Archive for July, 2011

“Washington should show its political will and stop playing with guns on China’s doorsteps.
‘Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.” – China Daily (27 July 2011)

Last week the Taiwanese press revealed an incident that occurred on the 29th of June wherein one of a pair of PLA-AF SU-27s crossed the median line between PRC and Taiwan while ostensibly pursuing a U-2 conducting reconnaissance in international airspace. The story briefly ran in the Western press and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mullen, when asked to comment on the incident, noted that while ” (W)e both have to be very careful about how we fly them,” the US would be undeterred in continuing to fly the missions. In the days that followed, “opinion” pieces ran in the China Daily (source of the quote above) and Beijing Global Times – both generally recognized sources of “official” Chinese messaging without coming directly from a government spokesperson. Both articles, pointing to the the recent visits by the PLA CoS to the US in May and the visit by ADM Mullen in mid-July, noted the difficulty in re-establishing these early steps in mil-to-mil relations and how this action (the continuation of U-2 “spy” missions) threatened their continuation. For it’s part, the Global Daily quoted a military expert’s analysis on China’s “legitimacy” in challenging the missions:

Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China can legitimately interrupt US surveillance moves.”It is impossible for China to deploy the electronic countermeasures needed to set up a so-called protective electronic screen in the air to deter reconnaissance. Sending flights to intercept spying activities is essential to show China’s resolution to defend its sovereignty,” Song said.”The US has insisted that their spying on China brings no harm by using the excuse that it is safeguarding its own security,” Song said. “US spying activities, arms sales to Taiwan and uneven military communications with China have been the top three major barriers for military ties between the two countries,” he added.

China Daily, which tends to be a little more restrained or conservative in tone, emphasized Chen’s comments during the recent visits:

During Mullen’s visit to China, Chen Bingde, the General Chief-of-Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, also voiced his concern on potential miscalculations or even clashes between the two militaries. While China welcomes the US military presence in Asia-Pacific for its constructive role in maintaining regional stability, that does not mean that China will compromise on issues relating to its territorial integrity or national security. Chen criticized the US naval drills in the South China Sea and attempted arms sale to Taiwan, and also urged the US to reduce or halt its military surveillance near China’s coast. Given the increasingly interdependent relations between China and the US, and the commitment by both governments to build a cooperative partnership in the 21st century, it is in both sides’ interests to build and maintain good-neighborliness based on mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and national dignity. (emphasis added)

Which, of course, preceded the ‘good fences = good neighbors’ quote above.


China, like North Korea and the former Soviet Union, is openly hostile to reconnaissance flights, taking every opportunity to display their impatience and displeasure with the missions. Generally speaking, unlike the Soviets and North Koreans, the Chinese have been less inclined to shoot down reconnaissance aircraft unless they were actually over Chinese territory (the wreckage of several Taiwanese U-2s shot down over the mainland are on display in a Beijing military museum). T0 a degree, that has been a function of their inability until the recent past decade to reach out and touch US platforms, like the U-2 (and presumably the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS which has been forward deployed to Guam for a while now). The deployment of SU-27 FLANKERs, purchased from the Russians (and now, indigenously produced J-11’s) have served to significantly extend the PLAAF’s reach, both in range and altitude, over the much less capable F-8 and even the That, however, does not mean that they will not react to US aircraft engaged in intelligence collection missions off the Chinese coast. Ample evidence of how a reaction can go wrong, especially if the reacting fighters are overly aggressive, is provided with the midair between a PLAAF J-8 and a Navy EP-3. Though it turned out badly for the Chinese pilot (whose body was never found) the exploitation of the EP-3 after it made an emergency landing at a nearby airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan, proved to be a windfall for Chinese intelligence. Still, the manner and size of a reaction to reconnaissance missions can be used as yet another means of “signaling” to another country. A reaction by a pair of fighters that maintains a stand-off distance of 5 or so nautical miles, effectively shadowing the recce aircraft signals the awareness of the observed nation to the presence of the aircraft and the mission assigned. An intercept with aggressive maneuvering, like a CPA inside 50 ft, “thumping” or other clearly hazarding maneuvers might serve as a warning to open distance from the edge of a nation’s airspace (even though the recce aircraft may be in international airspace) or even a warning that future missions will be met with hostile fire. It’s all part of a range of strategic communications (like so-called “op-eds” in State-owned or directed media). So, what is the context here?

