Archive for August, 2009

First, the Russian Navy sends half a fleet thousands of miles to rescue the crew of the Maltese-Flag cargo ship ARCTIC SEA despite having no obvious reason to do so.

Next, the Russian Government has to deny accusations that the ship was carrying secret cargo on behalf of the Russian Government.

Then, the Russian Government has imprisoned not only the hijackers but also the crew which still have yet to call home to their families.

The crew members were not allowed to go home on Thursday: like the hijackers they were taken to the Lefortovo remand prison for questioning. In Arkhangelsk the families of the crew waited for their loved ones with their eyes glued to their televisions. However, there was no indication of when the men would get home. “I only know what was said on television. I hope that I can see my husband as soon as possible”, said mechanic Vladimir Kazhinin’s wife Olga to Helsingin Sanomat by telephone.

Vazir Fazylov, the father of seaman Dmitri Fazylov was surprised that his son was not even allowed to call home. “Nobody is saying anything. We’re just watching TV. This is stupid.” – Helsingin Sanomat

And now, the Russian Navy plans to tow the ship over 4,000 miles to Russia for ‘further investigation’. (Bypassing the ship’s flag-state of Malta.)


It’s almost like the Russians know that there is something on the ship worth hiding. Surely, they have already investigated the ship from top-to-bottom, and any part of the ship not accessible due to cargo onboard would be accessible in Algeria once the cargo was off-loaded. Algeria would be the place to inspect the ship given that the cargo is headed that way and it would be somewhat idiotic to offload all that timber just to re-load it, unless there is something secret hidden under it after all.

One more thing. Why are the Russians towing the ship all the way back to Russia? It would be much faster and safer to sail it under its own power. The Ship operator had stated last week that it was planning to send out a replacement crew to the ship. Maybe the Russians don’t want more prying eyes around?

It is almost as if the Russians have hijacked the ship themselves.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, once was comprised of Western European nations who were still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War, and in the aftermath of that conflict were staring at the looming colossus of a Soviet Union with both the means and desire to dominate all of Europe.

The eastward expansion of NATO in the last decade and a half has greatly increased the dichotomy between western European member nations and those within the “near abroad” of the very entity NATO was formed to hedge, Russia. These new member nations have very different political and social traditions than do the 1949 founding members. Most have spent fewer than fifty years of modern Western history out of the grips of either Imperial Russia or the Soviet Union.

These new members, and their neighbors who have petitioned for membership to NATO (Georgia, Ukraine), have a decidedly more fearful and less conciliatory tone with Russia than do the western European members. Problem is, with the exception of Poland and possibly Ukraine, none have more than trifling military capability, and remain fragile economically.

With rumblings from Putin regarding the restoration to Russia of the power and influence of his beloved Soviet Union, the NATO members in the “near abroad” are counting heavily on Article 5 of the NATO agreement (…”an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…”) in the event of Russian aggression.

The unfortunate fact of today’s NATO is that the will and means to uphold Article 5 is almost entirely lacking. And, like Czechoslovakia in 1938, any eastern NATO ally will likely, in the event of aggression, get little by way of assistance from its western European neighbors other than expressions of regret and rationalization of inaction in the face of a bullying and expansionist foe.

The Georgia crisis of the late-summer of 2008 provided a glimpse of the monumental problems that exist in NATO as a vehicle for collective security against a resurgent and restive Russia. Germany, heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, saw Chancellor Merkel dash off to St Petersburg to meet with Medvedev to reassure him of Germany’s non-interference with Russian plans in Georgia.

More disturbing (and harder to fix) than the conciliatory tone of western members toward Russia because of economic and energy dependence is the overall withering of any military capability on the part of any NATO member except the United States and the UK. Increasingly since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the nations which comprise NATO have contributed less and less to the maintenance of security, and have more and more expected the United States to provide what they refuse to, even toward their own defense. US coaxing and cajoling by several administrations for increased participation have been universally greeted with empty promises, further defense reductions, and thinly-concealed resentment.

The ISAF Model of NATO capability

Though the above assertion may be considered debatable by the European NATO membership (though I couldn’t imagine how), there is a real-time case study that makes the point far more eloquently than assertions here. In Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has approximately 64,000 troops in country. Of those, more than 30,000 are US Army and Marine forces (likely to increase significantly), and almost 10,000 are Brits.

This 40,000 provided by just two of the 28 contributing NATO members represents nearly 2/3 of all troop strength and nearly all of ISAF’s combat power. The contingents for the remaining 26 countries have proven to be ill-prepared, unmotivated, poorly-conditioned, and generally of dubious value, despite what may officially be trumpeted from Brussels. Sadly, this includes the once-respected Bundeswehr, which has become an embarrassment to German traditions of military excellence.

