Archive for December, 2010


Top 5 Navy Stories of 2010

December 2010


#5 – Russia Buys Mistral Amphibious Ships from France.

There is already a lot of complaining coming from NATO nations with the recent Christmas surprise that France will sell Mistral class amphibious ships to Russia. While it is absolutely true the Mistral class is a dynamic ship capable of supporting several peacetime missions for Russia, it is the capabilities of waging war that has Russia’s neighbors nervous. From the US perspective, promises that Russia will be utilizing the ships in the Pacific is hardly better news considering that means the ships will be primarily for demonstrating Russian resolve in territorial disputes with Japan. It could be worse, Russia could base the ships in the Black Sea and give Georgia plenty of reasons to be nervous. No matter how one looks at it, the Mistral class is a weapon of war well designed towards Russian strengths (like attack helicopters) and Russian requirements for power projection, and does represent a major transfer of knowledge and capability from a NATO friend to a former enemy. The dynamics of the deal itself are tailor made for political firebranding.

#4 US Navy Dual Purchase of Littoral Combat Ship

The Littoral Combat Ship is the single most interesting US Navy discussion there is, and it isn’t even close. If I need to increase the traffic to my home blog by an extra few thousand visitors on any given day, all I have to do is write an article about the Littoral Combat Ship. Folks inside and outside the Navy are critical of the LCS – indeed I often find the comments of active duty SWOs are the most damning criticisms tossed towards the LCS. I personally think the LCS represents one of the most horribly designed great concepts in modern naval history by any nation, but the truth is no one actually knows what the LCS is, or will be in the future. What we do know is that over the next 5 years the Navy will build 20 more at an average cost of $440 million per hull, and at that price the LCS is less expensive per 1000 tons than the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and even the Perry FFGs. Because the ship is also armed like the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and the Perry FFs we can all look forward to 5 more years of criticisms.

#3 PLA Navy Expansion Towards Blue Water and Long Range Strike Capabilities

韬光养晦 – The literal translation is “hide brightness, nourish obscurity,” but it is more commonly known as Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “tao guang yang hui” toward international relations – which describes a policy of patiently keeping a low profile when forced into an unfavorable position and nourish your position until opportunity to act presents itself. Many scholars believe this has been the core philosophy driving policy in China for almost the past 3 decades, but China appears to have discarded this policy in 2010. Perhaps I am reading this wrong, and China believes their opportunity to act has arrived? It is clear that 2010 is a year of massive shipbuilding for the PLAN, what some have termed the PLAN’s second shipbuilding boom. In 2010 China has apparently begun construction of a new aircraft carrier while continuing construction on surface combatants, submarines, and their fast attack combatants. We finish the year with ADM Willard declaring the DF-21 has reached an equivalent stage to IOC while the internet goes buzzing with photography of a new supposed 5th Generation stealth fighter/bomber. While it is worth admiring the growth of China’s maritime military capabilities, we should be very careful not to get caught up in the hype. China has significant strategic vulnerabilities right now – military, political, and economic – and with a rapidly approaching demography problem compounded by one of the largest generational gaps any culture worldwide has encountered, it is very premature to make predictions solely based on the expansion of military hardware quantity.

2) Stuxnet Exposing the Vulnerability of Entire Fleets to Worms

This probably should be number one, but due to very little public attention given to the threat Stuxnet represents to naval forces I decided to leave it at number two. Whatever damage Stuxnet did to Iran’s nuclear program could have gone infinitely worse had the same technologies been directed at any modern fleet globally. All that heavy industrial equipment used in Iran’s nuclear program is very similar, if not exactly similar, to the mechanical systems that drive naval vessels across the world. Stuxnet has introduced us to a world where it is possible that well funded and coordinated teams of nerds can disable fleets of warships at the time and date of their choosing, and in the world of Stuxnet – internet connectivity is not a requirement for effectiveness.

