Archive for November, 2016

30th

21st Century Thucydides

November 2016

By

513760d6c5bdc3fcc7768baf991682a6OK, there isn’t a “21st Century Thucydides” coming out as part of the exceptional USNI Press 21st Century Foundations series, but work with me a bit here.

If we are going to review the great minds of the 19th and 20th Centuries, then why not from the 400s BC? The Peloponnesian War lasted 30 years. We are 15 years in to a low degree but still very real war against expansionist Islamic fundamentalism and rising powers to the left and right of us. There has to be something there.

Why look at what happened between two city-states at the dawn of Western history? Take awhile to read Mark Gilchrist’s article at RCD, Why Thucydides Still Matters;

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is a book that all who seek to understand the influence of war must read.

…reading The Peloponnesian War we come to realise the complexities of modern life have not rendered everything experienced by past generations irrelevant to the problems of today.[1] In fact, as he intended, Thucydides provides a sound basis from which to discover how best to approach the complex problems facing contemporary strategists through allowing us to better understand war’s continuities and discontinuities.

Thucydides charts the impact of war on the character of the states involved. He uses Athens’ transformation as a cautionary tale about what war will do to a state unprepared for its influence and of the cost of applying power unwisely or unjustly in the pursuit of a political objective. His writing is grounded in the understanding that war’s nature is inextricably linked to human nature, which in turn shapes the strategic and military culture that manifest in war’s character and the political objectives for which it is fought. Through a narrative approach, his work serves as a warning about the moral decline of society over the course of protracted war.

As we try to understand today why Russia does what it does, why China is motivated to push where she is pushing, it is helpful to recall that human nature, at its base, has not changed for thousands of years;

Thucydides tells us there is a tipping point where a rising power becomes too powerful to contain. By this point, conflict between near equals may present as an inevitability, particularly when junior allies are agitating for action from the dominant partner. In such circumstances, war’s political objective can be heavily influenced by fearing the costs of not going to war as much as a fear of war itself.

About 2/3 of the way through Gilchrist’s article, I was reminded of another one on Thucydides I read over a decade ago by one of the premier classicists of our day, Professor Victor Davis Hanson, in his 2003 review in Commentary Magazine of Donald Kagan’s book, The Peloponnesian War.

As he is want to do, Hanson uses every opportunity to grab his reader by the lapels and plead with them to know that the keys to the unlocking all their questions are there, and have been for thousands of years.

The Peloponnesian War, then, is not really so ancient. Even if some classicists think that Athens’s war with Sparta was relatively uninteresting, outsiders still write books with titles like War and Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War or Hegemonic Rivalry: From Thucydides to the Nuclear Age. The conflict continues to be evoked in the present—its supposed lessons both astutely and clumsily applied to most of our own wars of the last century.

Why is this ancient war between tiny Athens and Sparta still so often used and misused? First, it was long—twenty-seven years—and it lined up the entire Greek world into opposite armed camps. Second, the two antagonists were antithetical in nearly every respect, and thus the bipolar fighting was proclaimed to be a final arbiter of their respective values—political and cultural values that still divide us today. Third, it started in Greece’s great Golden Age, and its attendant calamity was felt to have ended for good that period of great promise. Fourth, players in the war were the greats of Hellenic civilization—Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, Alcibiades, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and others—and their lives and work reflect that seminal experience. Fifth, Athens lost, casting into doubt ever since not merely the power but also the morality of democracy, especially when it executed Socrates in the war’s aftermath. Sixth—and at last we arrive at the theme of the Oxford Classical Dictionary’s brief entry on the war—Greece’s preeminent historian, Thucydides, was not merely an analytical and systematic writer of a great extant history; he was also a brilliant philosopher who tried to lend to the events of the war a value that transcended his own time, making his history of ideas “a possession for all time” that could furnish lessons for men at war in any age. Thucydides’ man of the ages is a pretty savage creature whose known murderous proclivities are kept in check—albeit just barely—by an often tenuous and hard-to-maintain civilization.

During moments of big change – and we are about to go through one in the course of the next few months – many will wonder; what is coming next? What should we look for? What have others done?

To see the future, you have to be comfortable with and acceptable of the past.

Most wars, of course, do not end like they start. Before Shiloh (April 6–8, 1862), for example, Grant thought one great battle would win the Civil War. After the battle he realized that years, thousands of lives, and millions of dollars in capital were needed to ruin rather than defeat a recalcitrant Confederacy. So too the Spartans marched into Attica in Spring 431 BC thinking that a year or two of old-style ravaging of fields would bring them victory; seven years later neither side was closer to victory, and they still had another twenty far-worse seasons to go.

