Archive for April, 2009

First off, I am a little hesitant to cover this because I feel like I am legitimizing a piece of shock journalism. I’m of the opinion the author of this article wrote it to stir up outrage and the Washington Post desperately published it to attract readers as they recover from a  86% drop in profits. But Tom Ricks thinks I’m getting a community college education. In fact, Tom Ricks wants to shut down my school, West Point and the Air Force Academy. I think Ricks has been fairly well rebutted by Galrahn. Mr. Mullaney provides a strong rebuttal here.

I could go through the article point by point but I think that has been done ad nauseum. My community college education has provided leaders in public and private sectors and is one of the top 10 school for number of Rhodes Scholars. Do we have room to improve? Sure, we always will. This has all been pointed out elsewhere in greater detail. I’ll try to add to the discussion in ways others have not.

What Mr. Ricks is saying that we should not invest in a sanctum where the public and students are reminded of the expectations of the officer corps and members of the armed services. This is our heritage. “Our” incoporates OCS, ROTC, and service academy graduates.

I just want to say “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” It’s on display in Memorial Hall, the literal and figurative heart of my school. I also want to remind you of the the Lion of Fallujah, Maj. Doug Zembiec, who is also remembered there. I want you to remember men like Colonel Ripley who can be found on the Yard surrounded by midshipmen who wonder how they’ll ever live up to the examples set before them.

Does this happen at civilian schools? No. The University of Washington voted down having a memorial to one of the greatest American fighter aces of World War II because they “didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce.” But can this happen at civilian schools? Never to the extent it happens here. It just isn’t their mission.

It’s my school’s mission to remind visitors and students to “Damn the Torpedoes!” It’s my school’s mission to remind everyone who Nimitz and King were. And it’s my school’s mission to commemorate the sacrifices made in war.

Get rid of the service academies and you destroy the guardians of this heritage. Can anyone seriously suggest this?

It was an honor for me to e-interview one of my favorite authors and one of our nation’s best naval historians, Paul Stillwell, about his latest book, Submarine Stories: Recollections from the Diesel Boats.

What inspired you to compile nearly five dozen first-person accounts from diesel submariners into Submarine Stories?

The inspiration came from having done the oral histories of many submariners and wanting to share the results of those interviews with a wide audience. In addition, I learned of other first-person accounts to supplement those in the Naval Institute’s oral history collection. The real value is being able to learn of events through the words of the men who experienced them personally.

What criteria did you use to select the stories that appeared on the pages of Submarine Stories?

The idea was to pick memoirs that were informative and had good storytelling qualities, so that the reader can both learn and be entertained. Also I wanted to cover a broad spectrum of time in telling the history of the U.S. diesel submarine force.

Commander Jerry Hendrix, formerly a Naval Institute board member, told me of a 1905 letter that President Teddy Roosevelt had written after taking a plunge in the USS Plunger. That event kicks off the book’s timeline.

At the other end of the spectrum, in 2006 I visited the USS Dolphin, the Navy’s last diesel submarine, just a few months before she left active service. I interviewed her last operational skipper, Commander Andy Wilde, chatted with crew members at the tiny mess table, and went into the engine room that housed the diesels.

In between the Plunger and Dolphin are dozens of tales from peacetime and wartime-personal anecdotes, insights on the development of ever more sophisticated submarines, and stories that are just fun to read. In the process a reader gets a sense of both the technical challenges of operating undersea craft and the amusing stories that are part of day-to-day life.

A personal favorite of mine was the late Captain Slade Cutter, one of the top-scoring submarine skippers of World War II. The process of interviews and visits developed into full-fledged friendship. I particularly came to admire Slade because of his humility. He was proud of his achievements but not one to brag. He considered his success as something that came about because he was just doing his job. The book is dedicated to him.

In addition to the using recollections from men whom I interviewed myself, I also drew upon interviews from my predecessor, Dr. John T. Mason, Jr. When he was at Columbia University, before coming to the Naval Institute, he had interviewed Vice Admiral Paul Foster, who had a gripping experience as a submarine skipper in World War I.

Admiral Stuart “Sunshine” Murray was a gifted storyteller as he unfolded a narrative of being among the first students when the Submarine School was established at New London, Connecticut, and then his command of one of the first submarines based at Pearl Harbor. He described the human qualities of the future Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.

