Archive for March, 2009

As Chinese and American warships ships go toe-to-toe in the seas off China, I find myself wishing Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. was still alive.

The venerable Admiral knew China. In the closing days of World War II, he helped China re-occupy the Yangtze River, and found his wife–a Harbin native–in the chaos of 1945 Shanghai.

Admiral Zumwalt also knew how to confront challenges at sea. As a young captain of the guided-missile frigate Dewey, Admiral Zumwalt kept his cool as Russian vessels charged to within 50 yards of his new command.

This sagacious officer eventually became the 19th Chief of Naval Operations, and, in his memoir, “On Watch,” Admiral Zumwalt offers some wisdom for those powers eager to engage in an at-sea shoving match. First, the primary actors–warship captains on either side–are young, brash and competitive:

“Incidents at Sea can be described with a fair amount of accuracy as an extremely dangerous, but exhilarating running game of “chicken” that American and Soviet ships had been playing with each other for many years. Official Navy statements always have blamed the Russians for starting this game, but as any teen-aged boy knows, it takes two to make a drag race…”

Second, things can get out of hand:

“…Of course, in addition to being juvenile, these incidents were terribly dangerous. Beyond the immediate damage to property and the loss of life any one of them might cause, any one could lead people to shoot at each other with results that might be by that time impossible to control…”

Finally, it is up to responsible elders to restrain their “little emperors” at sea:

“…The three year agreement on Incidents at Sea, with automatic renewals, signed in Moscow was less significant for what it said, which was little more than a reaffirmation of the Rules of the Road, than for what it represented, which was a desire on the part of the Soviet leadership to normalize maritime behavior, now that they were strong at sea. It was always my opinion that the leadership on both sides was less anxious to play the kind of game I have described than peppery young ship captains were. Thus the agreement can be taken, for one thing, as a public admonition to peppery youngsters in both camps to behave themselves.”

We may yet discover Chinese leaders, though they might be willing, are unable to quickly normalize maritime behavior. When intimidation becomes more a habit than tactic, such behavior is very, very hard to stop.


The Hyper War website has scanned and posted a great number of battle damage reports from the Second World War, including some from the most famous US Naval actions in her history. Among them is the loss report of the three US Cruisers, Quincy (CA-39), Astoria (CA-34), and Vincennes (CA-44).

Since the topic of that tragic 8-9 August 42 action has come up in several comments of late, I wanted to offer this up for reading. Despite the official tone of the summaries, it isn’t hard to get a feel for the frightful and bloody chaos on those decks and in the waters around Savo.

Here it is: savo-battle-damage-reports

One very interesting question has an answer that eludes me. So I will offer it out to those smarter than I am. What prompted the decision for the US Navy in the 1930s to remove the torpedo tubes from its heavy and light cruisers? There are references to some Naval War College war games, whose results are referenced as an impetus to that decision. But I have not seen any written summary of those conclusions any place. The decision certainly ran counter to the thinking of the Royal Navy and the IJN. Anyone have any insight?

I recently had the honor of e-interviewing Col. Joseph Alexander (USMC-Ret.) co-author of Through the Wheat: The U.S. Marines in World War I

What makes Through the Wheat the best history of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War I?

I’ll not stake that claim, but I believe Through the Wheat is the best comprehensive history of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War I because it covers in depth not only the 4th Marine Brigade on the Western Front, but also the pioneering combat deployment of Marine aviation to France and the Azores, the service of thousands of other Marines with the Atlantic Fleet, and the experiences of Marine expeditionary forces in Central America, the Caribbean, and the Far East-including the little known landing of Marines in Siberia during the Russian Revolution. I think the best book about the Marines in World War I is John W. Thomason’s fictional but authentic account, Fix Bayonets! (1925). Other notable books about World War I Marines include Robert B. Asprey’s At Belleau Wood (1965), George B. Clark’s Devil Dogs (2000), and Peter F. Owen’s To the Limits of Endurance (2007).

Brig. Gen. Edwin Simmons was eulogized by General Carl Mundy as a “Warrior Historian.” What was it like to be asked by him to complete his World War I book?

For all of General Simmons’ love of military history, he was a warrior first, an infantry officer who commanded every element from a platoon to a regiment. His defense of a roadblock in Seoul against a North Korean armored attack in September 1950 reflected discipline, courage, and quick thinking. He brought those qualities to the new position of Director of Marine Corps History. We had collaborated on several combat documentaries for The History Channel and had written sequential monographs for the 50th Anniversary of the Marines in the Korean War. I knew he was concerned about being able to complete his long deferred history of the Marines in WW 1 before his health deteriorated, but I was floored when he asked me to finish the project. Floored and honored.

Who are some of the Marines you profile in Through the Wheat?

John A. Lejeune casts a long shadow through these pages. He helped the Corps maintain its traditional standards of discipline and marksmanship throughout its unprecedented 5-fold expansion and commanded the U.S. 2nd Division in the critical battles of St. Mihiel, Belleau Wood, and the Meuse-Argonne. Other future commandants-Wendell Neville, Thomas Holcomb, Clifton Cates, and Lemuel Shepherd-displayed early evidence of their gritty leadership in the slaughter-pen of Belleau Wood. Some of the Corps’ most legendary NCOs stood to the fore in this desperate fighting, men like Dan Daly, Louis Cukela, Gerald Thomas, Charlie Dunbeck, and James Gallivan. Aviation pioneers Alfred Cunningham and Roy Geiger trained a new generation of flyers, including slightly built, poetry-writing Ralph Talbot, the only Marine officer to receive the Medal of Honor in the war.

Why does Belleau Wood still resonate as a touchstone battle of the Marine Corps?

Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, and the Chosin Reservoir are the three touchstone battles for the Corps. At Belleau Wood the 4th Marine Brigade sustained 55% casualties in 20 days of point-blank fighting. With considerable help from US Army and French infantry, artillery, and engineers, the Marines decisively defeated the better part of three veteran German divisions whose explicit mission was to defeat and humiliate the Americans in their first major combat. Before Belleau Wood, the Marines had served primarily as sea-going light infantry, best suited for short landing operations against bandits, pirates, or insurgents. Belleau Wood revealed that the Marines could fight and win significant battles against the most well-armed enemy the nation had yet to face.

What inspired Edwin Simmons’ interest in World War I?

Growing up in Billingsport, New Jersey, young Ed Simmons used to accompany his father on weekend visits to the local American Legion Hall, where middle-aged veterans of World War I held forth with their accounts of the great battles of Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Soissons. Later, a German veteran working on the Lehigh University campus provided detailed accounts of the temployment of Maxim heavy machine-guns in both the offense and defense. Simmons later put those principles to good use as commanding officer of the weapons company in the 1st Marines in the Battle for Seoul. He had also known many of the Marine veterans of the Western Front, including Lemuel Shepherd, Gerald Thomas, Logan Feland, and LeRoy Hunt. In his last years he enjoyed a memorable tour of the World War I battlefields with his son Clarke.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The book introduces a number of lesser known Marines, riflemen and aviators alike, whose story in many cases is told for the first time. Typical of these is Private James T. Hatcher, a Texan who originally tried to enlist in the US Cavalry, then chose the Marines. Hatcher’s reflections on his recruit training, deployment, and fighting at Verdun, Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Blanc Mont (wounded and evacuated) provide an exceptional perspective from the ranks. It was a hell of a war, and it changed the Marine Corps irrevocably.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments

The education of midshipmen is fairly well documented during the school week, and at some point it will probably be a subject of a post. However, I was recently reminded that learning can continue onto liberty. 