The Peloponnesian War itself proved to be a colossal paradox. Sparta had the most feared infantry in the Greek world. Yet it was Sparta’s newly created navy that finally won the great battles of the war. Democratic Athens sent almost 40,000 allied soldiers to their deaths trying to capture far-off Syracuse, the largest democracy in the Greek world—even as thousands more of her enemies were to plunder her property with impunity less than twenty miles outside her walls from the base at Decelea. Alcibiades at times proved the savior of Athens, Sparta, and Persia—and their collective spoiler as well. Athens started the war off with gold piled high in its majestic Parthenon; it ended the conflict broke and unable even to flute the final columns of the Propylae, the monumental gateway to the still unfinished temples on the acropolis. Sparta fielded the most terrifying army in Greece, and yet most of its opponents fell not in pitched battle, but rather either to disease, at sea, or in guerrilla-style killing.

So, get to the bookshelf. Put down the fiction and reach deep.

Others have been here before. They’ve learned lessons you didn’t even know existed. All you need to gather this treasure of knowledge is time to read and open eyes to see.

Kagan’s abridged Peloponnesian War is still important because the solid judgment of its author remains throughout. No one—not a majestic Pericles, a fiery Cleon, or the chameleon Alcibiades—can fool Don Kagan; he appreciates the genius of bad men he does not like, and praises the inspiration of rogues he despises. Bad plans like Sicily can work if implemented well; good ideas of good men failed in the Delium campaign for bad luck and the simple want of common sense. Things about radical Athens bother him, but not to such a degree that he denies its energy and dynamism. He admires Spartan discipline, but hardly the blinkered society that was at the bottom of it all. If democracy was often murderous, oligarchy and tyranny brought the same violence but without the grandeur.

Finally and most importantly, Kagan has no condescension for his subjects. Cleon and Brasidas, Nicias and Lysander are not silly squabbling ancient peoples in need of modern enlightenment, but men of universal appetites to be taken on their own terms, just like us whose occasional crackpot ideas, fears, jealousies, and sins can sometimes—if the thin veneer of civilization is suddenly stripped away—lead into something absolutely godawful. If you don’t agree, ask the Serbians, Rwandans, Afghans—or those with cell phones and briefcases who politely boarded planes to butcher thousands.

Nothing is new; only new to you.



VLIn the next few weeks to months we should find out who will be the next Secretary of the Navy. Especially with President-Elect Trump’s desire for a path to a 350 ship Navy, there will be a lot of fine detailed work to be done, but out the door there is a larger theme that I would recommend to whoever finds their way in the office; back to fundamentals.

Long deployments, running rust due to fewer deck Seamen and less time and money to do preservation, DDG-1000 that can’t survive a Panama Canal transit, LCS engineering casualties almost every fortnight – these and other items are just external manifestations of a Navy that is a bit off balance. Some will argue that many of the causes of this ill-resonance felt throughout our Navy predate the present SECNAV, but that isn’t really the issue at hand.

What would be more important than attacking detailed issues first? Former Navy Intel Officer and Asst. Secretary of State Robert Charles recent article, Securing the Navy, had me thinking about that last night.

He based his article on the SEP 2016 Navy survey (which if anyone has a copy, I’d love to see it). Some of his observations are a bit evergreen,

…sailors are “increasingly unhappy with lengthy deployments, high operational tempo, and calls to reduce pay and benefits,”

“Sailors are most likely to leave uniformed service because of poor work/life balance, low servicewide morale

Yep. I think you will get that in almost any survey to one degree or another.

Then some other items are brought up;

How did we get here, … leadership appears to have become distracted or dissuaded from traditional ways of inspiring, rewarding, reinforcing and guiding men and women. Instead, leadership became enamored with domestic political ends and social engineering, forgetting to inspire and reward the resolve of men and women in uniform.

The next administration needs to focus on the Navy not as a social experiment, not as a way of pulling in fringe votes for fringe candidates, but as a group of professionals, selfless and committed, patriotic and hard-working, mission-focused and mutually respecting. They deserve good leadership, leaders devoted to them and to their success, not to political agendas. Individual careers matter, and so does the mission to which individuals devote their lives, assuring America’s national security.

A good starting point. As a great man one said; excellence is achieved by a mastery of the fundamentals.

In David Maraniss’s book on Coach Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, the author outlined what Lombardi said to his new players in the summer of 1961.

He took nothing for granted. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before… He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

Fundamentals. The basics. One should always make sure those are mastered first – but when things don’t seem to be going right, then what? You need to step back a bit and start again with the basics.

A lot of SECNAV Mabus’s time in office and political capital was spent on items a few layers beyond Navy basics; “green” fuel, shoehorning women in to every USMC combat position possible, excising “man” from ratings … no wait … eliminating ratings altogether, and a few other priorities. We all have our list. It was his watch, he had his priorities. Fair.