In the early 1930s, as a junior officer, Bill Irvin was a shipmate of Lieutenant Hyman Rickover in the diesel boat S-48, long before Rickover ran the Navy’s nuclear submarine program.

Captain Harry Jackson was an expert ship designer who had a crucial role in the development of the teardrop hull that is now standard in nuclear submarines. The diesel boat Albacore was the model for the generations of nukes that followed.

A serendipitous addition to the book came when I happened to be in a waiting room with a veteran sailor named Wayne Miller. He had some time to kill while heating up a bag of microwave popcorn. We chatted while the corn was popping, and that led to an interesting interview about his experiences, including the steps involved in earning his dolphins.

I reached Master Chief Charles Wormwood on his cell phone when he was on a shopping trip. Before the call was over, he had told me much about being chief of the boat in the Navy’s last diesel attack submarine, the Blueback.

Once, during a visit to the memorial submarine Bowfin at Pearl Harbor, curator Charles Hinman told me of Hosey Mays, one of the relatively few black submariners in World War II. That led to a valuable interview. Mays and his one black shipmate, also a steward, slept in a pair of side-by-side bunks suspended from the overhead in the forward torpedo room.

Who are some of the people you profile in this book?

In addition to those mentioned, Vice Admiral Eugene “Dennis” Wilkinson was an enthusiastic interviewee. Though he is best known as the first skipper of the world’s first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, he was a capable diesel boat officer before that. Among his other tales, he recounted being shipwrecked during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and later being in on the advent of submarine-launched guided missiles.

Gunner’s Mate Jerry Beckley was in a diesel-powered guided missile boat, Grayback, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He contemplated the end of the world if his submarine had been ordered to fire her Regulus missiles.

Machinist’s Mate George Rocek survived the World War II sinking of his submarine Sculpin and later the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carrier in which he was held prisoner.

Lieutenant Bob McNitt was executive officer on board the Barb during the war, serving with Commander Gene Fluckey, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits. McNitt’s chapter tells of rescuing Allied prisoners of war after their prison ship was sunk.

In 1943 Lieutenant Julian Burke was slated for duty on board the submarine Wahoo. A chance meeting with the skipper of the Flying Fish got him rerouted to that boat instead. Soon afterward the Wahoo was lost with all hands.

In the era shortly before nuclear submarines entered the fleet, Commander Paul Schratz of the Pickerel took his Guppy boat on a record-breaking submerged transit from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor.

Lieutenant Commander Joe Williams commanded the Bluegill when she tangled with Soviet naval forces in the North Pacific. His crew was on patrol so long that their uniforms were sickeningly pungent before they could be brought ashore to be washed. The odor of diesel fuel even permeated the stationery he used when writing home. His son Clark could walk in the door, smell the air, and conclude that a letter had arrived that day from his submariner father.

Electrician’s Mate Jim O’Meara of the World War II boat Seahorse reminisced wistfully about the pleasures of liberty ashore after long patrols against the enemy. As he put it, sub sailors dreamed of three things-booze, women, and going home-and the priority changed depending on the situation.

Captain Ned Beach, the noted author of Run Silent, Run Deep recounted his experience in being aboard the Trigger when she ran aground on the eve of the Battle of Midway in 1942. Ten years later, he was the first skipper when a new Trigger was put into commission.

Ensign John Alden went off to war in 1944 as a newlywed. Sixty years later, he sent out a Christmas card that showed his extended family gathered for a reunion. In his chapter he tells of those early days, when there was no certainty that he would ever see his bride again.

Mike Rindskopf, a junior officer, reported to the new submarine Drum shortly before the onset of World War II. Within a few years, he had become the boat’s skipper and done much to contribute to her success.

The book also provides accounts of submarine sinkings in the 1920s and 1930s. The loss of the S-4 and S-51 in the 1920s led to the development of rescue devices that were used in 1939 to save some of the crew members from the Squalus. Chief Machinist’s Mate William Badders recounts his Medal of Honor service in rescuing those who were saved from the boat. Two naval engineers, Charles Curtze and Robert Evans, provide informed viewpoints on why the Squalus sank.

