Archive for March, 2009


Times Past

March 2009


My single favorite page in any Proceedings issue is the last page: “From Our Archive.” It’s great to read of things past, but seeing the faces and emotions really drives it home. This has to be my favorite photo since joining the Institute. The full version of the picture can be found here:

From the August 2008 issue of Proceedings
From the August 2008 issue of Proceedings

It was around 2345 the other night when we discovered a goldmine of memories. As I checked in for the night, a firstie (senior) called me over. “Hey, I have all these pictures and video from your plebe year,” he said as he handed me a CD. “Thought you might have wanted them. Make sure they get spread around to your classmates.”

I was now holding a time capsule of sorts. This disc held images of my friends and I which we had never seen. Sites like Facebook make it extremely easy to share and view all your friends’ photos. That’s certainly neat but after awhile you’ve seen all of them; I was given something “old” but refreshingly new. It was our version of “From Our Archive.”

I grabbed a couple of friends, one of whom was currently reading old emails from plebe year (“Wow, did I really sound like that,” he wondered), slid the CD into the tray, and started going through it. The pictures chronicled our plebe year starting from Hello Night (August), where we were “welcomed” by the upperclass. That’s when we felt it. “I sort of wish I were a plebe again.”

Yeah, I said it. Do I really want to go rewind spend another two and half years to get to this point? No, not really. But there was something exciting, fresh, and simple about the first year. There’s something exhilarating about the “Us vs. Them” mentality of it all.

I know a lot of readers here are former/current military…I’m curious as to what you reflect upon and say “I sort of wish I were a _________ again.” Was it a remarkable crew? First division? First command?

Cross posted from my blog:

In light of our current support to flood rescue operations in North Dakota we have received queries that prompted me to share some insights on the Coast Guard’s roles and authorities in civil support.

The Coast Guard’s core roles are to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests in any maritime region in which those interests may be at risk, including international waters and America’s coasts, ports, and inland waterways.

The Coast Guard provides unique benefits to the nation because of its distinctive blend of military, humanitarian, and civilian law enforcement capabilities. Most recently, you have seen this in play as the Coast Guard has worked so closely and effectively with local and state first responders to protect the citizens of North Dakota, accounting for 93 rescues so far. What the Coast Guard is able to do and what it does in support of civil authorities will always be based on our legal authorities, capabilities, and mission requirements as determined by the needs of the specific event or scenario, always based on consultation with local, state and Federal agencies.

Using the North Dakota floods as an example, the legal authority for these operations stems both from the Coast Guard’s authority to conduct search and rescue and our ability provide assistance to other federal, state and local agencies when our personnel are especially qualified to do so.

14 U.S.C. 88 provides, in relevant part:

In order to render aid to distressed persons, vessels, and aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to render aid to persons and property imperiled by flood, the Coast Guard may: (1) perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid persons and protect and save property…

14 U.S.C. 141 provides:

The Coast Guard, upon request, may use its personnel and facilities to assist any Federal agency, state, territory, possession, or political subdivision to perform activities for which the Coast Guard is “especially qualified.” This does not extend Coast Guard law enforcement authority (i.e. the Coast Guard does not gain the LE authority of any agency to which it is rendering assistance). Assistance meeting the “especially qualified” standard would include the employment of drug dogs, specialized equipment or techniques, use of vessels or aircraft, and other unique Coast Guard capabilities, but would not authorize Coast Guard personnel to engage in law enforcement activities ashore beyond the scope of organic Coast Guard law enforcement authority.

In this case, the capabilities at play are the Coast Guard’s expertise in and resources for search and rescue operations, particularly in maritime regions, including inland rivers. The mission requirements are met by continual coordination with local and state officials facilitated by representation at their county and state emergency operation centers.

Now, let’s move beyond current events in North Dakota, and look at other ways in which the Coast Guard can provide support to civil authorities. To start, here are some of the keystone Coast Guard law enforcement authorities:

14 U.S.C. 89: Authorizes the Coast Guard to go onboard any vessel subject to the jurisdiction or operation of any law of the United States, whether on the high seas, or on waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, in order to make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of laws of the U.S.