China, I believe, has clearly laid out three redlines where the future of mil-mil exchange and talks are concerned – China’s claims to the South China Sea, the continuance of arms sales to Taiwan and so-called “dangerous military practices” that are typified by US reconnaissance missions. In each of the high-level visits, this was the message delivered to the US – “here are our conditions for further progress.” The message builds on actions taken from the tactical to strategic — from serial harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in the South China Sea and intercept attempts at high-level reconnaissance aircraft (don’t forget – this took place after the visit by Chen to the US and before Mullen’s visit to China) to pursuing a bi-lateral condominium of “understandings” with nations bordering the SCS, eschewing multi-party fora and working hard to exclude US presence and influence. It is at once a fairly aggressive tack, but one that has remained hidden in plain sight of US policymakers who are wrapped up in three wars abroad and dealing with fiscal issues at home. As part of a carefully crafted strategic communications campaign, the target audience isn’t just the US, but more importantly, regional states. The message it carries – the US is in relative decline across all measures of power but more importantly, in the area of real power and presence in the region, its primacy is declining to such a degree that its reliability is increasingly suspect. Therefore, measure carefully your actions and intent for it is in your better interests – in the long run, if you not only reduce reliance on the US and its instruments of regional presence and power (e.g., naval and air forces), but work with us to reduce this increasingly risky and reckless presence. Combining challenges in relatively low-risk actions – like increasingly aggressive intercepts of US recce aircraft. Just when, for example, has the US militarily reacted to an aggressive intercept, much less shoot-down of a recce platform? Nothing was done to the North Koreans or Soviets even in the face of several high profile incidents like the Pueblo. Throw an unmanned recce platform into the mix as a potential target for a demonstration during a high stakes stand-off and it could get very interesting very soon. The very near sea trials of the former Varyag CV, allegedly named Shi Lang, serves as another point. China knows full well that it can’t compete hull-to-hull with the US CVN/CVW team – but it doesn’t need to because the US is so strapped worldwide in terms of force structure and OPTEMPO. Rather, the Shi Lang is at once a message and warning to states like Vietnam and the Philippines that should they decide to put force behind their challenge to China’s claims in the area, their naval forces are wholly inadequate to the job by themselves, and again, the US won’t be one to be relied upon to fill the breach.

None of this happens overnight and as mentioned, not without a strategic communications campaign. The point is recognizing that one is underway and that the terms of engagement may in fact be changing.

Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.”

Indeed – but as many a suburbanite will tell you, fences can also be very polarizing to a neighborhood, especially when built outside of where property lines are clearly understood and recognized.

Crossposted @

A few minutes past midnight on 30 July 1945, the Japanese submarine I-58 fired a spread of six torpedoes at the US heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) hitting her twice on the starboard side. The first impact blew off forty feet of bow, and the second struck under the bridge, detonating a 5″ magazine and breaking the vessel’s keel. The torpedoes killed some 300 to 350 of the 1,196 crewmen aboard Indianapolis. The ship settled quickly by the bow, rolled to starboard, and sank in twelve minutes.

The three and a half days of agony endured by the crew of Indianapolis, and the monumental mistakes made by the United States Navy in not discovering the loss of the ship, followed by the unseemly court martial of Captain Charles B. McVay III, make the tale of the sinking of this gallant ship one of the most compelling and disturbing of the entire of the Second World War.

Indianapolis was a 10,000-ton Portland-class “treaty cruiser” built under the restrictions of the Washington Naval Treaty. The limits on displacement meant that the entire of the three classes of “treaty cruisers” were very lightly protected for their size, earning them the derisive nickname of “tinclads”. Laid down in 1930 and commissioned in 1932, Indianapolis nevertheless participated in most of the major naval campaigns of the Pacific War, earning ten battle stars and lending her 8″ main battery to bombardments in the Gilberts and the Marshalls, including Tarawa and Kwajalein. She had served as the flagship for Admiral Spruance and the 5th Fleet, present in the Marianas, Palau, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Indianapolis would earn ten battle stars for her service.

Newly repaired from a kamikaze hit that blew holes in her stern and damaged both shafts, beginning on 16 July Indianapolis had raced from Pearl Harbor to Tinian on a highly secret mission carrying components of the atomic bombs that would end the war. Following delivery of her secret cargo on Tinian, Indianapolis was proceeding to Guam at 17 knots when she had her fatal rendezvous with I-58.

