Archive for March, 2010

nejmFor readers that do not know, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is the world’s oldest and most influential medical journal. If it matters to doctors, it can be found in the NEJM.

On February 24th, NEJM published a description and evaluation of the US military’s disaster relief mission in Haiti. The article offers a fair assessment of the operation, pointing out a number of failures and lessons learned. However, the punchline is this:

“The support of the U.S. military was unequivocally integral to the success of the medical mission. The military supplied us with critical equipment and supplies, such as tents to establish our emergency room, stretchers, medications, food, and water. The soldiers who assisted us in the hospital compound brought not only skill but also a “can do” attitude and energy to a medical staff that was stretched to its physical and emotional limits. We saw consistent professionalism, competence, and compassion in the American soldiers.”

Overall, the military was a knight-in-shining-armor for beleaguered aid workers. While not perfect, the military did an heroic job supporting civilian relief efforts. It is good to see NGOs accept the military as an important partner in disaster relief operations. Slowly humanitarians are seeing the military as a potential ally rather than an organizational leper. Now, let us hope the military’s old guard can reciprocate by seeing aid workers as more than naive amateurs.

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) was one of the first ships directed towards Haiti after the massive January 12 earthquake, but, once the ship arrived to serve in Operation Unified Response, the Bataan ran into a hail of criticism over it’s slow start in accepting and treating wounded Haitians. One of my USNI pals was particularly tough on the flat-deck. Why was the Bataan so slow off the mark?

Well, the MSC has a likely answer. There might have been a darn good reason why the Bataan’s medical facilities were slow to get into the game….Why? The answer is simple–Water. The Bataan didn’t have any. Though the Bataan’s embarked media didn’t make much of a peep about the shortage, off Haiti, the ship’s evaporators–rather important pieces of equipment for a steam-powered vessel–failed.

And with no water, there’s precious little a medical team can offer.

According to Cmdr Mark Pimpo, USNS Sacagawea’s (T-AKE-2) military department officer in charge, the Bataan was in serious trouble:

“We also transferred more than 40,000 gallons of water to amphibious assault ship USS Bataan when both of the ship’s evaporators stopped functioning. Bataan was eventually able to get a tech rep onboard, but the water we provided made the difference,” Pimpo said.”

For the Bataan, a ship that entered the fleet in 1997, this sort of breakdown is not a good sign. But on the other hand, an evaporator failure is the sort of thing that’ll likely happen after a ship has been at sea for seven months, gets shut down…and then gets tasked to handle an unexpected contingency.

With short-notice surge deployments becoming the norm, the Navy has got to start doing some serious thinking about how it manages ship maintenance and surge availability. Are looming failures (or chronic engineering problems) getting reported up the chain-of-command during deployment? Or are they kinda close-held until after deployment when it all becomes some shipyard’s problem to deal with?

But just note…for the helpful T-AKE, this story is just another testament to how important the MSC’s T-AKE fleet has become (in such a short time, too)! These cheap, do-anything ships–with their residual fuel and liquid supply capabilities–are really pulling the Navy out of some potentially sticky situations…


Captain Clark.For those who like to watch the fields our seed-corn grows in; after a very rough year, there is an opportunity again at Annapolis.

Via our friend Philip Ewing at Navy Times,

Capt. Robert Clark, now commodore of Submarine Squadron 4 at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn., is scheduled to become the Naval Academy’s next commandant of midshipmen — known around the Yard as the “Dant” — in the coming weeks, according to an academy announcement.

Yes …. more bubbleheads … but here is what caught my eye.

Clark is an alumnus of the Naval Academy and the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I.

Here is the opportunity.

NAPS is supposed to be … chartered to be … and is at its very best when it focuses on taking our best enlisted personnel who show the best in leadership capabilities but need some work on academic skills – and prepares them to succeed at the U.S. Naval Academy and on to the Navy or Marine Corps. Ditto those young men and women out of High School who are right on the cusp, but need that extra push.

It does not serve the Navy or the taxpayer well when, as we have seen of late, NAPS is used to promote D1 football potential or someone’s source-DNA distribution graph fetish.

Having a NAPS grad as ‘Dant is very good news – even if he is a nuke…..

