Archive for September, 2016

Failed-states-index-2011A republic of ideas like the United States makes a poor imperial power. By birth, design, and national character – it just isn’t us.

Look at all the nations we invaded (often like Haiti multiple times) and then left as soon as we could with the hope the “natives” would make the best of the opportunity and we wouldn’t have to come back. The closest we came to empire was with the former Spanish colonies we took after the Spanish-American War. We never really wanted Cuba and let them go. We didn’t quite know what to do with The Philippines and tried to help them go their own way. We still don’t know what to do with Puerto Rico – but then again, neither do the Puerto Ricans. In any event, most of Puerto Rico is moving to Florida – which is probably best for everyone except for those who have to drive to work on I-4.

We were forced in to WWI and for that matter WWII. The hot spots of the Cold War were a mixed bag for us, but one thing is clear – the American people do not have the patience for colonial wars – which would be the archaic term for most of the hot spots we fought in during the roughly four decades of the Cold War.

With our allies we won the Cold War, but we have yet to break our habits. Not just our habits, but the habits of the international security infrastructure that have come to rely on the USA being the indispensable nation, if we like it or not. We are 5% of the world’s population, 20% of its economic power, primary cultural power, and the unchallenged global military power. Other nations are increasing their wealth and power – Russia, China, & India with the greatest impact – but for the foreseeable future, we are it.

Even at the height of our supposed “neutrality” in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, we were not isolationist. Especially our Navy and Marine Corps, from the Revolutionary War on, we have been forward deployed and engaged in order to promote what has always been in our interest – the global flow of goods at market prices. That has never changed.

So, in the middle part of the second decade of the 21st Century – what should we do? As a nation, how do we match what the American people will support with what the international community needs from us?

So far this decade we have tried and failed on two faculty lounge concepts made flesh; nation building and Responsibility to Protect (R2). Good people can argue either side of the argument, but if they failed because they were not executed properly, we lacked strategic patience, or the concepts themselves are just not compatible with the human condition – it really does not matter. From Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Syria – the record is clear.

With this understanding, it was with a slight cringe that I read the Op-Ed by William Burns, Michele Floumoy, and Nancy Lindborg, “Fragile States and the Next President: What Washington Should Do.”

What I thought at first glance might be another integration of the neo-imperial nation-building or R2P repackaged with the help of a thesaurus was actually a framework that could provide a basis for a desperately needed bi-partisan consensus on what type of national security policy we should have towards those nations that have a tendency to produce more problems than can be consumed locally.

The opening paragraph sets out an idea that is not really new, but would be a new area of emphasis and dedication of effort;

Fragile states lie at the root of much of today’s global disorder, from turmoil in the Arab world to the refugee crisis, and from pandemic diseases to economic malaise. When governments exclude citizens from political and economic life, they lose legitimacy, become brittle, and break.

”Fragile States.” A useful term for the “about to be a Failed State.” Not quite full blown nation building – not the humanitarian driven R2P – but a national enlightened self-interest of nudging? Close.

First, the United States must be strategic—concentrating its efforts where its interests are greatest, where the stakes for regional order are most profound, and where, together with its partners, it can invest in prevention and resilience so that festering tensions don’t bubble over into conflict and instability.

Nigeria, Tunisia, and Ukraine all fit the bill, and all deserve priority attention.

The 2nd and 3rd parts require planning. This is where you need to have the right intellectual capital on the project.

Second, the United States must be systemic—tackling security, political, and development challenges in relationship with one another and not in isolation. It is one thing to bring the full toolkit of statecraft to bear. It is another entirely to make sure that the tools in the toolkit work in concert.

Third, the United States must be selective; it must focus on a few countries where it has leverage and set realistic goals that align with key actors within fragile states.

The 4th? Here is where your whole-of-government approach needs its buy-in. Money to feed it and strong bi-partisan leadership to keep the national support. Not our strong suit.

Fourth, U.S. engagement must be sustained; it often takes years or even decades for a state to transcend fragility. Without strong domestic political support, the United States will never be able to make the kind of patient and flexible investments required for success.

That last clause above is a big bucket of cold water. Look at the blood and treasure that we threw away with our premature zero-option in Iraq that midwifed the Islamic State. Look at the cresting wave of 2nd and 3rd order undesired effects of the December 2009 West Point speech where President Obama moved from a conditions based to a calendar based plan in Afghanistan. Not just patience, but strategic patience that is decoupled from Party politics and personal pique is what we need more than anything.

As for the levers of power to make it happen, the sisters of D.I.M.E., we can do this and probably do it well with the right intellectual capital running it. We have a long history of helping “fragile states” so there is a lot to draw on – but as with all things, there is a chance to do it better. Where it may have been a supporting effort to a larger operation, how can we make it the supported effort? Where has it been done well in the past, and where has it failed? Why?

That is the follow on I’d like to see. Fragile States case studies. If you see some, let us know in comments.

The following appeared under the heading “Answering the Call” in the January 2009 issue of Proceedings. It is based on an interview conducted by Senior Editor Fred Schultz, who pointed out that the two were fellow Pennsylvanians—Palmer from Latrobe and Schultz from Gettysburg. Palmer replied, “One of my best friends lived in Gettysburg. His name was “Ike.”


‘To Mature and Grow into a Man’

Since joining the professional ranks after winning the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954, he has won 92 national or international golf competitions, 61 of which—including four Masters—have come on the PGA tour. Voted Athlete of the Decade for the 1960s in an Associated Press poll, Arnold Palmer has won every major except the PGA Championship, having finished second in that annual tournament three times. Even though his devoted and extensive tournament fan gallery is known as Arnie’s Army, Palmer recently received the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Lone Sailor Award for his service in the U.S. Coast Guard and subsequent success as a pro golfer. Here’s what he remembers about that service and what it meant to him.

USCG photo

USCG photo

I can’t say it was my destiny to join the Coast Guard. It just happened. When I was in high school, I had a great friend named Bud Worsham. We had become close pals playing the junior golf circuit across the United States. Before we graduated from high school, he asked me one day where I was going to go to college. I told him I hadn’t really thought much about it, and he said, “Why don’t you go to Wake Forest?” I thought that was a great idea.

So we both ended up in North Carolina at Wake Forest and played on its golf team. He and I were there for three years before a tragic event changed everything. In our senior year, Bud was killed in an automobile accident on the way home from our homecoming dance in Durham. Up to that time, that was probably the toughest thing that ever happened to me. We were very, very close. I tried to stick it out and stay in school, but I just couldn’t do it. In fact, I lost it. Consequently, I decided I needed to change the scenery and after finishing the fall semester signed up for three years in the Coast Guard.

There were numerous things I liked about the Coast Guard. First, I enjoyed boating and I liked the water. And in the back of my mind I had worked up an appetite for flight. I thought flying in the Coast Guard would be the greatest thing that could ever happen, other than playing golf, of course. So I reported to Cape May, New Jersey, for boot camp. Physical fitness was pretty much my bag, and I became an instructor. I was also a lifeguard on the ocean beach while I was there and helped train recruits.

I even managed to get involved in golf at boot camp, but not in the way one might expect. The commanding officer one day commissioned me to build a golf course. But he didn’t provide any equipment, which was a major hindrance. We did manage to build a sort of rudimentary, haphazard course, but it was not a pretty sight.