When the ship did not appear on 31 July, she was not reported overdue. Nobody searched for her or her crew. In the eighty-four hours between the sinking of their ship and the beginning of rescue operations, more than five hundred sailors died in the waters. Thirst and dehydration, wounds, exposure, exhaustion, despair, all played a part in the story. But it was the sharks who did the real killing. The unspeakable ordeal thinned the ranks of floating men over the three nights and four days until salvation came on 2 August in the form of a PBY which had been alerted by a PV-1 Ventura flying anti-submarine patrols. The PBY pilot landed (against orders) and began gathering the most in danger into the hull and onto the floats of the aircraft. The PBY also dropped rafts and flotation devices for those in what were by then soggy kapoks. The PBY also overflew and alerted Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368), skippered by a future Secretary of the Navy, who (without orders) immediately diverted to begin rescuing the survivors of Indianapolis.

In the end, only 316 men of the nearly 900 who abandoned the sinking Indianapolis survived the sharks. More than 800 crewmen were lost with the ship, one of the largest losses of life for a single US Navy ship in the entire war.

A great injustice was added to terrible tragedy when the US Navy brought Captain McVay (who had been awarded a Silver Star previously for heroism under fire) in front of a Court of Inquiry. The result was recommendation for a General Court Martial on the charges of failing to order abandon ship, and hazarding his vessel with a failure to zig-zag.

The Court Martial convened on 3 December 1945, over the objections of both Chester Nimitz and Ray Spruance. The resulting proceeding is a dark stain on the honor of the US Navy and both Navy Secretary Forrestal and CNO Admiral King. Seemingly ignored by the court were Captain McVay’s request for an escorting destroyer, which was denied, as well as the failure of the staff at Guam to inform Captain McVay properly of Japanese submarine activity. The thoroughly-botched Movement Reporting System, which never listed Indianapolis as overdue, received scant attention. Worse, despite testimony from ship’s crew that visibility on that fateful night was fair to poor, despite the order to zig-zag being at the Captain’s discretion, and in the face of the opinion of the Japanese captain of I-58 that zig-zagging was ineffective and would not have made a difference, Captain McVey was found guilty of hazarding his vessel for failing to zig-zag.

Despite Nimitz’ success in having Forrestal restore Captain McVey to duty, and McVey’s promotion upon retirement to Rear Admiral, Charles Butler McVay III lived a troubled two decades following his retirement from the Navy in 1949. Following the death of his wife from cancer, Rear Admiral McVey died by his own hand at his Litchfield, Connecticut home in November, 1968. In 2001, a bi-partisan effort in Congress officially exonerated Rear Admiral McVay in the sinking of USS Indianapolis. It was, while good news, thirty three years late.

We know the name Indianapolis from some excellent works such as the movie Mission of the Shark, and Dan Kurtzman’s magnificent book Fatal Voyage. But our generation was first re-introduced to the tragedy of the tale from the 1975 movie Jaws, when Quint tells Hooper and Brody of his experience as a sailor who endured the sinking of Indianapolis and the sharks which killed so many. For my money, perhaps the best eight seconds of acting in memory is done by Richard Dreyfus (Hooper), when, in the midst of the laughter and comraderie, his expression and demeanor change so dramatically as the significance of Quint’s missing tattoo hits home.

Sixty-six years on, let us remember those Sailors and Marines of Indianapolis whose lives were lost in the warm Marianas waters, and pray for those whose grief and anguish would not subside. Shipmates, loved ones, and Rear Admiral Charles B. McVay. And let us vow never again allow the US Navy to stain the honor and reputation of brave men whose efforts and courage could not alter the grim equation of war at sea.

Naval Air Systems Command has posted a video of the first catapult by an F-35C Joint Strike Fighter. Looks great. Enjoy.

Navy test pilot Lt. Christopher Tabert takes to the sky July 27 in an F-35C test aircraft launched by a steam catapult for the first time. CF-3 is the designated carrier suitability testing aircraft, and is in Lakehurst for catapult and jet blast deflector testing. The F-35C is the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants. It has larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for slower catapult launch and landing approach speeds and deck impacts associated with the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment. The F-35C is undergoing test and evaluation at NAS Patuxent River prior to eventual delivery to the fleet.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy | 2 Comments

Another insightful blog on CDR Sean Heritage’s homeblog, Connecting the Dots. He offers great advice on how leaders can (at least try to) influence who will relieve them, and why they should do so.