33 U.S.C. 1221 et seq.: Under the Ports & Waters Safety Act, Coast Guard Captains of the Port have extensive authority to control the anchorage and movement of vessels, establish safety and security zones in U.S. ports and waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction; control the entrance and departure of vessels from U.S. ports, and take other actions with respect to vessels, ports and port facilities to prevent or respond to various types of threats and hazards from terrorist acts to environmental hazards.

46 U.S.C. 70118: Authorizes limited law enforcement activities for Coast Guard personnel ashore at maritime facilities. While at facilities, Coast Guard personnel may make arrests without a warrant, but only for offenses against the United States committed in the presence of the officer. This also authorizes Coast Guard personnel to carry a firearm in the performance of their official duties – wherever located.

14 U.S.C. 95: Grants law enforcement authority for Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) special agents commensurate with special agents of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, in the enforcement of statutes under which the Coast Guard has law enforcement authority or under exigent circumstances. This authority is applicable to shoreside investigations & law enforcement activity.

When you take a look across the broad spectrum of Coast Guard authorities (the above being just a few of the more relevant), and then examine our capabilities, you are able to begin developing potential options for employment of Coast Guard support to civil authorities beyond our regular maritime safety and security operations. Examples include (these are neither definitive, nor all inclusive):

— Command and Control (C2) – The Coast Guard could provide both qualified personnel and deployable and mobile equipment support to provide or enhance C2 capabilities.
— Law enforcement technical support – This could include bomb and drug detection equipment, including canine teams.
— Air operations – Coast Guard aircraft could augment and assist with surveillance, transportation, airlift, and other logistic support.
— Intelligence – Coast Guard personnel, including CGIS Special Agents, could assist in intelligence collection and analysis.

It is important to understand that these operations are in addition to normal mission requirements and the Coast Guard is not staffed, equipped or appropriated to sustain these without additional support. In some cases, it may be necessary to call on our critical Coast Guard Reserve for additional capability and capacity. Attached is a table that describes who can call up Reservists, under what type and duration of recall, based on what events/declaration. /Reserve_Authorities.pdf

To summarize, our support to civil authorities will always be based on our legal authorities, capabilities, and the specific mission requirements as determined by consultation with other state, local and Federal partners and tailored to fit the situation at hand. Close adherence to this formula allows us to effectively and efficiently apply our broad authorities and unique capabilities for the best benefit of the American public, always consistent with Federal law and in close cooperation with local officials.

Posted by TAllen in Coast Guard | 2 Comments

It’s only been 48 hours and, clearly, somebody out there doesn’t like SECNAV nominee Ray Mabus.

Airing dirty laundry is, sadly, a tradition for high-level appointees. But given how orchestrated anti-nominee media campaigns can be, is this New York Times piece a first salvo in a messy nomination drama?

In 1998, as Mr. Mabus and his wife, Julie (now Julie Hines), sought to work out their marital problems, he surreptitiously recorded a meeting the couple had with the Rev. Jerry McBride, a mutual friend.

Mr. Mabus had told Mr. McBride in advance that he had been advised by a lawyer to tape the conversation, according to court records. Neither man mentioned the recording to Ms. Hines. During the session, she admitted having an affair and told her husband, “I will hate you till the day I die, and I will tell my children.”

An expert psychiatric witness for Mr. Mabus referred to Ms. Hines’s recorded comments as evidence that he should get legal custody of the couple’s two daughters. The judge in the case awarded legal custody to Mr. Mabus and split physical custody between him and Ms. Hines.

After the ruling, Ms. Hines, who expressed regret for her comments, sued Mr. McBride, his church and the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, alleging malpractice and fraud. She did not sue Mr. Mabus, who broke no laws by recording the meeting.

Rather than spend time bewailing reporter decency or judging the nominee’s actions, I’m simply resigned to having this stuff trickle out. These days, that’s the way it is.

Are the nominee’s personal foibles and hiccups materiel to the job he or she is to take?

It’s tough for nominees right now. With more and more data out in the public domain, blemish-free nominees are near-impossible to find. But, still, the general public seems to value “perfect” nominees far higher than “appropriate” ones.

At some point this process will hit an equilibrium, where the general public will realize that nobody is perfect, and, perhaps, allow the Senate to make the confirmation process an experience that–while grueling, intrusive and frighteningly thorough–leaves nominees far stronger than they were at the beginning.