I volunteered at Cape May for something I thought would be interesting but turned out to be an ordeal. I signed up to train for the honor guard at the Washington premiere of the 1951 movie, The Fighting Coast Guard. The training was extensive and it was all on the cold, windy Cape May runways. We were still in boot camp, and it was hard. We had an old Marine drill sergeant as our company commander, and he was one tough character. When I volunteered to do this, I thought it would be a chance for me to get to see some of my friends and my sister, all who lived in Washington. But it almost wasn’t worth it. We trained for 60 days, and it was damned cold. They had started with about 400 men and ended up with 60. I made the final 60, and I’m still pretty proud of that. I never did get to visit with my friends or my sister in Washington.

I was transferred after almost a year at Cape May to Cleveland and to a job with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. My commanding officer was the son of former Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Russel Waesche. At that time, and I guess it’s still true today, the Auxiliary in Cleveland trained civilians to help police the boats on the Great Lakes, teaching them how to keep a boat fit for sailing. That was part of my job.

After about six months in Cleveland, I went to Groton, Connecticut, where I enrolled in my first Coast Guard school and became a yeoman. I was assigned to the 9th Coast Guard District, and my job was to travel to all the district’s stations and take identification photos of everyone. This was how Coast Guard personnel received their security clearances. I was in charge of taking the photos, bringing them back, developing them, and organizing them. After this, I had to distribute both IDs and security clearances to all whose pictures I had taken at each station. It was a long, tedious job.

Even though I’ve since taken up flying, I never did get to fly in the Coast Guard. What happened was that the admiral who was my boss suggested that I could be a Coast Guard aviator, but I had to sign up for another three years and go to flight school. I could then go into naval or Coast Guard aviation training. I decided then that I really wanted to play on the PGA tour, and that superseded any notion of flying. When I completed my last semester at Wake Forest after leaving the service, I went back to Cleveland and worked as a manufacturer’s rep just before winning the national Amateur Championship. Shortly after that, I got married and went on tour.

But I’ve never forgotten my Coast Guard service and have retained many things from it. It provided good discipline and opportunities for me to mature and grow into a man. The Coast Guard was very important in helping me understand things I didn’t quite understand when I went in. It gave me the confidence that I was going to be able to do what I needed to do in my life. And it allowed me the opportunity to take a little time to understand myself and the outside world.

USCG photo

USCG photo

A number of my friends have had Coast Guard connections. I played golf quite a bit with the famous pro football player and coach Otto Graham, and he became a very good friend. Otto was a captain in the Coast Guard and the football coach at the Coast Guard Academy. We communicated regularly up until his death. Another person in my life with a Coast Guard connection is the former Governor of Pennsylvania, my friend Tom Ridge. He was the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard. He is one of the great people in this country.

On a final note, I want to say how important I think it is to serve your country. Too many people in leadership positions today do not know what it means to serve. It’s actually very sad. Every person in the United States of America, all people who are born here, should at some point in their life serve their country for at least one year in some fashion. That should be compulsory. If they’re physically fit, they should serve. Such a requirement would benefit both the nation and the individual.

Earlier this month, a Russian Su-27 Flanker came dangerously close – within 10 feet – of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon operating within international airspace over the Black Sea. This latest incident adds to an alarming pattern of aggressive interactions by Russian forces with NATO naval and air assets. Such interactions are reminiscent of Cold War behavior and the dangerous incidents between U.S. and Soviet naval forces. This parallel allows us to examine the past to gain insights in dealing with these incidents on and above the sea, though we must not lose sight of the vastly different world we now operate in.

Russian Frigate Yaroslav Mudry (FF-777) before the ship’s hull number was changed. RIA Novosti Photo

Russian Frigate Yaroslav Mudry (FF-777) before the ship’s hull number was changed. RIA Novosti Photo

At a time when Russian military activity is unquestionably higher than any point since the end of the Cold War, these actions, labeled by the Pentagon in its September 7th press release as “clearly unprofessional,” are symptomatic of a Russia desperate to reestablish itself as a major power. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intent to restore Russia to its previous great power status – or at least to reclaim its historical sphere of influence in the ‘near abroad’ as a regional hegemon. This has translated to rising military spending, improved research and development, snap exercises and drills, airstrikes in Syria, and the operational use of innovative hybrid warfare. Russia’s navy is engaged in exercises from the South China Sea to the Baltic Sea. The Russian military is rebuilding, dusting off the rust, and flexing its newfound muscle to achieve the domestic and foreign policy goals of the State.

While carefully avoiding a direct confrontation with NATO – even Putin must realize the foolishness of a direct conflict given his military’s current state –the Russians are continuing to test allied forces. Russian fighter aircraft have harassed U.S. navy ships, including the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) incident in the Baltic Sea this spring. The Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudry aggressively approached the USS San Jacinto (CG-56) while it was operating with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Strike Group in late June. Only a few weeks earlier, the same frigate had maneuvered unsafely around the Harry S Truman strike group and faced off with the guided missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107).

Though all of these incidents ended relatively peacefully, the alarming frequency combined with provocative profiles indicate a potential time bomb. The commanding officers of those ships – designed to handily eliminate such air threats – demonstrated restraint and calm judgment in not taking defensive action. Future Russian pilots and ships who create a dangerous situation may not encounter the same response. Continued testing of the established norms and boundaries while operating at heightened tensions may invariably lead to mistakes or perhaps an unintended escalation.

An F-14 Tomcat from fighter squadron 102 (VF-102) escorts a Soviet TU-95 "Bear D" surveillance aircraft in 1985. USNI Archives

F-14A Tomcat from fighter squadron 102 (VF-102) off USS America (CV-66) escorts a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear D” surveillance aircraft in 1985. U.S. Naval Institute photo

It was exactly this type of concern over mistakes and faulty judgment calls that prompted American and Soviet leaders during the Cold War to enter discussions intended to prevent an inadvertent entry into World War III. While it is true that our geopolitical world today is barely recognizable from the bi-polar era of the Cold War, we would be well served to use a particularly successful tool from the Cold War playbook. In March 1968, following a succession of incidents between U.S. and Soviet naval forces – including threatening profiles, flying in close proximity, and ships aggressively shouldering each other – the U.S. proposed talks focused on preventing such escalatory incidents at sea. The Soviet Union accepted the invitation and negotiations were conducted in October 1971 and May 1972. The final “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” more commonly known as INCSEA, was signed in Moscow in 1972 by then Secretary of the Navy John Warner and Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov.

INCSEA sought to reduce the risk of misunderstandings by providing measures to help avoid collisions, protocols for maintaining safe distances from surveillance ships, prohibiting interference in formations or simulating attacks on the other party’s ships or aircraft. It further mandated the use of international signals when ships maneuvered in the vicinity of each other to increase communication and reduce surprises. In addition, the agreement provided for advance notice of three to five days for any projected actions which could ‘represent a danger to navigation or to aircraft in flight.’ The initial effectiveness led both sides to agree to a protocol the following year, building on the premise of INCSEA by pledging not to make simulated attacks against nonmilitary ships of the other state.


