war operations that requires military power from the air. The US Navy has Expeditionary Strike Groups to establish forward deployed ground force capabilities to meet just about any challenge that requires a kick down the door entry force into another country.

So why is it the US Navy surface strike group lacks the capability to establish forward deployed sea surface capabilities to dominate the sea against the 21st century fishing profession of Somalia? Seems to me we have identified the place to start regarding where to fill the gaps in our naval capabilities, because as Julian Corbett makes clear, the natural state of the sea is contested, and it is up to Naval forces to be present and take command of the sea. It is time to organize a surface strike group model with the capabilities to take command of the contested sea.

Continued tomorrow.


Re: Question: DBF vs SSN

December 2008



Every so often, like clockwork, this question comes up and not much gets moved. I call ’em “36M-4R questions”, questions like “bring back the battleships”, women on subs/in combat/aboard ship, the draft, when two carriers overlap in Gulf deployments and somebody every time gets convinced we’re about to invade Iran, et cetera. These questions come up but don’t do much more than feed a bull session. I’m not much changed from my 2004 take on the diesels question, except to note the price of ASDS, we still say we’ll make things up in the outyears, and Taiwan still without new boats. Part of that post:

That cost-vs-capability drives us to a prisoner’s dilemma logic. If the less capable thing is six and a half bucks, the more capable thing is ten bucks, and you have eleven, you always pick the more capable thing. This is, however, a short term logic–if you figure out that the national value of six SSKs is more than the national value of four or two SSNs over the long term, then you make another decision. (Note that I say “national value” here, not “equivalence”–comparing the two directly may not be the correct measure to make.) Add in other things like a different structure for a different kind of ship, too.

Buying SSN vs. SSK requires a decision bigger than the first couple years of budget–and nothing that is in the POM outyears is recognizable by that time. When the Navy buys a gadget, they put a request in the budget that goes via the President to Congress, in a Politburo-style Five Year Plan. The next year’s money gets approved, and the “out years” at the end of that plan aren’t necessarily what happens the next year when we send another budget up to Congress again. So here lies another conundrum. We always say we make up the shortage in the out years, but there isn’t really a hammer to force a service to do so–and that’s probably not all bad, since it’s too long to react to changing technology or strategic situation.

A diesel sub can’t drive at ahead flank for two weeks, then spend three months sitting off the coast of mumble with no support. A nuclear-powered boat can. With thousands of miles between home port and your destination, that makes sense. Our diesels, before they got paid off, were forward deployed to save that time and gas–but it was still harder for them. Nuke aircraft carriers like having the sub sprint ahead. Diesels can’t do that well. With this lower capability, coupled with the prisoner’s dilemma, we stopped building diesels.

Taiwan wants subs, as their WWII U.S. handoffs (Guppy conversion, actually) are old old old, and they realize that an asset in the strait is better for them than a promise of a carrier later. They got a massive case of sticker shock…and then found out that several previous attempts at building non-nuclear subs in the US have been killed off.

So let’s say you’re not a submariner or a strategy guy and haven’t thought of this question before. Alternatively, you weren’t swayed by the inevitability of my deathless prose and want to work through this on your own. Here’s how I’d frame thinking about the question: by asking other questions.
What strategy does this support? What mix of the rest of the Navy and DoD determines this choice?
–What do you want to do with the SSKs, since you can’t steam one at flank across the Pacific and sit off the coast of mumble until the food runs out?
–If these boats are for the USN, how many ships or other boats don’t get built due to the resource move to diesels, since diesels cost a lot more than people assume–and you have to add in the cost of tenders, replenishment and forward basing since we need the offensive capability to move forward, which requires infrastructure. This hidden cost outside the hull’s cost can get appropriators into trouble. So can first-of-class costs. See the Collins price tag, or the reaction of the Taiwanese government when the cost to them became clearer. Also, the build cost of an SSN includes the fuel–a huge factor and a completely different way of looking at resource allocation. How many surface ships don’t sail as scheduled because the quarter’s gas money ran out for that group? How would it be done differently if you planned fuel cost over decades instead of months?
–Are you really saying “should we allow US yards to make diesel boats to rival the HDW export program”? If so, to whom and why?

An SSK is like an intelligent mine; a trump card, but tied to the supply chain and its need to recharge. An SSN is able to drop everything, race to station, carry more stuff, stay longer and move farther…and the comparison is essential because money is not unlimited and the missions aren’t as different as they would be if you were arguing more about an overall hi-low mix for the Navy ships.