Not that we shouldn’t have (or didn’t) see this coming. In the last decade, NATO’s record in the Balkans was just as dismal. Why, these nations ask, should they contribute to a common defense when the United States provides for them? Besides, NATO’s common defense has ceased to be common. Ceased, at least until its members end up again under the thumb of a totalitarian state that used those differences and disagreements among an alliance’s members to split, intimidate, and then subjugate those nations for which it has an appetite.

Whither, then, NATO? If the organization is inept and incapable of action outside of Europe, and fractious and vacillating within and among the continent, what benefit is there to perpetuating what has become, as one author labeled it, “more a political honor society than a meaningful security organization”?

Perhaps it is time to dissolve NATO, though exactly what can be cobbled together in its place is unclear. The United States also cannot abandon Europe, tempting at times as that can be. This question may become one of the largest of the next decade for US foreign policy, and by proxy, US National Security and National Military Strategy.

Lessons from NATO for the “Thousand-Ship Navy”

There are other lessons to draw from NATO and its shortcomings. The first and largest lesson is once again the failure of collective security. The Thousand Ship Navy concept, one of Admiral Mullen’s pillars of the Global Maritime Partnership, is heavily reliant upon such a collective security. But, no such “fleet-in-being” exists. Nor does a true network of “partner nations” who will contribute more than they will demand. The line between maritime security as defined by “reducing transnational crime, WMD proliferation, terrorism, and human trafficking” and maritime security against nations with blue and brown-water threats who support, condone, and profit from such activities is by no means clear, if it exists at all.

Extrapolating the Afghanistan ISAF model to the world’s oceans, the “thousand-ship navy” would consist of some five hundred US Navy warships, and nearly 200 units of the Royal Navy. Of course, neither service comes close to those numbers. Neither have plans to do so. Both navies, in fact, are shrinking. The US Navy, committed worldwide, is struggling to maintain its level of 280-odd ships, while the Royal Navy has fewer than 100 vessels in commission. Though many will point to those numbers and claim that the Thousand Ship Navy concept is not entirely one of warships, we have had several recent lessons regarding the value and necessity of “presence”. This, in its true form, requires warship hulls.

The NATO model needs to be an object lesson and reality check to the concept of building our Global Maritime Strategy on the idea that “partner nations” are to be counted upon to ante up when the need arises. That the need will be commonly perceived at all by those partners is a dubious concept.

If NATO’s time has passed, the time for the concept of the Thousand Ship Navy never was.


VW-4 Hurricane Hunters

Long before satellites carpeted the globe with their all-seeing, all tracking weather eyes, hurricanes and other major tropical storms were identified, located and reported on by ships at sea and observations from remote locations. As often as not, the location of the center, storm size estimate and track was as much chance and good luck as it was application of scientific principles. To be sure, the timeliness of any subsequent reporting was severely handicapped, even with the addition of radio reports. Adding aircraft to the equation began to improve the quality of forecasting with their ability to cover a larger area and provide observations from inside the storm above the surface, adding insight into the life cycle of these great beasts. The first recorded flight into a hurricane was in 1943 by a British pilot flying an AT-6 Texan on a bet – two flights were made into what became known as the “Surprise Hurricane” of 1943. However, it was Navy aircraft, predominantly, that were deployed to track and report on the storms. Because of their great range and endurance, long-range patrol bombers like the Navy’s PB4Y-2 Privateer were the initial platform of choice.

However, it wasn’t until the advent of another Navy program, begun in WWII, that the next level of tracking, reporting and understanding hurricanes came to pass. That advent was the appearance of a second generation of AEW aircraft, specifically the Lockheed WV-2 Super Constellation, that traced their roots to Project CADILLAC II, which were assigned to dedicated weather reconnaissance squadrons. Of these, the best known was VW-4, the Hurricane Hunters. (More here)

VW-4 WV-3/EC-121K (1967)

VW-4 WV-3/WC-121N (1967)

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, Navy | 6 Comments

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute is constantly in news articles and opinion pieces about the military, especially on the subject of acquisition. He is knowledgeable and opinionated – a powerful and highly influential combination from the perspective of those in the military trying to shape a message that is delivered to reporters, the defense industry, and, ultimately, the general public.

Other think tank academics from the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, the hot new tank in town Center for a New American Security, American Enterprise Institute, CSIS, CNA Corporation, and CRS (just to name a few) are frequently quoted in news articles about the military on just about every subject. An outside industry expert provides the balance, context and/or an opposing view.

So, does the military proactively and regularly engage these experts? Is this engagement institutionalized or haphazard? Do they have dedicated staff responsible for managing these relationships? The technology industry and their marketing and public relations professionals are very good at this. They court the renowned industry analysts (Gartner Group, META Group, Forrester, and the like) as vociferously as they do technology, business and consumer media, as they know that the industry analysts are significantly influential with the media. In fact, before every major product launch, initiative announcement or company news, they schedule one-on-one meetings with these experts to let them see the new products, kick the tires and test drive them. Not only does it give the technology marketers advance knowledge of any weaknesses (perceived or real) to the product, but it also gives the marketers a chance to directly communicate the technology company’s objective, audience and rationale for the new product. The expert may or may not agree with the technology company’s point of view, but at least they are informed directly by the source – not via a third party or a leaked document. When reporters do call them for a quote, these industry influencers will at least know the technology company’s position.

