Archive for May, 2009

I did not take the news story a week ago suggesting that Somali pirates were getting intel on passing ships seriously. However, now comes news suggesting that some of those involved in piracy off Somalia received professional training:

Pirate training in USSR? – A RETIRED rear admiral of the Soviet navy reportedly admitted today that some Somali pirates had been trained at USSR naval academies.

Sergey Bliznyuk told the Ukrainian newspaper Gazeta Po-Kievskiy that he had personally come across some men he now believes are behind many hijackings.

“There are many former military men among the Somalis who have perfected the tactics of sea combat,” he said. “The majority of these 40-50-year-olds were trained in the former Soviet Union.

“I myself taught at one point at a school in Baku [Azerbaijan], where we had 70-80 Somalis a year studying.”

Bliznyuk told the newspaper that Soviet officers had trained naval personnel from the government of President Siad Barre, who ruled Somalia in 1969-91 after a military coup.

Further, Bliznyuk told the newspaper: “The USSR taught not only Somali natives but also those of Yemen, Ethiopia and others. Who would have assumed then that they would turn against us?”

The notion of professionally trained seafarers turning pirates is not an isolated concern: at least one security company trained Puntland coastguards before Somalia’s government collapsed some years ago. – Fairplay Shipping News (Homepage)

If this is true, those who have received the training might be a good lead to those actively conducting these operations. Also, what is the possibility of using these people to fight piracy off their own coast? It has been suggested that the solution to Somalia’s pirate problem lies ashore. It seems that the number of starting places to do so has just increased greatly.
Posted by Fred Fry

Posted by FFry in Piracy | 1 Comment
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I would like for you to meet just a few of the volunteers onboard COMFORT:

Six year old Desmalin with Project HOPE volunteer Kelly Magee.

Six year old Desmalin with Project HOPE volunteer Kelly Magee.

Dr. Tom DeCaro of University of California at San Diego's Pre-Dental Society. DeCaro is a retired 0-6 in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Dr. Tom DeCaro of University of California at San Diego’s Pre-Dental Society. DeCaro is a retired 0-6 in the U.S. Public Health Service.
Mindy Daines of the Latter Day Saints with just "some of her friends."

Mindy Daines of the Latter Day Saints with some of her friends.

I am convinved there there is a greater percentage of angels onboard COMFORT per capita than anywhere else on the globe.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 14 Comments

Last Tuesday morning I woke up early in Virginia Beach to prepare for the first day of Joint Warfighter 2009 conference. It was a perfect morning. Sitting out on the deck in a robe, I observed a LPD-17 class just over the horizon as I drank morning coffee while reading a novel about Teddy Roosevelt. Being down from upstate New York, tired of the spring clouds and wind, is really was a perfect morning.

Shortly after 7:30am I put on a pair of jeans and sweat shirt to sample the hotel breakfast, and as I emerged from the elevator I bumped into Thomas P.M. Barnett. I had previously only met Tom Barnett in person one time, at a Congressional Hearing back in March, although we have traded email and phone calls several times over the last year. I am an admitted fan of Tom Barnett’s work, because I appreciate the way he develops strategy, but also because I like maverick thinkers with provocative opinions who can simultaneously suggest an idea that will piss someone off and make them think critically about an issue. Provoking an emotional response with an idea brings passion to constructive friction of conflicting ideas, and I for one appreciate the debates that get spawned in those discussion environments when they remain absent the personal attacks. Tom and I agreed to do an interview for this blog, and parted ways. While I saw Tom signing books at one point during the conference Tuesday afternoon, I ended up spending the first day of the conference either in a session or on the conference floor browsing the displays. The first day was too busy for an interview.

That night I went to some meet-chat-drink thingy and ended up spending about 30 minutes talking with Tom Barnett over cold beer and that priceless sunset. The conversations spawned from those drinks became my interview. Early in the discussion he made a few jokes about something that makes a lot of sense to me. We were both basically expressing frustration with talking heads like Lou Dobbs, who he finds annoying because of Dobb’s characterizations of China and I find annoying due to Dobb’s characterizations of Mexico. Tom Barnett had recently been to China, and he thinks people who call the Chinese “Communists” really don’t have any idea what they are talking about. I agree, because we both believe the Chinese have a pure Capitalists form of government unlike anything historically associated with Communism.