What would be a good start for the next SECNAV? Perhaps a start would be a moment to state, rather simply,

This is a Navy.



Please join us at 5pm EST on 20 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 359: A Foreign Policy Short List for the New CINC, with Mackenzie Eaglen:

Old foreign and defense challenges return, new ones emerge, and existing ones morph in

to something slightly different. The only thing that is constant is that there is no opportunity for a learning curve for the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. From the first day in office to the last, a needy, grasping, and unstable world will look to or at our nation.

What are those challenges that will test President-Elect Trump in his first few years in office, and what in the background is waiting for the opportunity to spring to the front?

Our guest for the full hour will be Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.

Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. Eaglen is included in Defense News “100 most influential people in US Defense” both years the publication compiled a list. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.

Eaglen has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.mac

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



Addleton.11.inddRecently, we asked Dr. John Ballard, Dean of the National Defense College in the United Arab Emirates, to host a Q&A with Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, author of The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan. Their exchange follows.

Professor Ballard: Ambassador, your book really helps readers understand the Afghan conflict from the perspective of a diplomat and development expert. How did you view your mission or main objective(s) when you arrived in Afghanistan in 2008?

Ambassador Addleton: I expected to engage in three very different worlds, one involving responsibility for 140 Embassy officers assigned to fourteen locations across southern Afghanistan; a second related to the ISAF military presence in Kandahar and beyond; and a third focused on Afghans from various walks of life including government official, tribal leaders and religious figures. At some level I wanted to connect to all three worlds, where possible attempting to explain them to each other. From the beginning, I consciously worked to “humanize” each encounter, looking beyond our mutual stereotypes while also trying to help move Afghanistan toward a better and less violent place.

Professor Ballard: Thank you. That is very interesting. What kind of preparation did you receive before arriving in Afghanistan Ambassador?

Ambassador Addleton: I enrolled in a couple of required short courses on Afghanistan offered by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Washington, D.C. I attended the “crash and bang” course in West Virginia, learning how to drive a Humvee, break a road block and tie a tourniquet. And I participated in the pre-deployment Third Infantry Division planning exercise at Fort Stewart, GA. I was already familiar with some aspects of Afghanistan, having visited the country several times over the years and served in neighboring Pakistan as well as in Central Asia. I also read and talked to people who had served in Afghanistan beforehand.

Professor Ballard: Still, for someone going to war for the first time at age 55, what you saw in and around Kandahar must have been shocking. Ambassador, in your book you seem to be quite impressed with some of the aspects of military customs and culture that you saw, as “a diplomat among warriors” what impressed you most about the young men and women of today’s military?

Ambassador Addleton: My oldest son was serving in the U.S. Air Force during my time in Kandahar and my second son plans to enlist during the coming months. However, the military culture and traditions that I witnessed in Afghanistan were indeed entirely new to me. More than anything, I was struck by the sacrifice as well as the cost of war, having attended dozens of Purple Heart pinnings, ramp ceremonies and memorial services across southern Afghan during my deployment there. I was impressed with the efforts made to honor that sacrifice, despite the ambiguous nature of the war in Afghanistan. And I was struck by the youth of many of those around me.

Professor Ballard: Ambassador, you write quite movingly about the service and supreme sacrifice paid by the five colleagues who walked with you outside the Zabul PRT on 6 April 2013, how did their loss affect your approach to your work?

Afghan children surrounding an MRAP as it prepares to depart Alexander’s Castle in Qalat, Zabul (Photo by Jonathan Addleton)

Afghan children surrounding an MRAP as it prepares to depart Alexander’s Castle in Qalat, Zabul (Photo by Jonathan Addleton)

Ambassador Addleton: The attack in Zabul occurred eight months into my twelve-month assignment in southern Afghanistan. I accompanied the remains of my colleagues on the long flight to Dover and then returned to Kandahar Air Field two days later to complete the remaining twenty weeks of my allotted time. I continued to engage in outreach and meet Afghans. But the drawdown in civilians serving in southern Afghanistan gathered pace and my own movements were in some instances further restricted. My biggest concern during those remaining months was the safety of my colleagues – I lived in dread that something might happen to one of them.

Professor Ballard: That is absolutely understandable, many of us underwent changed attitudes when we experienced the loss of those working closely with us in war. You noted at one point that the battleplans you saw developed seemed impressive, but that notable portions of Afghan reality were missing. How could we have improved our civ-mil coordination in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Addleton: ISAF was the dominant foreign presence during the year that I spent in southern Afghanistan. The number of civilians was miniscule by comparison. Yet they did play an important role in engaging with Afghans, both politically and with respect to development. At Kandahar Air Field, Embassy staff were closely integrated with the military’s civil affairs structure; they were similarly integrated with military counterparts at the provincial and district level, even as the number of locations where expatriate civilians deployed outside of Kandahar went into steep decline. Having traveled in Afghanistan during the 1970s as a teenager, I was astonished at the remoteness of some of the places where we had attempted to establish a military as well as a civilian presence. It seemed incredibly ambitious and even audacious to me. But increasingly (and appropriately) it was the Afghans that were taking the lead – guided to some extent and in mostly positive ways by the example set by the ISAF forces that preceded them.