By the early 1980s, INCSEA had proven to be an effective tool to enhance mutual understanding and reduce the potential for conflict fueled by misunderstanding. Secretary of the Navy John Lehman credited INCSEA for improving Soviet –U.S. relations at sea, observing that the number of incidents had declined dramatically. The INCSEA agreement had established clear guidance for interactions at sea which both sides largely adhered to. This framework thus served to improve safety at sea and helped prevent inadvertent misunderstandings.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the agreement was assumed by the Russian Federation and still ostensibly remains in effect today. In fact, delegations from both the U.S. and Russia hold annual Prevention of Incidents On or Over the High Seas (INCSEA) discussions. The most recent was held in Moscow on 8 June of this year. While this forum offers an opportunity to address our contemporary issues – and indeed, the delegations did discuss recent Russian air and surface ship interactions with U.S. naval forces – it is clearly inadequate. One only has to look at the dates of the HST CSG and IKE CSG incidents to realize the lack of influence the chosen delegations have on Russian military actions. Delegates clearly have little power to influence military policy and are merely fulfilling the requirements of a long-standing agreement rather than working towards the intended purpose of the forum as a mechanism to reduce tensions.

U.S. and Russian Navy delegations during concluding ceremonies of the 40th Annual Incidents at Sea Agreement Review in 2012. U.S. Navy Photo.

U.S. and Russian Navy delegations during concluding ceremonies of the 40th Annual Incidents at Sea Agreement Review in 2012. U.S. Navy Photo

It is time that we take the principles and ideals behind the original INCSEA agreement and start anew. The naval forces of the Cold War were different than the modern fleets patrolling the high seas today. While it is clear that the world has evolved significantly from the bi-polar era of the Cold War, so too have the military forces of both the U.S. and Russia. Tactics, training, and strategies have changed to accommodate the modern global challenges. Even communication methods, sensor systems, and weapons capabilities are vastly different than those in the Cold War and must be accounted for in an updated agreement. It is further necessary to draft an agreement that Russia’s current leadership embraces as mutually beneficial, instead of relying on a Cold War relic agreed upon by their Soviet Union predecessors. The basic premise of INCSEA is solid, but lessons can also be garnered from the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium, where the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) was agreed to by member states. The new protocol should extend beyond just the U.S. and Russia, to include other states in the region in a manner more akin to CUES than INCSEA.

Given the tensions in today’s world – with a resurgent Russia desperate to prove its military prowess and reclaim its spot at the great power table – there must be a serious effort to address incidents at sea before an unexpected escalation occurs. Reducing misperceptions and the chance for inadvertent conflict is a small, but crucial, element of our broader strategy. It is time to reconvene talks aimed at the development of a modern INCSEA protocol. Initial talks should occur directly between U.S. and Russian Federation delegates. Subsequent talks should include NATO, and EU representatives, as well as interested regional states. An agreement will not be reached overnight – indeed, the INCSEA process was lengthy. But we must start now in order to provide a better framework to guide potentially dangerous interactions.

Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange appeared on the USNI Blog yesterday. Part II of their conversation follows.


9781682471029McMaster: You begin chapter 11 with the observation that “good soldiers perform best under good leaders.” What attributes are most important in XXI century military leaders and how should the services develop those leaders?

Scales: First, I’d be clear about what type of leader we are talking about. In the military there are two: tactical leaders and strategic leaders. Thus XXI century leader development would follow two tracks: The tactical track would seek to find those with the technical and tactical right stuff, essentially those with the intuitive abilities, physical fitness and courage to lead men in close combat. They would be the doers, those who make the military engine run and who know how to maneuver and lead tactical units. The strategic track would consist of carefully selected men and women who have the right strategic stuff: the ability to think in time, conjure what might be rather than what is; and be willing to participate in a decades long program of study and practice that would prepare them to be leaders at the highest national strategic level. Preparation would consist of civilian graduate school, political and combatant command internships and time as an instructor at a service school or civilian university. Such a program would be highly competitive and very selective producing about 100 superbly qualified officers to be promoted to senior colonel and general officer. These would not be not progressive programs. Tacticians are tacticians and strategists are strategists.

McMaster: Popular culture tends to water down and coarsen what it means to be a warrior. Soldiers are often portrayed as fragile, traumatized human beings. Hollywood tells us little about the soldier’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow soldiers or what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices. You write about what it takes to steel soldiers and units to overcome fear and fight in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger. Will you share your thoughts on the human dimension of combat and why Americans should try to understand the social, psychological, and moral requirements to fight and win?

Scales: War is innately a human not a technological enterprise. The lower the level of the fight, the more human it becomes. I invented the term “Human Dimension” in 1992 when writing my book Certain Victory as a means of closing a hidden void in the conduct of the Gulf War that technology couldn’t alone explain. The idea came to me when listening to GEN Barry McCaffrey’s testimony before Congress when he opined that we still would have beaten Saddam even if we exchanged equipment with him. I found this observation both profound and true. It was the soldier not the equipment that provided the margin for certain victory. I also discovered that we knew too little about the soldier in combat. We knew we were better but how were we better? What was the evidence?

An Army Color Guard in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. U.S. Naval Institute photo

Army Color Guard of the First Cavalry Division dressed in 19th-century uniforms in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. U.S. Naval Institute photo

My Desert Storm research team set to work to find specifically what makes us better. In fact, we asked why western armies were better than native armies in general at higher-level mechanized warfare. Much of the answer was cultural. Only western militaries produce noncommissioned officers; western armies know how to self-select leaders without regard to social distinctions; western soldiers tend to bond more easily with peers and they are practiced with all forms of technology. But we discovered that such explanations were not enough. As good as we were the social, behavioral and cognitive sciences could make us much, much better. Unfortunately, our initial efforts to better exploit the human dimension fell of the rails after 9/11. This is always the problem with terms that become too popular and are overused and exploited. In this case the term Human Dimension was intentionally and cynically diluted and misdirected by uninformed bureaucrats who didn’t understand the concept and how it could be exploited. We wanted to make better performing soldiers by exploiting the human sciences, seemingly a simple enough enterprise. But in time the “spirituality” team got involved trying to show that fighting prowess depended on being a Christian. Later the cultural awareness crowd hijacked the human dimension to push for putting sociologists in the field to inform tactical leaders about native cultures in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, in about 2006 well-intended psychologists and physicians hijacked the human dimension effort and applied it to the Army’s “resiliency” effort. Suddenly the human dimension moniker was about treating damaged soldiers rather than making healthy soldiers more deadly in combat. I still believe that the greatest potential for increasing the fighting prowess of our close combat forces comes from exploiting the human sciences. I write about how this might be done in my book.


Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.

Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange follows.


McMaster: Your call for a historical-behavioral approach to military strategy and defense policy is consistent with Graham Allison’s and Niall Ferguson’s recent essay in the Atlantic in which they call for a board of historical advisors to advise the president to improve the wisdom of foreign policy. What is the value to contemporary affairs and why do you think it is underappreciated?

Scales: Not only do I think Presidents need historians to provide advice I believe the military does as well. War is the only profession that’s episodic. Soldiers don’t practice war (thankfully) as much as they study it. Thus the intellectual backbone of our profession should be the study of past wars. Sadly, it is not. Reluctance to study war among our senior leaders is, in a way, understandable. A newly appointed general has spent half his or her life (or more) actively engaged in fighting or preparing to fight a war. It’s reasonable for a serving officer to question the merits of study when he’s fully engaged in practicing the profession. As we witnessed with the British Army in the late nineteenth century these habits are hard to break. Imperial officers published under a pseudonym for fear of being labeled an intellectual. Conversation in the officer’s mess was about sport, not tactics. And the British paid a painful price when they were unable to adapt intellectually once they shifted from a native to an industrial age European enemy. The lesson is clear. We must artificially induce our young officers to shift from the visceral to the vicarious, an unnatural act for a contemporary Army on active service.