One of the great experiences we have are the foreign exchange programs. If selected, midshipmen have the opportunity to spend a semester at foreign universities or military academies. The ones I know who have gone abroad have developed some great friendships. It’s the “grunt work” for the Cooperative Maritime Strategy’s goal of “fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships with more international partners.”

This past Friday I got to see the benefits. I went out with a friend who spent last semester on exchange at the Japanese Self-Defense Academy to have dinner with a friend he had made in Japan. She’d been living in the US for six months, so we began to make conversation about her experiences. In fact, she had taken to the T.V. show “Family Guy,” enjoyed a game of Red Sox baseball, and really liked the American food. My friend mentioned he was going to see if he could inscribe Japanese characters on the inside of his class ring, celebrating his time as a member of “Class 54” at JDSA. We even talked about  the protest the George Washington received when visiting Yokosuka. 

I had tended to view “fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships” as something we see on the news: meetings between heads of state, joint military exercises, dispatching aid, etc. However, by sending service members abroad on cultural immersion trips, we don’t only gain more knowledge about another country, we develop personal relationships–the kind of relationships which make one consider inscribing foreign characters on his class ring. The experience was an excellent reminder that building human relationships is still vitally important in a service known for projecting power.

Proceedings Vol. 80, No.5, May 1954

By almost any measure Harvard Professor Sam Huntington was the preeminent political scientist of his generation. When he was but 27, three years before he wrote The Soldier and the State, the classic on civil-military relations, Professor Huntington authored a May 1954 Proceedings article, ‘National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy’. In this powerful essay, he laid down a challenge to the military services that resonates today even more than it did over 50 years ago: “If a service does not possess a well-defined strategic concept, the public and political leaders will be confused as to the role of the service . . . and apathetic or hostile to the claims made by the service on the resources of society.” And specifically of the Navy, “What function do you perform which obligates society to assume responsibility for your maintenance?”

Tom Wilkerson
Major General, USMC (Ret.)
U. S. Naval Institute CEO


The Elements of a Military Service

The fundamental element of a military service is its purpose or role in implementing national policy. The statement of this role may be called the strategic concept of the service. Basically, this concept is a description of how, when, and where the military service expects to protect the nation against some threat to its security. If a military service does not possess such a concept, it becomes purpose-less, it wallows about amid a variety of conflicting and confusing goals, and ultimately it suffers both physical and moral degeneration. A military service may at times, of course, perform functions unrelated to external security, such as internal policing, disaster relief, and citizenship training. These are, however, subordinate and collateral responsibilities. A military service does not exist to perform these functions; rather it performs these functions because it has already been called into existence to meet some threat to the national security. A service is many things; it is men, weapons, bases, equipment, traditions, organization. But none of these have meaning or usefulness unless there is a unifying purpose which shapes and directs their relations and activities towards the achievement of some goal of national policy.

A second element of military service is the resources, human and material, which are required to implement its strategic concept. To secure these resources it is necessary for society to forego the alternative uses to which these resources might be put and to acquiesce in their allocation to the military service. Thus, the resources which a service is able to obtain in a democratic society are a function of the public support of that service. The service has the responsibility to develop this necessary support, and it can only do this if it possesses a strategic concept which clearly formulates its relationship to the national security. Hence this second element of public support is in the long run, dependent upon the strategic concept of the service. If a service does not posses a well defined strategic concept, the public and the political leaders will be confused as to the role of the service, uncertain as to the necessity of its existence and apathetic or hostile to the claims made by the service upon the resources of society.

Organizational structure is the third element of a military service. For given these first two elements, it becomes necessary to group the resources allocated by society in such a manner as most effectively to implement the strategic concept. Thus the nature of the organization likewise is dependent upon the nature of the strategic concept. Hence there is no such thing as the ideal form of military organization. The type of organization which may be appropriate for one military service carrying our one particular strategic concept may be quite inappropriate for another service with a different concept. This is true not only in the lower realms of tactical organization but also in the higher reaches of administrative and departmental structure.

In summary, then, a military service may be viewed as consisting of a strategic concept which defines the role of the service in national policy, public support which furnishes it with the resources to perform this role, and organizational structure which groups the resources so as to implement most effectively the strategic concept.

Shifts in the international balance of power will inevitably bring about changes in the principal threats to the security of any given nation. These must be met by shifts in national policy and corresponding changes in service strategic concepts. A military service capable to meeting one threat to the national security loses its reason for existence when that threat weakens or disappears. If the service is to continue to exist, it must develop a new strategic concept related to some other security threat. As its strategic role changes, it may likewise be necessary for the service to expand, contract, or alter its sources of public support and also to revamp its organizational structure in the light of this changing mission.

Penetrating deep into the “World Island,” the Mediterranean provides and unusually dramatic example if the possible theatre of operations of a transoceanic navy. In the above photograph, the destroyer Gearing is shown fueling from the cruiser Newport News, a routine operation for the “base-less” Sixth Fleet.

The Crisis of the Navy

That the United States Navy was faced with a major crisis at the end of World War II is a proposition which will hardly be denied. It is not as certain, however, that the real nature and extent of this crisis has been so generally understood. For this was not basically a crisis of personnel, leadership, organization, material, technology, or weapons. It was instead of a much more profound nature. It went to the depths of the Navy’s being and involved its fundamental strategic concept. It was thus a crisis which confronted the Navy with the ultimate question: What function do you perform which obligates society to assume responsibility for your maintenance? The crisis existed because the Navy’s accustomed answer to this question-the strategic concept which the Navy had been expressing and the public had been accepting for well over half a century- was no longer meaningful to the Navy nor convincing to the public.

The existence of this crisis was dramatically symbolized by the paradoxical situation in which the Navy found itself in 1945: It possessed the largest fleet in its history and superficially it had less reason to maintain such a fleet than ever before. The fifteen battleships, one hundred aircraft carriers, seventy cruisers, three hundred and fifty destroyers, and two hundred submarines of the United States Navy floated in virtually solitary splendor upon the waters of the earth. It appeared impossible, if not ridiculous, for the Navy still to claim the title of the Nation’s “first line of defense” when there was nothing for the Navy to defend the nation against.

Critics of the Navy were not slow in undermining the latter’s public support by pointing out these paradoxes. As one high ranking Air Force officer put it:

Why should we have a Navy at all? The Russians have little or no Navy, the Japanese Navy has been sunk, the navies of the rest of the world are negligible, the Germans never did have much of a Navy. The point I am getting at is, who is this big Navy being planned to fight? There are no enemies for it to fight except apparently the Army Air Force. In this day and age to talk of fighting the next war on the oceans is a ridiculous assumption. The only reason for us to have a Navy is just because someone else has a Navy and we certainly do not need to waste money on that.

The public appeal of this simple logic was enhanced by the widespread postwar reaction against the military, the popular desire to reduce the defense budget, and the fact that one of the Navy’s sister services possessed in intercontinental atomic bombing a strategic concept which seemed to promise a maximum of security at a minimum of cost and troublesome intervention in world politics. It is hardly surprising that as a result a 1949 Gallup Poll revealed that 76% of the American people thought that the Air Force would play the most important role in winning any future war whereas only 4% assigned this role to the Navy.

This lack of purpose had its organizational implications also. Most important among these was the tendency to increase naval opposition to unifications of the armed forces. Without an accepted strategic concept the Navy had to rely upon organizational autonomy rather than uniqueness of mission to maintain its identity and integrity. This had additional unfortunate implications for naval public support, however, since it enabled its critics to paint the picture of a willful group of die-hard admirals opposing unification for purely selfish purposes.