We have some other important leadership faces coming as well.

The Naval Academy’s new top enlisted sailor, Command Master Chief (SW) Jon Taylor, who is coming from the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney. He will relieve Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Evelyn Banks, who is moving to Naval Sea Systems Command.

The new command chaplain, the Rev. (Capt.) Michael Parisi, who is relieving the Rev. (Capt.) Peter McGeory.

Springtime is always a time for optimism. I wish Captains Clark and Parisi along with CMDCM Taylor the best of luck in an exceptionally important job.

If I may be so bold as to offer two simple words to focus on: core competency.


War which has undergone the changes of modern technology and the market system will be launched even more in atypical forms. In other words, while we are seeing a relative reduction in military violence, at the same time we definitely are seeing an increase in political, economic, and technological violence. However, regardless of the form the violence takes, war is war, and a change in the external appearance does not keep any war from abiding by the principles of war.

The above quote is from the book “Unrestricted Warfare“, written by a pair of People’s Liberation Army Colonels, Qaio Liang and Wang Xiangsui, and published in Beijing in early 1999. The book has gotten some attention, but often in the eleven years since it was unveiled to the West, the work has largely been dismissed as unlikely wishful thinking on the part of the two authors, and not representative of PLA viewpoints or policy. As recently as early 2008, discussion in strategic-level war games was dismissive of Chinese capability and intent in the cyber realm.


Well, today the Times of London published yet another ominous summary of China’s ongoing activities in the cyber realm. One should be reminded that this represents only what is being acknowledged publicly. Of particular note are the words of Dr. James Lewis of CSIS:

Dr Lewis said that neither the US nor any of its Western allies had formed an effective response to the Chinese threat, which has its origins in a massive boost to Chinese technology ordered by Deng Xiaoping, the late Chinese leader, in 1986. The West’s own cyber offensives have so far been directed largely at terrorists rather than nation states, giving China virtually free rein to penetrate Western systems with its own world-class hackers and increasingly popular Chinese-made components. “You almost have to admire them,” Dr Lewis said. “They have been very consistent in their goals.”

Will we look back across an economic or military cataclysm years or decades on and acknowledge, regretfully, that the warnings had been in front of us since 1999, or even 1986?

Is the Navy having some problems getting along with shipbuilder Northrop Grumman? Defense media overlooked some stern words–and a hand-carried letter–Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) delivered to SECNAV Mabus after a February 24 hearing on the Navy’s FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Budget Request. Here’s a rough transcript–of what sounds somewhat like an ultimatum:

“…Secretary Mabus, before you leave I’d like to hand-deliver to you a letter from myself, Senator Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Wicker (R-MS). A similar letter was delivered to Northrop Grumman last week. And it basically says that Congress has authorized and appropriated five ships…and yet, for whatever reason, Northrop and the Navy have not come to terms and gotten those ships started.

The admiral has made an excellent case that he needs a bigger fleet. The Congress has already responded to that by authorizing and appropriating the money. We need to get going. And so I don’t know if it’s Northrop’s delay. I don’t know if it’s the Navy’s delay. But there is a delay that needs to be addressed and I’m going to ask you to take a look at that. But again, thank all of you for your services and with that, this meeting is adjourned…”

What’s the deal here? Why all the foot-dragging? Is the delay just focusing on Northrop’s Gulf Coast yards?

At any rate, an exchange of letters is certainly not the sort of thing that happens when all is, ah, going well in the shipbuilding department.


MidratsIf you did – you missed a great Navy meal – a lot more than the usual bologna sandwiches and bug juice.

After our panel discussion, fellow USNIBlog milbloggers Galrahn, EagleOne and I we are joined by prolific author and Naval strategist, Dr. Norman Friedman.

We touch on the direction our Navy should be going, the maritime strategy, LCS, and his latest book, British Destroyers: From Earliest Days to the Second World War.

You really owe it to yourself to give it a listen. You can hear it archived at the Midrats Episode page – of if you want to make sure you never miss a Midrats – you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

You won’t go away hungry for anything but more Dr. Friedman.