It will be a long time in coming. In the meantime, (if you’ll allow me to bend an old saying) Governor Mabus and the Obama Administration went into the kitchen, and are OK with the heat. So far.

After all, Mabus has only been a nominee for 48 hours…


The internet is an interesting place, particularly in a world of information where credibility demands us to study our sources. We have to make judgments on credibility, do background research and analysis, and form conclusions regarding credibility of both information and author. For its part, the Navy mostly runs at EMCON ALPHA regarding force structure and other budget related issues, and has had this policy for a long time regarding foreign threats and capabilities that may drive the decision process. As a result, the maritime world has been forced to turn to other places for information, including blogs like this one or the blogs of the various authors who write here. All of sudden, a credible source might not be someone whose title is a rank like Admiral, but whose name is essentially a call sign like Galrahn. When dealing with the former, credibility is generally accepted, while with the latter credibility must be developed and earned.

One of the authors on my blog Information Dissemination is someone I have known online for many years, long before I began blogging. Feng is a long time contributor (even a part time moderator for validity purposes) at various military related internet forums, and runs a blog of his own that specifically discusses China Air and Naval Power. It isn’t enough for me to say Feng, who enjoys being anonymous for valid reasons, is a credible source; trusting some guys word (even mine) should never be enough. I would note however, that careful analysis to his credibility has been given by serious researchers in our government. For example, Ronald O’Rourke cites Feng a dozen times in his Congressional Research Service report titled China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress last updated November 19, 2008. Personally, I find Feng to be one of the very best serious researchers publishing English language content in the open source on China military activity relating to Naval and Air Force issues, and note that his contributions on my blog often provides imagery and analysis unique on English language open source forums.

I was recently given a tip regarding a blog post on a Chinese blog by a very well informed individual who studies Chinese threats and capabilities being developed by China against the United States Navy. Within 3 days, I was sent the blog address again, this time from a high ranking naval officer who has more than a passing interest in the subject. It is one thing to get a link from someone who simply passes on a link and says “check this out.” It is quite another to get the same tip from two credible individuals who do two very different things and most likely do not know each other.

I am not familiar with this Chinese blog, but I do note the blog cites sources for its content, consistently cites information that is verifiable and accurate in the various posts, and does appear to be very credible. Feng has done detailed analysis of the blog post on Information Dissemination, so there is no need to repeat his work, but it is appropriate to consider what this information means if Feng’s analysis is accurate. For the record, most of the conclusions Feng came to were similar to my own, but I wanted his second opinion before discussing in depth.

The generic summary of the article is that the blog post describes an anti-ship ballistic missile weapon system China has developed built around the DF-21 solid propellant ballistic missile. With a range of 2000km, the ballistic missile is intended to cover the radius out to the second island chain and sink US Navy aircraft carriers and other surface vessels. The weapon system has been given a maneuverable warhead, a complex guidance system, and adds a third stage to the ballistic missile system to add penetration capability and maneuverability.

To support this weapon system, China has also developed a series of reconnaissance capabilities ranging from satellites to signals intelligence to UAVs intended to locate US Navy surface forces and engage any ships moving into an attack zone, suggested to be inside the second island chain.

While elements of the program, including the DF-21 ballistic missile system itself, is thought to be IOC with published information now coming out in Chinese military journals, what is very clear is that the weapon system, and the supporting tracking and reconnaissance networks, are all in a steady state evolutionary development. This suggests that just as the US Navy is in an evolutionary process with ballistic missile defense, China is engaged in a similar evolutionary process for ballistic missile offense against major vessels at sea.

While not said specifically, previous news media reports have suggested that this capability that China has developed is the specific reason the US Navy changed directions so suddenly in the July 31, 2008 hearing in the House regarding the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class. As Vice Admiral Bernard J. “Barry” McCullough put it in his testimony that day (PDF):

Rapidly evolving traditional and asymmetric threats continue to pose increasing challenges to Combatant Commanders. State actors and non-state actors who, in the past, have only posed limited threats in the littoral are expanding their reach beyond their own shores with improved capabilities in blue water submarine operations, advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. A number of countries who historically have only possessed regional military capabilities are investing in their Navy to extend their reach and influence as they compete in global markets. Our Navy will need to out pace other Navies in the blue water ocean environment as they extend their reach. This will require us to continue to improve our blue water anti-submarine and anti-ballistic missile capabilities in order to counter improving anti-access strategies.