The causes of this crisis of purpose and its unfortunate political and organizational implications were to be found, of course, in the redistribution of international power which occurred during World War II, the new threats to American national security which emerged after the War, and the consequent shifts in American foreign policy to meet these threats. The critics of the Navy argued in effect that these changes left the Navy without a strategic concept relevant to the postwar world. If they were to be proved wrong and if the Navy were not be reduced to a secondary service concerned exclusively with protection of supply lines, the Navy must find a new role for itself in national policy. It is the principal thesis of this article that out of the postwar uncertainty, demoralization, and confusion, there has developed a new naval doctrine which realistically relates the Navy to national goals. The substance of this concept has already been described and formulated by a number of naval writers and leaders, and the development of this doctrine must eventually have a significant effect on the public support and organization of the Navy. This doctrine, however, will require a fundamental revolution in naval thinking. Consequently before describing it in detail, it will be appropriate to consider briefly the nature of the relation between the Navy and national policy in the past.

The Navy and National Policy: Continental Phase

The first stage of American national security policy may best be described as the Continental Phase. This lasted approximately from the founding of the Republic down to the 1890’s. During this period the threats to the national security arose primarily upon this continent and were met and disposed of on this continent. The limited capabilities of the United States during these years did not permit it to project its power beyond the Western Hemisphere. And, indeed, the history of this period may also be interpreted as the history of the gradual struggle by the United States for supremacy within the American continent. This policy manifested itself in our refusal to enter into entangling alliances with non-American powers, in our promulgation and defense of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, and in our gradual expansion westward to the Pacific.

During these years those threats which arose to the national security were generally dealt with on land, and sea power consequently played a subordinate role in the implementation of a national policy. The most persistent security threat, of course, came from the Indian tribes along the western and southern frontiers. These could only be met by the army and the militia. Similarly during the War of 1812 the American Navy was unable to prevent the British from reinforcing Canada, seizing and burning the national capitol, and landing an army at New Orleans. Instead, each of these threats had to be countered by what land forces there were available. The Mexican War was likewise primarily an army affair, although the Navy in the closing campaign of the war performed yeoman service in landing Scott’s army at Vera Cruz. Still later in the century when the activities of the French in Mexico violated the Monroe Doctrine, the threat was met not by cutting the maritime communications between France and Mexico, but rather by massing Sherman’s veterans along the Rio Grande. American power was thus virtually never utilized outside the American continents during this period and was confined to the gradual elimination of all potential threats to American security which might originate within that Hemisphere. This phase may be said to have come to an end with the final pacification of the Indians in the 1890s and its termination is symbolized in Olney’s bold statement to the British government during the 1895 Venezuela boundary dispute, “Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.”

The Navy’s subordinate role during this Continental Phase of policy is well indicated by the miscellaneous nature of its military functions. These were basically threefold. First, there were the Navy’s responsibilities for coastal defense. From the time of Jefferson’s administration down through the 1880s this resulted in the construction of a whole series of gunboats and monitors designed solely for this purpose. Secondly, the Navy was responsible for protecting American commerce overseas and, in the event of war, raiding the commerce of the enemy. For this purpose the Navy was deployed in half a dozen squadrons scattered about the world from the Mediterranean to the East Indies and was largely equipped with fast frigate-cruiser type vessels. Thirdly, during the Mexican War and the Civil War, when the United States was fighting two nations powerless at sea, the Navy performed valuable functions in blockading the enemy and assisting in amphibious operations. These miscellaneous military functions did not, however, exhaust the activities of the Navy during this period. Since these military functions were of a general secondary nature, the Navy tended to acquire a wide variety of essentially civilian functions and directly related to any security threat. These included the support of general scientific research, the organization of a number of exploring expeditions, the frequent performance by the naval officers of diplomatic functions, and the utilizations of members of the naval service to administer civilian department of government. In general, during this period the Navy had no clearly essential role to play in meeting any major security threats and consequently tended to dissipate its energies over this wide variety of civilian and military functions.

The subordinate role of the Navy in implementing national policy was reflected in the weak public support which it received during this period. The continuous expansion of the nation westward tended steadily to decrease the political power of those sections most sympathetic to the Navy, and after the Federalists were swept out of office in 1800 it is not inaccurate to say that the government was generally dominated by political groups either indifferent to or actively hostile towards the Navy. The farmers of the interior tended to view the naval establishment as an unnecessary if not dangerous burden on the national economy. Consequently the Navy was frequently allowed to fall into fairly serious states of disrepair, reaching its lowest point the post Civil War years.

Since the Navy had no definite role to play in implementing national policy, it was unnecessary for it to have a type of organization which emphasized a distinction between its military and civilian functions. Consequently, although there was a major change in naval organization in 1842, when the bureau system was introduced, nonetheless the basic pattern of naval organization remained the same throughout the entire period. Neither under the Board of Naval Commissioners nor under the bureaus was there any clear differentiation between the military and the civilian functions of the naval department under the supervision of the Secretary. When during the Civil War the Navy was called upon to perform a significant military function, a special officer had to be designated to direct the military activities of the fleet. With this exception, however, naval organization reflected the inability of the Navy to develop a strategic concept relating it to the goals of national security policy.

The Navy and National Policy: Oceanic Phase

All this changed in the 1890s when the United States began to project its interests and power across the oceans. The acquisition of overseas territorial possession and the involvement of the United States in the maintenance of the balance of power in Europe and Asia necessarily changed the nature to the security threats with which it was concerned. The threats to the United States during this period arose not from this continent but rather from the Atlantic and Pacific oceanic areas and the nations bordering on those oceans. Hence it became essential for the security of the United States that it achieve supremacy on those oceans just as previously it had been necessary for it to achieve supremacy within the American continent. This change in our security policy was dramatically illustrated by the war with Spain. What began as an effort to dislodge a secondary European power from its precarious foothold on the American continent ended with the extension of American interests and responsibilities to the far side of the Pacific Ocean.

This new position of the United States made it one of several major powers each of which was attempting to protect its security through the development of naval forces. This meant dramatic changes in the position of the Navy, and the role of the Army in implementing national policy became secondary to that of the Navy. Instead of performing an assortment of miscellaneous duties none of them particularly crucial to the national security, the Navy was not the Nation’s “First line of defense.” In a little over twenty years, from 1886 down to 1907, the United States Navy moved from twelfth place to second place among the navies of the world. This dramatic change required a revolution in the thinking of the Navy, the operations of the Navy, and the composition of the Navy.

The revolution in naval thinking and the development of a new strategic concept for the Navy reached its climax, of course, in the work of Alfred Thayer Mahan. The writings of this naval officer accurately portrayed the new role of the Navy. Attacking the old idea that the functions of the Navy were related to coastal defense and commerce destruction, Mahan argued that the true mission of navy was acquiring command of the sea through the destruction of the enemy fleet. Mahan vented his scorn upon the “police” functions to which the Navy had been relegated during this previous period of national strategy was undergoing a profound change, he failed to realize that these “police” functions had been just as well adapted to the achievement of national aims in this period as his “command of the sea” doctrine was just beginning. To secure command of the sea it was necessary to have a stronger battle-fleet than the enemy. This could only be secured by building more ships than other nations, insuring that the ships which one did build were larger and had more fire power than those of other nations and keeping those ships grouped together in a single fleet instead of deployed all over the world in separate squadrons. The net results were naval races, big-gun battleships, and the theory of concentration as the chief aim of naval strategy.

As generalized in the preceding paragraph, the Mahan doctrine was accepted by virtually all the world’s naval powers. Each country, however, also had to apply the doctrine to the threats peculiar to it. Down until World War II the United States was about equally concerned with the threats presented by the Japanese and German navies. The fleet was kept concentrated on the Atlantic coast- this was the location of most of the shipyards and the Navy’s most consistent public support-and the Isthmus canal was rushed to completion. With the destruction of German surface power the fleet was shifted to the Pacific, and throughout the following two decades American naval thought was oriented almost exclusively towards the possibility of a war with Japan. This was responsible not only for the location of the fleet but also for the development of weapons and techniques which could be effectively employed in the broad reaches of the Pacific. In the 1941-1945 naval war with Japan, the Navy in effect realized the strategic concept which dominated its planning for twenty years.