1) Sinking of the Cheonan by North Korean mini-submarine

Welcome to the Pacific Ocean, where China, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan are all increasing the size and/or modernizing their submarine forces. Oh, speaking of submarines, did you hear about North Korea using a mini-submarine to sink a South Korean corvette? The Cheonan incident represents what could be the opening salvo of the 21st century in the Pacific as it relates to underwater warfare. Interestingly enough, it might also have been the first major shot fired in a Korean Peninsula crisis that has South Korea talking about reunification as early as next year. When it first took place, I recall speaking to people across the US Navy who initially believed some terrible accident had occurred, but a few days later when divers had been able go down and see the damage to the ship and begin salvage operations, I remember distinctly how the mood turned. 46 South Korea sailors died in that attack. The memory of the Cheonan still makes front page headlines today within the context of current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

If you are looking for an underlying theme for national defense in the USA for the next couple of decades, it will be one of fewer ships, minimal shipbuilding. It doesn’t matter if that is what you want or think is needed – it will be a byproduct of the response to the larger budgetary train-wreck that can no longer be avoided. This is national – and the defense budget will be part of the fix.

There will be less money, so we have to focus on maximizing the flexibility and utility of what money we do have. The luxury of spin & pray we used in the fat years is gone. The missed opportunities of the Lost Decade are just that – lost.

This fiscal constraint will combine with something percolating on the political front regardless of what party is in power; after a decade of war the American people are not in the mood for nation building or additional elective overseas military operations without a defined, short-term duration.

Adding to this is a growing understanding that we are well past point where the post-WWII, post-Cold War, post-post-Cold War need/want/desire to garrison large numbers of forces ashore in foreign lands makes any sense. Inertia no longer overrides the reality that these nations are more than capable of defending themselves without ten to hundreds of thousands of Americans garrisoned like mercenaries to do their fighting for them. We don’t need to be isolationist, just a friend they can call on; a friend who lives in his own house.

If they need our help once they are fully engaged, then we can help them. Germany, Japan, and Korea are not weak nations. We are not an empire, nor a nation that needs to send its young abroad as mercenaries for hire by rich and lazy nations too busy to properly defend themselves.

As an maritime nation whose land borders relatively small and friendly nations – one would think that an emerging Strategic reset would favor a homeland based, flexible, expeditionary mindset – one with a bias towards using air and sea power to project national will and assist our friends as needed. The emerging economic and global security reality is tailor made for the Navy Marine Corps team along with parts of the Air Force skill set.

For some reason though – it doesn’t look that people in the “right” circles are buying what we’re selling. The recently released released report by the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is a data point telling us that our core power-projection force structure and the tools that make it possible are seen as easy-picking for the budget battles to come.

It is easy to dismiss as yesterday’s news the recommendations of the commission – but don’t. Generally considered DOA by the press – its ideas are far from dead. Busy people take other people’s ideas.

If you want to get an understanding of what suited establishment Washington DC thinks we should look in the defense budget for savings to close the budget gap – it would be helpful to start with the commission.

Like all human endeavors, politics and budgetary maneuvers will default to the path that requires the least amount of work. If you can steal someone’s idea that is good enough, then you can move your billable hours on to other things. Knowing the intellectual borrowing that goes on, one needs to take a serious look at and be prepared to respond to each part of the commission’s recommendations in case they gain a second life under a different name.

As outlined earlier, I don’t see very many other options than moving away from the static, Cold War, quasi-imperial mindset of garrisoning forces globally, and towards a more flexible, homeland-based expeditionary mindset better suited for a mercantile representative republic. We need mobile, quick, and flexible forces that give you the ability to create desired effects globally where needed. Along with certain parts of the Army’s light forces, and Air Force logistical and long-range air; that skill-set is a crown jewel of the Navy-Marine Corps team.

Strangely, with the list of recommended cuts, not only does the commission go after the archaic overseas garrisoning of ground forces which is part of our problem – they go after the heart of our future expeditionary capabilities embodied with the Marine Corps – which weakens the solution and leaves us with the question; how do we get where with what?

Review paras 44-48. They recommend:

  • End procurement of the V-22.
  • Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
  • Substitute F-16 & F/A-18Es for half of the F-35 buys.
  • Cancel the USMC version of the F-35.
  • Cancel the Future Maritime Prepositioning Force and abandon sea-basing.

Ponder that for a moment. Just as an example, because the Navy is building an amphibious fleet to Tiffany standards such that it does not want to close within 25nm, we would also find ourselves without the possibility of getting to the shore … therefore …. Tiffany must get close. Close with a fragile logistics tail and sketchy top-cover.