It is clear from the comments many of the defense industry think tank reps make that they are in constant contact with their own well-cultivated DoD sources. But, is DoD leadership as religious in their outreach to these influencers? If not, they should be. Incorporating them into the military’s communications strategy and outreach process will help the military leadership better make its case.

I prefer to take the Pacific Coast Highway home from work. There’s something about this iconic stretch of southbound ocean highway. The summer-time commute comes at a perfect hour to reflect and be alone and witness the most dramatic part of a Southern California day…the time when the sun is low and the sky is the color of tangerines and plums and the sea is dotted with surfers you watch paddle past a white break into a natural lineup and perform their elegant ballet on top of prevailing swells. Beautiful girls also run along the beach and are as much apart of this inspiring seaside landscape as the sun itself.

The I-5 is faster than the Pacific Coast Highway, but I avoid the 5 and take the PCH home on particularly stressful or particularly beautiful days. This day was both stressful and beautiful. And now I was alone with my thoughts. These turned out to be bad thoughts of putting a stapler to my hand after a day spent behind a desk. Self-stapling thoughts are best for the I-5. You gotta have an edge when navigating the 5. The PCH requires a degree of ‘tranquillo’. It requires the windows be rolled down and a soundtrack carefully selected along the lines of a Joe Purdy ballad, a Bob Marley jam, or anything by Timmy Curran or the John Butler Trio. And all played at a tremendous volume.

I ignore my cell phone on these PCH drives, by exception. I’ll answer if it’s 1.) The person most important to my world (my mom), 2.) The person most important to my work (my platoon sergeant) or 3.) Anyone who might make me laugh or smile (in this case, I answered a call from the Naval Institute’s Mary Ripley).

I was somewhere between Carlsbad and Encinitas on a drive like this back in July when Mary called me about Wes Gray’s new book. “Alex, what’s going on?” she said, continuing with excitement and without waiting for my response, “listen do you know Wes Gray?” It was a Wednesday. My mind works slower (than usual) on Wednesdays. “Ehmm,” (Thinking hard, but slowly.) “Yes! Of course I know Wes. It’s been awhile. We went to TBS and IOC together. Terrific guy! What’s up?” “Excellent, here’s the deal, he just wrote a book about Marines and the Iraqi Army that the Naval Institute has published, it’s already getting great press, would you be willing to do an interview with him for the Blog?” (Shocked) “Mary, are you kidding me! That’s awesome, and of course I’d like to interview him!” “Great, I’ll send you the book out, give it a read, here’s his number (she reads his number), give him a call when you can, and then call me when you’ve got something good. Ok, gotta run, have a great day Alex.” (Dial tone) “Mary…Mary…hello?” (End call.)

I stared at the road ahead of me with my hands at 10 and 2. Wes Gray had written a book, “Embedded”, on his time in the Haditha Triad as an Advisor to the Iraqi Army. I had done my first tour in Hit and Haditha and explored that Central Euphrates River Valley in the year before Wes had gotten there for his. “Wes,” (I said to myself, but out-loud as I often do) “where the hell are you going with this one?” Neither the setting the sun over the sea to my right, nor the long legged brunette walking her dog to my left could snap me out of this thought. What did Wes have to say about Haditha? This was going to be interesting…

Getting a call that one of my old Marine buddies had just written a book (a relevant book) when I can barely put together a coherent (and hardly relevant) 1,000 words for this column a couple times a month is like watching your childhood friend open that one fantastic Christmas present you wanted, but didn’t get. Wes Gray had just poured his heart into 240 pages of lessons learned from a tour with the Iraqi Army and I had just spent the day at work typing a command investigation for a broken television set. Wes had the Red Rider BB Gun. I had socks.

I called Wes later that night. We talked for a while (in guy time, anything longer than 10 minutes is a “long call”) and exchanged those sort of (simple) questions men ask each other after years apart. Wes hadn’t changed. He was still optimistic, funny, smart as hell, humble and witty. I was proud of him and excited to get my hands on his book. I told him we’d meet sometime soon for the interview, he agreed and we wished each other well.

After our meeting (which I’ll describe later) I realized I didn’t want to write a review of “Embedded.” There are already some great book reviews out there – one (an excellent piece) by another Marine Officer, Gabriel Ledeen. His review is published on National Review Online. You can also visit Wes Gray’s blog (below) for a host of other reviews or use the “Google machine” for further research. (

It’s not that I don’t know how to write a proper book review (I don’t), it’s just I feel like the readers here would get more out of sitting in on a discussion between old friends talking about war and women and a book written about a place far away known to few but known well to us and see how we started this journey together and are now in two very distinct parts of our adult life. But really I just want the reader to hear about the author Wes Gray as an introduction to the book itself.