The Navy’s reaction is telling, because it essentially equals a radical change in direction based on information that has created a panic inside the bubble. For a major military service to panic due to a new weapon system, clearly a mission kill weapon system, either suggests the threat is legitimate or the leadership of the Navy is legitimately unqualified. There really aren’t many gray spaces in evaluating the reaction by the Navy, and given that Gene Taylor was convinced by the argument of Roughead regarding the necessity to adapt due to emerging requirement, the data tends to support the legitimacy of the threat.

For those who have read my content over the last few years, I would not be what is known as a China hawk, but I admit I find the idea that an anti-ship ballistic missile weapon system has achieved IOC very troubling. For the most part, I tend to dismiss the likelihood of a direct military confrontation between the US and China as long as our two economies are linked the way they are. I see China’s current rise very similar to our own nations path as a rising power prior to WWI, and think the odds of a US-China partnership in the 21st century are more likely than a US-China war. However, there is one trend that I do think our nation must keep a keen watch for in the 21st century, because it is the story of military procurement since the end of the cold war. Any military capability utilized by a major power will eventually be utilized by a lesser power, and I note all of the nations who seek ballistic missile weapon systems with their disconnected economic systems; North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan; and interest in the technology expanding to both South America and African nations; are essentially where the worlds troublemakers live whom we are most likely to fight if human history is our guide. We will fight them because of our superpower status, and that those are the countries more likely to start a fight with someone else, not necessarily us though.

There are a number of issues that interconnect the nature of this threat and build its credibility as a weapon system likely to be used by lesser powers. First, a nation with a robust ballistic missile capability can field satellites. Unmanned aviation vehicles are being propagated globally through legitimate exports, and the market is driving towards many advanced systems. Many of the state actors who are seeking ballistic missile capabilities are maritime powers with island bases distributed in major sea lanes, which increases reconnaissance options for tracking while decreases the expensive reconnaissance requirements.

These conditions raise several questions. Does the emergence of a new kill weapon demand a new discussion of fleet survivability? Should our traditional approach of developing counter-systems capabilities be the priority, for example, is AEGIS ballistic missile defense our best option for countering the capability being developed? While I think the idea of a 14,500 ton stealth warship in the littoral is hilarious (as in stupid) due to being countered by the MK 0 eyeball from the littoral population, perhaps stealth in blue water is something that needs serious discussion, after all, there are very few MK 0 eyeballs in the deep blue nowhere.

For the China specific threat, the trends in thinking suggest the solution lies in increasing the range for strike capabilities of the US Navy, the primary drivers being longer range precision missile systems with the MK57 and longer range carrier air wings with UCAVs. This does make some sense, but the question I would raise is how this is applied to the North Korea or Iran scenarios? In the case of both of those countries, the lanes of communication at sea are restricted through littoral channels and several islands extend the range of detection capabilities the enemy could field in those confined waters. That tends to support the ballistic missile defense capability.

Another suggestion often discussed is that submarines, not surface combatants, are the future because any ballistic missile system developed for offensive capabilities is specific to surface vessels. This is true, but submarines still require air cover for defense, and that air cover comes from either area air-warfare capabilities provided by surface vessels or aircraft, which may require an aircraft carrier.

The DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system represents in one capability the most important discussion the Navy is not having, and considering how many discussions the Navy is not having with the American people and Congress; I think that is saying something. The capability specifically raises the fundamental strategic choices that Congress faces, likely in total ignorance, when looking to how many and what type of ships the US Navy needs to build. Countering this weapon system is going to require very expensive ships, and several of them per high value unit (carriers and amphibs). Countering the capability requires additional assets, like rapidly deployable satellite systems, Air Force tankers, UCAVs to extend the strike range of the carrier air wings, and newer, more capable long range strike platforms that may include replacements for the highly capable but enormously expensive Ohio class SSGNs. The range of attack and defense for the US Navy will not only extend out to 2000 nautical miles, but will also be required to range up, perhaps to specifically engage satellite systems that provide guidance to those weapon systems. Most importantly, the US Navy will require large numbers of these very expensive systems, and anything less would represent a calculated political decision to accept the risk. If large numbers of very expensive and capable ships is not the political option available, then Congress needs to be open to other ideas.