Communism is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general. In my opinion, China does have a class system and has essentially developed their business organization into that class systems. Tom’s point was that the China social system has almost nothing in common with a Marxist philosophy that suggests a social contract exists between the people and the state in anyway similar to how that social contract exists in the west. Tom went on to make an interesting point; given the way the US government is taking over entire industries today, who can intellectually argue that China, the so-called Communists, have a leg up on the United States when it comes to socialism? There is nothing remotely similar to western social contracts in China, certainly nothing that comes even remotely close to the socialism expanding in American and European culture through government today. Do you think there is anything similar to Obama’s universal health care in China?

Uhm, in case you didn’t know, the answer is no. Barnett’s point that China is Marxism-lite compared to us is on target.

In the same conversation, Tom said during his presentation in China he basically told the Chinese they have a long way to go if they want to be a superpower. His argument is interesting, he basically told the Chinese that if they want to be a superpower they need to think about what it means to walk a day in our shoes. Could China invade two 3rd world countries in the Muslim world, disregarding the consequences of world opinion, then rebuild the nations constructively with a COIN strategy while also taking this action despite more than 6 in 10 Chinese citizens unhappy about the war, and perform these actions with a government barely supported by 30% of Chinese citizens, and do all of this without any domestic uprising or domestic security problems?

Then Tom carries it further, suggesting that once China does that, could they then change governments by appointing all of the existing leaderships political rivals into power while simultaneously becoming popular both domestically and globally?

Tom then asks the question, “Can China do that? Because that is what it means to be a superpower today.” His argument is that the one party system in a Capitalist China will create domestic problems long term, and limit China’s growth more than they realize. I did not get the sense that Tom Barnett was advocating for China to convert into a democracy, rather they needed to mature politically if they are going to manage the challenges that come with being a superpower. Due to China’s central role in the current interconnected globalized liberal trade system of today, Tom’s point implied that challenges can be both foreign AND domestic.

He makes the point that if China is going to be a superpower, they need to learn how to act like one. When the US takes military action in foreign countries, or when the US moves into foreign markets, the result is the US creates domestic economic markets which translates into future customers. He lists out Japan, South Korea, Germany, Russia, Italy, Iraq, and Vietnam. When China makes moves into foreign markets, like Africa and South America, all they do is take resources, which leaves resentment without creating future customers. Tom then asks rhetorically how long China can sustain this model?

He later went on to discuss what the fall of North Korea might mean. I suggested he write that topic into an article, and I hope he does. His general point is that the people of the United States need to be prepared for the fall of the North Korean government, because he does not believe western citizens are prepared for the reality of what has happened to 17 million starving, uneducated brainwashed North Koreans. He discusses how defectors from the North come into South Korea nearly 8 inches on average shorter than their South Korean kin, and demonstrating very low IQ in terms of social adjustment to the more modern South. The situation is nothing similar to what happened after the Soviet Union fell. In Tom’s opinion the North Koreans may have to be contained for a generation in order to be effectively reintegrated into the rest of the world. I note the containment approach is very similar to how China sees North Korea.

At around that point in the conversation, the folks who I was riding back to my hotel were leaving. Tom was staying at the same hotel we were, and joined us for a ride back. Being that the folks I was with were all USNI employees, the subject turned into “From the Sea…”, Tom Wilkerson, and the Joint Warfighter 2009 Conference. Based on how I remember the conversation, I think this article published to World Politics Review was spawned in part by that car ride back to the hotel.

Last week I gave a plenary address to the Joint Warfighting Conference 2009 — the annual East Coast naval extravaganza co-sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). This mega-conference opened my eyes to just how much things have changed inside our naval forces thanks to the ongoing long war against violent extremism.

To give you an idea of the ground covered, I have to take you back almost 17 years.