Simorgh SLV/ICBM (Feb 2010)

TD-2/Unha-2 (April 2009)

Last month Iran unveiled a new long-range missile, the Simorgh, as a follow-on to the Safir SLV. Putatively identified as a space launch vehicle, it bears strong familial ties to the TD-2 prototype SLV/ICBM launched last April (2009). Since then, some analysts have noted that while the airframe has made an appearance sooner than the NIE’s from 2008/2009 suggested, much still remains to be put in place for the program to reach flight test stage. Chief among those items would be a launch site as something of this size requires a much larger complex for support than the Safir.

According to press reports over the weekend, it appears that too is well underway and sooner than many had expected:

Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. The new launcher, constructed near an existing rocket base in the Semnan province east of Tehran, is visible in satellite imagery, according to the report. The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes. Both the missile and the launch pad, which according to Jane’s is large enough to accommodate it, point to cooperation from Pyongyang. (Jerusalem Post, 6 March 2010)

Firing up GE, we locate the site fairly quickly:

Semnan Missile R&D Complex

Semnan Missile R&D Complex

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The story today from Reuters should give all Europe, especially the Eastern side, pause for reflection regarding Russia. On this, the 57th anniversary of the brutal Communist dictator’s death, we are seeing resurgence in Russian pride and desire for returning to what Russians believe was the glory days of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has spoken in those terms on several occasions.

Another line will be crossed at the 9 May Victory Day, the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. For the first time since Khruschev’s denunciation of him at the 20th COMINTERN in 1956, Stalin’s image will appear in multiple official locations, and his contribution to victory in the Great Patriotic War will be given official recognition.

Lest we forget, much of Eastern Europe is only beginning its third decade of independence from either Imperial or Soviet Russia. Such news as Reuters brings us cannot make them feel any more secure, especially in light of the impotence of NATO in August of 2008 to stand up to the Russian colossus.


Stalin, as brutal as any dictator in the history of Europe, nonetheless represents a Soviet Russia whose armies and air forces made the whole world tremble. That Russia, a giant on the world stage, is an immense source of nostalgic pride for the older generation, and a rallying cry for the generation of Putin. Illogical and incomprehensible as it may be for Americans, such is indeed the case. Which is not to say Stalin is universally admired, nor Soviet Russia’s return around the corner. But many more people than one might think look longingly back at those times and at Stalin.

In the Spring of 1992, when Boris Yeltsin was facing his first great economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet state, an American news network played a TASS interview with a wrinkled little babushka in a shabby overcoat. Her words literally made me sit back in my chair, as if struck in the chest. They were very nearly, if not exactly, these:

“Stalin was a butcher. He killed my grandfather, he killed my uncles. But when we had Stalin, we had toilet paper. And I want toilet paper!”

Roll that around in your head for a while.

shipping_raid1FW200-51fIn 1940 Britain was in a desperate fight for survival. Isolated from the Continent, Britain was relying on a lifeline extended from the States via merchant convoys. Plying the North Atlantic, out of range of land-based air cover, the convoys were subject to attack from German submarines, operating singly at first and later in wolf-packs, and from the air – He 111’s and Ju 88’s to be sure, but primarily from the long-range Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor. The Condors, first operating from Norway and later from France, were able to range far out into the North Atlantic, well out of the range of the RAF’s shore-based Spitfires and Hurricanes. Without being threatened, the Condors could range freely to provide detailed reports on convoy positions to waiting wolf packs as well as attack the un- or under-armed merchants and their few escorts on their own with bombs. Between June 1940 and February 1941, Condors alone accounted for sinking over 365,000 tons. Obviously something had to be done.


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Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, History | 6 Comments

National Reading Week. What books on the Sea Services would you recommend? Give us your ideas and we’ll put up a fan’s recommended reading list.

We’re taking your recommendations on our Facebook page, so comment there or here. We’ll reproduce the list in both places.

nhcoverNext…really excited about this one…

HBO’s release of The Pacific is augmented by our partnership…all kinds of articles in our March/April issue of Naval History Magazine and a The Pacific Page on our website to follow the series with attention to the historical record of what happened with maps, slideshows interviews and more… Follow all of the articles we will release throughout the series and exclusive article written in Proceedings Magazine in WWII

For example:

An Overdue Pacific War Perspective

By Richard B. Frank
Don’t Forget: National Reading Week…what are you reading?

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