Professor Ballard: Your view that the approach was extremely ambitious is a very insightful perspective. You address issues of poor governance frequently in your book, but also of meeting several capable Afghan leaders, do you think Afghanistan can develop leaders who will confront the corruption that you encountered so frequently?

Ambassador Addleton: I tried to place myself into the shoes of those Afghans with whom I interacted – what was their personal history, what was their life experience, what motivated them, what were their hopes and fears about the future? At times, I thought of ISAF as yet another tribe, imposing themselves on the political, economic and social landscape of Afghanistan even while having to adapt and change because of it. Competition is a reality among male Afghans, worked out first within the family and then at the level of clan, tribe and country. Leaders inevitably emerge within that context, based on long-held precepts of courage, honor and respect that would be regarded as hallmarks of effective leadership anywhere, not just in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is a fierce and never-ending competition for scarce resources that undoubtedly drives corruption in Afghanistan. The magnitude of resources deployed by ISAF as well as the perception that its presence would be fleeting drove many Afghans to look for ways to benefit from it before it became too late.

Professor Ballard: That is certainly understandable; as you know the issue of stating an end date was very controversial. In 2013, you agreed that the number of ISAF soldiers should be greatly reduced, but felt the slope for our departure was too steep—becoming an unseemly “rush for the exit.” How might we have gotten it right?

Ambassador Addleton: By 2013 the Afghan military was already increasingly in the lead and accounted for at least 80 percent of the casualty figures from southern Afghanistan. At the same time, a continued ISAF presence provided training to Afghan security forces while sending a message to the Taliban and others that Afghanistan was not on the verge of being “abandoned.” My focus was more on the American civilian presence which, while already small, was being drawn down at a much faster pace than our own military. The issue of the appropriate “balance” between “planning” and “implementation” is a permanent fixture in any bureaucracy. However, at times it seemed that the parameters within which we were asked to operate were always subject to change – to such an extent that our latest “plan” was already obsolete, even before it reached Kabul for further review. My concern was that the combination of uncertainty and constantly shifting timelines would damage our credibility, strengthening the hand of those Taliban seeking total victory.

Professor Ballard: You wrote that “even now you cannot leave Afghanistan behind,” what do you see in the future for Afghanistan? You write of tactical successes but a murky strategic future, do you think America’s efforts have helped it?

Jonathan Addleton at Kandahar Air Field in early 2013, standing in front of a wall of sand bags. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ashley Bell, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Mississippi National Guard)

Jonathan Addleton at Kandahar Air Field in early 2013, standing in front of a wall of sand bags. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ashley Bell, 102nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Mississippi National Guard)

Ambassador Addleton: During my last months in Afghanistan I often told local counterparts that the ISAF chapter of their history was coming to a close and it would now be up to them to write the next one. Some embraced this idea while others were skeptical about it, asserting that “it is our neighbors who will write the next chapter for us”. Now a new chapter is indeed being written, albeit with a continued though modest ISAF presence in several parts of the country outside of Kabul including Kandahar. Whatever else might be said, Afghanistan has changed dramatically and irrevocably over the last fifteen years, not only in Kabul but also elsewhere. The most obvious signs include the cell phone revolution and unheralded yet significant improvements in health and education. Although the security that Afghans long for has yet to be established, the Afghan military appears to be more resilient than perhaps some expected. Afghanistan’s narrative is still being written. But, at the very least, efforts by the United States and its allies have given Afghans a chance for a different kind future, one not dominated entirely by the Taliban.

Professor Ballard: Thank you for your book and for sharing more of your insights in this discussion Ambassador. For my part, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will always be thankful for the committed service of men and women such as yourself from other departments of the U.S. government. If nothing else these conflicts have taught us that modern war has to be a whole-of-government endeavor engaging the minds of professionals from a variety of perspectives. The Dust of Kandahar is an important contribution to our understanding of this least-well-understood of our recent conflicts.



16th

A WESTPAC Missile Gap?

November 2016

By

One of the worst kept secrets is that the balance of our surface fleet can do very little surface warfare outside their 5″ gun. Sure, we can play defense until Winchester like champs, but more often than not we’re hoping the aviation side of the house will be there to punch back – and if their lucky, a SSN might be lurking about. Hope and Luck; not a warrior’s ethos.