McMaster: The military seems to be increasingly disconnected from those in whose name they fight and serve. A very small percentage of Americans serve and few seem to understand the requirements for military readiness, especially what it takes to fight and win in ground combat, what you call the “crucible of courage.” You make a strong case for maintaining the all-volunteer force, but do you agree that this is a problem? And how might the bonds between the American people and its military be strengthened and how might Americans become more familiar with the requirements for national defense?

9781682471029Scales: No I don’t agree this is a problem. The military, and the Army in particular, is a fighting force, not a civilizing agent. Strengthening bonds between the fighting force and the people might make soldiers feel better about what they do but social bonding will not make them better fighters. We are the only Western democracy that has never been ruled by its Army. We should strive to maintain that separation such that we are never temped. Part of the passion on this issue is due to internally imposed self pity. I witnessed the phenomenon after Vietnam when many senior leaders blamed their failures on a media driven “stab in the back.” Watching this low level Dr. Strangelove period in our history was emotionally destructive to a young officer like me. We serve so that Americans don’t have to think of us…or fear being us. It’s enough for me to have someone say: “thank you for your service,” even though I know they probably mean “thank you for doing this so that my son can go to graduate school.” No, this new emerging mantra of self-pity mainly comes from retired officers who decry the dangers of civil-military separation. You hear words like, “99 percent of America never served” or “two thirds of American youth can’t pass the military physical, etc…” Many of these same generals call in the wilderness for universal service. The military has more important things to concern them. Let’s get on with learning and practicing our profession and leave the [discussion] about the civil military divide to academics.

McMaster: And, as you point out in Scales On War, Americans have a tendency to want to simplify the problem of future armed conflict and solve complex land-based problems from stand-off range. While stand-off capabilities will remain important to national defense, the war against ISIS, a terrorist proto-state that does not even have an air force or a navy, seems to validate your point that fighting and winning in war requires land forces that possess the will, capability, and capacity to defeat an enemy, secure territory, protect populations, and consolidate military gains politically. Why do you think there is a tendency to undervalue the need for ready land forces and how might you and others administer a corrective to flawed thinking in that connection?

Scales: Much of our attitude about defense is baked into our social DNA. We still view ourselves as an Island nation that can choose to advance or retreat, join or leave a conflict at will. Since there is no occupying force on our land we can fight in faraway places not worrying about our loved ones being threatened. So it should come as no surprise that killing bloodlessly at a distance should from the nexus of our policy. This would all be fine if our enemies didn’t have a brain. But they do. And because of our fixation on distant killing they have an equally baked-in strategy for defeating our style of war: meet Americans in distant an unpleasant places, defend their hegemonies by making defeat too painful and then broadcast our pain to the American people such that they will tire of the exercise and demand that the troops come home. It works every time. The most vulnerable and assailable of American forces are Soldiers and Marines. So ground forces are the enemy’s point of attack and our most vulnerable center of gravity. Trying to convince our policymakers that the nation should expend more resources on those most likely to die is a hard sell to those who fear that if we buy ground forces we are only more likely to use (and lose) them. Thus, buying air and sea forces is an easy sell. Buying ground forces is hard…

McMaster: The subtitle of your book is “The future of America’s military at risk.” The active Army is more committed than ever and is undergoing a reduction in size from 570,000 to 450,000 while the modernization budget has fallen by 74% since 2008, creating a bow wave in deferred Army modernization. You observe that your grandchildren will fight with Reagan-era weapons. As a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report concluded, the recent Army modernization drawdown is a triple whammy for the Army because these cuts in force structure and modernization are larger in percentage than previous cuts and the two previous drawdowns came after the Army had already modernized much of the force. And you warn against a “silent creeping atrophy that sends the Army into another tragic dark age.” What might be done prevent that and reduce risk to the nation?

Scales: Social and political activism, pure and simple. The default position for defense policy makers is to buy more high tech air and sea platforms. In peacetime there is no down side to this policy: high paying jobs in the U.S. are created; the research and development community is enriched; the public sees powerful bright shiny objects floating or flying by that give them a warm sense of security; most of the big stuff is kept at home, relatively safe; images of bright young technicians and digital warriors relieves the people from thinking about the true nature of war; black and white digital images of explosions from drone strikes make Americans believe that we are taking the fight to the enemy without looking more closely at images of what the explosions leave behind. The counter narrative is tough: soldiers and marines lying dead after an IED strike; a ground level image of dead and wounded innocents lying amid the rubble. So those of us who advocate for the soldier and marine have to go the extra mile to explain and educate our fellow citizens about the consequences of neglect. History is our most effective media weapon. Those who advocate for no more “boots on the ground” lose the argument when folks like us tell and re-tell the stories of soldiers and marines who died due to the neglect of their fellow citizens. But to be effective the message must be delivered with unrelenting force and drama such that Joe citizen can’t turn away. Problem is that ground service leaders, particularly Army leaders, simply aren’t very good at telling this story. If we want our Army to avoid breaking next time then it’s the responsibility of today’s ground service leaders to craft the narrative and project it to everyone in Washington who writes the checks. Our greatest allies are not the solons on the Hill; it’s the American people. Get to them directly. Convince them that their blue-collar sons and daughters will be at risk if life and death decisions are left inside the Beltway. Let’s build on what I have written in this book to write a greater narrative crafted by our most senior Army leaders. Speak to mister and missus America. Explain the consequences to their children of institutional neglect and ask them to demand that the Army gets its share of our national resources so that their children will not die in another debacle like Task Force Smith in Korea.

Scales Robert H.

MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.)

McMaster: The American public is largely disconnected from ongoing wars. How many Americans, for example, could name the three main Taliban groups that their soldiers have been fighting for fifteen years? You stress the interactive nature of war, but so little of the coverage of today’s conflicts cover that interaction. Reports focus mainly on discreet strikes or raids, friendly casualties, or announcements about the numbers of troops deployed. Do you think there is a problem with the media coverage of the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan-Pakistan? If so, how would you change the way wars are covered?

Scales: I work for the media, in my case, Fox News. A senior media official told me a few months ago that when we both started at Fox in 2002 over 60% of the discretionary broadcast time was devoted to war. Now it’s less than 5%. But, that’s OK. We are essentially an Island nation that can voluntarily choose to join or leave foreign engagements. This is a privilege very few other nations can claim. Thus is should be no surprise that Americans can choose to watch whatever they want on TV depending on how world events affect them and they, thankfully, don’t have to worry that events affect them very much. I do lament that too often that the news gets things technically wrong or that the news fails to add context to events so that conflict is too often depicted as a stop action video game to our youth. But at the end of the day the media is a consumable product and the consumer decides how to buy it. If Joe or Jane America want to watch reality TV rather than war news that’s their privilege and we who sacrificed gave that privilege to them. And we did it (and do it) without expecting a great deal of thanks in return.