And so Wes and I had our meeting and, as I said, we talked about the things that matter most in this world – things like family, this America and Marines.

It’s good we met at a bar. Coffee shops are boring and no place to discuss war and women and the way of things. Old friends should not meet for a strong coffee when they are still able to meet for a stiff cocktail. A bar was the perfect meeting place for us after all these years. I picked a dark and wooded and isolated sort of place – a place we could talk for hours over Jameson (for me) and cold beer (for Wes) and never be bothered.

I started by asking Wes how the hell he has been. Wes said he was doing well in school, excited about a life in academics and most importantly that he had a new daughter and a beautiful wife and then asked how I was.

I told him I’ve stayed in the fleet all this time and am tired but excited about my work. I told him that I was balding now (but he could see that for himself). I told him I couldn’t keep a girlfriend and had love, but lost it, and that I owed $25,000 to a Lebanese bookie with a pencil thin mustache who kept an apartment in Reno but lived in Sacramento. Wes laughed deeply at this (and me, I think) and so I didn’t tell him that this was a joke because it made the story more theatrical and who was I to mess with good theatre anyhow?

I waved to the bartender and motioned for another round and one old friend asked another old friend how what happened, happened…

ASM: You’re married now since we talked last years ago?

WG: Yes, a husband and a father now!

ASM: How’s that going?

WG: Amazing man.

ASM: No seriously, you can be honest. This part will be off the record. How’s the married life?

WG: It’s great – seriously.

ASM: I don’t believe you.

WG: (Quiet, but smiling.)

ASM: (Now also smiling.) And you have a new daughter?

WG: Yes! Alice Mae Gray – she’s gorgeous!

ASM: That’s amazing. I feel like I’m in an episode of the Wonder Years.

WG: (Laughing.) Dude, you need to get a family – it’s like nothing else.

ASM: I’ll get there one day. Absolutely. So I read your book, Wes. (I like using people’s first name in a conversation like that with a straight face, it’s ironic and funny I think.)

WG: Yeah, what did you think?

ASM: It was a piece.

WG: Ohh, c’mon! (Yelling, his hands now in the air.)

ASM: No, I’m kidding. (Pause) But seriously. It was a disaster.

WG: (Silent.)

ASM: (Breaking into laughter.)

WG: (Now also laughing.)

ASM: No, Wes, great read. Congratulations!

WG: (Blushing like a little girl.)

ASM: This is going to feel like you’re on Larry King, but I’ve got some questions. Wes, (again with the first name lead-in) let’s start with the basics man – what is your favorite book, your favorite film, and your favorite cocktail?

WG: The Intelligent Investor, Lord of the Rings Series, and a Long Island Ice Tea (great bang for the buck).
ASM: Wes, “Lord of the Rings” do you seriously want me to write that down?

WG: What?

ASM: Nothing…wow, that’s incredibly dorky Wes.

WG: I know (his head bowed) – but it really is a great series.

ASM: Riight. So what’s your story before entering the Corps?

WG: I was a PhD student in finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. At the 2 year mark in the program (after passing all our tests and research requirements) there is a natural break in the program and a transition from “school-focused” to “research-focused.” I saw this natural break as an opportunity to do something I always wanted to do–serve in the Marine Corps.

ASM: When did you get the idea for “Embedded?”

WG: While I was out there I kept a very detailed journal of day to day operations. Upon return, I put the journal in a more readable format so my wife and family could read through it. Eventually, they suggested I turn the journal into a book.

ASM: What are 5 things every U.S. service person should know when working with Iraqi army?


1. Iraqis are survivors and will beg, steal, and cheat if their future depends on it.

2. Iraqis are very judgmental–they assume Americans are selfish, Christian, and believe Muslims are second-class citizens.

3. Iraqis will die for you–IF you become part of their family

4. Patience is mandatory–everything takes 2-3x as long, so factor that into your planning cycle.

5. The Iraqi soldiers will never be US Marines–they don’t have the money, training, and cultural infrastructure to be a 21st fighting force…but all they need to be is better than the insurgents.

ASM: Explain man love Thursdays.

WG: Iraqi men are very touchy-feely. The soldiers will hold your hand, rub your belly, caress your shoulders, and make you feel very uncomfortable at times. The vast majority of these actions are not homosexual in nature; however, Iraqi soldiers do engage in homosexual activity and frequently joke about the practice.

ASM: Yes, I remember this (now taking a long drink). In the book, you have some stories about a wise interpreter you had, Moody. What was Moody’s view on power and democracy?