Like a fleet of Lotus Eaters, through compromise, risk hedging, and pulling the cost-saving short straw – we drifted through a post-Cold War complacency and a post-GWOT ground combat focus to a point where we decided that we would be happy to rely on an increasingly dated ASCM, Harpoon, on fewer and fewer platforms. As we advanced with our primary surface combatant, offensive ASUW was so out of mind that when it came time to move from Flight II to Flight IIA, we decided we didn’t need even Harpoon. As a result, the majority of our most numerous class of surface combatant can’t really effectively engage other warships at sea in combat. We’re the US Navy – who would ever want to challenge us at sea? Right?

Our FF(not-so-G) could carry Harpoon, but they are long gone after the even earlier removable of their ASUW capable SM-1. Our CG can, but they need to stay close to the bird farm. With an arc welder, duct tape and a few pounds of bailing wire, we managed to slap a few ASCM on a LCS – but that is about it when you run out of the Harpoon capable Flight I and Flight II Arleigh Burkes, 28 out of the 76 commissioned or planned of the class.

This is well known, and in the last few years some steps have been taken to patch up the gap. LRASM is under development, we’ve played around with the option of the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile, and there are steps to bringing back the anti-ship capability of the TLAM. Some people will shyly whisper about the sort-of ASUW capability of the SM-2 – but that argument usually never survives first contact with a raised eyebrow. We’re coding ASUW in to the SM-6 – but how many of those will be forward deployed in 2020? 2025? A lot can happen between now and then – so what does one do?

This is good and should receive more funds to accelerate the gap-fill. In the last decade or so, from the “1,000 Ship Navy” to “We Don’t Need Frigates, but if We Do, Our Allies Have That Capability,” response, we have assumed that others will be able to cover capabilities we don’t have. Well, more news came across recently involving our most capable partner nation at sea, the British Royal Navy;

Royal Navy warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.

So, we’ve got that going for us in the Global Maritime Partnership, which is nice.

That is a summary of where we are – and this topic of an offensive ASUW shortfall comes up inside navalist conversations on a regular basis – but it never gets the traction it should. Perhaps it is because we just have not used the right methods to demonstrate it.

Well, I think we have a solution from to that educational challenge at least.

From the Autumn issue of the Naval War College Review, Lieutenant Alan Cummings, USN, has a must-read article, A Thousand Splendid Guns.

I’ll let you read the full article, but there are two images that provides an overview of our ASCM shortfall in crisp profile.

When looking at the Chinese Navy in WESTPAC, how do our surface units that can or should carry ASCM line up – just in quantity?
Ship
Yes, I know there is quite the quality differential. That really isn’t the point – not the time to go down that rabbit hole in comments. Focus.

Let’s look at what these units bring to the ASCM fight.
ascm
Put your, “but..but…but” points about defensive capabilities and whose weapons are more primitive in the corner and look at that in detail, and you see the problem.

Ponder.



Please join us on at 5pm EST on 13 Nov 2016 for Midrats Episode 568: Seapower as a National Imperative, with Bryan McGrath:

Why a Navy? Why a strong Navy? Why is a strong Navy an essential

requirement for the United States Navy?

From its ability to project national will, to it hidden hand in the economics of every citizen’s life, why is it so critical that we have a Navy second to none.

To discuss this and more – especially in light of the election – will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath, Commander, US Navy (Retired).

Bryan McGrath grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.

He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.

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



11th

Why Are We Here?

November 2016

By

“Why are we here?” As leaders, this is one of the most difficult questions to wrestle with. Every person wants to know the why behind the orders they both give and receive. Every person wants to have a purpose. We all want to know that our actions matter. It is a challenging question to answer, though, because we are in a complicated business in a complicated world and because our country, our leadership and our culture – focused on trade over profession – have allowed us to wander astray.

Why are we here? In the simplest terms, members of the military exist to defend our country. In the words of so many commanding officers, we exist to bring immediate, sustained, and overwhelming combat power in pursuit of national objectives. On a Navy deployment, more often than not, we exist for the sake of deterrence. Ask one of our junior Sailors, and you are likely to hear an earnest “I’m here to fix the engines” or “I’m here to work on the radar”: in other words, “I’m here to conduct maintenance.”

After September 11th, the country – including the military – got caught up in a patriotic fervor. The answer to “why are we here?” became “to kill terrorists.” In the wake of such a horrific event, that answer made sense. But, after 15 years – 11 for me – it has started to ring hollow.

Why are we here? To kill terrorists? To what end?

Why are we here? To deter Syria, Russia, Iran, ISIS, al-Qaeda, China, and North Korea? To what end?

Why are we here? To train the Iraqi Navy? To what end?

Why are we here? To conduct sparse and hugely restrained counter-piracy operations? To what end?