McMaster: There is a tendency in the United States to confuse the study of war and warfare with militarism. Thinking clearly about the problem of war and warfare, however, is both an unfortunate necessity and the best way to prevent it. As the English theologian, writer, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, “War is not the best way of settling differences, but it is the only way of preventing them being settled for you.” What is your advice to the Academy? Is there a role for universities in improving not only our thinking about defense, but also the connection between our society and its soldiers?

Scales: I’m a product (and a victim) of the academy so I know a little about this. In the distant past the academy was a willing gold mine of imbedded wisdom that the military mined with profit. It’s hard to believe now but before the 60s social revolution professors provided useful advice and did meaningful research that added depth and new ideas to our defense intellectual communities. This was in many ways a partnership. Most of these academics were World War II veterans and, although most were politically liberal, they understood war and its consequences and they viewed America as a bulwark against international evil. Today it’s different. If the academy writes about the military it’s normally about social issues within the ranks or it’s generally condemnatory in nature. There is very little in the literature about the “acts” of war. Thus most young military intellects have to be homegrown, service sponsored, and come from Army funded graduate schools. This must change. I hope it will as the revolutionary age elders of the sixties leave the academy. But nothing will change until the atmospherics change. One way to force change is to create a true military academic partnership in universities known for war studies. Here’s how it might work:

  • The Army chooses a cluster of about 10-15 named universities that receive funds for educating ROTC cadets and officers attending graduate school as well as funds for defense research.
  • These schools should be geographically dispersed and of the highest quality. If possible they would already have a vibrant defense studies graduate program. Some of the best are Texas A and M; Notre Dame; Ohio State; Stanford; Princeton; Florida State; University of North Carolina; Duke; etc.
  • The Army pays for a program or a Community of Practice, essentially a subordinate unit of a department or school such as the Wilson Center or the Hudson Institute. The community would consist of ROTC students, military graduate students, civilian graduate students sponsored in part by the Army, War College Fellows, contracted civilian researchers, traditional faculty and senior military PhD students scheduled to be tenured faculty at West Point or the War College.
  • Together this internal community would work with and mentor each other to provide a powerful intellectual and fiscal power on the campus. Some link would be necessary with the staff and war colleges and think tanks specific to the Army such as the Arroyo Center. The Commandant of the army War College would run the program and report directly to the Chief of Staff.
  • The Army would schedule all of its signature seminar and senior meetings at one of these communities. I would also add an Army Press, affiliated with one of the better-known University Presses. The relationship might be similar to the Naval Institute Press at Annapolis or the Belknap Press at Harvard.
  • The product of these university defense intellectual communities would be a generation of soldiers and civilian scholars who have a balanced education and cultural experience. My hope is that, in time, these communities would spawn a new age of civil-military collaboration useful for both the military and the nation.


Part II of this Q&A session between LTG McMaster, USA and MG Scales, USA (Ret.) can be viewed here.

Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.

Please join us at 5pm (US EDT) on 18 September 2016 for Midrats Episode 350: 21st Century Patton, With J. Furman Daniel III:

Put the popular, and mostly accurate, image of the flamboyant General Patton, USA
given to us by popular culture to the side for a moment.

Consider the other side of the man; the strategic thinker, student of military history, and innovator for decades. This week’s episode will focus on that side of the man.

For the full hour we will have as our guest J. Furman Daniel, III, the editor of the next book in the 21st Century Foundations series: 21st Century Patton.

Furman is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona. He holds a BA (with honors) from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Georgetown University.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also download the show later from our iTunes page here or from our Stitcher page here.

In July 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed to by Iran on one side and on the other by the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France plus Germany (the P5+1).

At the inception of negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran was believed to be within 2 to 3 months of being able to manufacture 10 to 12 nuclear weapons.[i] Three basic options were available to the United States and its P5+1 partner countries regarding how to deal with an Iranian nuclear threat: (1) deterrence after Iran had such weapons, (2) military operations to disarm Iran, or (3) a diplomatic agreement to rollback the Iranian nuclear program.

Negotiations_about_Iranian_Nuclear_Program_-_the_Ministers_of_Foreign_Affairs_and_Other_Officials_of_the_P5+1_and_Ministers_of_Foreign_Affairs_of_Iran_and_EU_in_LausanneThe P5+1 governments decided not to accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program, nor to simply try to deter its use after it was established. None of the P5+1 countries were willing to live in a world where Iran’s radical leaders were permitted to have atomic bombs so the deterrence option was placed on hold. Also, P5+1 saw war as a last resort and sought through diplomacy to prevent a nuclear Iran.

War was rightly always considered to be the last resort. War with Iran likely would be even more costly than the 12-year war in Iraq since Iran has a much larger economy, is over three times larger in area than Iraq, and has a population two and a half times greater.

The Iran nuclear agreement is controversial both in the U.S. and abroad. On the one hand, if honored, it retards the capacity of Iran to go nuclear and would buy a decade or more to seek a more permanent solution, but JCPOA also does not offer a permanent end to the Iranian program and gives Iran added fiscal resources at the beginning of the deal.[ii] When Iran met threshold conditions required on Implementation Day, on January 16, 2016, US, UN and EU sanctions were suspended so Iran is in the process of receiving around $ 100 billion of its previously frozen assets.[iii] In addition, Iran can again sell its oil freely on the world market. The U.S. Treasury Secretary said economic sanctions have cost Iran more than $160 billion since 2012 in oil revenue alone”[iv]

Some U.S. Republican Party candidates and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu have argued that this is a bad deal because it does not forever remove the Iranian nuclear threat[v] and provides Iran new resources that might be used against Israel and others.

Netanyahu appears to have favored a military intervention over the diplomatic option represented by the Iran nuclear agreement. But, as a former Israeli official, concluded, ” An [Israeli] attack probably could not have achieved more than a few years delay of Iran’s program whereas the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Attack, if observed, will do so for at least 10 to 15 years. “[vi]

In the real world no agreement is ever perfect. JCPOA seems to have achieved what was possible to achieve. It is unclear what rejecting the agreement would accomplish short of hastening the arrival of an Iranian nuclear capacity or a war to prevent the same.

This agreement would give Iran’s leaders a strong incentive to avoid actions that might bring back sanctions and increase the threat of war against them. The agreement also strengthens the hand of Iranian moderates against their more hawkish elements who most dislike the agreement.

The important point is that Iran would likely get a nuclear arsenal far faster and more certainly without this deal than with it. JCPOA allows additional years to try to change the regime, or relations with it, short of their acquiring nuclear weapons.

Comparing a Future With or Without JCPOA

There are two paths to a nuclear weapons capacity, the plutonium path using heavy water reactors and the uranium route accomplished by separating Uranium 235 from Uranium hexafluoride using centrifuges. Once the material is enriched to 90 percent U-235 it is nuclear bomb material.

The Iranian plutonium path to a bomb is currently blocked by JCPOA. Iran’s only potential source of plutonium, the Arak reactor has had its core removed and disabled. As of January 31, 2016, Iran filled the Arak reactor calandria with concrete.[vii] For 15 years Iran will be legally prohibited from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel[viii]

The Iranian highly enriched uranium path to the bomb is also blocked. The Iranians have agreed to reduce its number of active centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104. Almost all of these will be the oldest and least advanced centrifuges in their inventory. Iran’s advanced centrifuge R&D will be limited for 8.5 years to a small number of IR-3, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges at Natanz. The others have already been dismantled and put in storage, as verified by IAEA inspectors. JCPOA also imposes a 20 year ban on Iranian centrifuge production. Until the agreement, such centrifuges had been operating at three Iranian centrifuge facilities: two at Natanz and one at Fordow. Now, centrifuge enrichment activity is permitted only at a single site at Natanz.