Right now, there is absolutely ZERO evidence Congress is open to other ideas no matter what they say, and in person I observed in shock the evidence last week.

As I have thought through the challenges these type of emerging kill weapons bring to the maritime domain, my thoughts have been trending towards the necessity for a new fleet survivability discussion similar to the one raised in the late 1990s regarding littoral warfare by Cebrowski and Hughes. Hughes in particular raises the fleet survivability discussion in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, noting that one hallmark of naval combat in history is that it becomes a war of attrition. As a theory, this is accurate, but there is a major political pressure against the theory of attrition that prevents the discussion from even taking place.

I was struck this week when I sat in the House Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee hearing on Thursday discussing the requirements for the future capabilities of the United States maritime forces. During the hearing, Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett was discussing the Littoral Combat Ship, and as a former member of Cebrowski’s staff, he was reviewing with the committee his own experience regarding some of the idea discussions regarding the driving strategic concept the ship was attempting to inject into the fleet constitution discussion. Part of Cebrowski’s intent, according to Barnett, was to get the Navy to think about surface combatants in a different way, a move away from traditional platforms and towards new strategic paradigms that would encourage the Navy to think about how fleet forces operated. In his explanation, Dr. Barnett used an example of ejection seats as a way for a crew to survive a hit.

At that moment Dr. Loren Thompson jumped into the discussion, capitalizing on Barnett’s example as a form of fleet expendibility. I had been waiting, hoping actually, for exactly this kind of confrontation between Dr. Thompson and Dr. Barnett in the hearing, and was looking forward to seeing the two bloody the other a bit for the audience.

But inexplicably, Gene Taylor is sucked into Dr. Thompson’s distraction technique and chides Dr. Barnett about expendable crews, making the argument that if ships were expendable then it implied that crews are expendable; the irony being Dr. Thompson’s spin job is so effective Gene Taylor forgets the purpose of an ejection seat. Gene Taylor should have asked Dr. Barnett to respond to Dr. Thompson, and had the men beat up the arguments, because the results of Gene Taylor snipe at Barnett is very troubling, and probably undercut the intent of the entire hearing in the first place.

If the Chairman of the House Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee is unwilling to even consider a fleet survivability discussion within the context of a future capabilities discussion for US maritime forces, then he has established a policy that insures only the highest future capabilities should be considered by the US Navy when developing warships. If war at sea is historically, and by definition, a war of attrition, and political policy is established that no ships at all are expendable, even low intensity fighting forces, the only translation and conclusion one can make under such a policy is that no losses at sea are acceptable.

Policy drives strategy, so Gene Taylor’s policy would therefore drive fleet constitution strategy, and if we accept policy and align strategy to it, I honestly cannot think of any valid reason Gene Taylor’s policy shouldn’t inform the Navy the way ahead. Gene Taylor’s policy of unacceptable losses means under no condition can the Navy even consider a National Security Frigate based on the National Security Cutter, regardless of Gene Taylor’s support for it, because that ship has an even lower survivability standard than the Littoral Combat Ship, which already has the lowest allowable survivability standard of any “warship” the US Navy has built since WWII. It is a great irony that Gene Taylor probably felt satisfied beating up Dr. Barnett with his comment, but his comment was a political miscalculation with enormous consequences, because if the Navy has anyone intelligent in NAVSEA, that quote will be the primary quote used by the Navy to sink Gene Taylor’s own National Security Frigate idea because he laid down a policy that prohibits risk. Gene Taylor thought he was smacking Dr. Barnett, but he got played by Dr. Thompson’s mind games and shot his own leg off instead. I’m sure Northrop Grumman was impressed.

The Navy should be celebrating Gene Taylor’s policy moment, it is essentially top cover for everything they have done since July 31, 2008. Regardless of any future capabilities that could drive future fleet constitution, Gene Taylor’s comment can only be interpreted as guidance for the Navy to insure the Navy takes no chances and accepts no risks in developing future surface forces. When the most influential political figure in the United States regarding the US Navy makes clear that risk to warships is the single most important factor in a strategic discussion of future capabilities, the Navy would be absolutely foolish to develop the future fleet towards any other threats than the kill weapons. That means the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system, submarines, and anti-ship missiles must be the focus of the future fleet, and all the low end pressures will go without attention due to politically mandated policy that prohibits risk to ships.