What CDR Heritage did was take Admiral Harvey’s idea about 360 degree input, especially as it relates to screening officers for command, to heart. Not only that; he took the iniative – in spite of “the potential for ridicule” – to implement it. His justification is helping ensure that the right officer eventually takes the reins of his command.

Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are “drafted” in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who “looks good on paper”. Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.

Read CDR Heritage’s entire post here: Succession Planning

Dear Members and Friends of the U.S. Naval Institute,

I am honored and privileged to serve as CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute – an organization my father introduced to me as a young boy through Proceedings and the many books published by the Naval Institute Press. The Naval Institute significantly and positively influenced me as a youth, as a young officer and throughout my career. In 1997 and 1998, I served as an elected member of the Naval Institute Board of Directors and as a member of the Editorial Board. During that tenure, I enjoyed the opportunity to help chart the Institute’s future and participate in the wonderful process of selecting content for Proceedings and the books.

As a U.S. Naval Institute member and as a naval officer for more than 30 years, I endorse the integrity of the independent forum where responsible individuals have an opportunity to voice their ideas. As CEO, I will be accessible and will seek open feedback. All of us in the naval profession, Naval Institute members, and interested citizens must engage for the Naval Institute to serve the Nation well and accomplish its important mission.

In the coming months, we will reach out to you for your inputs and insights on how to make the Naval Institute more relevant to naval professionals and members. We will listen. We value your ideas and ask for your active participation to deliver on those ideas.

The prospect of a vibrant debate on national defense in general and the future course for our naval services in particular makes the next few years a critical period for the Nation and its allies. This prestigious institution must advance a professional dialogue that I am confident will enhance support for a strong national defense and foster an increased understanding of the enduring contributions of the sea services.

We will focus on the course ahead. At the same time, we must understand our rich traditions and history. We will support those who currently serve and never forget those who have served, were wounded, or those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we all enjoy.

Together, we will all build on the Naval Institute’s 138 years of service. Let us answer John Adams’ call, “Liberty can not be preserved without general knowledge among the people… Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”


Peter H. Daly

Read the Press Release and VADM Daly’s Bio Here

Military Strategy, by Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie, Jr., USN (1911-1993)

This is a very brief review and recommendation for a book that I discovered recently. Admiral Wylie’s short Military Strategy (about 85 pages in the original edition) was published in 1967, but written in the mid-fifties while Wylie was “at sea in a single-screw low-speed amphibious cargo ship.” He remarked these ships were “not demanding of a captain’s attention as is, for instance, a destroyer.”My copy was published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press as part of their Classics of Seapower series and has an excellent preface by John B. Hattendorf that will give those unfamiliar with Wylie’s life experience a good foundation. This copy also has a postscript written by Wylie “twenty years later” and three related essays published previously in Proceedings magazine.

Given Military Strategy’s brevity, I’ll resist the urge to provide long quotes. Wylie and an associate’s search for articulating the relevance of the navy in the never-ending budget battles brought them in contact with the famed mathematician John von Neumann of Princeton. Wylie used a paraphrase of von Neumann as a starting point: “With respect to strategy as a subject of study, its intellectual framework is not clearly outlined, and its vocabulary is almost nonexistent. These two primary tasks are badly in need of doing…” He sets out to do just that and does a nice job.

Wylie defines strategy as: “A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.” He discusses the military mind and strategy, and how often the military focuses on principles to the exclusion of real strategy. Wylie outlines methods of studying strategy that are simple and well thought-out. Wylie makes a compelling case for a general theory of strategy. He says: “A theory is simply an idea designed to account for actuality or to account for what the theorist thinks will come to pass in actuality. It is orderly rationalization of real or presumed patterns of events.” Further, he continually stresses the importance of assumptions being based in reality, and not wishful thinking or the last war/battle.

His chapter on existing theories is worth the price of the book. He provides a type of Cliff’s Notes overview of the four theories he sees as core: the maritime, the air, the continental, and the Maoist. Of the last, he masterfully lifted sections from Mao’s On Guerilla Warfare, Che Guevera on Guerilla Warfare, and Vo Ngugen Giap’s People’s War People’s Army. He observed of the later, “these books are not only theory, the portray a hard reality of contemporary warfare.” To our people in uniform, in particular, unfamiliar with these books, Wylie provides an accessible and informative introduction to the type of war being waged by Islamic jihadists and how they attempt shape the battle field.