WG: Moody’s view (and most of the Iraqis I spoke to) is that democracy is a great idea in theory, but is unrealistic in Iraq at the current time. One of the beauties of democracy is that the majority rules and the minority follows. In Western societies, the minority accepts their position and peacefully tries to gain power via established political venues. However, in Iraq, the minority fights back with AK-47s and RPGs in their attempt to regain power. This is just how politics are done–via violence and domination. Unfortunately, democracy is dysfunctional when the minority is always shooting the majority in their attempts to get power.

ASM: What’s the difference between a young jundi (soldier) and a young Marine?

WG: Lot’s of similarities: love chow, love food, love complaining, brave, etc.

A few differences:

-The “young” jundi is typically 25-30yrs+ whereas the young Marine is usually 18-20

-less training

-less discipline

-more family pressure–jundi are usually the breadwinners for their entire family

ASM: What’s the biggest cultural difference between the U.S. and Iraq?

WG: The biggest difference that affects mission success is a fate-based viewpoint on life. Iraqis tend to have a belief–reinforced via Islam–that their path in the world is set and how things play out in their lives will not change based on how hard they work or the actions they take. This viewpoint makes it very difficult to motivate Iraqis–anything from convincing them to wear their protective gear to planning for a convoy mission.

ASM: What’s the most important lesson you learned in Iraq?

WG: My biggest takeaway is that cultural differences create huge frictions and costs that go largely unnoticed by strategic planners. I think it is easy for planners to quantify the costs and benefits of 50 tanks and 100 Special Forces soldiers, but it’s difficult to quantify costs/benefits of culture so this gets pushed under the rug. In the end, planners will systematically compare the benefits of a particular mission against a cost estimate that is underestimated because the cultural costs are not properly accounted for. My guess is that if strategic planners redid the cost/benefit analysis of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan AFTER proper accounting for the costs of dealing with culture, we would have chosen to not engage in these conflicts.

ASM: Huh?

WG: (Laughing.)

ASM: Seriously.

ASM: One last question buddy, and then I’ll let you get back to your family…do you miss the Marine Corps?

WG: I miss it all the time, but I also enjoy seeing my family everyday and thinking about non-military issues.

ASM: What’s next for you?

WG: I thought you said that was the last question?

ASM: I lied – just like I lied about the Lebanese bookie.

WG: Haha! Got it, ok…

ASM: What’s next for you?

WG: I have my three F’s: Family, fun, and finance. I hope to spend as much time as possible with my family. With respect to fun I hope to play as much golf as possible. And finally, for finance I hope to go on the academic job market this year–hopefully, I’ll be a finance professor at a top business school next year…Insh’allah.

ASM: Thanks Wes.

WG: Thank you Alex.

And then we stood in unison like it was the end of a great meeting of the Sheiks back in Haditha after hours of chai and circuitous banter. And then we gave each other that hand-shake that becomes the half hug that men like to do when they feel that something greater than a handshake is necessary – which after Haditha and a new daughter and running from Lebanese bookies, certainly was.

And the next day, on the way home from work, somewhere between Carlsbad and Encinitas, I called Mary Ripley…

“Mary, I talked to Wes Gray. I’ve got something good for you…”

The war is only 10 months old and two months after the defeat at the Battle of Savo Island.

The night action of 10-11 OCT, sometimes know as the Second Battle of Savo Island – but usually as The Battle of Cape Esperance, is an excellent example of the critical importance of training, flexibility, initiative, and aggression – combined with a measure of luck. Luck is always essential, as even the most simple plans become complicated once the battle begins.

First background.

DIVISION 6 of the Imperial Japanese Navy was pretty pleased with itself following its engagement with the Americans off Savo the night of August 8-9, and perhaps with reason. The Japanese felt that they had won a victory, greater than their usual “victories,” and although the loss of the KAKO outside the harbor of Kavieng following the battle had cut into their forces by a quarter, they felt themselves to be the backbone of Japan in the Solomons.

But the Americans still clung tenaciously to their ground in the Guadalcanal and Florida islands despite air raids and night bombardments from the “Tokyo Express. ” And although their position was precarious, it wasn’t enough so for the Jap.

If the Japanese headquarters on Rabaul was busy with plans for marshaling their strength for a knockdown battle for the Solomons, so were the Americans at Espiritu Santo. Something had to be done to stop the Japanese from reinforcing their troops, and from storming Marine positions from the sea, and obviously one way to do it was to reinforce our own land forces at Guadalcanal. For this, a large convoy with Army reinforcements for Guadalcanal was soon to depart from Noumea, in French New Caledonia, halfway between Fiji and Australia. By October 1 1 it would be about 250 miles west of Espiritu Santo, protected by two task forces: one built around the carrier HORNET, the other around the new battleship WASHINGTON.

In Espiritu was a newly organized task force. Its ships had engaged only in target practice together but they were good ships. It would do well, as protection for the left flank of the Army convoy approaching Guadalcanal, to station this task force off the southern shore of that island to intercept any enemy units moving in from the west.