Dr. Waldo Lyon described in his oral history the Navy’s early tentative attempts to operate under ice in the Arctic and Antarctic shortly after World War II. Ten years later, he was on board the Nautilus when she made the first submerged transit under the North Pole.

Who should read Submarine Stories?

Anyone who has been to sea in a submarine and anyone who would like to have that experience vicariously. This is a story told in human terms, so any reader can identify with the courage and achievement of these undersea men.

Any other books you are currently working on?

I’ve recently completed a manuscript containing the recollections of George Cooper, one of the Navy’s first black officers, and his 95-year-old widow Margarett. They lived through more than 80% of the 20th century and in that time witnessed dramatic changes in how African Americans have been treated and what they can now aspire to. Peg Cooper first voted for a President in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seventy-two years later she helped elect Barack Obama.

I’m also long overdue on finishing a biography of Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., who was the foremost battleship admiral in the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II. He was a championship marksman as a midshipman and junior officer in the early years of the 20th century; later he used his knowledge of radar and gunnery to great effect in World War II.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The Naval Institute’s oral history collection is a precious resource. In the past, for example, the collected transcripts have been used in writing the biographies of such naval officers as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Admiral John Towers, Admiral Joseph “Jocko” Clark, and Captain Slade Cutter.

Sound bites have been used in audio programs, such as one on Jimmy Doolittle’s famous bombing raid against Tokyo in 1942.

Senator John McCain tapped the collection for source material about his father and grandfather in writing the bestselling memoir Faith of My Fathers.

Evan Thomas of Newsweek magazine used oral histories in writing a fine book on the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Oral histories were the basis for the book The Golden Thirteen: Recollections of the First Black Naval Officers.

The screenwriter for the movie Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., drew some of his material from the Naval Institute’s oral history of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, the Navy’s first black master diver.

The greater the use of the oral histories, the more they fulfill the purpose for which they were collected. The Naval Institute’s website contains a list of the available transcripts.

Though much has been drawn from the memoirs already, there is far more potential still to be mined.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 8 Comments

If the rumors are true, PetroChina, a Chinese “Government Controlled Entity” (pdf), is on the verge of buying McDermott International, a company that, as I understand things, is the U.S. Navy’s sole provider of nuclear fuel and nuclear fuel assemblies.

McDermott, a Panama “based” corporate tax-avoider, also manages the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (along with a lot of other critical national defense infrastructure. Take a look.)

This rumored buy-out comes at a very interesting time. First, McDermott subsidiary Babcock and Wilcox bought out NFS (a competing nuclear fuel provider for the Navy) in January of this year. (NFS was a troubled company that the Springboard covered previously–here, here and here.)

Second, the 2007 National Defense Authorization act, thanks to Representative Gene Taylor (D-MS), mandates that all future big Navy ships employ nuclear propulsion. But, now that we’re locked in and want high-energy/big power generation capabilities, where will the fuel come from? And at what price?

Third, what better way to transform the Chinese Navy’s expected “carrier-building” announcement into a great-power referendum? Rather than a simple, “hey, we’re building our first carrier, whee!” the announcement becomes, “Not only are we building carriers, we now own the means to build…nuclear supercarriers.”

Fourth, given that the purchase may be announced as early as Monday morning, this buy-out of a critical piece of the U.S. Defense Industrial Base risks putting an undeniably sharp edge on China’s upcoming naval celebration.

In the event the rumor is real, and the sale is announced tomorrow (or later this week), as the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) arrives for China’s Naval Review and CNO Roughead begins his effort to positively engage China, this takeover offers a humbling example of how financial power can trump even the largest of navies.

If true, this is an old-fashioned big-power nose-tweaking, pure and simple.

To be frank, if this buy-out happens during China Naval Review, we, the United States, will have lost face throughout China and, well, pretty much the rest of Asia. To China’s credit, this financial maneuver is a fascinating geopolitical endeavor that speaks far louder than any conciliatory language the world is likely to hear during China’s Naval Review.

Finally, China’s economic jockeying comes at a time when the Obama Administration is still racing to reset national security policy. There’s a heck of a lot going on, and it all gives SECDEF Gates’ recent comments regarding America’s ability to confront modern-day economic warfare a particular poignancy.