He develops a brilliant point that destruction doesn’t necessarily translate into control, and that often destruction is driven more by emotion than strategy.

Wylie goes on to provide a general theory of strategy that, using his words, has “substance and validity, and practicality.” As Seydlitz89 said in a recent comment thread here: “Wylie is amazing. So many ideas in such a small book! He misread Clausewitz and overrated Liddell Hart – which are probably connected, but overall? He comes up with some very basic ideas about strategic theory which are ever sooooo useful. I’ve re-read his small book several times and always come up with something that either I’d forgotten or that I had missed earlier. Wylie’s basic approach to theory is as a practitioner, not as an academic, much like Clausewitz before him.”

Indeed, Wylie provides a nice scaffold for any type of strategy, military or business. For me his approach was refreshing in a genre where, more often than not, dogma and ego walk hand-in-hand. Time and again, he offers that his ideas may be wrong and encourages readers to think and wrestle with the concepts provided. Wylie writes in his postscript: “As far as I know, no one as ever paid attention to it [the book]. I don’t know whether this is because it is so clear and obviously valid that no one needs to, or because it is of no use at all. I suspect it could be the latter, but I really do not know.”

This little book comes with my highest recommendation. If you’re in uniform and just getting started with strategic concepts/thinking, this is an excellent place to start.

Interesting referenced titles:

Military Concepts and Philosophy, Henry E. Eccles

The Military Intellectuals in Britain, 1918-1939, Robin Higham

An Introduction to Strategy, General Andre Beaufre

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, John von Neumann

Strategy in Poker, Business and War, John McDonald


Cross-posted on


Don’t cry for me…

July 2011


The Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning, marking the safe completion of the final flight of the three decade program. There is no viable replacement for U.S. manned access to space (though there are several potentially promising commercial efforts underway), so U.S. astronauts and other crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will be solely reliant upon Russian Soyuz capsules for the foreseeable future.

For those that remember the status of American space efforts — military, intelligence and civilian — at the end of the Reagan era, it is hardly an unfair question to ask ‘what went wrong’? I had the opportunity to ask representatives of the space policy arm of each administration since Carter that very question a few months back and one resounding theme involved the shuttle itself.

A reusable, manned space launch vehicle was a promising objective, and there is no doubt that the shuttle program made a significant contribution to manned space flight. Many brave men and women served aboard the five operational orbiters. Fourteen died and two orbiters were lost. Raising issues with the shuttle program on the day of its retirement is not to tarnish valiant memories but it is essential to understand the full impact of the program.

Almost from the start, it seems, the shuttle program over-promised. It proved too expensive and complex to achieve the kinds of regeneration rates and economies of scale that had been used to justify the up-front investment in the first place. Yet it proved impossible to cancel — or even fund a replacement program while it continued to be funded. And at the end of the day, as one of the administration representatives pointed out, if you’re trying to commit now — today — to the way you’re going to be getting to low earth orbit in 30 years, you’re approaching the problem fundamentally wrong.

The shuttle is ultimately an example of how we cannot approach spaceflight moving forward. One, exquisite system cannot be allowed to consume so much of the available resources that an alternative cannot be devised, funded, developed and fielded at the same time as existing operations are funded. The expense of sustaining the ISS is noteworthy here.

All this matters to the U.S. military because a robust commercial space sector is part of the foundation of national security space. Right now, that commercial sector is attempting to rejuvenate itself after two decades of decline — decline for which it has itself to blame, decline for which the government bureaucracy is to blame and decline for which the requirements and acquisition process is to blame. For too long, the shuttle program has been a drain on the national space endeavor, has entailed too great an opportunity cost and has acted as a weight on forward progress.

So as we mark the end of the shuttle era, the question is not just how we get ourselves back into space. If we should, we need to make that case to the American people and allocate money despite the period of fiscal austerity. And then we need to get there in a more agile and flexible way and plot a course that is fundamentally different from the shuttle, ISS and now-defunct Constellation programs.