The increased importance of the Navy to national security towards the end of the nineteenth century was paralleled by the increased prestige of the Navy throughout the country. Public opinion came to view the Navy as the symbol of America’s new role in world affairs. Business groups which were now playing an increasingly important role in government were generally more favorably inclined towards the Navy than the agrarian groups which had previously been dominant. The Navy League of the United States was organized and played a major role in interpreting the Navy to the public. Presidents – particularly the two Roosevelts – and congressional leaders turned a more sympathetic ear to the Navy’s requests for funds. Thus the Navy was able to get that public support which was necessary for it to implement its strategic concept.

The emergence of a well-defined military function for the Navy meant that the old organization of the Navy Department had to be altered also. The formation of the fleet and the development of its purely military role permitted the business of the Department to be roughly divided into the two categories of military functions and civilian functions. The reformers within the Navy hence campaigned for an organizational structure which reflected this duality of function. This campaign resulted in the creation of the General Board in 1900, the institution of the naval aids in 1909, and eventually the creation of the Office of Naval Operations in 1915. In time, the Chief of this latter office assumed the responsibility for the military aspects of the Navy while the bureau chiefs continued to report directly to the Secretary on the performance of their civilian duties.

National Policy in The Eurasian Phase

The Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean - Implementing the U.S. Navy's Post World War II Strategic Concept

From one point of view, the sea itself has become the base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet, and the Fleet is the base, in turn, for operations that can project sea power a thousand miles in any direction.

The close of World War II marked a change in the nature of American security policy comparable to that which occurred in the 1890s. The threats which originated around the borders of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had been eliminated. But they had only disappeared to be replaced by a more serious threat originating in the heart of the Eurasian continent. Hence American policy moved into a third stage which involved the projection, or the possible projection in the event of war, of American power into that continental heartland. The most obvious and easiest way by which this could be achieved was by long-range strategic bombing and consequently American military policy in the immediate post war period tended to center on the atomic bomb and the intercontinental bomber. Subsequently the emphasis shifted to the development of a system of alliances and the continuing application of American power through the maintenance of United States forces on that continent. These two approaches furnished the Air Force and the Army with strategic roles to play in the implementation of national policy. What, however, was to be the mission of the Navy? How could the Navy play a role in applying American power to the Eurasian continent? This was the challenge which the new dimension of American foreign policy placed before the Navy, which temporarily caused the Navy to falter and hesitate, and which finally was met by the development of a New Naval Doctrine defining the role of the Navy in the Cold War.

The New Naval Doctrine: The Transoceanic Navy

This new doctrine as it emerges from the writings of postwar naval writers and leaders basically involves what may be termed the theory of the transoceanic navy, that is, a navy oriented away from the oceans and toward the land masses on their far side. The basic elements of this new doctrine and the differences between it and the naval concept of the Oceanic phase may be summarized under the headings that follow.

1. The Distribution of International Power

The basis of the new doctrine is recognition of the obvious fact that international power is now distributed not among a number of basically naval powers but rather between one nation and its allies which dominate the land masses of the globe and another nation and its allies which monopolize the world’s oceans. This bipolarity of power around a land-sea dichotomy is the fundamental fact which makes the Mahanite concept inapplicable today. For the implicit and generally unwritten assumption as to the existence of a multi-sea power world was the foundation stone for Mahan’s strategic doctrine. Like any writer Mahan grasped for the eternal verities and attempted to formulate what seemed to him the permanent elements of naval strategy. But also like every other writer his theory and outlook were conditioned by the age in which he lived. That age was one in which the decisive wars were between competing naval powers. This multisea power world had its origins in the rise of the European nation-state system, the discovery of the New World, and the resulting competition between the European nations for overseas colonies and trade. This period of sea power competition lasted roughly from the middle to the seventeenth century to the middle of the twentieth and is divisible into two sub-periods. The first sub-period lasting to 1815 was characterized by intense naval competition and warfare between Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. In the end, after the series of exhausting conflicts culminating in the Napoleonic Wars and Trafalgar, Great Britain emerged as the dominant sea power. From 1815 down to the 1890s she maintained this position without serious challenge. By the end of the century however, a new round of competition developed as Germany, the United States, and Japan arose to challenge British naval supremacy. This second period witnessed the defeat of the German and Japanese navies in World War I and World War II respectively, and ended with Anglo-American, or, more specifically, American naval power dominant throughout the world.

In the light of this naval history it is important to recognize that Mahan’s entire thought was geared to this sea power stage in world history. Basically what he did was to study intensively the first sub-period in this stage and then apply the principles gained from such study to the second sub-period in which he lived. This technique gave a superficial air of lasting permanence to his doctrine: for if the principles underlying seventeenth century naval warfare and sea power were applicable at the end of the nineteenth century, then surely these must be universal principles valid throughout history. In actuality, these two sub-periods were, however, unique in their similarity. The first coincided with the initial surge of European colonialism into the New World, and the second coincided with the later surge of that colonialism into Africa and Asia. These are not situations which will be repeated again.

It should also be noted that it was not just chance which led Mahan to concentrate his historical studies on the period from 1660 to 1815. For, although he admitted in a letter to Rear Admiral Stephen A. Luce that “there are a good many phases of naval history,” he nonetheless believed that he had been “happily led to take up that period succeeding the peace of Westphalia, 1648 when the nations of Europe began clearly to enter on and occupy their modern positions, struggling for existence and predominance.” And it was also generally characteristic of this period that, as Mahan said except for Russia and possibly Austria, the force of every European state could “be exerted only through a navy.”

All the other facets of Mahan’s thought rest upon his assumption of the existence of two or more competing naval powers. The idea that the purpose of a navy is to secure command of the sea, that to achieve this end concentration of force in a battlefleet is necessary, and that victory will go to that fleet with the biggest ships, the biggest guns, and the thickest armor, all rest logically on this premise. For obviously the concentration of force in a battlefleet is necessary only if the enemy is capable of doing the same. And, as Bernard Brodie has pointed out, the idea of developing a battlefleet to secure command of the sea originated in the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the middle seventeenth century, at the beginning of this sea power phase of history.

To deny the permanent validity of Mahan’s theory is not to deny the brilliance of Mahan’s insight. To describe and formulate the principles underlying the major developments in world history over a period of three hundred years in no mean achievement. But we must not permit the impressiveness of Mahan’s accomplishment to blind us to the inapplicability of his strategic concept at the present time. A world divided into one major land power and one major sea power is different from a world divided among a number of rival sea powers. The strategy of monopolistic sea power is different from that of competitive sea power. The great oceans are no longer the no man’s land between the competing powers. The locale of the struggle has shifted elsewhere, to the narrow lands and the narrow seas which lie between those great oceans on the one hand and the equally immense spaces of the Eurasian heartland on the other. This leads us to the second element which distinguishes the new strategic doctrine from the old.

2. The Site of Decisive Action

The Mahan theory justly emphasized not only the influence of sea power but also the decisiveness of naval battle. The sea was a battleground, “a wide common,” and the only avenue through which every power could strike at the interests of every other power. Major fleet actions were the decisive events in most of the principal wars of this period from the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to the dispersion of the remnants of the Japanese Fleet in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944. Between these encounters there were a whole series of naval battles which significantly influenced the course of history: Lowestoft, The Texel, Beach Head, Ushant, Trafalgar, Manila Bay and Santiago, Tsushima Straits, Jutland, Coral Sea, Midway. Mahan demonstrated the decisive character of the naval engagements in the first round of naval competition; and his teachings and his successors have illuminated the decisiveness of the subsequent ones. While not denying the importance of land battles, nor the significance of such techniques as naval blockade, the strategic concept of this previous age nonetheless emphasized the significance of naval engagements fought solely at sea.