Arak_Heavy_Water4The agreement imposes a 3.67 percent enrichment purity limit on all Iranian uranium fuel for 15 years. [ix] As required, Iran has transferred outside their territory 25,000 pounds or 98 percent of their low and medium enriched uranium that has been placed in storage in Russia, a step verified by the IAEA inspectors. [x]

In the agreement, the Iranians have acquiesced in having very strict IAEA inspections and other verification procedures to ensure their compliance. The agreement allows continuous monitoring of Iranian uranium mines and mills for 25 years, and provides oversight of Iranian centrifuge production facilities for 20 years, and permits 15 years of IAEA access to inspect Iranian sites. For already declared Iranian sites, IAEA inspectors are to be granted immediate access. Inspections of any other sites are to be conducted within 24 days of a request for entry.[xi]

U.S. intelligence officials have said they have confidence that any cheating on the agreement could be detected in a timely manner, allowing the U.S. and allies to take corrective military actions a year or more before Iran could race to its first atomic weapons. And with the Iran deal concluded, Iran’s adversaries like the Saudis and Turks will be less likely to start their own nuclear weapons R&D programs to offset an Iranian A-bomb.

For the next 10 years, should Iran cheat on the agreement, all UN, U.S. and EU sanctions would automatically be immediately snapped back into place against Iran. If the agreement succeeds, it will prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon capability in the next decade or more. The Iran nuclear agreement buys time to improve US-Iranian relations and to defuse other points of contention in the Middle East. If it fails, the deterrence, international sanctions and military options remain viable.


[i] BBC, “Iran Nuclear Deal: Key Details,” Middle East, 16 January 2016, p.7 of transcript. See

[ii] David E. Sanger, “Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Are Lifted,” New York Times, January 16, 2016. See http://nyti/ms/1NsdrV.

[iii] Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr, “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report 7-5700, p. 14. See also Eric Pianin, ” Lew: Iran Not Getting Full $100 Billion of Frozen Assets,” The Fiscal Times, July 26, 2015. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew said, “We estimate that after sanctions relief, Iran will only be able to freely access about half those resources, or about $50 billion.” He also said ” It’s not money we are giving to Iran. It’s Iran money that sits in other countries that was locked up by international sanctions.

[iv] Eric Pianin, ” Lew: Iran Not Getting Full $100 Billion of Frozen Assets,” The Fiscal Times, July 26, 2015.

[v] Isabel Kershner,” Israel: Netanyahu Denounces Agreement as Historic Mistake and Threat to Region,” New York Times International, July 15, 2015, p. A11.

[vi] Chuck Freilich, ” A Good Deal for Israel,” New York Times, July 20, 2015. See also, Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr, “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report 7-5700, p. 17.

[vii] Arms Control Association: “Key Elements of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Arms Control Today, September 2016, P 28.

[viii] David E. Sanger, “Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Are Lifted,” New York Times, January 16, 2016. See http://nyti/ms/1NsdrV.

[ix] Arms Control Association, Op Cit, PP 28-29.

[x] Sanger, Op Cit.

[xi] U.S. intelligence agencies felt 24 days would allow them to verify compliance. Some others felt this was too long a period and risked some undetected noncompliance. See Institute for Science and International Security, “Verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” July 28, 2015, p.5.

21GUIDE6-master768We have all seen the fear in the eyes of even the bravest when they hear of a possible IG investigation.

We’ve seen good people suffer under an IG cloud through a few FITREP cycles only to be exonerated in the end of the accusations – but the professional damage was already done and reputations unrecoverable.

We’ve seen an IG investigation finding nothing to substantiate the original accusations, but in the end crush someone based on totally unrelated items discovered in the very wide and deep net they throw.

How many people could survive one of these IG investigations that have no boundaries? Are you willing to risk it? I don’t know many who would.

I’ve written over the years about a few Kafkaesque nightmares coming out of the IG office, as have others – but nothing has really changed. Perhaps there is a chance here for some traction on looking at what the IG is and what it is doing. Not just DOD, but all the service IG as well.

Via Andrew Tilghman at MilitaryTimes;

The investigation of Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey has become a flashpoint for the broader criticisms of the Defense Department Inspector General, which is an independent agency tasked with investigating allegations of internal misconduct.

The former head of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, Losey’s career was derailed by allegations that he was obsessed with loyalty and retaliated against subordinates who complained anonymously to the IG about his travel expenses and the “toxic” work environment he cultivated.

We have Congressional interest. Good.

“This was a tragic outcome that has failed to do justice to one of America’s top warriors,” said Rep. Ron Desantis, R-Fla., a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“The whole ordeal raises questions about how the whistleblower process functions,” Destantis said.

The oversight committee held a hearing Wednesday about Losey’s case and the criticisms of the IG’s office.

This is getting much bigger than Losey.

…some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are worried that the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s Office has become too aggressive and may be wrongfully punishing good leaders.

The Pentagon IG’s handling of whistleblower reprisal investigations was criticized in a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which said the IG was taking too long to complete the probes and was using a separate internal case management system that makes it harder for lawmakers to oversee the military reprisal investigations.

The IG’s response?

In defense of the IG’s office, lawmakers heard from Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general.

“Whistleblowers are important to exposing waste, fraud and abuse in government programs and they are instrumental in saving taxpayer money and improving the efficiency of government operations,” Fine said.

Squid ink. The “women and children hurt worse” tactic. May be true, but not germane to the issue at hand; the IG system’s culture and approach to its mandate.

Perhaps the IG should take a pause and look inside its lifelines as it lashes out;

Mandy Smithberger, the head of POGO’s military reform project, testified Wednesday and pointed to surveys given to all federal government employees that reveal that one in four DoD IG Office employees are themselves reluctant to report misconduct for fear of reprisals.

And about half of the IG office’s employees do not believe their leadership maintains high standards of honesty and integrity.

Why would that be? Well, there is a good topic for a follow on article by the author.

“We are going to get critics from both sides — you’re too hard; you’re too soft; you’re doing a whitewash; you’re doing a witch hunt. You’re a junkyard dog or you’re a lap dog. We get that often in the same case. We can’t let that deter us,” Fine told lawmakers.

“Our job is to take the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

In an ideal world, sure – but I don’t think that is what actual experience is showing.

The lack of self-reflection by the IG concerns me the most. It is a classic sign of an unhealthy command climate and world view. None of this seems worthy of the military of a representative republic.


We can do better – or at least make the effort to address the appearance of abuse and misuse of power.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Policy | 9 Comments

maxresdefaultI was lucky, I was a JO in the last act in the Anti-Submarine Warfare golden age; the Cold War. Headed over to Desert Storm as an Ensign, came back a LTjg and then spent a few glorious years in an ocean where Soviet Tangos and Victor IIIs still prowled, frustrated, and more often than not – snuck by us when we weren’t trying to run away from them.