Said another way, the Navy’s future surface fleet strategy would be more in line with policy to discuss stealth for future aircraft carriers, something I actually will discuss later this week, rather than discussing low intensity pirate activity because piracy doesn’t represent any threat at all to a US warship. It may not be a popular position, but Gene Taylor’s statement directs warship design specifically towards threats to ships, as opposed to threats to the global environment, and was very clear regarding the suggestion a ship can be expendable. Absent a higher political authority, like the President, Gene Taylor’s guidance should be taken very seriously (particularly in light of how much influence Rep Taylor has exercised since Roughead became CNO).

Gene Taylor was unwittingly fooled by Dr. Thomspon into arguing against his own National Security Frigate while essentially establishing a policy for guidance that makes questionable sense strategically in this fiscal environment for the sole purpose of slapping around Dr. Barnett, for what gain is unclear. The effect is clear though, the quote can be used by the Navy as top cover, and it doesn’t even have to be used out of context.

From this outside observers perspective, this is just one more example of how completely adrift at sea the entire political leadership establishment looks to be in strategic maritime discussions taking place in this country. Next thing you know we will have Congressional hearings on future capabilities and the future strategic environment where the Virginia representative complains about the maintenance facilities in Mayport so as to argue keeping carriers in Virginia, or the Connecticut representative will discuss submarine procurement rates for his local shipyard, or the Hawaii representative will discuss the damage to a coral reef due to a cruiser grounding off Pearl Harbor, or the Maine representative will want an engineering comparison regarding the differences between the DDG-51 and DDG-1000.

Oh damn, nevermind, that was exactly what happened last Thursday! Anyone want to take 3 guesses what the questions will be to the Navy come the May budget hearing? I predict the Navy will sail through the House hearing regarding the FY 2010 budget time under a light breeze now that the Navy knows exactly what questions to expect.

Bottom line: as long as the Navy makes sure no one gets hurt, no mistakes are made, and every ship is gold plated enough to remove any risk at all to their ships and crew, the Navy will be completely in line with the political policy and strategic vision of the future I saw advocated by political leadership on Thursday during a Congressional discussion that looks to the future. In other words, the Navy culture that is sometimes discussed in the context of being risk averse is more appropriately described as a reflection of political policy. When the political policy driving naval forces decisions favors the protection of technology instead of protecting strategic interests, the policy accepts greater risk for strategic miscalculations in favor of less risk for industrial interests.

I don’t care how much money one cuts from the defense budget, no amount of defense acquisition process reform can fix that problem.

Civilians are an important part of the Navy-Marine Corps Team! It is what that fact in mind I recently e-interviewed Tom Cutler about his latest book, NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the United States Navy. This book is a gem! 

What inspired you to write NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the United States Navy?

One day I was reading an article that championed the idea of the Navy as consisting of a triad of personnel and how the three components-active, reserve, and civilian-are of vital importance. The article made sense, and it pointed out that there some 180,000 civilians in the Navy in a wide spectrum of activity (as engineers, secretaries, teachers, etc, etc.). It suddenly occurred to me that this large component of the Navy-unlike the other two-does not go to Boot Camp or OCS or any other formalized introduction before entering this strange new world. And they have no introductory/reference book like The Bluejacket’s Manual to help them with this transition. So I decided to write such a book, geared specifically to them.

What are some of the topics you cover in NavCivGuide and what process did you use to select them?

I tried to think about what it would be like to be a civilian with no prior knowledge of or experience with the Navy, what it would be like to enter a world where people often referred to floors as decks, where 1315 was not a date in ancient history but a time in the here-and-now, where acronyms are a new language with no Rosetta software, where people have all sorts of things attached to their clothing that are not mere ornamentation. I tried to imagine what it would be like for a civilian to go aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time and have to find their way about. I then set about helping those individuals “crack the code” by writing NavCivGuide to cover all of these things and a great deal more.