That is the first Operational impact that comes to mind. Really; do I even need to mention Dieppe or San Carlos Water, do I?

Paint; corner – some assembly required.

That isn’t the story. The story the fact that the Navy Marine-Corp team has failed to make the sale to decision makers.

Why? There are a few possible reasons to consider: one messaging and the other programmatic.

From a messaging stand point, the results are clear: we have failed to consistently, clearly, and credibly describe what the Navy-Marine Corps team brings to the table. If we had, there would not have been a feeling that you could get rid of all the equipment that makes power projection possible.

Why have we failed in the messaging dept?

  • The Maritime Strategy is unclear, ineffective, and seen as irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. When looking forward, our maritime strategy documents should be Ref. A. They are not. That is probably part of the problem, for reasons I covered over at my home blog over three years ago.
  • Selling the Navy-Marine Corp team’s capabilities has not been a priority. Well, we know it isn’t the # 1 priority, and when you review the Navy’s latest speeches and press releases, you don’t see that story being told. If you don’t tell everyone your story, no one will. The Marines have done a good job, but they need the Navy to work with them – though they may say differently, they cannot do this alone.

If the problem isn’t messaging, then is the problem programmatic?

  • When it comes to the programs we have invested our intellectual and political capital in over the last decade – where are the major successful programs that we can use to increase our credibility? DDG-1000? LCS? ACS? LPD-17? You can argue that the LEWIS & CLARK T-AKE, VIRGINIA SSN, P-8, and Riverine have been a success, but besides the VIRGINIA none of those are above the fold programs.
  • How many times have we heard senior leadership go in front of Congress to say “313?” How many here actually believed that was achievable? How many here thought that those in uniform saying “313” to Congress didn’t believe it was achievable either? What does that do to credibility inside and outside? When you lose credibility, eventually no one takes anything you say seriously.

If everything is critical; nothing is critical. If you say “313” when you know it isn’t achievable – then why should you be believed when you say something else is a must? If none of the things you said about DDG-1000, LCS, LPD-17 or other programs worked out well – then why should someone invest effort in believing what you say about the F-35B?

Read carefully the cuts recommended. Long after this commission is forgotten, their ideas will be re-cycled a few times.

Don’t expect them to go away. Our nation is under an exceptional fiscal crisis of our own creation, and will be for the next couple decades. Europe is about 5-10 years ahead of us in this regard. Look what has happened to their military budget over the last few years. It will happen here.

We are about to see even more change in senior leadership for the Navy-Marine Corps team. The primary challenge for that leadership isn’t so much to manage decline – but to repair our ability to communicate to decision makers and the taxpayer so they know what they are buying for their national security buck.

They will need to speak clearly, with credibility, and with a message that is consistent in the YouTube age where anyone can get what you said 6-months ago and repeat it with what you said yesterday. Promote creative friction. Re-build a strategic concept that makes sense and is heavy on reality and light on the “crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years.”

They will need to make hard choices – get rid of billets that are not essential. Slash Staff redundancy. Lead personnel cuts from the front through larger than average cuts in Flag Officer and SES billets. Make Shore scream in pain before you demand more from Sailors at Sea. Demand from program managers performance we demand from COs. Focus on the affordable evolutionary vice the sexy revolutionary. Revisit the Cruiser development between WWI & WWII, the guided missile program of the ’50s and ’60s, and Aegis for benchmarks. Take out all the dirty laundry from DDG-1000, LCS, and LPD-17 so we can see it and smell it – and by example – not repeat those mistakes. That will help programmatics. Oh, sure it cost him a star – but review VADM Connelly’s record as well.

Ponder and prepare. Something must go. Find a counter argument, or lose. The game is afoot.

A USNI Article by Vice Admiral Jerry Miller, USN (Ret) is currently being linked by the Drudge Report.

President Barack Obama was outmaneuvered by the Russians and should have abandoned the New START negotiations instead of seeking a political victory, says former nuclear plans monitor Vice Admiral Jerry Miller, USN (Ret).