In exercises towards the end of that first sea tour a few years after the Soviet collapse, we still were a well oiled machine living off of tactical inertia. I have one of those memories at sea that at the moment you knew you’d always remember; a clear, bright evening. RED submarine was, I believe USS GATO (SSN 615). In the distance there were two SH-3 dipping one after another as a P-3 flew in orbits a few hundred feet above them throwing out flares/smokes on occasion while for the DD & FFG, tails were wet and working the same sub.

What made it so memorable wasn’t just the visual beauty of it all, but was that everyone seemed to be able to locate, track, and even make simulated attacks. It wasn’t that easy. It was never that easy – but at that one moment in time it all came together and had a bit of a non-goat-rope feel about it. Though you hoped that is what it would be like with a no-kidding adversary submarine – whichever nation they came from now that the Soviet Union was gone – but you knew that it wouldn’t. You remember the message traffic that outlined that TANGO disappeared when they wanted to, and that Angel of Death VICTOR III – well, people were still collecting jock-straps from Bear Island to the Malta Escarpment.

Surface, submarine, and aviation – everyone was in on the game. Carriers had large numbers of escorts when they deployed – and for the time almost all of them were ASW capable themselves for a knife fight, and the FFG, DD, and CG came with a mix of the last of the SH-2 and the sparkly new SH-60 to reach out a bit. The carriers had the S-3 and the SH-3 with the SH-60 coming along there as well. The submarines, well, say no more. Ashore, you always had the P-3 bubbas for comic relief.

The hope was that somewhere in that mix was the key to keep the submarines away, if not dead. We were never happy with the one trick pony of the LWT – after they took away our DUSTBIN – but if nothing else it might be good enough to make a hostile submarine break contact.

But, then the post-Cold War mindset came in. ASW went to the back and the money went elsewhere right when the potential enemy submarines were getting much better – our ASW technology was only getting marginally better, and our ASW skill against non-permissive and non-scripted submarines drifted and faded in the ambient noise of higher priorities.

As, rightfully, much of our ASW discussions should only take place behind the cipher door, it’s helpful to find something in open source as a reference point. In The Economist last month, there is a great article on modern ASW challenges, Seek, but shall ye find?

Some nice points to ponder a couple decades post-drift;

DURING war games played off the coast of Florida last year, a nuclear-powered French attack submarine, Saphir, eluded America’s sub-hunting aircraft and vessels with enough stealth to sink (fictitiously) a newly overhauled American aircraft-carrier, Theodore Roosevelt, and most of her escort. An account of the drill on a French defence-ministry website was promptly deleted, but too late for it to go unnoticed.

Nor was this French victory a fluke. In 2006, in what was very far from being a war game, a Chinese diesel-electric submarine surfaced near Okinawa within torpedo range of another American carrier, Kitty Hawk, without having been detected by that carrier’s escort of more than a dozen vessels and anti-submarine aircraft. And, from the point of view of carrier-deploying navies, things are threatening to get worse. Saphir, launched in 1981, hardly represents the state of the art in underwater undetectability; in the decade since the Okinawa incident diesel-electrics have become even quieter. For an inkling of the silence of the new generation of such subs when they are running on battery power alone, without their engines turning, Jerry Hendrix, a former anti-submarine operations officer on the Theodore Roosevelt, asks: “How loud is your flashlight?”

The always quotable Jerry!

…submarines are spreading. Since the cold war ended, the number of countries deploying them has risen from a dozen or so to about 40.

While we have rested some, tinkered with “new” ASW search methods a bit, the world continues to build.

Worse, for those trying to defend ships from submarine attack, Western powers have routinely cut anti-submarine spending since the end of the cold war. American carriers retired the S-3 Viking submarine-hunting warplane in 2009, leaving shorter-range helicopters to compensate. Since the Soviet Union’s demise the average surface escort of an American carrier has shrunk from six vessels to four. … Many carry anti-ship guided missiles as well as torpedoes. One such, the CM-708 UNB, was shown off by China in April. It packs a 155kg warhead and, after popping out of the water, flies at near the speed of sound for about 290km. An export version is available but, if you prefer, Russia’s submarine-launched Kalibr-PL missile offers a bigger warhead and a terminal sprint at Mach three.

So, solutions? We need to be careful in putting too much trust in high-demand, low-density “war winning” capabilities yet to be robustly tested (and always remember, no one has really faced a sub threat since the Royal Navy in the early 1980s), or promises of something just around the corner – we should reinforce what we know works.

Keeping track of submarines is good to remove uncertainty in peace, and a quicker kill in the transition to war – but how do you try to recreate the Cold War multilayered tracking system? Well, we don’t have the numbers or the money – so we’ll experiment a bit.

We are thinking about drones, but their utility starts to wear thin after the second follow-on question – but they have great promise not as a solution – but a tool;

Perhaps belatedly, but certainly determinedly, a new approach to the submarine threat is now being developed. It is based on a simple principle: since submarines are hard to detect, when you do find one you should never let go.

Shadowing threatening submersibles is nothing new. Trailing something is a much easier sensory task than discovering it in the first place, when you have an entire ocean to search. But at the moment this job is done by destroyers and (for those that have them) nuclear submarines. These cost billions of dollars to build and tens of millions a year more to run. Instead, the idea is to use smallish unmanned ships—marine drones, in effect—to do the job. These will be packed with enough sensors and artificial intelligence to follow adversaries’ submarines automatically.

Half a dozen Western naval powers are conducting the R&D needed to build these, according to Eric Wertheim, author of the US Naval Institute’s reference doorstop “Combat Fleets of the World”. America is furthest along. In June its Office of Naval Research and its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, began tests in the Pacific of the Sea Hunter, an unmanned (and, for now, unarmed) 40-metre trimaran, pictured. It is designed to follow an enemy submarine from the surface relentlessly for months, even in high seas. While the crew of the boat being tailed will probably be able to hear their pursuer’s diesel engine, that is not really a problem. Short of a torpedo launch, which would be an act of war, “there’s nothing you can do about it”, says Nevin Carr, a retired rear admiral in the American navy who now works at Leidos, the firm which designed Sea Hunter.

ASW is not that easy. The water column is not constant, busy sea lanes are loud, the ocean bottom can be fussy – and your target gets a vote and the right to have countermeasures.

Saab Kockums’s new 62-metre A26 model will sport a tube from which an underwater drone could slip out to attack surface drones. This, Mr Wieslander says, is the first time that such a feature has been fitted to a production submarine. Mr Krepinevich, however, counsels caution regarding underwater drones. They are fine for attacking other drones, but without huge advances in battery technology (see article), no such machine could keep up for long with a big submarine that charges its batteries from a diesel engine and can travel at up to 20 knots—much less with a faster nuclear-powered one.

More sophisticated systems than this are in the works—including anti-drone countermeasures. According to Torstein Olsmo Sæbo, a scientist at FFI, Norway’s defence-research establishment, drone-towed acoustic arrays can now mimic the signature of a big submarine, luring a drone off in the wrong direction.

A new IUSS?

One way to do this, at least for home waters, is to have a dense grid of fixed detectors. One of the more advanced of these is Singapore’s. It consists of underwaterbuoys called acoustic nodes that are tethered to the sea bed two or three kilometres apart. These nodes can talk to each other. They communicate by broadcasting precisely calibrated vibrations through the water. At the moment they are sending test messages, but eventually they will be equipped with their own submarine-detecting sensors.

Active and passive? Huh … wait unit the whale people find out about that active part.