To Gates, a recent wargame was, according to (subscription):

“…an eye-opening experience and it also reflected some shortcomings in the ability and willingness of different parts of the government to share information openly…”

Amen. Look, has anyone–besides the little ‘ole Springboard–who, I might add, has been hollering about this for a long time–gamed this? Where’s the policy discussion? Why no public or market preparation?

What, pray tell, is the implication of China’s aggressive business play, and, if this takeover does happen, what are our options?



Flightdeck Humor

April 2009


The picture from

But wait … there’s more:

Has to be an AB’s handiwork – got to keep those sluggard aircrews from making a mess of their flightdeck afterall…

(h/t JC @ Tailhook Daily Briefing)

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, Navy | 3 Comments

Got a call from a reporter: “You know that the U.S. government is bringing one of the Maersk Alabama Somali pirates back for trial. Do you know when the last trial of a pirate took place in the United States?”

My answer was, “I should know that, but I don’t.”

After the call I did a some quick research. And came up with very little. There was the threat of trying some German saboteurs for piracy as the result of their actions during WWI (the Fay case) – see here, but the accused plead guilty so there was no trial.

Before that, in 1861, the crew of a Confederate Sates privateer was tried for piracy – in the Savannah case. This may be the last time anyone was tried for sea piracy in a court in the United States, though I am prepared to be corrected on that point.

The Savannah case turns out to be pretty interesting. The basic facts are simple enough.

Out of the port of Charleston, South Carolina, came forth the sailing vessel Savannah. She attacked and captured a ship at sea and then attacked another. Much to the surprise and regret ofher crew, the second vessel turned out to be U.S. Navy warship, which turned the tables on Savannah, taking the ship and her crew into custody.

The crew of Savannah was not hanged from a yardarm after a trial at sea. Instead, a trial was ordered up and convened in a New York courtroom. The charge was piracy.

The crew of Savannah offered up a defense. “We’re not pirates,” they argued, “we’re privateers.”

What’s the difference? Piracy, as Blackstone opined in his Commentaries on the Laws of England:

…[T]he crime of piracy, or robbery and depredation upon the high seas, is an offence against the universal law of society ; a pirate being, according to Sir Edward Coke, hostis humani generis. As therefore he has renounced all the benefits of society and government, and has reduced himself afresh to the savage state of nature, by declaring war against all mankind, all mankind must declare war against him : so that every community hath a right, by the rule of self-defence, to inflict that punishment upon him, which every individual would in a state of nature have been otherwise entitled to do, any invasion of his person or personal property.

BY the ancient common law, piracy, if committed by a subject, was held to be a species of treason, being contrary to his natural allegiance ; and by an alien to be felony only . . .

On the other hand, a privateer is an entirely different kettle of fish. A privateer is, well, a pirate with authorization to carry out his work from a government:

A privateer was a private warship authorized by a country’s government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping. Strictly, a privateer was only entitled by its state to attack and rob enemy vessels during wartime. Privateers were part of naval warfare of some nations from the 16th to the 19th century. The costs of commissioning privateers was borne by investors hoping to gain a significant return from prize money earned from enemy merchants.

It has been argued that privateering was a less destructive and wasteful form of warfare, because the goal was to capture ships rather than to sink them. From a 21st century point of view, privateering was a form of state-sanctioned piracy.

Some of you will recall that section of the U.S. Constitution allows for the issuance of “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” – U.S. Constitution, Article I, Sec. 8 cl. 11:

The Congress shall have Power … To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water

So? Letters of marque and reprisal are permission issued to someone to commit what would otherwise be acts of piracy.

Ah. Well, how did the crew of Savannah claim to be privateers? They argued that they had been issued letters of marque and reprisal by their government, the Confederate States of America and were thereby committing acts of war in the fight between the CSA and the USA and were not, therefore, pirates.

The U.S. government, however, had a differing view and put the crew on trial for piracy:

Through much of the first year of the war, the government in Washington continued to regard the conflict as merely an insurrection, and that the Confederate government had no legal standing. According to the view of the Lincoln administration, the letters of marque issued by Jefferson Davis or the seceded states had no legal force, and the privateersmen who relied upon them did not represent a legitimate authority. Taking merchant vessels on the high seas therefore was piracy, which the penalty for upon conviction was death.