In a world in which a continental power confronts a maritime power, this is no longer possible. As most recent naval writers have recognized, major fleet actions are a thing of the past. The locale of decisive action has switched from the sea to the land; not the inner heart of the land mass, to be sure, but rather to the coastal area, to what various writers have described variously as the Rimland, the Periphery, or the Littoral. It is here rather than on the high seas that the decisive battles of the cold war and of any future hot war will be fought. Consequently, naval writers in the period since 1945 have not hesitated to admit and, indeed, to proclaim the importance of ground force. The reduction of enemy targets on land, Admiral Nimitz stated, “is the basic objective of warfare.” Criticizing
The Mahan doctrine for tending to erect sea power into an independent thing-in-itself (a view which was not far wrong when the conflict of sea power against sea power was the decisive event in war), Walter Millis argues that:

Korea is one long lesson in the double fact that all military power is” land power”; and that it can be effectively exercised, under the conditions created by modern technology, only by the most skillful combination and concentration of all available weapons, whether airborne, seaborne, or earthborne to achieve the desired political ends under the particular circumstances which may arise.

3. The Mission of the Navy

This fact that decisive actions will now take place on land means a drastic change in the mission of the Navy. During the previous period, this mission was to secure command of the sea. “(In) war,” Mahan said, “the proper objective of the navy is the enemy’s navy,” and as he further remarked in another classic passage:

It is not the taking of individual ships or convoys, be they few or many, that strikes down the money power of a nation; it is the possession of that overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy’s flag from it, or allows it to appear only as a fugitive. And which, by controlling the great common, closes the highways by which commerce moves to and from the enemy’s shores. This overbearing power can only be exercised by great navies…

Since the American navy now possesses command of the sea, however, and since the Soviet surface navy is in no position to challenge this except in struggles for local supremacy in the Baltic and Black Seas, the Navy can no longer accept this Mahanite definition of its mission. Its purpose now is not to acquire command of the sea but rather to utilize its command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land. More specifically, it is to apply naval power to that decisive strip of littoral encircling the Eurasian continent. This means a real revolution in naval thought and operations. For decades the eyes of the Navy have been turned outward to the ocean and the blue water; now the Navy must reverse itself and look inland where its new objectives lie. This has, however, been the historical outlook of navies which have secured uncontested contest control of the seas, and as Admiral Nimitz has pointed out during the period of British domination, it is safe to say that the Royal Navy fought as many engagements against shore objectives as it did on the high seas.” It is a sign of the vigor and flexibility of the Navy that this difficult change in orientation has been generally recognized and accepted by naval writer and the leaders of the naval profession.

The application of naval power against the land requires of course an entirely different sort of Navy from that which existed during the struggles for sea supremacy. The basic weapons of the new Navy are those which make it possible to project naval power far inland. These appear to take primarily three forms:

(1) carrier based naval air power, which will in the future be capable of striking a thousand miles inland with atomic weapons;
(2) fleet-based amphibious power, which can attack and seize shore targets, and which may, with the development of carrier-based airlifts, make it possible to land ground combat troops far inland; and
(3) naval artillery, which with the development of guided missiles will be able to bombard land objectives far removed from the coast.

The navy of the future will have to be organized around these basic weapons, and it is not utopian to envision naval task forces with the primary mission of attacking, or seizing, objectives far inland through the application of these techniques.

4. The Base of the Navy

In the old theory the sea was the scene of operations and navies consequently had to be based on land. In the ultimate sense that is still true since man must still draw his sustenance and materials from land. But it is also possible to argue that the base of the Navy has been extended far beyond the limits of the continental United States and its overseas territorial bases. For in a very real sense the sea is now the base from which the Navy operates in carrying out its offensive activities against the land. Carrier aviation is sea based aviation; the Fleet Marine Force is a sea based ground force; the guns and guided missiles of the fleet are sea based artillery. With its command of the sea it is now possible for the United States Navy to develop the base-characteristics of the world’s oceans to a much greater degree than it has in the past, and to extend significantly the “floating base” system which it originated in World War II. The objective should be to perform as far as practical the functions now performed on land at sea bases closer to the scene of operations. The base of the United States Navy should be conceived of as including all those land areas under our control and the seas of the world right up to within a few miles of the enemy’s shores. This gives American power a flexibility and a breadth impossible of achievement by land-locked powers.

The most obvious utilization of this concept involves its application to carrier aviation. In the words of Admiral Nimitz:

The net result is that naval forces are able, without resorting to diplomatic channels, to establish off-shore, anywhere in the world, airfields completely equipped with machine shops, ammunition dumps, tank farms, warehouse, together with quarter and all types of accommodations for personnel. Such task forces are virtually as complete as any air base ever established. They constitute the only air bases that can be made available near enemy territory without assault and conquest, and furthermore, they are mobile offensive bases that can be employed with the unique attribute of secrecy and surprise, which contributes equally to their defensive as well as offensive effectiveness.

From this viewpoint it is possible to define the relation of the Navy’s important to define the relation of the Navy’s important antisubmarine responsibilities to these newer functions. Submarine warfare is fundamentally a raiding operation directed at the Navy’s base. If not effectively countered, it can of course have serious results. But A.S.W., although vitally important, can never become the primary mission of the Navy. For it is a defensive operation designed to protect the Navy’s base, i.e., its control and utilization of the sea, and this base is maintained so that the Navy can perform its important offensive operations against shore targets. Antisubmarine warfare has the same relation to the Navy as guarding of depots has for the Army or the protection of its airfields and plane factories has for the Air Force. It is a secondary mission, the effective performance of which, however, is essential to the performance of its primary mission. And, indeed, the successful accomplishment of the primary mission of the Navy – the maintenance of American power along the littoral – will in itself be the most important factor in protecting the Navy’s base. For holding the littoral will drastically limit the avenue of access of Soviet submarines to the high seas.

5. The Geographical Focus of Naval Operations

This new theory of the transoceanic navy differs from the old Mahanite doctrine in that its principles are applicable to only one Navy instead of several. We have seen how each nation had to adopt the old Mahanite theory to its own specific circumstances, and for the United States this eventually meant focusing its attention upon the Pacific ocean. Is there any such specific geographical area which assumes special importance in the application of the new theory? Obviously this theory applies in general to the entire littoral of the Eurasian continent form Kamchatka to the North Cape (and especially to peninsulas such as Korea). Even a superficial glance at the map of Eurasia, however will reveal that there is one area which specially lends itself to offensive naval operations against the land. This, is, of course, the Mediterranean Basin. For, in effect, the Mediterranean extends the base of American power 2500 miles inland into the Eurasian continent. From this basin naval power can be projected over most of Western Europe, the Balkan peninsula, Turkey, and the Middle East. In the event of a major war with Russia, the Mediterranean would be the base from which the knock-out punch could be launched into the heart of Russia; the industrial-agricultural Ukraine and the Caucasus oil fields. It is consequently hardly surprising to find that the Mediterranean has now replaced the Pacific as the geographical focus of attention for the American Navy.