Why are we here? To win hearts and minds? To what end?

Why are we here? What is the role of today’s U.S. Military? Is it to defend our shores? Is it to defend our allies? Is it to pick fights or exercise hard diplomacy? This is not a new question for most. I do not discount the answer many troops give – that we are here for each other. I feel that too. It is the deepest and most meaningful answer to the question. Far too often though, the nature of our jobs causes us to focus inwardly – we lose sight of our greater obligation to our fellow citizens. Recently, three events made me think more acutely about how we define what it is we do, why what we do matters, and how, or if, our actions connect us to the American people we theoretically serve.

Why are we here? My ship just returned from a Theater Security Cooperation and deterrence-driven deployment. I came aboard during the last two months. It is not common to get into deep discussions with your Sailors about our greater purpose, but it should be. As leaders, we could be better about this. I could be better. No doubt that our Sailors would be more motivated if they were consistently briefed about the impact of their daily actions. But more often than not, the answer is a challenging one to translate, if apparent at all. “We are here to keep the Chinese at bay – to challenge their excessive claims and to defend our allies – so let’s grind down that rust!” One way or another, I think that they felt their purpose was to be on deployment. While this bland answer works in the short term, it lacks clarity. It is void of emotion. It leaves most Sailors feeling empty and less invested in the effort. A few weeks ago, the chain of command was discussing yet another non-judicial punishment case, and the theory was floated that our high post-deployment operational tempo – a tempo with dubious greater purpose marked by aggravating weeks at sea supporting the training of other units – was the root cause for many of the disciplinary cases we were witnessing. It was not an earth-shattering observation. The cycle our Sailors and troops in every service know is: train for deployment, be on deployment, and be not on deployment, with very little time – or active leadership – spent on why. I struggle with this challenge no matter where I find myself in the cycle. When addressing my Sailors, I revert to the “we are here for each other” purpose. It is not cliché, but I crave more substance in the answer. I know they do, as well.

Why are we here? In early October, an organization, likely Houthi rebels, shot several cruise missiles into the Red Sea at a good friend of mine. At his shipmates. At their ship. At America. The ship performed brilliantly, defending themselves and their fellow ships from imminent harm. This was notable for a variety of reasons. To the media, it was the first time a U.S. Navy ship had been shot at by cruise missiles since the Stark. To the Surface Fleet, it showed that the long-deployed but previously combat un-tested Aegis Combat System worked. To Surface Warfare Officers, who train their entire careers for this exact – but previously somewhat far-fetched – scenario, it proved that the training paid off. To me, it meant that my friend was still alive. In this instance, they were there for each other. But before they were shot at, why were they there? For deterrence and to keep sea lines of communication open? Maybe. But to what end? While both are important missions, some call this “being the world’s policeman.” Is that why we are here, and if so, why are we so reluctant to say so?

Why are we here? Our ship was recently at one of this nation’s Fleet Weeks; a rare opportunity to interact with the public we are so often distanced from and a chance to show tax payers and visitors alike what our ships – and our Sailors – have to offer. As the first day’s duty officer, I was impressed to see thousands of people queue up for a two-plus hour wait to spend ten minutes touring the ship. During one of my trips to visit the people waiting in line, I found myself sharing stories with strangers, having my picture taken with them, and smiling pleasantly. Suddenly, a loud voice boomed behind all of us. A young man stood 15 feet away on top of a retaining wall with a small microphone and began to preach. Loudly. Passionately. And, depending on your personal views, a bit controversially. He was smartly dressed, was non-threatening and had no semblance of mental or social issues. People began to stare. They watched intently as security showed up and crowded the man who now preached in bursts interrupted by their polite requests for him to leave and his polite requests to be left alone. Visitors and Sailors alike watched this unfold. The police were mentioned several times. Neither the man nor the security guards were acting inappropriately. Adjacent to a Navy event with dozens of Sailors in uniform interacting with the public, though, the situation quickly became awkward and it seemed that the property owners were intervening on the Navy’s behalf. While I was personally concerned about the man’s rights, I was even more worried about the CNN Factor – the negative image of on-looking service members watching a man’s rights being infringed upon while surrounded by the public we serve.

I went over for a discreet chat. I asked the owners and the guards to let the man speak. Hoping that I was right, I informed them that the Navy did not have a problem with his presence. And finally, I reminded the owners and the guards that, ultimately, this is why we are here. They kindly agreed and went about doing their jobs. Afterwards, I shook the man’s hand, asked that he not threaten anyone and mentioned that the Navy and the city were glad to have him. He was genuinely thankful… and then promptly went back to his fire and brimstone. Nobody was in the wrong. Everyone acted professionally and in good faith. As I walked away to deal with the next challenge, I wondered, is this why we are here? So that people can say objectionable things or vote for objectionable people without fear of civil or military uniforms hauling them away? While it might seem obvious, it was the first and only such experience of my career and the closest I had ever felt to finding the answer.