“The Obama administration is continuing a dated policy in which we cannot even unilaterally reduce our own inventory of weapons and delivery systems without being on parity with the Russians,” Miller told the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md. “We could give up plenty of deployed delivery systems and not adversely affect our national security one bit, but New START prohibits such action – so we are now stuck with some outmoded and useless elements in our nuke force.” – Read the rest at ‘Obama was outmaneuvered by Russians on START’

For me it makes no sense to complete such an agreement with the Russians when they are working overtime to enable other bad actors around the world, such as the Iranians and just recently Venezuela. Back in 2008 I wrote an article noting a number of points why it was OK to stop paying off Russia in regards to it’s nuclear weapons given that the payback was pretty pitiful. These points are still relevant today:

1. At the moment, those most likely to steal a nuclear weapon from Russia are probably the same groups who are most likely to detonate a nuke inside Russia. Remember that Russia has a terrorist problem in Chechnya and they have struck inside Russia proper. Careless accountability puts Moscow at as much if not more risk for a nuclear attack than any Western country. Also, there is much less risk of being caught getting a nuke to Moscow than trying to move it halfway across the planet to get it to US soil. As a bonus, international stupidity has awarded Russia the Olympics games. So in addition to having Moscow as a target, terrorists might just as well target Sochi Olympics with the goal of wiping the city (and everyone in it) from the map.

2. Russian Nuclear scientists. Paying this money provides many of these scientists with support, but probably keeps them either idle or doing busy work that they have no interest in. A US Government study had already suggested that work from some of these scientists directly benefited the Iranian nuclear program. (See: US Assistance to Russia Funding Iranian Nukes) With all the calls around the globe for new nuclear plants, how about letting these nuclear experts move abroad and help the world increase its nuclear power generating capacity. If it takes aid money to facility the shift, then that is probably money much better spent than it is now.

3. Speaking of the Iranians, while the US is paying to secure existing Russian nukes, the money does nothing to prevent Russia from teaching the Iranians to build their own. This has included not only the supply of scientists, but also equipment, machinery and raw nuclear material. So while they are not passing whole nukes out the door, they are essentially sneaking out nukes in pieces.

Iran’s first nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr, which is being constructed in cooperation with Russia, is expected to become operational later on in 2008.

In December 2007, Russia began delivering 82 tons of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr plant, under the supervision and subject to the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The United States, Israel and their European allies allege that the enriched uranium provided by the Russians could be used to produce weapons-grade substances, and accuse Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of pursuing a military nuclear program. – Hurriyet

Putin and Ahmadinejad – Each the other’s most Useful Idiot

4. Russia has already used nuclear material in an attack, littering Europe with radioactive material in the process, exposing thousands of travelers to the nuclear radiation in the process.

Vladimir Putin should be known throughout the world as “Putin the Poisoner.” His signature act — the action that defined Putin’s character for all the world to see — was the radioactive poisoning of KGB turncoat Alexander Litvinenko in London, using polonium-210. The kicker is that you can’t just buy polonium-210 at your local chemical supply store. You can only get it if you have a nuclear weapons industry, because there you need it to start a nuclear chain reaction. It’s a super-tricky substance to control. Putin’s assassins left their traces all over London. Chemically, Po-210 is 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. But the Russians have always favored overkill. – American Thinker

5. Russia and the former Soviet States are still littered with unsecured nuclear material:

Another DOE effort that has been upended by the local violence is the tracking of abandoned radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) – thousands of highly radioactive strontium and caesium powered batteries that were placed throughout remote portions of the Soviet Union as navigational beacons and power sources.

These sources have fallen into decrepitude, and much of the paperwork on their whereabouts and conditions were lost with the Soviet Union’s fall. The RTG units are frequently dismantled for valuable scrap metal by scavengers. More troubling, the strontium and caesium sources also go missing.

The DOE-led effort to isolate, dismantle and dispose of these forgotten facilities “will, for the time being have to be shelved,” said a DOE source in a telephone interview. – Bellona


Georgian interior ministry officials maintain that much of the nuclear material they stop can be traced directly to Russian sites, largely in Siberia. But, complained on official in an interview with Bellona Web Tuesday, the Russians are satisfied to leave these clean up efforts to Georgia, and will rarely take responsibility for Russia nuclear material ending up in the hands of Georgian law enforcement.