Remember, this is still the “go to war with the Navy you have” part of the war, as the entire Solomon Islands Campaign was.

The post Midway march to Tokyo was on, but this was only the beginning of the beginning.Let’s look at the lineup.

TF 64

Rear-Admiral Norman C. Scott

Bombardment Group

Rear-Admiral Goto

And so, off they went.

Departing New Caledonia on October 8, ships carrying the US 164th Infantry moved north towards Guadalcanal. To screen this convoy, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley assigned Task Force 64 … to operate near the island. … Initially taking station off Rennell Island, Hall moved north on the 11th after receiving reports that Japanese ships had been sited in The Slot.

MicroWorks calls this “Stumbling into Victory.” That is one way to look at it.

Me? I call it a lesson on the need for trusting your Commanding Officers with short, direct orders. As an editorial note for brevity, there are two IJN groups NW of Guadalcanal, Goto’s Bombardment Group and RADM Jojima’s landing force with 4,500 troops.

As he moved north, Hall, aware that the Americans had faired badly in previous night battles with the Japanese, crafted a simple battle plan. Ordering his ships to form a column with destroyers at the head and rear, he instructed them to illuminate any targets with their searchlights so that the cruisers could fire accurately. Hall also informed his captains that they were open fire when the enemy was sited rather than waiting for orders.

Approaching Cape Hunter on the northwest corner of Guadalcanal, Hall, flying his flag from San Francisco, ordered his cruisers to launch their float planes at 10:00 PM. An hour later, San Francisco’s float plane sighted Jojima’s force off of Guadalcanal. Expecting more Japanese ships to be sighted, Hall maintained his course northeast, passing to the west of Savo Island. Reversing course at 11:30, some confusion led to the three lead destroyers (Farenholt, Duncan, and Laffey) being out of position. About this time, Goto’s ships began appearing on the American radars.

Initially believing these contacts to be the out of position destroyers, Hall took no action. As Farenholt and Laffey accelerated to reassume their proper positions, Duncan moved to attack the approaching Japanese ships.

But ahhhh, one man’s brevity code is another’s order.

A mere 5000 yards distant Goto’s ships were moving directly into the center of the American line, which Goto, deeply feeling that no American was present, considered to be Joshima’s reinforcement group. It was up to Helena to teach him otherwise. Captain Hoover was certain he had the enemy before him and queried Scott to open fire. Scott replied, “Roger”, which he intended as a confirmation of receipt, but if unqualified it meant open fire as well, and Hoover interpreted it as such. He switched on his searchlights, aiming them on Hatsuyuki, the left-wing destroyer, and opened fire with his fifteen 155mm guns at 2346.

That action caught Scott off-guard, but he did not prevent the rest of his line from opening fire on the enemy. Duncan, now only a few hundred yards from Kinugasa, joined in, but was quickly disabled.

Another account describes this classic thus;

At 11:45, Goto’s ships were visible to the American lookouts and Helena radioed asking permission to open fire using the general procedure request, “Interrogatory Roger” (meaning “are we clear to act”). Hall responded in the affirmative, and his surprise the entire American line opened fire. Aboard his flagship, Aoba, Goto was taken by complete surprise.

Let’s talk about VADM Goto for a second. In a battle that lasted only 30 minutes, the first few were an all-American show. Why? Well, confusion and an inability to realize that your plan was no longer going to happen and that all you were told was wrong.

Gotō’s force was taken almost completely by surprise. At 23:43 Aoba’s lookouts sighted Scott’s force, but Gotō assumed that they were Jojima’s ships. Two minutes later, Aoba’s lookouts identified the ships as American, but Gotō remained skeptical and directed his ships to flash identification signals. As Aoba’s crew executed Gotō’s order, the first American salvo smashed into Aoba’s superstructure. Aoba was quickly hit by up to 40 shells from Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. The shell hits heavily damaged Aoba’s communications systems and demolished two of her main gun turrets as well as her main gun director. Several large-caliber projectiles passed through Aoba’s flag bridge without exploding, but the force of their passage killed many men and mortally wounded Gotō.

CAPT Kijuma, VADM Goto’s Chief of Staff stated,

“At first we thought the fire was from our own supply ships. It was a surprise attack. All ships but the KINUGASA immediately reversed course to the right. Due to the shellfire and the congestion, the KINUGASA turned left. As a result of
this turn the KINUGASA only received minor damage from three hits. The AOBA was hit about forty times and was badly damaged. The FURUTAKA and FUBUKI were sunk. The FUBUKI sank before it completed the turn, although it only received four hits. Due to the smoke from the AOBA, the MURAKUMO was not hit. The KINUGASA did most of the fighting for our force.

“Soon after the action started Admiral Goto was mortally wounded. While he was dying, I told him that he could die with easy mind because we had sunk two of your heavy cruisers.