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 “Fleet Problems” as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself – which by the 1930s was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this observer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as more people in leadership looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant — the battleline. It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for carrier-based dive bombers, so different form the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Proof would come at Midway when both forces were employed — the B-17’s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown struck at the heart of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi’s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion. Here then is the story – fittingly from the perspective of one of the few WWII dive bomber pilots still with us, LCDR George Walsh, who flew that great beast of an aircraft, the SB2C Helldiver in the Pacific theater. – SJS

As we enter the second half of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, I have found no reference to the “Fleet Problems” of the 1930s that were of great importance to the progress of naval aviation. These exercises were conducted at sea by hundreds of ships and aircraft of the peacetime Navy to prepare our nation for possible war. The Fleet Problems were vital, providing realistic training for the generation of professional naval officers, mostly Annapolis graduates, who were responsible for leading America to victory in WW II despite enduring the hardships and sacrifices of the 1930’s. The exercises were well planned and intense, demanding all the devotion and talents of the men who participated under conditions that simulated wartime and called for extended tours of sea duty.

As you look back on these Fleet Problems you will find it mystifying that we were so unprepared for the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the Battle of Midway was badly mismanaged.

“The “Fleet Problems” should not be confused with the “War Games” conducted at the Naval War College in Newport. The fleet and not the college developed the strategy and tactics for air warfare in the Pacific.1 It was in the conduct of these exercises that our Navy perfected the techniques of aircraft carrier operation and proved the usefulness of carrier task forces as an offensive weapon.

It is interesting to trace the progress of naval aviation from the earliest introduction of a carrier, the Langley (1922), into the 1926 Fleet Program VI as an auxiliary to Fleet Problem XXI in 1940 when the carrier Task Forces acted as a long distance striking force independent of the main battleship forces.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Reminder – Pandas May Be Cute, But They Have Sharp Teeth and Claws…

The DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) is in play again in the press and implicitly linked in comments by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Staff that cancellation of at least one of the Ford-class carriers and retirement of some number of others is being considered by DoD ( would note, however, that to draw a straight line between the two is a little simplistic). Surfacing this discussion was the publication of an article in the Taipei Times (14 July edition) last week that led to a good bit of churn on this side of the Pacific:

“People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde confirmed earlier this week that China was developing the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the first Chinese official to publicly state that the missile is in development. His comments came as the English-language China Daily reported that the DF-21D had a range of 2,700km (ed. or about 1460 nm -SJS), well beyond assessments by the Office of Naval Intelligence last year, which put it at about 1,500km. The missile, which is capable of hitting moving targets at sea and is seen as a potential threat to aircraft carrier battle groups, would represent a powerful deterrent to the US Navy in the Pacific.”

One of the arguments about the very existence of the DF-21D was that while there is a surprising amount of information in scientific and technical journals hinting broadly at such a capability for the PLA, publicly, at least until now, there hadn’t been anything forthcoming from the PLA officially recognizing the existence of the program or stating a requirement. In fact, one of my erstwhile colleagues in my day job claims it is all maskirovka, in no small part, I am sure just to aggravate me, I think.

Well, no more. The PLA CoS’ very explicit comment, coming on the heels of ADM Mullen’s visit, ripped that bandage off, confirming that indeed, China was working to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile and that it was aimed primarily at deterring the use of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific. The joker in the deck, however, was the mention of the 2700 km range – well beyond the previous estimates of “in excess of 1500 km” in open sources such as the annual DoD report to Congress on China’s Military Power. As recent as late last year, ADM Willard, current CDRPACOM likewise indicated such when declaring his thought that the DF-21D had reached initial operational capability (IOC). In turn, this has left a number of Western analysts scratching their heads.

Figure 1. Comparative ranges of a 1500km DF-21D vs 2700km DF-21D

From a notional GEOLOC in the Guangdong province, the implications of Figure 1 ought to be pretty clear – a 2700km range would force carriers to operate outside not only the first island chain, but at or outside the second chain and thereby effectively nullify any operational employment in the contested area until the ASBM threat is neutralized. By extending that virtual umbrella of protective fire against the most versatile, flexible operational unit for wide area sea control, the aircraft carrier, the PLAN and PLA-AF would gain a greater degree of freedom to operate in critical areas such as the South and East China Seas with the greatest threat coming from US and allied subs – no mean threat, but more manageable without having to deal with carrier-based air. Presumably land-based air forces would be dissuaded or suppressed by the very large conventional ballistic missile striking force the Chinese are acquiring and deploying. One interesting possibility stemming from this condition is that China also gains a greater margin to operate its embryonic carrier force in a more effective manner against regional actors.