“To say that we are intercepting materials that come from Russia, and have the Russian’s admit it, means that the Russian sites are not as secure as they want the world to believe,” said the Georgian interior ministry spokesman, who, citing the current violence requested anonymity. – Bellona

6. Russia itself is a threat to nuclear material stockpiles:

“Russia will say that they will secure these radioactive sources, but the truth is they are as liable to take them as any smuggles we have apprehended,” said the Georgian interior ministry official in an email interview on Monday. – Bellona

You can bet that material stolen by the Russians will not end up in any facility subject to US-paid security.

7. Finally, the money spent securing Russian nukes will do nothing to prevent Russia’s access to the weapons. As it is, there are two recent stories noting either Russian movement of nuclear weapons or their suggestion of re-deploying them.

LONDON- Russia is considering arming its Baltic fleet with nuclear warheads for the first time since the cold war, warned senior military sources late August 17.

The Sunday Times wrote that under the Russian plans, nuclear warheads could be supplied to submarines, cruisers and fighter bombers of the Baltic fleet based in Kaliningrad. – The Baltic Times


Russia has inserted into Georgian territory two SS-21 “Scarab” short-range missile launchers. The only possible use for these in a conflict of this type is for delivery of tactical nuclear weapons. They are Russia’s insurance policy, deterring those who would come to Georgia’s aid to prevent it being torn asunder by the Kremlin’s war machine. – Irish Times


Russia no longer maintains a ‘no-first-use’ policy, and is considering re-deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. – American Chronicle


As recently as July, the newspaper Izvestia floated the idea that Moscow would station nuclear weapons in Cuba if the U.S. went ahead with the deployment of an antiballistic missile radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland. Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of Russia’s strategic missile command, has openly spoken about aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at those two countries. Vladimir Putin has warned Ukraine that if it were to join NATO, “Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory.” Not long before that, Mr. Putin cheerfully described a series of ballistic-missile flight tests as “pleasant and spectacular holiday fireworks.” – The Wall Street Journal

Then there is Russia’s threat to nuke Poland in response to Poland’s agreement to host American missile interceptors. Of course, they only agreed to host them in order to get their hands on some Patriot missile batteries all the better to shoot down Russian missiles and jets. Only Russia can get pissed off over military equipment that is useful only on the defender’s territory. Mainland Russia does not even border Poland. However, the Russian seaport of Kaliningrad, seized from the Germans at the end of WWII does border Poland. To make sure the Poles take the threat seriously, Russia is suspected of stockpiling many tactical nukes there. Those being weapons you toss into neighboring countries. So before you even think of listening to Putin bitching about the US ‘stirring things up’ by placing a couple defensive missiles in Europe (See: “Washington and Poland just moved the World closer to War”), consider that Putin has nukes already placed right in the center of Europe.

Russia has reportedly moved tactical nuclear weapons to a military base in Kaliningrad, an action that would contravene its apparent pledge to keep the Baltic region nuclear-free and could violate its 1991 commitment not to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Russian officials have vehemently denied the allegations.

The move was first reported January 3 by The Washington Times, which cited unnamed intelligence sources and classified Defense Intelligence Agency reports, and stated that U.S. officials first became aware of the weapons transfers last June. Following initial press reports, U.S. news organizations reported senior U.S. officials as confirming that the Clinton administration believes Russia has moved tactical nuclear warheads during the past year to the isolated Russian region, which is located between Poland and Lithuania. – Arms Control Association, 2001

Of course the Russians promised not to do such a thing:

The presence of any stockpiled weapons in Kaliningrad would violate Russia’s apparent pledge to keep nuclear weapons out of the Baltics, and the more serious step of deploying tactical nuclear weapons would clearly violate its 1991 commitment. Russian officials have so far failed to clarify whether the Baltic outpost serves as a storage site for tactical nuclear weapons, although U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Post that Russia used Kaliningrad as a depot for tactical nuclear weapons that were removed from naval vessels in the early 1990s. – Arms Control Association, 2001

The Administration’s cancellation of the anti-missile system that was going to be deployed in Poland and the now-confirmed lie that the Administration swore that the cancellation had nothing to do with Russia’s objection to the system puts doubt in my mind that the US has the will needed to put the Russians in check. We certainly should have the motivation to try and limit the threat that is Russia. One way to do that is of course to have them account for their past nuclear sins. A good way to do that is to push the Russians to do a better job cleaning up after their own nuclear waste. As you can see from the extract examples above, it is an issue that they defer to our allies to handle. That is something that should change. The Russians should want to remove this waste from their environment. This is not the case because ‘the West’ is climbing over each other to do this for them.