Why are we here? We are indeed here to defend the country, to kill bad guys, for deterrence, and for cooperation with our allies. Hopefully, though, we are ultimately here to ensure the American Way remains intact. But it remains a tough question to answer. An even tougher answer to quantify. And ultimately, it leads to an often perplexing existence for the nation’s service members. Our military is incredibly important. I know this to be true. I am fully on-board. As leaders, though, I think we can do a better job of laying a foundation – of answering the question: Why are we here?

It starts at the top – with our national leaders who dictate where we go and what we do. Sending us to fight un-ending battles – wars without defined objectives – causes us to wonder. It trickles down to our service and community leaders. Ordering us to focus on everything but war fighting – when re-learning basic social skills is more important than how to shoot straight – causes us to wonder. Finally, it ends with us. Focusing on showing up to your job – one with an often unpleasant life attached – vice investing in a profession, inevitably causes us to wonder. We need clear actions and regular discussions. Our national leaders must use us judiciously and vocalize their intent. Our service and community leaders must ensure our laser-like focus on the mission, vice the minutiae. We must serve with purpose and communicate effectively with each other and our troops – we are here for each other, but more importantly, we are here for the American People! Why are we here? It is an important question in critical need of a well-defined answer. As professional war fighters of varying services, specialties, and experiences, we should never lose sight of this question, nor its dynamic answer, lest we become lost in our own existence, deploying simply because it is time to deploy or fighting because… what else are we supposed to do?



14192803_1169656796429531_7334328988447422808_nIn a sad insult to the rump class of Pocket Battleship sized Destroyers we are building, the three ship ZUMWALT Class, this week fate delivered what many expected for a while.

Just a couple weeks after the Navy commissioned its most advanced warship, the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), the service says it won’t be buying any more of the guided precision munitions the ship’s Advanced Gun Systems uses, called the Long Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP).

What are we to learn of this? There are a few things.

First of all; we have to acknowledge that of the ships of the Transformationalist Era; LCS, DDG-1000, LPD-17, and FORD – have something in common; they proved history and critics of Transformationalism right.

You cannot pack too much technology risk in to new platforms, slather them with hope and PPT and assume that all will turn out well in future people’s PCS cycle long after you are gone.

Somehow we have lost a larger sense of that handmaiden of ownership, stewardship. We need to move away from the desire to have others fawn over ourselves for our supposed “visionary embrace of the future,” but instead have a calm dedication to stewardship of the continuous improvement of our navy. That is what gave us AEGIS, TLAM, and the Virginia Class SSN.

The programmatic Hipsterdom that is Transformationalism begat the shambolic parade of our last few classes of warships.

Next; bespoke, expensive, and exquisite systems that will not have wide use in the fleet are low hanging fruit when people come looking for money. If there is something good and less expensive that can replace the awesome, you will get the good. If the good can’t be had at enough savings, you just might get a void and a blank-plate.

Price. Matters.

As smart people are moving away from “salami slice” ideas of cost savings towards whole wedges, this is what will happen.

“The Navy continuously monitors the gun and ammunition industry capability and capacities,” Capt. Thurraya Kent, spokesperson for the service’s acquisition directorate, said Nov. 4 in an e-mail. “To address evolving threats and mission requirements, the Navy is evaluating industry projectile solutions (including conventional and hyper-velocity projectiles) that can also meet the DDG 1000 deployment schedule and could potentially be used as an alternative to LRLAP for DDG 1000.”

“We are looking at multiple different rounds for that gun,” the Navy official said, adding that “three or four different rounds” have been looked at, including the Army’s Excalibur munition from Raytheon, and the Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP), a project under development by the Office of Naval Research and BAE Systems.

“There are multiple companies that have looked at alternatives to get the cost down and use that delivery system,” the Navy official said.

But the likelihood is that there will be no LRLAP replacement before the Zumwalt enters operational service.

Current plans call for the guns to be fired during CSSQT and, the Navy official said, “the intention is to shoot the guns.” The 2015 budget provided $113 million to buy 150 LRLAP rounds and associated items, and those rounds will be used for the tests.

No funds for LRLAP acquisition were included in the 2016 or 2017 budgets. The latter included $51 million in 2018 for the program, but it’s not clear whether or not that money will be requested.

Last, we need to be willing to return to a practice of evolutionary development with room to allow that you will now and again fail small and keep going, as opposed to assuming you will always win big or have nothing.

We have a new gun system? Great. Mature it ashore and install on an established platform and see how it works at sea. New engineering plant? Same. Manning concept … etc.