“Following this action we retired to the northwest. The MURAKUMO turned back and rescued about four hundred survivors. When your forces reappeared it departed the area trying to make you chase it within range of our aircraft.”

Chaos, on both sides.

Over the next few minutes, Aoba was hit more than 40 times by Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. Burning, with many of its guns out of action and Goto dead, Aoba turned to disengage. At 11:47, concerned that he was firing on his own ships, Hall ordered a ceasefire and asked his destroyers to confirm their positions. This done, the American ships resumed firing at 11:51 and pummeled the cruiser Furutaka. Burning from a hit to its torpedo tubes, Furutaka lost power after taking a torpedo from Buchanan. While the cruiser was burning, the Americans shifted their fire to the destroyer Fubuki sinking it.

Two minutes of firing – four minutes of “where and the h311 is everyone” and then firing again. That 4 minutes must have seemed like an hour.

As the battle raged, the cruiser Kinugasa and destoryer Hatsuyuki turned away and missed the brunt of the American attack. Pursuing the fleeing Japanese ships, Boise was nearly hit by torpedoes from Kinugasa at 12:06 AM. Turning on their search lights to illuminate the Japanese cruiser, Boise and Salt Lake City immediately took fire, with the former taking a hit to its magazine. At 12:20, with the Japanese retreating and his ships disorganized, Hall broke off the action.

Later that night, Furutaka sank as result of battle damage, and Duncan was lost to raging fires. Learning of the bombardment force’s crisis, Jojima detached four destroyers to its aid after disembarking his troops. The next day, two of these, Murakumo and Shirayuki, were sunk by aircraft from Henderson Field.

The end result of the battle was a complete smacking. Losses:


  • 1 destroyer sunk,
  • 1 cruiser,
  • 1 destroyer heavily damaged,
  • 163 killed


  • 1 cruiser,
  • 3 destroyers sunk,
  • 1 cruiser heavily damaged,
  • 341–454 killed,
  • 111 captured

This was unquestionably a great tactical victory for the USN, but an operational failure as Jojima was still able to get his troops ashore. It also did not supply the right lessons to take forward as we continued not to appreciate the true night fighting capabilities of the IJN and the exceptional danger posed by the Long Lance torpedo.

This battle was the happy middle between two sobering hammers – The Battle of Savo Island for one, and two months later Tassafaronga. In the end, I think this best catches the results,

A junior officer on Helena later wrote, “Cape Esperance was a three-sided battle in which chance was the major winner.”

A great take-away would be this quote that could be heard after any sea battle for the last 2,500 years, I bet.

In the words of one petty officer who was overheard talking with another on the way back to Espiritu Santo, “I’ll never complain of another drill, and I’ll deck the man who does.”

BTW, that quote and a few others come from Battle Report: Pacific War: Middle Phase by CDR Walter Purdon, USN and CAPT Eric Karig, USN which you can get for free online here, or get the 1947 hardback riginal here.

Crossposted at CDRSalamander as part of the ongoing Fullbore Friday series.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 14 Comments

The US Navy is researching creating jet fuel from seawater:

Dorner and Co have been working on mixing CO2 and hydrogen to produce light hydrocarbons which could then be processed into jet fuel. As jet fuel is rich in energy, doing this uses a lot of energy – and even then, a lot of the CO2 and hydrogen actually turns to methane.

But Dorner and his colleagues have managed to get the amount of methane produced down to 30 per cent or so, using special catalysts. The “sea water” bit comes from the fact that Dorner has also noted that there’s a fair bit of CO2 in sea water, plus hydrogen too if you have even more energy to crack water molecules apart.

Thus it would actually be useful if you could build a plant on a carrier which could scoop CO2 out of the water, crack hydrogen from it too, and combine these to top off the ship’s jet-fuel tanks. The carrier would be able to keep dominating airspace without needing to break off and replenish its supplies so often.

I can already see the posters:


Update: See Information Dissemination for a more informed discussion of the technology.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy | 4 Comments

An announcement from DoD. Don’t know what to make of this yet, as I could see this being a rather unfiltered hotch-potch of gripes and complaints that may surround a valuable nugget here and there. But, read below:


The Department of Defense today launched a new home page, , designed to invite participation from the public and make military news and information more accessible. The new Web site will provide quick access to those sites that are most sought by Web site visitors, including DoD social media sites, the Pentagon Channel and DoD news stories.

Prominent on the new home page is a new “We Want to Hear From You” feature that will give users the opportunity to ask questions of Defense Department leaders, vote on policy issues they want explained, and explore frequently asked questions and answers. The new site, , replaces as the department’s main Internet entry portal. DefenseLink will remain a news Web site and may be accessed from Visit us online: .


It certainly looks like an attempt at grass-roots exchanges. I could certainly imagine some good coming from policy questions that get funny interpretations below DoD that always seem to cost our service members money or leave time, or cause general consternation and frustration.