That’s when the Department of the Navy came out with its post-Cold War strategic white paper entitled, “. . . From the Sea.” This seminal document argued that the Navy’s undisputed command of the seas compelled it to come closer to shore and influence events there, lest it risk losing its relevance in an emerging era of smaller wars. It was an incredibly bold shift for the country’s naval leadership, signaling the end of the submarine mafia’s firm control of the fleet and the subsequent return of surface commanders and marine flag officers to the forefront of naval leadership.

I helped gin up that white paper. My military mentor in the process was a Marine colonel just selected for his first star, Tom Wilkerson. Like most of those who participated in this “best and brightest” brainstorm, Wilkerson and I walked away hoping we had made a lasting difference.

We were wrong.

That was part of the conversation during the car ride to the hotel. The article goes on to reach an interesting conclusion in context of that conversation and the Joint Warfighter 2009 conference after Tom Barnett’s Wednesday morning presentation.

Which brings me back to the USNI/AFCEA conference just held in Virginia Beach. I’ve attended a few of these in the past, and they’re typically heavily tilted toward navy themes, navy panels and navy presenters.

Not this time.

From its theme (“Building a Balanced Joint Force”) to its star participants (overwhelmingly Green), this conference focused most decisively on the future of small wars — not large ones. Its master of ceremonies was Tom Wilkerson, now retired from the Marines and serving as the U.S. Naval Institute’s CEO, while Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, lorded over the proceedings as its frequently acknowledged “intellectual godfather.” The most prominent Navy flag to participate? Adm. Eric Olson, a former SEAL who now heads up Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Mattis’ keynote warning could not have been more clear: Without the strategic reorientation pushed by Secretary Gates, naval forces “face the prospect of being dominant and irrelevant at the same time.” SOCOM’s Olson was equally direct. “The type of war we wage is not determined by the type of troops we put on the ground,” he said. America’s military has to adjust to this “new normal,” in which “war does not mean what it used to,” or else continue to suffer the consequences of that maladjustment.

I walked out of the conference with a firm sense that, despite all the fierce resistance over the years to the naval strategic vision that Wilkerson and I helped craft in the Cold War’s shadow, our navy has truly — and finally — embraced the fight . . . from the sea.

I came to a similar conclusion regarding the conference, but I am not sure I would have articulated it this way. There was a special atmosphere at the Joint Warfighter 2009 Conference that I also noted in testimonial of many in attendance. One thing that stuck out was the rather visible presence of uniformed personnel present, indeed in my experience attending similar conferences I have never seen so many Soldiers and Sailors in uniform. That was something noted by many working the booths on the conference floor, and other participants as well. While the theme may have been “Joint” the presence of the “Warfighter” was a visible aspect of the atmosphere, and the ideas and collaborative discussions I was involved in reflected that atmosphere. Tom Barnett is right though, the “From the Sea…” reorganization does show up among those in JFCOM, although I think “Hybrid Wars” more so than just “Small Wars” set the tone for me.

Tom Barnett’s presentation on Wednesday became one of the most discussed aspects of the conference, with several people suggesting to me by the end of the day Wednesday his keynote may turn out to be the highlight. Thursday was a great day, so opinions may have changed, but if you have never seen Tom Barnett live it can definitely be described as a thought provoking and entertaining show.

Even though Tom Barnett and I disagree on several things, I count him high on my list of mentors. Tom began his writing career by writing for the US Naval Institute in Proceedings, and while I have Information Dissemination, I am very proud to write for the USNI Blog as it begins the adventure into the continuous public national security debate and dialog emerging in the social media space. Tom Barnett is called many things ranging from provocative to polarizing, brilliant to an ass hole. As I have learned writing strong opinions myself, it is hard to give strong opinions without being labeled something by peers and critics alike. I thought Tom brought a compelling strategic vibe to the Joint Warfighter 2009 Conference that added tremendous value to the dialog and engagements that took place last week. In watching Twitter on Tuesday, I thought this comment by William Johnson nailed it:

Joint WF 2009 (Naval institute) – heard mattis and barnett on consec days – there is intelligent life on earth!