The first trial for piracy was of the 13 men, including Captain Thomas H. Baker, captured on privateer Savannah. The trial was held in the United States Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York. It began on 23 October 1861, and from the start attracted wide public notice. The mere fact of the trial drew outrage in the Confederacy, where the government threatened retaliation, life for life. To increase pressure on Washington, the prisoners of war who would have been executed in retaliation were selected and their names made known.

From the New York Times, October 29, 1861:

Mr. Sullivan, for defence, said the issue of the cause was narrowed down to a simple point. It was proved that the defence did capture a brig on the ocean, which brig belonged to citizens residing in the State of Maine, and the cargo belonged to citizens in the United States. That the counsel would admit it had been proved, further, the the persons who captured the brig and cargo alleged they did so in the name of the Confederate States of America, and by authority derived from them. Upon that simple fact . .. rose the sole point of dispute. the intent of the prisoners was to comply with the regulations prescribed by their government, not to steal and rob. He next considered the right of the Confederate States to issue letters-of marque, taking the ground that the United States had recognized their government in all their dealings, and consequently the right to issue letters=-of-marque should also be recognized. Considered by impartial minds, the attitude of the Government towards the prisoners was inconsistent with its position towards the Confederate States.

Apparently some of the minds on the jury were “impartial” for the case resulted in a hung jury.

Soon there may be another trial of an accused pirate in a New York court room. It will be interesting to see.

More on the capture of the Savannah here.

Please let me know if you are aware of any later trials for piracy in an American court. Thank you.

Cross posted at my home site.

The USS Midway Museum in San Diego, CA is a must-see in my book. It is by far one of the best preserved ships in our museum fleet. It also has more planes than many third world air forces. Here are a few of my pics:

To view the rest of my photos, click here. Have you toured the USS Midway? If so, what did you think?

Photos (me)

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Travel | 17 Comments
Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence

Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence

Today, Dennis Blair had two responses to the Department of Justice release of Office of Legal Counsel records related to CIA interrogation techniques. The first response was directed to the press; the second was to the Intelligence Community workforce, and is available here: 2009-04-16-dni-memo-to-workforce-sl_004151.

There are more comments in the second piece, but the items missing from the press release are equally important, if not more so, for that audience as they are the IC workforce.

Three of the most significant omissions from the press release were:

“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.”

“…the leadership of the CIA repeatedly reported their activities to Executive Branch policymakers and to members of Congress, and received permission to continue to use the techniques.”


“Even in 2009 there are organizations plotting to kill Americans using terror tactics, and although the memories of 9/11 are becoming more distant, we in the intelligence service must stop them.”

Those are three significant facts/statements that were excluded from Blair’s press release. If they are the facts, the press (and U.S. citizens) needs to hear them…even if they don’t report them.

I wasn’t aware of Japanese I-400 boats until I received an email a couple days ago with this article, which is available from numerous sources online. I found it coincidental to have read about this not long after Galrahn’s Risk Averse Political Policy Requires High End Focus led to a good bit of discussion on defending submarines from air threats.

Airfield Under The Sea is an interesting read for anyone (like me) who did not know the Japanese had actually put submarines to sea carrying aircraft.

Most of the photos and graphics are self-explanatory, but I wish there was a caption giving the date and location of the photograph of a surviving M6A1 Seiron on page 2.

After being forwarded about a dozen times, this email describing the pirate attack on the MAERSK ALABAMA reached my email inbox. It contains a couple good points to keep in mind if you need to prepare your ship against pirate attack.

I wanted to let you know some of the lessons we learned so you guys can better prepare yourselves for something similar.

The only guys actually captured by the pirates were on the bridge: Capt, 3/M, and 2 AB’s. I don’t really know why they stayed on the bridge until the pirates got up there. Then they had keys to everything and were able to unlock everyone’s rooms.