Who should read NavCivGuide?

The obvious answer is anyone who is hired by the Navy, but there are many civilian contractors who could benefit from this book as well. And there are the so-called “buffs”-people who have no official connection to the Navy, but who have an interest in the service nonetheless.

What is the Blue & Gold Professional Library series?

These are all the books that the Naval Institute has been publishing, almost since its very beginning, that help Navy professionals do their jobs better. Such things as The Naval Officer’s Guide, Career Compass, Naval Shiphandling, The Chief Petty Officer’s Guide, and many more.

Most of the information found in these books can be found in Navy Instructions, on the Internet, and in various other locations, but what these Blue & Gold books do is collect that information into a single, organized source, synthesize the information so that it is much more accessible (free of official-speak, etc.), and perhaps most important of all, provide advice and guidance that you will not find elsewhere.

Are you working on any other books?

Always. I just finished a revision (24th edition) of The Bluejacket’s Manual that will be out soon, and I am currently working on a Navy equivalent of the Naval Institute’s recently well-received illustrated history of the U.S. Marine Corps: Leathernecks.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only my thanks for the opportunity to talk about these things. I love writing, but it is a strangely lonely occupation in that, even though you trust you are communicating with lots of people, you do not so directly and you must work in a kind of vacuum. It’s always a treat for a writer to be able to talk about his/her work.


The Bear, again

March 2009


From CNN yesterday:

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) — Russia will build at least six nuclear-powered submarines with long-range cruise missiles for its navy, a source in the Russian Defense Ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency.

The missiles can potentially carry low-capacity tactical warheads, the news agency reported Friday.

“These supersonic, highly maneuvering missiles are designed for strikes on aircraft carriers of the enemy if the latter poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” the unnamed source told Itar-Tass. “The missiles can be launched at the most important coastal facilities.”

The source added, “Despite the construction of a new nuclear submarine with new missiles, Russia intends to observe firmly international arms control agreements on equal terms with other countries.”

The Severodvinsk-class submarines are being built at the Sevmash shipyard, the center of Russian nuclear submarine production, according to Global Security’s Web site.

The new subs will be put into service for the Russian navy in 2011, the source told Itar-Tass.

Russia will finance the construction of the new submarine with long-range cruise missiles, First Deputy Chief of the Navy’s General Staff, Vice-Admiral Oleg Burtsev told Itar-Tass.

(My italics added)

Great photos from Coast Guard News’ photostream on the rescue efforts in Fargo, North Dakota.

Sumner-Gearing Class Destroyers

Their Design, Weapons, and Equipment

by Robert F. Sumrall

c1995 Naval Institute Press

Sumrall’s book, Sumner-Gearing Class Destroyers; Their Design, Weapons, and Equipment, is a highly technical work that provides superb detail, technical specifications, and abundant photographs and illustrations for a reader who is a naval architecture and shipbuilding enthusiast.

Sumrall begins his story with the signing of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, which imposed tonnage and design limits across the entire spectrum of warship classes, in all the world’s major navies. Sumrall takes us through the ups and downs of ship design and building during the interwar period, as the US Navy sought to replace the aging and inadequate “flush-deckers” that faced block obsolescence due to foreign design developments into the 1930s.

The author traces the pedigree of the Sumner-Gearings from the Farraguts and Porters, through the Benson-Gleaves class, to the 175 ships of the famous Fletcher-class, whose hull and engineering plants the Sumners shared. In that tracing, Sumrall lays out the progress of design and development of the boilers and turbines and the evolution of the main battery armament from the 4”/50 to the ubiquitous 5”/38 which saw sixty years of service. He introduces the various plans for proposed “improved Fletchers”, with drawings of the various layouts that were considered before BuShips settled on the familiar schema that would be the shape of destroyers for more than three decades.

Sumrall provides a fascinating and expertly-researched study of the Sumner-Gearings in service. He provides technical information and illustrations aplenty regarding weapons systems, fire control, engineering machinery, and radar/sonar suites for virtually the entire 168 units that entered US service. He outlines the mind-boggling modifications and alterations to radar, sonar, and AAW/ASW weapons systems as the threat changed from Japanese aircraft to Soviet submarines and surface fleet in the years following World War II. Sumrall spares no detail in examining the various conversions (DDE, DDK, DDR) that the Sumner-Gearings underwent, and provides copious data for each.