0500: Call Away. Best be up and getting ready to check in at the Casualty Reception Area.
0545: Medical staff, Seabees, and NGO volunteers depart COMFORT via a slow,moving water taxi. Many use this hour-long transit to catch some extra zzzz’s.
0645: Arrive at the boat landing zone. Disembark the water taxi. Medical staff and volunteers board buses to the St. John’s Multicultural Center. Seabees depart for their construction site at the local hospital.
0655-0700: Medical staff and volunteers arrive at the Multicultural Center and are greeted by a crowd of local citizens numbering over a 1,000 – some of whom have been in line since 2100 the night before.
0730: Doors open for business at the Multicultural Center. Patients are examined. People have their choice of dental, optometry, general health, physical therapy, pediatrics, and women’s health. Optometry and dental are two of the more popular kids on the block.
Lunch: MRE’s at your convenience.
1300: patients scheduled to have surgery the following day arrive onboard COMFORT. They check-in just as you or I would at a local hospital.
While folks are busy at the multi-cultural center, the COMFORT’s 5-operating rooms are kept busy mainly with procedures like hernias, hysterectomies, cataracts, and cleft palate surgeries to name a few procedures and the Seabees are busy renovating the women’s barracks. There is easily !000+ patient encounters this day. The CP 09 record is 1,678 patient encounters which occurred on Mother’s Day.
@1700: staff and volunteers head back to the boat landing zone to be ferried back to the COMFORT for evening chow (which was pretty good as far as /i was concerned).
Evenings: Meetings to review the day’s events and plan for the next day.
2155: Evening prayer
2200: Lights Out
2200: last boat departs the boat landing zone for the COMFORT. Makes for a long day for the BLZ team which ensures that everyone who had gone ashore that day makes it back onboard COMFORT. They have not left anyone behind as of yet.
While the days might be long, the gratitude of the patients makes it all worthwhile and easy to get up early the next day to do it all over again.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | No Comments

Regarding priorities and scarce resources, I thought the following email i just received from someone I met in Antigua who also happens to be quite knowledgeable about world politics and military history might be of interest:

Here’s why our tax dollars have been well spent. Most Americans are unaware of the growing influence in the region of Cuba (provides hundreds of doctors and civil engineers in the Caribbean and Latin America), Venezuela (subsidizes oil prices to regional governments and underwrites Cuba’s initiatives), and China (has important relationships with many Western Hemisphere governments – who happen to vote in the UN). Maybe you drove past the Viv Richards Cricket Stadium in Antigua? Built by the Chinese. If (perhaps when?) the Chinese navy were able to project a global presence, their ships would be welcomed in St. John’s Harbor today.

The visit of the USNS Comfort has given a tremendous boost to US relations and furthers US interests, not to mention the intrinsic benefit to the recipients of the medical care. Of course, you experienced this first hand.

Well said my new friend! Multiply this by six other nations in CP 09 and we will start to see some big dividends in the region.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 3 Comments


May 2009




We are a nation, in a fashion, at war. We are a navy in a period of shrinking resources. We are a navy that still is not sure of itself, its place in this war, and are not sure how to get “there” to its mission after next – wherever “there” is. We see this every month in our professional publications and see it reflected in testimony by leadership in Congress.

There is nothing wrong with an organization deciding what it will and will not do given its mandate, resources, and will. All organizations must decide, through its leadership, what is of critical importance or not. You make those lines known through the priorities you set out. You resource your time, effort, funding, and intellectual capital towards those priorities and hope that expenditure of these finite resources will bring results towards your mission and responsibilities.

As a Mercantile Republic that relies on secure efficient commerce, there has been a clear growing threat over the last half decade to the free flow of goods at market prices – one that is not new, is well defined, and has proven methods of mitigation. On the High Seas through a well defined SLOC, piracy threatens unarmed merchant ships of US flag and others who carry the commerce and raw materials that in turn keep our society and way of life going.