Is this new START program going to stop the Russians from helping our enemies gain nuclear strike capability? I think not. My opinion however matters little. However, it is interesting to note the Vice Admiral’s comments on this matter fit with my own opinion. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the actual results of this Treaty against what is being promised.


A Korean Dunkirk

December 2010


Craig Hooper and I have a new article on The Atlantic discussing the evacuation of US citizens off the Korean peninsula in the event of renewed hostilities. We argue that the difficulty of evacuating 140,000 US citizens and select foreign nationals might well require the US to ask China and its military for assistance:

Even under the best conditions, a mass evacuation is no easy task. In July 2006, as a battle brewed between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants, the U.S. took nearly a month to evacuate 15,000 Americans. According to the Government Accountability Office, “nearly every aspect of State’s preparations for evacuation was overwhelmed”, by the challenge of running an evacuation under low-threat conditions in a balmy Mediterranean summer.

Evacuating a Korean war-zone would be far harder. And the U.S. would likely have no choice but to ask China for help.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.


The Green Navy

December 2010


I found this piece by Thomas Friedman on the Navy’s decision to “go green” very interesting:

Relying more on bio-fuels and nuclear power doesn’t just look good from a public policy perspective. It saves lives and money. Energy efficient outposts require less fuel, in turn, requiring less supply convoys. Limiting the number of convoys limits the number of opportunities the Taliban have to ambush our troops.

On the other hand, oil hit $90/barrel yesterday, the highest it’s been since the start of the Financial Crisis. Even though Iraq will (hopefully) drastically increase oil production in the coming years, China and other developing nations are consuming a larger share of the world’s oil. The “non-clean” fuel prices will increase in the long run. The SecNav has made a prudent decision to create a green fleet.


Posted by jjames in Navy | No Comments

Already the articles have started, singling out those whose honest professional opinion was against the repeal of DADT. Long-time Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has written a column demanding the relief of General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, because of his honestly-held professional military opinions advising against repeal of DADT.

A great many of the opinions expressed here and elsewhere cautioning against repeal of DADT revolved around concerns of the rampant DoD over-compensatory political correctness which has been the hallmark of response to special interest pressure from without. Such concerns were lightly brushed off as unlikely, or dismissed as paranoia of homophobic, bigoted, hateful service members whose fitness to serve was almost always questioned.

Except that now, a major newspaper has begun the effort to remove from senior leadership positions those they deem somehow politically untrustworthy. General Amos must read now in the written press an open question of his fitness to lead Marines, published dutifully by WAPO. What other GOFO will be similarly targeted? Will those who provided input honestly and forthrightly be punished for doing so? How many views are “on the record”, as Cohen puts it, making them susceptible to subtle but real retribution? (In case anyone doubts broad-sweep retribution occurs within DoD, one needs only to recall Tailhook and the damage done to the innocent as well as the guilty, at the behest of political special interests.) Some of Cohen’s words are below, sandwiched between accusations of lack of leadership and a brusque dismissal of effects on unit cohesion being a chimera used as an excuse for dissenting opinions:

They know he has not an iota of sympathy for what might be their difficulties or any tolerance for their lifestyle. If I were gay, I would not want to work for the man – or serve under him. He is one step short of being a bigot.

One could dismiss the Cohen column almost out of hand as expressing an extreme take on an emotional issue. Perhaps it should be. It has the flavor of a tin-clad dictatorship, where decisions are followed by purges of opposition simply for being opposition. However, it would be far easier to dismiss if the words Cohen used were not so strikingly similar in tone and intent as those uttered by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a few weeks back:

In the end, if there is either policy direction that someone in uniform disagrees with…and you feel so strongly about it — you know, the answer is not advocacy; it is in fact to vote with your feet.