The recognition of the crucial role of the Mediterranean Basin implementation of American foreign policy can be dated from the historic announcement by Secretary Forrestal on September 30, 1946, that American naval forces would be maintained in that area for the support of our national policy. The increase in the strength of these forces and the creation of the Sixth Task Fleet on June 1, 1948, were further steps in the implementation of this policy. The carrier aviation, surface power, and amphibious forces of this fleet have been recognized as being of crucial importance in supporting American policy in this area. This key role of the Mediterranean has been reflected in the attention devoted to it in naval writings, and it has even been described as the “sea of destiny” – a term previously reserved for the Pacific Ocean. This concentration of attention upon the Mediterranean does not, of course, mean that the application of naval power will not be important at other points along the littoral. But it does mean that at least for the foreseeable future the Mediterranean offers the most fruitful area for the Navy’s performance of its new function.

6. The Aim of Naval Tactics

Under the old theory it was necessary to concentrate naval forces in order to win control of the sea. Consequently the battlefleet emerged as the main instrument of sea power. Now, however, concentration is necessary at or over the target on land, and hence for defensive purposes dispersion and deception are essential for the fleet at sea. Planes from a number of widely separated carriers can, for instance, be concentrated over their target and secure local air supremacy there. Only in amphibious landings would any large-scale concentration of naval vessels be necessary and even there new techniques may avoid the massing of a large number of ships in a small area. Since these new functions permit the Navy to avoid concentrating its ships afloat, there is consequently little basis for the argument that the effectiveness of atomic bombs against a concentrated fleet has ended the usefulness of the Navy. Dispersion, flexibility, and mobility- not concentration-are the basic tactical doctrines of the new Navy.

Public Support and Naval Organization

Inevitably a new strategic concept must have significant implications for the Navy’s public support and its organizational structure. So far as the latter is concerned the implications of this concept are as yet difficult to identify. Certainly once there is general acceptance of the new role of the Navy, the Navy will be able to afford to take a more favorable attitude to further unification of the armed services. Certainly also a recognition of this new function should eventually find its way into law since the National Security Act still defines the primary mission of the Navy as “prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea.” In general, it is probable that the dual basis of naval organization developed during the Oceanic phase can continue to be the basis of naval organization. In any case, it is likely that the most important implications of the new doctrine involve public support rather than organization.

Perhaps the first necessity of the Navy with respect to this is for it to recognize that it is no longer the premier service but is one of three equal services all of which are essential to the implementation of American Cold War policy. The second necessity is for the Navy to insist, however, upon this equal role. To maintain its position the Navy must develop public understanding of its transoceanic mission. As it is now, the experts on military affairs-columnists such as Hanson Baldwin and Walter Millis-thoroughly appreciate the Navy’s role, but too often one still hears from the average American the question: “What do we need a navy for? The Russians don’t have one.” This attitude can only be overcome by a systematic, detailed elaboration and presentation of the theory of the transoceanic Navy against the broad background of naval history and naval technology. Only when this is done will the Navy have the public confidence commensurate with its important role in national defense.


Graduated from Yale University in 1946, Dr. Huntington served in the U.S. Army and then continued his studies at the University of Chicago (M.A., 1948) and Harvard University (Ph.D., 1951). In 1952-53 he was a consultant to the Brookings Institution in connection with a study of federal defense policy and expenditures. Currently, as an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Harvard, he teaches a course in “government and Defense,” one of the few courses given in any American college on national security and civil military relations. [From the original article]

NOTE: Copyright 2009 US Naval Institute. Permission granted to reprint for educational purposes but please credit us properly!

USS Sir Robin

USS Sir Robin

To keep it short: STRATCOM epic fail.

Weak cheese – very weak cheese.

“The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50 feet, waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area,” officials said in the statement.

“Because the vessels’ intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself,” the Defense statement said. “The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.”

Impeccable crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.

A weak horse impresses no one. At a minimum, you respond to a swarm of undies with pressed ham …. and/or stand your ground with a smile on your face and a wave of the hand.

From AP:

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department charged Monday that five Chinese ships shadowed and maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass the American crew.

Obama administration defense officials said the incident Sunday followed several days of “increasingly aggressive” acts by Chinese ships in the region. U.S. officials said a protest was to be delivered to Beijing’s military attache at a Pentagon meeting Monday.

The USNS Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. Despite the force of the water, Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and continued closing within 25 feet, the department said.

“On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters,” the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

“The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50 feet, waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area,” defense officials said in the statement.

“Because the vessels’ intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself,” the Defense statement said. “The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.”

Emergency stop
Impeccable crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.

But shortly afterward, two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable, forcing it to an emergency stop in order to avoid collision because the Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable’s path, the Pentagon said.

Defense officials said the incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

“The unprofessional maneuvers by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean,” said Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

“We expect Chinese ships to act responsibly and refrain from provocative activities that could lead to miscalculation or a collision at sea, endangering vessels and the lives of U.S. and Chinese mariners,” Upton added.

Military-to-military consultations resumed
The incident came just a week after China and the U.S. resumed military-to-military consultations following a five-month suspension over American arms sales to Taiwan.

It also comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is due in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials.

And it brings to mind the first foreign policy crisis that former President George Bush suffered with Beijing shortly after he took office — China’s forced landing of a spy plane and seizure of the crew in April of 2001.

The Pentagon said the incident came after several other incidents involving the Impeccable and another U.S. vessel Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

It described those as the following:

  • On Wednesday, a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a high-intensity spotlight to illuminate the entire length of the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious several times as it was operating in the Yellow Sea, about 125 nautical miles from China’s coast, the Pentagon said, adding that the Chinese ship Victorious’ bow at a range of about 1400 yards in darkness without notice or warning. The next day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.
  • On Thursday, a Chinese frigate approached USNS Impeccable without warning and crossed its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards, the Pentagon said. This was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range from 100-300 feet. The frigate then crossed Impeccable’s bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400-500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions.
  • On Saturday, a Chinese intelligence collection ship challenged USNS Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or “suffer the consequences.”

And from China recently via Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s plans to add aircraft carriers to its fleet and an historic long-distance mission by its navy are aimed only at protecting the country and its trade interests, senior officials were quoted as saying on Monday. A long coastline, and high dependence on seaborne trade, meant China needed to have a strong presence at sea, but its growing confidence should not be misread as a “China threat”, the Navy’s deputy chief of staff told the official China Daily.

“Even when the navy has its aircraft carriers one day, our national defence strategy will remain purely defensive,” Major General Zhang Deshun told the paper in a story splashed across its front page.

Beijing has been keen to emphasise its case that its growing economic and political might is not a threat to other nations, even downgrading a doctrine of “peaceful rise” to “peaceful development” over worries the former might sound aggressive. But long-term plans to add an aircraft carrier to its fleet, and the unprecedented deployment of its navy to fight pirates in waters off Somalia late last year have sparked discussion in the West about Beijing’s ultimate goals.

Zhang said any worries were misplaced.

With some of you loyal readers possible getting orders soon to Bahrain, I recently e-interviewed Dave Winkler about Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors: Bahrain, the U.S. Navy, and the Arabian Gulf

What inspired you to write Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors?

Actually the question should start: “Who inspired you….” and the answer is the Commander Fifth Fleet in 1998, Vice Admiral Charles W. Moore who had just taken over the Bahrain-based job and wanted an appreciation for the 50 years of relations between that Gulf state and the USN. He told his staff that he wanted a book written on the subject and next thing you know I was plucked out of my day job at the Naval Historical Foundation and found myself heading to Bahrain on active duty.

What were the early years of the relationship between the USN and Bahrain like?

Until 1971, Bahrain was a British “protectorate” with the Royal family having responsiblity for internal affairs while the British handled Bahrain’s defense. The USN had a small presence at the Royal Navy base HMS Jufair supporting Middle East Force ships that rotated in and out of the region. Relations between the different Middle East Commanders and the Royal family were cordial.

What made this unique relationship thrive during some tumultous times in Middle East history?