Agree or disagree; our Navy can decide one way or another to enhance security of this nation’s lifeblood as one of its priorities. As covered by Galrahn earlier, the CNO tossed out this nugget during hearings held last week.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the Seapower subcommittee, asked the CNO about Somali pirates, wondering whether a military security team could be placed on all American-flag vessels. Taylor urged that if a ship “has got an American cargo on it, it’s our stuff. We should put a team of trigger-pullers on there.”

Roughead noted that just hours before the hearing, a contractor security team aboard a ship in the Gulf of Aden had repulsed a pirate attack.

“I believe that that scheme is something that should be pursued as opposed to putting sailors and Marines aboard ships,” the CNO said.

OK, “it” is a scheme – and Sailors and Marines shouldn’t defend American lives and property under a direct threat in international waters. We don’t want to do it – we’ll let civilian security companies (AKA in some places as mercenaries, which is fine) do it in some time line, method, and degree beyond our control – and when you talk to people in industry, the legality is such that they put themselves in significant legal risk by doing so.

But, I guess the US Navy does not see protecting life, limb and property of US goods and personnel in international waters as an important task in its list of priorities. After all, according to VADM Winnefeld’s testimony on 05 MAY, there are between three to six US flagged ships transiting the piracy area a week. We only have a navy with ~330,000 Sailors … we can’t cover that, I presume.

Well, the CNO is the CNO, and with our civilian leadership he sets priorities. Good, honest people can argue that one way or another – and that is fine.

Obviously, defending unarmed merchant ships inside slider throwing range with Sailors and Marines isn’t a Navy priority; accept that – it is a valid opinion and at this stage – stated policy. Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. 51% of me is in alignment with him on this anyway. Maybe 50.1% – but I see the argument.

What then is a priority for a navy at war?

While visiting the Annapolis High School Navy Junior ROTC program yesterday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said his top long-term priority is increasing diversity in the officer corps.

The man largely in charge of the Navy’s Annapolis seed corn is VADM Fowler. What is his priority in growing the leaders of Sailors and Marines for a period of persistent conflict with and existential threat to our nation?

Diversity is my number one goal,” Fowler said…

There you go.

I know – manning all those security teams for 3 to 6 ships a week cost billets. I know. So do many things. We have decided to fully man and support our branch of the Diversity Industry. Those billets are funded and that is fine. It is a priority. It also has an opportunity cost – we understand that. We have shifted billets to support our priorities – and that is fine – after all, your funded billets should reflect your priorities and those the taxpayer through their elected representatives expects the Navy to do; in theory.

Here we are; and to be a little more direct and less smarty-pants. We cannot tell Congress or the American taxpayer what size fleet we want and how we can get it – just look at the report from last weeks testimony linked to above and others. We cannot explain why we build ships that seem not to be able to do what they are designed to do – from DDG-1000 to LCS. We cannot define consistently their roles and missions. Our latest Maritime Strategy is 1/3 good stuff, and 2/3 shake-rattle-and-roll.

As a result, we are to a large measure a navy adrift; unfocused and unsure of its purpose in a time of war. Why? Look at what our nation expects its navy to do. Look at what the leaders of our navy state is the top priority.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Well, from the team that brought you Band of Brothers – the other side of the WWII saga in 10 parts. You know, the one without weekend passes to Paris.

The Pacific. Trailer here.

Time to get your HBO.

THE PACIFIC is based on the books “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa,” by Eugene Sledge, which was hailed by historian Paul Fussell as “one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war,” and “Helmet for My Pillow,” by Robert Leckie (recipient of the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Annual Award), as well as original interviews conducted by the filmmakers. Continuing the World War II oral history work begun by his father Stephen E. Ambrose (author of the book “Band of Brothers”), Hugh Ambrose serves as a consultant on the miniseries.

Some of TEAM COMFORT's partners with the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, the Hon. Spencer Baldwin.

Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda Baldwin Spencer with just a few of TEAM COMFORT's inter-agency, international, and NGO partners.