The pirates got up to the bridge very quickly once they were onboard. We had a locked cage door over the ladder well from main deck, but it only took a second for them to shoot it off. They then got to the bridge up the outside ladders. By that time we had taken control of the engine and steering down below.

xxx stayed in the ECR and the C/M was out on deck tracking the pirates’ movement. We kept swinging the rudder side to side. The pirates’ boat capsized, though I’m not sure exactly when or what caused it. After about 20 minutes the engine was killed, I don’t know by whom. At that point I shut off the air bottles and xxx killed power. He was also able to get outside and trip the fuel shutoff for the EDG. I think this was critical. The pirates were very reluctant to go into the dark. We will be looking at a way to shut off the EDG from the ECR in the future.

All the crew had been mustered and secured in the steering gear. Our pirates didn’t have any grenades, so they would have never been able to break in there. The previous day we had welded a padeye on the inside of the hatch to the fantail so it was secured from the inside. The only problem with the steering gear was the heat and the shortage of water. In the future we will store food and water in various spots for emergency usage. I think we will also run a fresh water line into the steering gear. We were able to make a run from the steering gear to the E/R water fountain and fill up some empty oil sample bottles we had back there. The C/M was also able to get some fruit and sodas from the galley and drop them down the line standpipe.

The pirates sent the 3/M unescorted to go look for crewmembers, so he was able to get away. One of the pirates then went with an AB down to the E/R to look for people. xxx was able to jump him in the dark and we took him prisoner in the steering gear. No one else came down into the E/R.

As the day went on the pirates became desperate to get out of there. There boat was sunk, and they couldn’t get our ship moving. The Captain talked them into taking the MOB boat. The three remaining pirates went down in the MOB boat with Phillips. We were then able to negotiate with them over the radio. We dropped some food, water and diesel to them. We started getting the plant back on line. Unfortunately, the MOB boat wouldn’t start.

A couple of guys got in the lifeboat and dropped it. They motored over and traded the lifeboat for the MOB boat. We were supposed to exchange their guy for the Captain, but they ended up keeping him. They motored off in the lifeboat. They had no way of getting back aboard, so we followed them. The Navy showed up a few hours later. We stayed close by for some time, but then the Navy asked us to head out. I heard that several other pirate vessels were heading our way and the Navy wanted us out of the way. That’s about it. I’ll give you all the details some other time.

Just to reiterate the most important points:
– Have a well fortified location with food and water supply.
– Kill all the lights.
– Leave the alarms going, the noise helped cover our movements through the house.
– Flashlights and radios are very handy, as well as the sound-powered phone.

Anyway, it was a pretty stressful situation. I have to say I am impressed with how the entire crew responded. We didn’t have anybody who wanted to give up. I’m pretty confident that Phillips will end up ok. They have to know that if they kill him they’ll be done….(continues)

Back in the ’90s I took a ship security course and it included a piracy drill. We tried to take the ship back and all ended up dead. In the debriefing, the pirates, who were former-seals, mentioned that the hardest area of the ship to take control of was the engine room…

Cross-posted on my blog here.

The following is drawn from an email sent by a fellow retired naval officer and noted naval strategist in his own right, Peter Swartz whom I’ve worked closely with for a number of years. Peter, currently an analyst at CNA, was one of the principal authors of what many consider to be the “classic” Maritime Strategy that was published int he 1980’s. His email, re-printed here in full, is done with his permission and the proviso that the views expressed are his alone.


RADM Phil Wisecup just passed me the following passage from Tom Ricks’s best-seller THE GAMBLE: General Davis Patraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006 – 2008 (2009) (which I had not seen before):

“But Fallon prided himself on being a strategic thinker, a sense he may have developed because there was little competition in that arena in the Navy, which in recent years has tended to be weak, intellectually, aside from its elite counter-terror force in Special Operations, which is practically a separate service. It is difficult, for example, to think of a senior Navy officer who has played a prominent role in shaping American strategy since 9/11, or of an active-duty Navy officer who has written a book or essay as influential as those produced by the Army’s Col. H.R. McMaster, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, and Lt. Col. John Nagl.”