I would argue that over the years a strong bond was built between the men who served as Commander Middle East Force/Fifth Fleet and the Amir/King. Shaikh Isa, who led the nation from before its independence from Britain until his death in 1999, referred to the senior American naval officer based in Bahrain as “his admiral.”

However, personal relationships can take you only so far. Both countries appreciate that the region’s well-being depends on peace and stability. This partnership serves both nations security interests well.

In addition, the Bahrain International School, a DoD operated K-12 facility allowed Bahrainis and children of other nationalities to attend and this facilitated cultural understandings that helped in the long-term. For example, the present Crown Prince is a graduate of the school.

Who Should Read Amirs, Admirals & Desert Sailors?

First and foremost, anybody in the Navy and their families who may be lucky enough to receive orders for an overseas tour there. The book will provide wonderful context for what will be an interesting tour. A second group are those who had served in the Middle East or are studying the region. This book highlights an important aspect of America’s long-standing interest in the area. Finally, those who are interested in naval history in general. This book covers aspects of American naval history that are not found elsewhere.

Are there any lessons that could be learned from this unique relationship that might be helpful in developing new ties or strengthening old ties with other nations around the globe?

Only that relationships are not formulated overnight. The USN-Bahrain relationship is strong because of patience and trust that occurs over time.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks to Naval Institute Press for publishing the book. It has been well-received — especially in Bahrain.

Background: In the course of writing for my home blog I’ve had occasion to meet up with a number of folks who’ve “been there/done that” in a historical context. By default many have been from Vietnam, a few from Korea andsome of whom have been by proxy from WWII, but late last year I had the occasion to (virtually) join up on the wing of a Helldiver naval aviator who flew from Ticonderoga. The genesis of the join-up was a post on Tailhook’s page about the “Grey Books” associated with Midway being de-classified after a review mandated by the Kyl-Lott amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1999 and 2000 (which had forced the re-classification of the previously declassified documents…). A couple of queries later and LCDR George Walsh, USNR-Ret was vectored my way and offline discussions ensued. Two items became evident – that at 88 yrs of age George is still a passionate and articulate writer (would that I be the same 35-years hence…) and that he is committed to correcting what he and some others from that era consider to be shortcomings in the historical record. One is the continued downplay of the role of dive bombers as attested to here in a review he recently wrote on A Dawn Like Thunder by Robert J. Mrazek:

Mr. Mrazek has produced a wonderful book full of great human interest stories about the crews of the fated Torpedo Squadron 8 but it perpetuates some inaccuracies long discounted by historians as follows:

At 7 AM on the morning of June 4th, 1942 a variety of aircraft based on the Islands of Midway located a Japanese carrier force and commenced a series of sporadic attacks that were easily repulsed by the Japanese.
Two and a half hours later, at 9:30 AM, Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked and all planes were easily shot down with no damage to the Japanese. One man survived, Ensign Gay.
After this attack the Japanese fleet turned northeast at high speed to close the American carriers.

It was 10:25 AM when our dive bombers made their successful attacks. How then could the attack of Torpedo Squadron 8 almost an hour earlier have had the effect of drawing the Zeros down to low altitude and clearing the way for the fortunate dive bombers?

How could Ensign Gay have been eyewitness to the crucial dive bombing attacks an hour after he was shot down? Standing up in a life raft visibility at sea level would be 2.8 miles to the horizon. Under a seat cushion?

The myth of Torpedo Squadron 8 was first introduced in Admiral Nimitz’s main Action Report of the Battle of Midway issued on June 28th, 1942. This delayed report was prepared by Commander Ernest Eller, a public relations expert, in close consultation with Admiral Nimitz. In addition James Forrestal, then Under Secretary of the Navy, flew out from Washington to consult. Forrestal was formerly a journalist and public relations expert.

There were many weighty matters to be considered before releasing the Nimitz Action Report, too many for me to go into here, but foremost was the need to maintain secrecy concerning the code breaking.

The story of Ensign Gay and Torpedo Squadron 8 were a welcome public relations tool for the Navy at an opportune time, and it was brilliantly employed. By glorifying the mutinous John Waldron and the glamorous George Gay attention was diverted from the staggering losses of our pilots and the inept way in which Admiral Fletcher had executed Admiral Nimitz’s inspired plan to ambush the Japanese as they were attacking Midway (for reference, the Battle of Midway roundtable has an excellent summary and list of counter-arguments here. – SJS).

Ensign Gay was dispatched on a highly publicized bond raising tour. He was lionized by Hollywood. He made the cover of Life Magazine while Admiral Fletcher was wafted to obscurity on the Northwest Sea Frontier, as far from the Washington press corps as Admiral King could send him.

Robert Mrazek’s engrossing book is a great addition to the many books and films devoted to Torpedo Squadron 8 and the 15 pilots and crewmen shot down at Midway in unsuccessful attacks.

But there also were 16 SBD Dauntless dive bombers and their crews that were lost that day, nobody knowing how many were shot down and how many were lost at sea after pursuing the Japanese beyond the SBD’s point of no return.
Why has there been not a single book about Wade McClusky, Max Leslie, Dick Best and their stories? No TV film about our WW II dive bombing?

Where Torpedo 8’s attacks were futile, the dive bombers succeeded in saving the United States Navy from a looming disaster. It’s a better story but the myth seems to have a life of its own. Focusing on the successful dive bombers at the time of the battle might have invited awkward questions.

I am an 88 year old former dive bomber pilot myself. Too old to start writing books myself, but I have spent the last twenty years searching for the truth about the Battle of Midway as told in my blog.

Everyone who participated in the Battle of Midway 66 years ago deserves our respect and admiration but the U.S. Navy needs to be challenged over its persistence in withholding the true story of the battle all these years.

Let’s open up the old classified files at the Naval Historical Center as well as the Midway files that were reclassified last year after the publication of Peter C. Smith’s controversial book, Midway: Dauntless Victory.

Lots to chew on there for those with a historical bent. I know as I carry out research on another project that spans the WWII through Cold War span, that the access to original materials has been and remains critical in conducting analyses and that falling into well worn traps of publically held mythos all too easy. Putting that same material in context with those who were there is also important and as the WWII generation dwindles, opportunities in that regard follow suite – all the more reason to open (or, as the case may be, re-open) the books. I am encouraged that the Naval History and Heritage Command (neè Naval Historical Center) has taken a round turn on the important role they play in educating and promoting naval heritage in the Fleet and other communities.

There’s more to come as George and I are working on an interesting project, some of which will be seen here – after I finish the first book project later this month.

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation | 29 Comments

My colleagues are asking questions regarding why didn’t we do all the neat upgrades to the FFG-7s and develop the Littoral Combat Ship instead. Well, because the FFG-7 is an open ocean, jack-of-all-trades escort that did everything average and nothing well. Maybe it is just me, but I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how the FFG-7s all armed up (and incredibly expensive not only to upgrade but operate) would be a better littoral solution than the unmanned vehicles option the Littoral Combat Ship is. I can’t say the FFG-7 gets me all nostalgic like some, and quite honestly I don’t see how the upgraded FFG-7 approach would be better, smarter, or more capable than the LCS. I’m going to need a good deal of convincing that carrying the most firepower we can squeeze into a 4000 ton vessel is the best way to deal with speedboats in the littoral. The fact is, the Adelaide-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy performs the same role for Australia that the Arleigh Burke class frigates perform for the United States Navy. Personally speaking, I’ll take the unmanned systems from LCS and expand my Maritime Domain Awareness in the populated battlespace over the upgraded FFG-7 option.