General Amos, like General Conway before him, disapproved of the repeal of DADT, and stated well-reasoned professional arguments in doing so. Neither expressed his personal views on the matter, but rather only shared their views as professional Marines whose comments were regarding readiness and combat efficiency. Admiral Mullen was not so prudent.

I would hate to think that Admiral Mullen is in agreement in the least with Richard Cohen, but he has publicly spoken words that indicate otherwise. Because if he is in agreement, even a little, then he is questioning if General Amos, like General Conway before him, can be trusted to lead Marines. General Conway, like General Amos, is a supreme warrior. I have served under General Conway’s leadership in combat, and would do so under the leadership of General Amos. If, in Admiral Mullen’s mind, he believes even in the slightest that these two warriors are not fit to lead Marines, then Admiral Mullen knows nothing about leading Marines.

Admiral Mullen has been extremely outspoken regarding his personal beliefs on this political issue. Now would be a very prudent time to use that same mouth to be just as loud and outspoken in stating that such a call for the heads of the dissenters as Richard Cohen has made will not be tolerated nor condoned. He has the bully pulpit. If he cannot find his voice to do so, it is he who should step down, as he is not worthy of the trust of those whom it is his job to lead.


4 January 2011-

None other than James Webb summarized it nicely:

When leadership fails, sometimes a fundamental shift overtakes a unit, or a military service, or a nation, that is so profound that it can change an entire ethos. Most often it occurs gradually, not because of decisions taken by senior leaders so much as from their inaction, an acquiescence to insistent, incremental pressures generated from the outside.

Acquiescence all around. Insistent, incremental pressures cost the United States Navy a successful and talented Captain today, and much more of it has to do with the leadership failure I note above and that Jim Webb addresses than it does any four year old video.

Help the Coasties pick their best videos of 2010 – they’ve picked 11 and want to get the number down.

Details at Coast Guard Video of the Year.

They certainly do a lot of stuff.



December 2010


One viewpoint from a number of posts we will be republishing on DADT

This is a guest post by a frequent contributer on a wide spectrum of Navy issues both online and via traditional media, Claude Berube. Though I am in full alignment with his perspective on this issue, the following post is his.
— CDR Salamander.

President Obama’s statement during the recent State of the Union calling for the repeal to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding homosexuals in the military has understandably raised the profile of a long-time controversial issue. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen testified before Congress. But these events were preceded in Naval Institute Proceedings (Lieutenant R. Whipps, “It’s Time to Scrap Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, December 2009) who fortunately approached it from a dispassionate, logical perspective. Unfortunately, it was followed by two letters to the magazine that demonstrated that logic doesn’t always win the day. If privacy issues can be addressed – and that remains a major “if” – then the best way forward may be a more libertarian argument that changes the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to “Didn’t Know, Don’t Care” that would permit gays to openly serve their country in the military. No more, no less.

The President’s remarks may be seen by some advocates as a call for broadening regulations and reaping the election rewards of identity politics and largely using the military only for their own political goals; however, this change cannot be made for anything other than for what it is intended. That would be a mistake. In a nation where even the most liberal states have rejected same-sex marriage, openly serving in the military should not be made a cause célèbre. Nor should it be another opportunity for some offices to counts numbers and build diversity only for diversity’s sake instead of individual competency for collective capability’s sake.

A proposed policy change to Didn’t Know, Don’t Care is an inherently American libertarian approach to this issue. First, this policy would reflect our society with its capitalistic core. Capitalism works. The free market and the innovation that carried the United States from a few disparate colonies to the world’s superpower able to defeat fascism and communism, must be an integral part of this discussion. Capitalism isn’t based on guarantees, it is based on the freedom to succeed or fail and the regulations that ensure the free market doesn’t ignore basic laws. Shutting out a part of our human capital that freely wants to serve and is able to serve diminishes our ability to achieve a greater good, in this case security. A collective capability is required for the Navy to win wars and secure peace. Americans have always worked best when they have worked together regardless of differences to achieve a greater good. The denial of any individual simply because they are part of a group (or, conversely, selecting them simply because of it) is contrary to sound economics and mission success; historically, when nations ignored, purged, or expelled a portion of their population that was as much a part of that economy as any other part, it didn’t work out too well for the country.