And who knows? It could turn into a sea lawyer’s Wikipedia, or a great way to explain the reasons behind why some things are the way they are…

From this blog and others I have monitored, I have seen many comments discussing a variety of issues related to manning of our ships, squadrons, submarines and expeditionary units. I am very aware of the shortages we have in certain communities as well as distribution issues currently being addressed by the Chief of Naval Personnel. I think I have a very good understanding of the history associated with many of these issues, but much of what I’ve read hasn’t dealt with the baseline requirements established in the various afloat billet bases.

I would like to hear from you regarding the fundamental manpower requirements for your ship, squadron, or unit. What changes would you make to your Officer Distribution Control and Enlisted Data Verification Reports that would better enable you to execute your current operational requirements? Please include in your response the type of ship, squadron, or unit you are referring to so I can put your remarks in their proper context. I would also like to know the rationale for the proposed change. For the purposes of this thread, I am directing this question primarily to those currently in uniform and part of the USFF team.

One note for your consideration – as I have remarked on elsewhere, the resources the nation will be able to devote to the services in the future will not continue the pattern of the past eight years where service budgets and contingency funding steadily increased. Our overall operations tempo, with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq entering new phases, is likely to remain high. The challenges associated with recapitalizing the Fleet are daunting. Very tough choices lie ahead for us at every level in the chain-of-command.

Accordingly, simply asking for more people won’t work – what we must do is ensure the people we do have are serving where we most need them and that they receive the necessary training en route and on the job once they report aboard. That’s why I’d like to hear from you about the billet base for your unit. All the best, JCHjr

Cross posted from Fleet Forces Command Blog

Interesting blurb from Reuters this morning. See below:


By Katya Golubkova

ST.PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Russia and Venezuela on Saturday moved closer to an oil venture deal and discussed arms trade, forging a partnership that may drag Russia into a row over the U.S. military presence in Colombia.

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, due in Russia in September, said last week he was prepared to buy dozens of Russian tanks to counter the U.S. intention to increase a military presence in Colombia.

“The president of Venezuela is one of the leading international policy makers. He is a very strong personality and a big friend of Russia,” said Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.

“I know from experience if he said something he will definitely do it,” Sechin told a news conference after talks with Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez when asked whether Russia would sell tanks to Venezuela.

Sechin said military cooperation with Venezuela will help Russia’s struggling military industrial complex cope with the economic crisis but declined to comment further on the tank deal saying it was for presidents to work it out.


Colombia’s government is expected to sign a deal this month giving U.S. forces increased access to military bases in order to fight the cocaine trade and Marxist insurgents. Chavez has blasted the plan as a threat to regional stability.

“We as a sovereign state must protect our people and in that sense we can make arms purchases that we deem necessary,” Carrizalez said. “These bases without doubt create a threat for all Latin American countries.

Russia, the world’s second largest oil exporter, wants to revive Latin American ties cultivated during the Soviet era. Sechin’s recent Latin American tour included traditional Soviet allies Cuba and Nicaragua.

Russia and Venezuela are expected next month to present a joint venture that aims to develop the Junin 6 block in the Orinoco oil belt, which Venezuela says has the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves.

Sechin said Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian firms will need to jointly invest $30 billion in Venezuela’s Junin 6 oil field.


We would do well to remember Putin’s vow to restore to Russia the place which the Soviet Union once occupied at the international table. Also interesting is the phrasing of describing Cuba and Venezuela as Russia’s “traditional” allies in Latin America. Traditional? Only at the height of the Cold War, as a significant thorn in the side of the US and her ability to protect her shores and/or come to the aid of her allies in Europe. What we are witnessing is a 21st Century revival of the Soviyetski Soyuz that once allowed the USSR to hold sway in so many key areas around the globe.

It is also important to remember that the Russians never put their money into a region where their military capability doesn’t soon follow. The stated intention of expanding the Russian Navy comes at a time when it is clear to our allies and potential opponents alike that the US Navy is shrinking. With China’s push for regional dominance, Russia undoubtedly sees an opportunity to accomplish several things at once in Latin America.

1. Continue to support two enemies of the US, (Cuba, Venezuela) bolstering with military and economic aid.

2. Establish themselves with a presence that sits astride a critical SLOC for the US, with the ability to interdict, or at least influence, greatly enhanced over attempting the same from bases in the Baltic or Black Sea.

3. Secure a significant source of the world’s crude oil, a situation that could have devastating impact on key US allies, and by proxy, the US.

Russia’s capabilities are growing, and Putin’s statement of her intent is clear to those who care to see. We would be wise to ensure we have a US Navy able to counter this potential threat to our hemisphere and to our abilities to defend our key allies and vital interests in and across the Atlantic.

Otherwise, an increasingly popular bumper sticker might read; “Got Ships?”

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