But few capabilities, if any, are ever so neatly packaged, and on closer examination there are some flies in the ointment. Further in the same article, Chen notes:

“…the DF-21D, which can be fired from mobile land-based launchers, was still in the research, development and testing stage, adding that such high-tech devices were difficult to bring to maturity. ‘The missile is still undergoing experimental testing and it will be used as a defensive weapon when it is successfully developed, not an offensive one,’ Chen told reporters. Its development ‘requires funding inputs, advanced technology and high-quality talented personnel … these are all fundamental factors constraining its development’ Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying, in comments that were ostensibly intended for a domestic audience.” (emphasis added)

There is a considerable level of effort to translate plans and parts associated with the now decommissioned Pershing II, ostensibly the basis of the DF-15 and land attack variants of the DF-21 family (see Fig. 2), into a system that marries sensors, C2 and “shooter” (aka missile) designed to take out a mobile platform in the broad ocean area. Recall that the Pershing II added a MaRV that married a 5-80kt warhead (with an earth penetrating option) with terrain-scene matching radar to give this relatively low yield weapon a remarkable hard-kill capability owing to a CEP inside of 30 meters. From bases in West Germany, the flight time of the Pershing II to Moscow was on the order 10-14 minutes – and drove the Soviets to the brink as they considered it a first strike weapon in a larger strategic exchange with the US. The fact that its deployment was a reaction to their own deployment of the game-changing road-mobile SS-20 and in all likelihood, was targeted against the operational and support elements for that missile system was conveniently overlooked. It is, however, instructive for our purposes here to note that the manner in which the Pershing II’s range and payload were upgraded and enhanced – through a lighter structure, enhanced propellants and advanced onboard flight and terminal guidance, would likewise be applicable to the DF-21 family. It is altogether conceivable and in keeping with the Chinese design, development and deployment of a range of missile families and capabilities that a similar process was followed to reach the DF-21D.

Figure 2. (l to r) Pershing II, DF-15/CSS-6 with MaRV, DF-21/CSS-5

However, color me skeptical about the 2700 km claim. Time and again more than one nation – ours included, has learned that you just can’t keep scaling up on a “Tim Allen” design basis (“more power”) and expect everything to work. As range increases, the loads (aerodynamic heating, gravity, etc) on the reentry vehicle correspondingly grow, but not at a 1:1 pace. For example, at 200,000 ft (the point at which re-entry begins) thermal loading on an ICBM-class RV will cause the tip to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500 deg.F – the most minute differentiation in the rate of ablation near the tip will cause the RV to at best, modify its ballistic flight profile, affecting accuracy or at worse, adjust so dramatically that airframe body breakup is incurred. To avoid this occurrence, RVs are spin stabilized before re-entry to ensure uniform ablation, but that incurs another series of events to be dealt with, and so on. This, in large part, is one reason why the leap from a space launch vehicle (SLV) to IR/ICBM class weapon is not as clear or fast as the reverse (IR/ICBM → SLV), and should give pause to assessments over the alleged development of ICBM capabilities by some countries.

The Pershing II was classified with a 1,770 km range. A reading of the development of the MaRV for the Pershing II in William Yengst’s monograph, “Lightning Bolts: First Maneuvering Reentry Vehicles” is instructive in the challenges presented by the flight, re-entry and post re-entry aerodynamic loading on the airframe, developing a nose cone that was sufficiently ablative to withstand reentry yet transparent electromagnetically enough for the terrain scene matching radar and developing a guidance and maneuvering system that would survive reentry and be robust enough for terminal maneuvers approaching 8-gs in the target area. No small leap for 1978 and similarly today when looking at an alleged 2700km missile. An alternate explanation would be either a deliberate falsification as part of a larger strategic communications ploy (surprise) or just a simple transpose of a “2” where a “1” for a 1700 km vice 2700 km missile would be much more believable. To be sure, an extra 1,000km range would open up a wide range of possibilities for the PLA, not least of which would be greater strategic depth to afford protection against future counter-ballistic missile threats (either ascent-phase interceptors – still very much the stuff of PPT dreams or VLO/UCAV-Ns, less PPT, but years away from a notional weapons capability) while maintaining coverage out to the first island chain and expanding its fleet of open ocean sensors and platforms feeding the reconnaissance-strike complex supporting the DF-21D.