Anyway, we have been here before;

The arms race between surface vessels and submarines has been going on for almost exactly a century—since Germany’s demonstration to its enemies in the first world war of the threat from its U-boats. By the end of the second world war, the Allies had become so good at finding U-boats that German crews taking to the sea had a life expectancy of about a week. As the examples of the Kitty Hawk and the Theodore Roosevelt show, the balance at the moment has tipped back in favour of the submariner. The great question is how long it will stay that way.

The key in the hyper-Darwinian game that is ASW is to never stop. Never stop developing, never stop training, never stop understanding the threat.

Another lesson of real-world ASW? It takes numbers of ASW units on, above, and under the surface, a wide diversity of units, and the investment to maintain them.

As for the kill-chain part of the problem, well … ahem. Let’s not go there right now.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Hard Power, Navy | 16 Comments

1967 Marine Corps General Officers SymposiumIt is what it is. Over the years we laughed at the use of this phrase, a catch-all Marine Corps-ism that regularly worms its way into briefs, emails, and conversations around the Corps. Even as young Marines, “It is what it is” stood out to us for its inanity. During endless staff briefs, annual training sessions, and mandatory safety standdowns, we would play bingo with common Marine Corps catchphrases, and “it is what it is” was an easy one to get. Alongside other ubiquitous sayings like “where the rubber meets the road” and “needs of the Marine Corps,” “it is what it is” is often used to represent practicality, realism, or the acknowledgement that funding, imagination, and time are all scarce resources, a la Rumsfeld’s “you go to war with the Army you have.”[i]

But that’s not what “it is what it is” really means in today’s Marine Corps. Instead, its default, knee-jerk use has come to symbolize bureaucratic laziness and ignorance, the epitome of the Corps’ default response to any request that demands a difficult choice, any observation that strays from the norm, or any attempt to work smarter versus harder. “It is what it is” represents an institutional shrug and a yearning for the path of least resistance. Each use, nearly incontestable by individual Marines, reflects and strengthens the Corps’ aversion to change.

But what happens when the needs of the Marine Corps – those very needs cited to justify outdated personnel policies, training requirements, or performance evaluations – aren’t actually being best served by an institutional shrug? For exhibit A, we’d like you to direct your attention to the importance and relevance accorded a Marine’s family, particularly his or her spouse.

The Marine Corps loves its families. It tells us this over and over again, in big banners hung on bases, in the Commandant’s FRAGO, and on We even have Family Readiness Officers, those nice individuals who assess the needs of Marine Corps families in order to ensure that each unit is ready to deploy if the balloon goes up. We’ve come a long way from those sepia-toned days when a young Marine was advised that if the Corps had wanted him to have a wife, he would have been issued one.

Or have we? Actions speak louder than words, and many personnel and family policies still reflect that narrow, obsolete mentality today, despite evidence that military families have decidedly changed from the 1950s. And when actual, real-life Marines and their families push back against those policies, they often get told, “it is what it is; the needs of the Marine Corps take precedence.” This is where “it is what it is” gets stupid.

In the world according to the Marine Corps, the (generally male) breadwinner earns the living wage for the family, and the family obediently follows in support. Spouses (generally women) function to support their Marine, and any outside work or career that they have should be flexible, uncontroversial, and secondary to the primary career of the Marine. Spouses’ careers and educations are viewed as subordinate, as a “personal choice” that the Marine Corps does not need to consider in its personnel policies and moves. Despite recent lip service to the contrary, that Corps-wide ideal is still the gold standard: attendees at the most recent commander’s conference this past spring were reminded of this fact by the Commandant and his wife.

The life of a Marine simply has to be this way, we are assured. The Marine Corps demands constant readiness, so the message to spouses is to show up, shut up, and support your Marine. The Corps pays enough to support you, and if you stick around and pay your dues long enough to retire, you’ll be taken care of. So stop complaining, that’s just the life of a Marine. It is what it is.

Except…that is not the way it is. Families today don’t look like they did back in the 1950s, economic realities are radically different than they were even thirty years ago when our senior leaders entered service, and a military career does not have to be the inflexible, cookie-cutter, unimaginative template that it is today. But the Marine Corps doesn’t want to hear this. Acknowledging such heresy would invite drastic changes, making things messy and unpredictable. The Corps’ bureaucracy would prefer things to remain stagnant, enabling personnel assignment, command selection, and everything in between to remain as it is today…forever. It is what it is. Existing policies best serve the needs of the Marine Corps.

Well, let’s talk for a minute about what “it” truly is. “It” is the fact that the cost of raising and putting a child through college has grown by as much as 500% since 1980,[ii] so families today must earn more and work harder for longer than they did three decades ago, so spouse employment and education is a necessity for many families today. “It” is the fact that 90% of military spouses who do work are underemployed or overqualified for positions they hold, which not only hurts families today but will continue to hurt them for decades post-service.[iii] “It” is the fact that on top of that, given similar careers and qualifications, military spouses earn 38% less than their civilian counterparts and are 30% more likely to be unemployed.[iv] And “it” is the fact that in 2016, economic necessities aside, the odds are high and growing that a spouse will have their own career anyway. As time passes and those crazy Millennials fill all of the ranks, Marines and their families will be increasingly unwilling to conform to the mold that presently exists. As if they aren’t already.

Basically, “it” is a world that’s a far cry from the one that codified the male breadwinner ideal, that world of unicorns and rainbows where a Marine Corps wife works only because she wants to in a career that is traditional and flexible. In Darwinian fashion, the reality that families face today, the reality that “it” is, directly affects the retention of members with professional spouses, creating a near-homogeneous collection of senior leaders with little empathy or understanding for those they lead. The gap between the male breadwinner ideal and the reality that families face today will continue to grow unless the Marine Corps acknowledges this fact and acts now.

Our own personal “it is what it is” moment recently surfaced, and we are struggling through it right now. To be accurate, it’s far from the first such moment in our 17+ years of marriage and combined 36 years of Marine Corps service, but it’s the one that will hurt us the most. Time and again over the past year, we were told “it is what it is,” that we were outliers. But that’s just it. That isn’t what it is, we are not outliers, and more of us are rising up through the ranks. The Marine Corps fails to see reality and the impacts of demographic changes on its families and its future recruiting pool, which dangerously limits its appeal to an ever-shrinking, homogenous group. Take a look at any gathering of senior leaders – you’ll hear and see it firsthand. While “it is what it is” hurts our family and families like ours today, in the name of serving the needs of the Marine Corps, it really hurts the Corps more.

The irony is that while telling families like ours “it is what it is,” the Marine Corps doesn’t recognize what it is. The Corps’ stance ignores the reality families face today, where holding down a job or earning a degree is overwhelmingly not a personal choice for a spouse but a necessity, and personnel policies that risk spouse employment and education will increasingly limit the appeal of the Marine Corps to the very demographic it should most target. The Corps’ incessant tendency to fight personnel reform efforts like the Military Family Stability Act (S.2403), the expansion of the Career Intermission Pilot Program, and every individual Marine family’s effort to survive and flourish in competitive world merely serves to cripple its future.

The bottom line? If the Marine Corps wants a diverse force that can chart our future and navigate our complex world, it must change to capitalize on the broad base of human capital that it spends so much energy to recruit. Holding the line on decades-old retention, promotion, education, and assignment policies does not best serve the needs of the Marine Corps, and that is what it is.