Some previous discussions of the issue, which have useful comments:


Question of the Week

December 2008


Welcome to the premiere post of Question of the Week on USNI Blog. It will be my goal each and every week to ask you, loyal readers, a thought provoking question which will cause you to scratch your cranium.

I am also very anxious to read your comments full of wisdom. I am confident they will dwarf the wisdom originating from the 5-sided wind tunnel. The questions will be a mix of old but good ones as well as current events related.

Ideas for future questions are welcome too. My contact info is in my bio off to the side. So here goes the USNI Blog’s first-ever question of the week:

Should the U.S. Navy build diesel submarines?

What say you, loyal readers?

GPS, LORAN, radar, SATCOM and detailed, up-to-date charts. Today we take so many things for granted when it comes to navigating the far-flung corners of this sphere. ‘Twasn’t always this way though and this time, 67 years ago this month, a Clipper crew and their passengers found themselves on the wrong side of the opening days of a world war. How they found their way home — the long way, is found here. – SJS



Space Sensor Photos

December 2008


The Arms Control Wonk is excited about new overhead sensor photos, including a Delta launch. He brings up the point that these photos would have been very secret at one point in time; they certainly aren’t now.

Posted by Chap in Air Force | 2 Comments
In an op-ed entitled State of Forces: Hollow Reserves, the New York Times writes,
More than 450,000 men and women serve in the Army and Air National Guard, and somewhat less than 400,000 in the Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Reserves.

What about the 8,000 members of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve? Were we abolished overnight and given no opportunity to blog about its demise? No, I don’t think so.

One of my pet peeves is that the USCG is often forgotten by ignorant members of the press corps who think they are only 4 branches of the U.S. military.

Anyone care to write a letter to the editor of the New York Times informing them of their oversight? If so, click here for instructions on how to do so. (Cross-posted at AN UNOFFICIAL COAST GUARD BLOG)


Culture Change In Army

December 2008


The Army is in the midst of a cultural change, that of thinking that the culture of others is important in warfighting–and not merely in COIN. Here’s a slide show I found on LinkedIn (a social networking site) that may be of interest. It’s not a short presentation, and focused on Iraq/Middle East, but the general principles it uses to get to that point are more universal. Click this link for the presentation. (Here’s a sample slide; I would have put it inline but it’s too hard to figure out how to get around the CSS on this site. Little help?) There’s also a related book and a website here for author LTC Wunderle.

I have some strong opinions about how the Navy deals with knowing the other guy in terms of language and culture. When I was a lieutenant and a liaison to another country’s counterpart force, the guys on the ground who were the Navy’s experts on that style of warfighting, culture and those personal connections tended to be guys who their communities thought they could afford to lose rather than who they wanted fast tracked. The guys in that position were good and competent, but as soon as they were done with that billet they got sent home, losing all that knowledge and not integrating the knowledge and personal leverage into the rest of the Navy. The Navy FAO community was among other things created to address this shortcoming.

Over the last four or five years I’ve seen some big muscle movements, particularly with regard to the team that built, evangelized and implemented the COIN manual principles. I’ve also seen a smaller but also important group of individuals furthering the idea that knowing how the other guy thinks–be he enemy or friend–is useful and worth perpetuating. As John Nagl pointed out in the reissue of a WWII Army instructional book on Iraqis, we knew some of this stuff at one point and forgot it. (Here’s a random list of Iraq-centric books from Amazon here that discuss culture and language awareness in that war, by the way. Does USNI have an Amazon store link I should be using?)

Navy has a few people who get this idea deeply, although it’s foreign to many people with a more immediate focus. Some know more about the faith aspect of opponent thinking, some know more about tribal links and educating deployers on cultural mores, a few think about conflict of ideas in warfare and how war changes based on the ideas. I don’t think those people are strongly connected, and haven’t exactly hit flashover point. They might yet one day, though.

Posted by Chap in Army, Books, Navy | No Comments

Worried about the decline of the Royal Navy? You should be! The time is now for our U.K. readers as well as naval bloggers worldwide to take action. Need ideas on how to how? No problem.

Save the Royal Navy is a website dedicated to fighting the decline of the Royal Navy. It aims to educate the public about Britain’s need for strong naval forces and to raise awareness of the dangers of allowing the navy to decline. According to the site, interested persons can take action by:

Signing online government petitions;
Writing their Member of Parliament;
Writing the Secretary of State for Defence;
Starting a blog;
Commenting online and writing to the press.

To borrow a line from distinguished Naval Institute Press author Tom Cutler’s email signature block, “Don’t Give up the Ship.” Take action today.

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