My view: Ricks is flat wrong. Not to take anything away from ADM Fallon, and whatever one may think of the merits of the particular positions they took, Admirals Clark (CSGs, ESGs, FRP), Cebrowski, Stavridis, Mullen, Morgan, Martoglio, CAPT Wayne Porter, & recent Navy retirees CAPTs Bill Luti, Ryan Henry, Jim Kelly, and Joe Benkert all played prominent roles in shaping American strategy & policy after 9/11. A succession of Navy officers, including Kurt Tidd, drafted key national security documents while seconded to the NSC staff. It was a Navy officer — Mike Mullen — whom a President and SECDEF chose to be CJCS, based in part on their view of his strategic acumen, by all accounts. And two Navy officers — Mike McConnell and Denny Blair — were chosen by successive presidents to be their DNIs, also — by all accounts — in part due to their track records in thinking about and developing strategy. Navy officers and enlisted at sea imaginatively sought ways to implement new national strategies in unforeseen operational ways (e.g,.: Doug Crowder responding to the Tsunami, and Phil Cullom taking GW etc. around South America, and the Sailors who set up the first partnership stations, hospital ship cruises & NECC commands). (I’ve no doubt forgotten somebody; this e-mail isn’t based on exhaustive research, and the number of Navy thinkers and implementers since 9/11 has been large).

Retiree CAPT/Dr. Bud Cole’s GREAT WALL AT SEA came out in 2001, Active Duty CAPT/Dr. Sam Tangredi’s edited GLOBALIZATION AND MARITIME POWER came out in 2002; Active Duty CAPT/Dr. Terry Pierce’s WARFIGHTING AND DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES came out in 2004; CAPT USNR Dave Rosenberg & LCDR USNR Chris Ford’s ADMIRALS’ ADVANTAGE came out in 2005, and Retired ADM Holloway’s AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AT WAR came out in 2007. All related significantly to past, present and future American strategy.

There probably is no good analogy in any other service to what the 2 Army & 1 ex-Army authors Ricks cites wrote — interestingly, including the USMC. There are numerous USAF articles trying to counter/ supplement the Army COIN literature, though. One could argue that the Army was screwing up the lead it had been given in the big war of the day, and needed the 3 books/articles in question. The Navy has been performing its various supporting roles well in the 2000s — even enthusiastically — having overcome its own big strategy-implementation issues during the 1990s (when there was an even more significant Navy literature: Bill Owens’s 2 books, PD Miller’s 3 monographs, etc.).

To not even mention the enormous outpouring of naval strategic and operational thinking triggered by John Morgan in 2004-8, fostered by ADM Mullen, aided and abetted by Jake Shuford and recent retiree Barney Rubel, and crafted into prose by then-CDR Bryan McGrath and his team over the past several years is just plain disingenuous. The pages of Proceedings and Naval War College Review, especially the latter, have brimmed with debate by CAPT (Ret) Wayne Hughes and others on national and naval strategy and policy (probably leaving their readership a bit exhausted from it all, and wondering why those same pages haven’t brimmed with more articles about resources, procurement, budgets, overruns, acquisition, and the naval industrial base — where we’ve got real difficulties) (although RADMs Stark and Houley and CDR Jerry Hendrix and others are changing that). And, of course, the Navy and its sister maritime services published” A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” a year and a half ago — probably before Rick’s book went to press.

A service that has ADMs Walsh and Stavridis — 2 Fletcher Ph.Ds – in its 4-star ranks is hardly “weak intellectually,” whatever its other problems.

Ricks just hadn’t been paying attention.

I will no doubt be accused again of being “too defensive” in my reaction to Ricks’s ignorant blast (as Chris Cavas did a few months ago during a Strategy Discussion Group mtg). But defending against silly accusations from people who should know better seems more appropriate than just letting them pass.

Follow on issue: Ricks is pretty well plugged in. How come he doesn’t know this stuff? Who’s to blame? Him? Us? “Them?” Other?

And Ricks may be right in one small but significant item: Serving mid-grade & senior mainstream URL officers have not gone public in a series of public “we gotta change the Navy and the Nation” books and articles and studies. Retirees like Jan van Tol, Bob Work (a Marine) and Wayne Hughes have, but there haven’t been many (any? except Jim Stav) active Navy front-runner pointy-end platform counterparts to McMaster, Yingling and Nagl in the open literature. Is that a big deal? Does it matter? Does writing an influential article trump, say, Wayne Porter staff work on Global Fleet Stations or Doug Crowder staff work on the FRP or a CNO decision to stand up an NECC and revive riverine warfare, in the world of naval policy and strategy?

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy | 13 Comments
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