Second, Didn’t Know Don’t Care would be based on individual competency. It would not be about special privileges for any one group. Rather, it is about the freedom of individuals to serve. There are standards in the Navy as reflected by fitness reports or other assessments. The one question we should ask is: Can this individual do the job? After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life, he was wheeled into the emergency room and jokingly said “I hope you’re all Republicans!” If a qualified health care professional said they were a Democrat, he wouldn’t have waited until a Republican showed up. The same philosophy of competence should apply in the Navy.

Third, character counts. Character is not an exclusive trait of any race, gender, or sexual preference; character is demonstrated by individuals. Once a person is deemed qualified to serve, then openly serving homosexuals must be held to the same standards and adhere to regulations as heterosexuals. If they cannot follow regulations, then they must be as accountable as anyone else regardless of race, gender or sexual preference.

Finally – if you had a son or daughter who didn’t lie, cheat, or steal; who excelled in physical fitness and academic ability; who believed that national security was the paramount responsibility of the federal government and wanted to serve, would you oppose them if they were gay or lesbian. If you have spoken about the quality of our Navy and Marine Corps, how they are the best trained, most motivated military force comprised of individuals who are willing to give their lives for their nation, would you suggest that these same young men and women would not accept a fellow equally-qualified sailor or Marine simply because they were homosexual?

Some individuals on ships can already have significant personality differences based on a number of factors, yet they do their jobs regardless of those differences. If we have done our jobs as parents, as teachers, as military leaders, then we must trust the next generation that they will all do their job as well. If we don’t have that trust, then we have far more to be concerned about with the future of our nation.

In the end, nothing matters except ability to do the job. The real eyes on the prize should be about how the Navy can optimally perform through individual performance and contributions to the whole. Modifying Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to Didn’t Know, Don’t Care would accomplish that goal.

Claude Berube is a frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History. The opinions expressed are his own and not those of any organization with which he may be affiliated.

As a program note; Claude will be a guest this Sunday at 5pm EST on our Navy milblog radio show Midrats, where our subject will be the Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell challenge.


Posted by CDRSalamander in Policy | 44 Comments

A General Mattis Christmas Story

December 2010


Featured from the National Museum of the Marine Corps Museum’s Facebook Page

A couple of months ago, when I told General Krulak, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, now the chair of the Naval Academy Board of Visitors, that we were having General Mattis speak this evening, he said, “Let me tell you a Jim Mattis story.” General Krulak said, when he was Commandant of the Marine Corps, every year, starting about a week before Christmas, he and his wife would bake hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies. They would package them in small bundles.

 Then on Christmas day, he would load his vehicle. At about 4 a.m., General Krulak would drive himself to every Marine guard post in the Washington-Annapolis-Baltimore area and deliver a small package of Christmas cookies to whatever Marines were pulling guard duty that day. He said that one year, he had gone down to Quantico as one of his stops to deliver Christmas cookies to the Marines on guard duty. He went to the command center and gave a package to the lance corporal who was on duty.

 He asked, “Who’s the officer of the day?” The lance corporal said, “Sir, it’s Brigadier General Mattis.” And General Krulak said, “No, no, no. I know who General Mattis is. I mean, who’s the officer of the day today, Christmas day?” The lance corporal, feeling a little anxious, said, “Sir, it is Brigadier General Mattis.”

 General Krulak said that, about that time, he spotted in the back room a cot, or a daybed. He said, “No, Lance Corporal. Who slept in that bed last night?” The lance corporal said, “Sir, it was Brigadier General Mattis.”

About that time, General Krulak said that General Mattis came in, in a duty uniform with a sword, and General Krulak said, “Jim, what are you doing here on Christmas day? Why do you have duty?” General Mattis told him that the young officer who was scheduled to have duty on Christmas day had a family, and General Mattis decided it was better for the young officer to spend Christmas Day with his family, and so he chose to have duty on Christmas Day.

General Krulak said, “That’s the kind of officer that Jim Mattis is.”

The story above was told by Dr. Albert C. Pierce, the Director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at The United States Naval Academy. He was introducing General James Mattis who gave a lecture on Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Conflict in the spring of 2006. This was taken from the transcript of that lecture.

Posted by admin in Marine Corps | 39 Comments
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