After closely following the previous deployments of USNS COMFORT and USNS Mercy as well as what I saw with my own eyes last week while onboard COMFORT, I have compiled a partial list of the intangible benefits that humanitarian missions like CP ’09 provide for both our Navy and Nation:

Enhanced inter-agency cooperation across the entire U.S. Government (DOD, DHS, HHS, DOS, etc);

Strengthened Mil-to-Mil relationships with the countries visited during the COMFORT’s deployment as well as with the international medical personnel onboard COMFORT;

Increased U.S. military and NGO coordination which is typically not as seamless elsewhere around the globe as it is onboard COMFORT;

countless opportunities to conduct medical diplomacy which is “the winning of hearts and minds of people in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere by exporting medical care, expertise, and personnel to help those who need it most;”

and invaluable training for the medical personnel who will treat patients with conditions that are practically non-existent in the United States.

Again, just a partial list. The list could go on and on especially about the human interest stories like the grandmother who had been blinded by cataracts and saw her grandson for the first time onboard COMFORT. Priceless.


Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | No Comments

I just wanted to check in and update readers about what has been keeping me away from the blog. Last Sunday, I packed my bags for DC and reported as an intern to the CNO’s Executive Panel. Composed of civilians who range from business executives to analysts from RAND, the panel functions to give the CNO “outside the box” thinking on a wide range of issues. I work with the panel’s staff of officers and civilians who assist in the research and writing of papers.

I’ve heard GEN Conway speak about the state of the Marine Corps and its upcoming challenges (how amphibious should it be?), attended a talk on media and public diplomacy, and met with the author of the recently published study on “Social Media and National Security,” discussed by Christiaan and Galrahn.

I traveled back to Annapolis for Ring Dance this weekend and had a wonderful time. As my friends and I celebrated the occasion, we began to realize how fast our time passes by here. Not so long ago we were the plebe ushers for our second-class’s Ring Dance.

That was last week. This week I have some items I really need to post to include the final portion of my interview with VADM Harvey where we talked about issues such as diversity. I also hope to examine one possible future of the education and career track of the Navy’s officer corps. That’s all for now; standby for further updates!

This is an interesting development in my opinion. The Marines love the AC-130 so much, they are developing a package for their own KC-130s to arm it up for Afghanistan, but according to one spokesman, it is really about ISR.

Conway said the Marines “have lusted for years” over the AC-130’s capability but could not afford the sophisticated Air Force gunships. Instead, they are taking advantage of their KC-130J transport-tankers in a program called “Harvest Hawk,” he said. It consists of a “roll-on, roll-off package” that can be installed in hours and gives the KC-130s the ability to fire a 30mm rapid-fire gun and Hellfire missiles in support of ground forces, Conway said. “I think you’re going to see one in [Afghanistan] before the end of the calendar year.”

A Marine spokesman said later that “this is not intended to be a gunship” but a response to an urgent need of Marines in Afghanistan who want persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. “The ISR is the priority, but we also want the capability to use some weapons against targets we can see,” the spokesman said.

That last paragraph is a bit timid for the Marine Corps. Only in the Marines does one stick a 30mm on a plane and call it ISR. The article goes on to discuss another platform they would like to arm up for sending fires down range.

The commandant said he has an agreement with Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, to examine use of a “box of rockets” that could be installed on an LCS to provide fire support for Marines ashore. It could replace the capabilities the Marines expected from the Advanced Gun System developed for the DDG-1000 destroyer, whose production is being stopped at three ships.

LCS is designed to accept a variety of “mission packages,” which include weapons, sensors, controls and operators that enable a ship to perform a variety of combat assignments. A Marine fire-support package was not one of the three original missions developed for LCS but has been discussed recently.

Is it even possible for a “box of rockets” to replace the capabilities of the Advanced Gun System? If so, that is either one really impressive “box of rockets” or one overrated Advanced Gun System. Somehow, I don’t think any solution developed for the LCS is going to come anywhere near to the range and capability of the Advanced Gun System, although I do like the idea of an offshore MLRS system on the Littoral Combat Ship.

Posted by galrahn in Marine Corps | 14 Comments
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