The simple fact of the matter is that DF-21D is out there and constitutes some quantifiable level of threat to our deployed carrier force. That in turn has engendered a certain degree of hand-wringing, but simply cancelling programs and cutting force structure on the basis of a weapon itself and its supporting C2ISR infrastructure allegedly still in the throes of development would seem a bit hasty. To be sure, fiscal prudence demands close scrutiny – of all programs, especially in the current and near-future fiscal climate. Yet there is a strategic imperative at play and it goes to what form our forces will take after we have disengaged from protracted conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increasingly there is talk of “off-shore balancing” and while that is still a somewhat amorphous form, what is clear is that under such a concept, expeditionary forces supported by naval and air forces will be more relevant than those configured for long-term engagement in continental land-wars and nation building. Prudence, again, dictates a thoughtful examination of the configuration of those naval forces, the flexibility inherent in well designed, time-tested platforms (like the CVN and DDGs) but ensuring there is capacity for growth and adaption to mission changes.

There is a school of thought that is quick to draw parallels between the emergence of the carrier and demise of the battleship as highlighted at Pearl Harbor, but I would point out that was as much to do with the inherent lack of adaptability of the ships on Battleship Row that Sunday morning in December as the added dimension to naval warfare demonstrated by the Kido Butai. I would also note, that the same capability brought to bear against the BBs was also applied at Coral Sea, Midway and Santa Cruz, but there were no calls for ceasing production of CVs after Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp were lost to air- and submarine attacks. Indeed the carriers showed their adaptability and flexibility in the utility of their main battery, carrier-based air wings that were composited based on mission, in flexing from sea control to war at sea, to strike support and long-range AAW. And when a new weapon, the kamikaze appeared later in the war we changed tactics, adapted current and emerging technologies (networked fires, improved C2, long-range CAP, attack operations, airborne- and distant surface radar pickets) and even began looking at the potential of emerging technologies like surface to air missiles as a solution set. To be sure, we were still taking grievous losses (witness Okinawa and the beating the DDRs and USS Franklin endured), and the emergence of atomic weapons again proved a challenge. My intent isn’t to rehash the long history of carrier aviation and its adaptability in the face of emerging threats, that has been done much more ably elsewhere. It is rather, to thoughtfully consider the challenge presented, examine all avenues of countering, realizing that frankly, while the DF-21D presents a very high profile threat, the reality of the tactical scenario is that there are a great many more sub- and supersonic cruise missiles, launched from a variety of platforms that are increasingly proliferating around the world and present a far greater threat to all naval platforms.

And that demands a degree of perspective be employed by force planners and naval leaders.

Crossposted at

The U.S. Navy has conducted exercises with both the Armed Forces of the Philippines Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy in recent weeks. The United States also diplomatically emphasized its continued military commitment to the Philippines, a formal ally.

The previously-scheduled exercises come at a time of intensifying regional tensions in the South China Sea over territorial disputes. Galrahn has already pointed out the mounting potential for an incident.

But there is also the question of not whether the U.S. will continue to conduct routine exercises but how it will respond in a crisis. In this, the American position remains deliberately ambiguous — specifically with the key issue of territorial disputes, in which the U.S. has no official position but insists that it supports its ally. But while this ambiguity certainly has utility, it does open the question of what the regional perception of the American security guarantee is and will be in the years ahead.

When the Republic of Korea Navy corvette ChonAn was sunk in 2010 by what was almost certainly a North Korean torpedo, Seoul wanted and expected the rapid deployment of the USS George Washington (CVN 73) to the Yellow Sea as a demonstration of the American commitment. This was something that took time and that the United States hesitated to do because of the implications for U.S.-Chinese relations. Any incident in the South China Sea will probably not be as clear cut as the sinking of the ChonAn and it will more directly involve China. And confronting China entails significant economic implications at a particularly sensitive time economically.

So the question is how does the U.S. balance short-term expediencies and longer-term interests? Is it properly aware of and properly weighing those longer-term interests? Not that the U.S. should have necessarily played the Russian invasion of South Ossetia in 2008 any differently (though it was a brilliant maneuver on the part of the Russians), but the perception of the value and credibility of the American security guarantee is certainly in need of some quality maintenance. How aware is the U.S. that China, like Russia before it, will be seeking to erode the regional perception of that value and credibility, particularly as the competition in the South China Sea continues to heat up? And how prepared is it to prioritize rebuilding that value and credibility at a time when there are many competing and nearer-term demands?

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