The intent of this post is not to raise that debate, but rather suggest that because the FFG-7 upgrade vs the LCS is a debate regarding two very different capabilities, reasonable people can disagree regarding the best way forward. It is absolutely legitimate to say one is a better choice over the other, as both arguments can frame the future operating environment in a way that better justifies the way they would prefer to approach future challenges. I think it is a great debate, but instead of spilling that debate onto these pages, keep it to Salamanders post.

The FFG-7 vs LCS debate is a case where reasonable people can disagree, because we are talking about two very different capabilities. If you are looking for a debate to really boil your blood, lets keep it in the SC-21 family and take a serious look at the DDG-1000. You want to keep spamming my email with what you call realistic Zumwalt fact checks? Rebuttal this.

The Zumwalt class destroyer comes with 20 × MK 57 VLS modules, comprising a total of 80 missiles. According to Congressional testimony by VADM Bernard J. “Barry” McCullough, III the DDG-1000 is not capable of supporting the Standard series of missiles. For people who don’t quite understand it, essentially a bunch of capabilities for the DDG-1000 are follow on spiral developments that require a bunch of additional funding in order for Zumwalt to include the same AAW capability we enjoy on our AEGIS ships. These costs, because they are not part of the base ship program, are all extra and essentially outside the existing Zumwalt budget. If added to the Zumwalt budget, the DDG-1000 is going to cost more than even the very conservative figure of $3.5 billion average for seven ships.

That means the MK 57 VLS can only support Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM), Tactical Tomahawk Vertical Launch cruise missiles (TLAM), and Anti-Submarine Rockets (ASROC). The DDG-1000 also comes with 2 × 155 mm Advanced Gun Systems with 600 shells available. The DDG-1000 also has 2 × Mk 110 57 mm guns, which is the same gun on USS Freedom (LCS 1).

If we think a bit about load configurations for the Zumwalt, we might see a few different configurations. The ship is touted to be a major anti-submarine fighter in the littoral, so it makes sense to give the ship 8 ASROCs in all configurations. If the ship dedicated 4 PVLS cells to ESSM, one potential missile load would be 32 ESSM, 8 ASROCs, and 64 TLAMs. If the DDG-1000 was a primary escort for an ESG, the missile load might favor more close air defense with 8 PVLS cells dedicated to ESSM. That would be a missile load of 64 ESSM, 8 ASROCs, and 56 TLAMs. We will use both configurations for our analysis.

Lets think about the 24 VLS Spruance class ships the DDG-1000 is replacing with only seven hulls.

The Spruance class had one MK41 Vertical Launch System with 61 cells, a typical missile load could have been something like 45 TLAMs and 16 ASROC missiles (I will also calculate below with 53 TLAMs and 8 ASROCs). The class also had 2 MK 141 quad launchers for 8 Harpoon missiles and 1 MK 29 launcher which carried 8 ready to launch and up to 24 total NATO Sea Sparrow (or ESSM if upgraded) missiles. The ship did support a Mk 49 RAM in late models, and 2 5-Inch 54 Cal. MK 45 Guns with around 600 rounds. We shouldn’t forget the 2 MK 32 triple tube mounts w/ six Mk-46 torpedoes or the 2 MK 15 20mm Phalanx CIWS Close-In Weapons Systems.

For the record, both ships have the hanger space for 2 H-60s or 1 H-60 and 3 Fire Scouts. Both ships are optimized for anti-submarine warfare although the Zumwalt class is better in littoral environments and the Spruance class is better for blue water submarine threats.

The biggest difference between the ships is the cost. The Navy retired 24 VLS upgraded Spruance class ships with the intent to replace with the Zumwalt class by adding 6″ guns instead of 5″ guns. Zumwalt also has a newer radar with a lower radar cross section. For the record, the most optimistic estimates for the 7 DDG-1000 ships is currently an average of $3.5 billion per ship. That figure does not include the $11 billion R&D.

So what do we get? Seven Zumwalt class ships with two possible combined loadout totals:

  • 1st missile load would be: 224 ESSMs, 56 ASROCs, and 448 TLAMs. (plus 2 57mm for AAW)
  • 2nd missile load would be: 448 ESSMs, 56 ASROCs, and 392 TLAMs. (plus 2 57mm for AAW)

24 VLS Spruance class ships with two possible combined loadout totals:

  • 1st missile load would be: 576 ESSMs, 384 ASROCs, and 1080 TLAMs. (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)
  • 2nd missile load would be: 576 ESSMs, 192 ASROCs, and 1272 TLAMs. (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)

Looks like I am skewing the numbers right because I am counting all 24 VLS ships? The Spruance class would have ships retired by now, so legitimately this is an unfair comparison.

OK, so what if we took only the last 9 Spruance class destroyers, upgraded and SLEP all 9 for 20 additional years on top of the 35 year life they were designed, and spent the enormous amount of $1 billion each to insure the very best 9 Spruance class ships possible.

The 9th youngest Spruance class was USS Cushing commissioned 9/21/1979, which is slightly less than 30 years old today. At 35 years that would be 2014, and adding an additional 20 years for $1 billion would get the ship until around the 2034 time frame. If I had 9 VLS Spruance class with 53 TLAMs and 8 ASROCs, my load out would be:

216 ESSMs, 72 ASROCs, and 477 TLAMs (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)

In other words for $9 billion the Navy could have 2 more ships and roughly equal firepower additions to the fleet that they would be getting from adding 7 DDG-1000s. Not only that, but the Spruance class has better blue water ASW capability, which is what the Navy told Congress last year the Navy needs right now (PDF), and the Spruance class has actual direct and indirect defense systems as opposed to the Zumwalt’s near complete reliance on stealth.

But here is the real kicker. What if the Navy still spent the $11 billion for the 10 new technologies of the DDG-1000 AND spent $9 billion upgrading 9 ships? The DDG-1000 program will cost a minimum average of $3.5 billion for each of 7 ships, so conservatively roughly $24.5 billion if the ship class isn’t canceled.

In other words, if the Navy had spent $9 billion on the last 9 Spruance class ships (and it should be noted we built the Spruance class for around 1 billion dollars per ship) and the $11 billion in R&D for the DDG-1000 much touted ten new technologies, the Navy still would have saved $15.5 billion on the DDG-1000 plan, come out 2 hulls ahead until 2034, and been better aligned for the threat environment for submarines today as per testimony by the Navy in Congress last July.

While people might think the FFG-7 vs LCS conversation is a mess, the core of that discussion is in regards to two very different strategic views for littoral warfare. In the DDG-1000 vs Spruance class, we are debating exactly the same capabilities for both ships! The DDG-1000 is nothing more than a super expensive Spruance class which requires even more money to turn into an AAW ship, which for the record, the same amount of money the Navy could probably have used for the Spruance class to produce AAW capability including BMD, so that point is mute too.

I’m going to take a WAG and suggest the Zumwalt fact checkers forgot to mention how ridiculous the Zumwalt program is in context of the ship it is replacing.

In my opinion, the FFG-7 vs LCS debate makes the Navy look smart, because at least that debate is strategic in regards to the ways of littoral strategy. There is nothing smart about the DDG-1000 program right now, and quite honestly, it is outright shocking just how stupid the DDG-1000 program makes the Navy look upon reflection of where the Navy has been and where the Navy is with this program.

The CNO is trying to kill the DDG-1000, and I say support those efforts. There are very few if any strategic reasons why the DDG-1000 makes sense for the costs, and the supporters of the program right now are in the Senate. Considering the amount of industry interests in the DDG-1000 program, we can only gue$$ why the Senate might think the DDG-1000 is still a viable alternative. Unless the DDG-1000 becomes a stimulus budget investment, there is not a cost effective or strategic reason to keep this program.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 30 Comments
« Older Entries Newer Entries »