Perhaps the most interesting of all is Sumrall’s walk through the various and radical Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) programs that would keep the Sumner-Gearings in service for nearly two additional decades. Proposed in 1958 to modernize what was still the backbone of the US destroyer force, the FRAMs included extensive and radical overhaul as well as varying levels of modernization. The illustrations provided make clear the herculean tasks involved with the upgrade of these veteran warships, most of whom had seen extensive combat during World War II (and many during Korea), bringing them into the Missile Age of the 1960s Cold War.

This book is not without its recognition that these ships were more than steel plating and gray paint. Throughout, Sumrall writes with a clear affection for these sturdy, powerful, useful little ships. Additionally, Sumrall includes a series of photographs showing examples of the extensive damage suffered by some of these vessels from mines, kamikazes, and collisions, yet managed to survive and bring their crews home. Both the foreword and the postscript pay a touching tribute to these wartime designs of another age that remained the backbone of the US surface Navy far longer than their designers or builders ever would have imagined.

Interestingly, as of the book’s writing (1994), some two dozen Gearings remained in service with the world’s navies, many as the most modern and powerful units of those fleets. Nearly all have been decommissioned during this decade. (As of 2008, only one Gearing-class destroyer remained in service, Netzahualcóyotl (D-102), former USS Steinaker (DD-863), more than 25 years after being sold to Mexico, and more than sixty years after her commissioning.)


This book is not light reading, and will quickly overwhelm those who pick it up looking for stories of combat at sea. However, this book is a must for anyone whose interests lie in the design and building of modern warships. There are also some potential lessons for the US Navy one might draw from this work. Building sturdy, useful, flexible platforms that perform a variety of critical functions well pays off. So does a sensible plan for modernization of existing hulls, even after 15-20 years of service.


All in all, Sumrall’s work is a brilliantly researched and fascinating look at perhaps the greatest steel warships ever to put to sea. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every page.

Robert Sumrall, author of Iowa-Class Battleships, is a retired US Navy Chief Petty Officer whose 40 years’ service included extensive time on Gearing-class destroyers, as well as service aboard the aforementioned Iowa.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Books | 3 Comments

President Obama has picked his SECNAV,

President Obama will nominate former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to be secretary of the Navy and has tapped six other officials for key positions at the Department of Defense and elsewhere in his administration, the White House announced this afternoon.

Is he someone soaked in the Navy? Well, a bit.

As an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi, Mabus served in the Naval ROTC, and he later joined the Navy as a surface warfare officer on the Rhode Island-based USS Little Rock.

Ok, notsomuch.

However, if you are of the mind that what the Navy needs right now is political topcover as we make smoke and try to re-form our lines … then perhaps this is just what we need.

Mabus, 60, is a Democrat who served as governor from 1988 to 1992 and was President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. A Democrat, Mabus endorsed Obama before the 2008 primary season and campaigned extensively on his behalf.

My guess would be that he has a good relationship with Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), a if not the critical Democrat in Congress when it comes to shipbuilding – that is good news regardless if you like Rep. Taylor’s ideas or not. Snerk, I know the folks at Ingalls are happy ….

His resume summary,

Ray Mabus has served as Governor of Mississippi, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Chairman and CEO of Foamex, a large manufacturing company. As the youngest governor of Mississippi in more than 100 years at the time of his election, he stressed education and job creation. He passed B.E.S.T. (Better Education for Success Tomorrow), one of the most comprehensive education reform programs in America and was named one or Fortune Magazine’s top ten education governors. During his tenure as Ambassador, a crisis with Iraq was successfully deterred and Saudi Arabia officially abandoned the boycott of United States businesses that trade with Israel. He was chosen CEO of Foamex to help lead it out of bankruptcy. Less than nine months after his appointment, Foamex successfully emerged from Chapter 11. Governor Mabus has been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Martin Luther King Social Responsibility Award from the King Center in Atlanta, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, the King Abdul Aziz Award from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Mississippi Association of Educators’ Friend of Education Award.

We should all wish him the best of luck – and the hope he picks a good team.

Cross posted @ CDR Salamander.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 2 Comments
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