Decades – really centuries – of naval best practices shows us how it is done. We should go back to that template.

For now we find ourselves in 2016 without meeting the need that started us down the road – effective and accurate NSFS from the sea. Recent combat experience Al-Faw’s “5-in Friday,” to Israeli corvettes off Gaza, to the French Navy’s 76mm and 100mm guns off Libya, the modern requirement is clear – but it can be done better.

Where to next? In the near term, “good enough” 155mm solutions will need to be found and hopefully will work.

So much wasted time for so little gain for the nation. I hate to say it, but this is also true – none of this should be a surprise to anyone. How as an institution did we go this far down this path? That is the most important lesson – one I don’t think we have really dealt with yet.

While software changes will certainly be needed to incorporate other munitions into the AGS, adapting the handling system for a different round could be complex. The automated magazines, designed to hold 300 LRLAPs, are sized for that particular weapon and it’s unlikely another munition would have exactly the same dimensions.

Other rounds under development for the 127mm guns arming all other US destroyers and cruisers could be adapted to the AGS, but would likely need a sabot arrangement to adapt the smaller shell to the 155mm weapon.

Read that again as you ponder the institutional mindset mentioned earlier on in this article. This nugget about DDG-1000 needs to be repeated. This was a warship the size of a Pocket Battleship that would carry the largest guns of any warship in our navy – gun with a large rate of fire and range – that was intentionally designed not to be able to use these guns to engage an seagoing enemy.

Let that soak in.

But as the Zumwalt moved from shipyard to sea and to the fleet, the Navy has notably downplayed that attribute, and while the technical achievement of the cutting-edge DDG 1000 has been widely trumpeted this year, its ability to directly support Marines ashore has not.

There was no requirement for the AGS to strike seagoing targets, and the system does not have the programming to do so. But the big guns could be adapted to target ships if necessary, the Navy official said.

“We would have to do the software modifications to make that work.”



Those who follow naval history will note the recently marked 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland—a story masterfully told by Dr. Andrew Gordon in his book, Rules of the Game. Great Britain’s naval mastery was perceived as a birthright, but after what Gordon termed “the long, calm lee of Trafalgar,” he assessed that the Royal Navy had strayed away from its fighting past. The Royal Navy was undeniably full of what Gordon termed “regulators” – people who advanced within the established bureaucratic framework and were comfortable thinking inside the box – rather than the “ratcatchers” who were dearly needed in the prosecution of war.

In the Navy’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” Adm. Richardson calls for “a Naval Force that produces leaders and teams who learn and adapt to achieve maximum possible performance, and who achieve and maintain high standards to be ready for decisive operations and combat.” In this call to action, in our own age and our Navy, ratcatchers are once again needed to safeguard our prosperity as a maritime nation.

The Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

The news surrounding the anti-ship missile attacks on USS Mason (DDG-87) from armed militant groups in Yemen while Mason operated in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb was shocking. Our subsequent shift to the “active defense” by the USS Nitze (DDG-94), however, is a telling example of how Surface Forces operate where sea control and power projection are not guaranteed and a reminder that the ability to maintain even temporary superiority will be contested.

America truly is a maritime nation, and our prosperity is tied to our ability to operate freely in the maritime environment. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to well-armed non-state militant groups to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that Surface Forces are prepared to counter and, should the call come, defeat.

What many of us have learned from recent Distributed Lethality Task Force sponsored events is that while more lethal and distributed Surface Forces are designed to increase the offensive options available to the Joint Force Commander when the shooting starts, equally important is the ability to enhance conventional deterrence postures that limit an adversary’s options for escalation and buy time for leadership to make informed decisions on the further use of force. Simply stated, a more lethal and distributed Surface force gives an adversary a much more difficult operational problem with which it must contend.

We’re seeing the direct results of the concerted effort to provide the right tactics, talent, training, and tools to detect, deceive, target, and destroy enemy forces. Moreover, this warfighting ethos – that of toughness and tactical mastery of sea control operations at and from the sea – is being ingrained in every one of the crews that fight our warships.

USS Mason (DDG-87) fires an SM-2 during a March 2016 exercise. US Navy Image

USS Mason (DDG-87) fires an SM-2 during a March 2016 exercise. US Navy Image

The recent incidents in the Bab al-Mandeb involving Mason and Nitze serve as an unambiguous reminder that adversaries who wish to challenge U.S. interests in strategically vital sea areas do in fact get a vote, and it is unlikely that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture will be available when the shooting starts. Available assets are based on the day-to-day presence and persistence of the Surface Force, which means it must be prepared to absorb the first salvo and immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces. As Under Secretary of the Navy Janine Davidson recently stated, “credible conventional deterrence can only be achieved through lethal forces distributed globally with the staying power and endurance to absorb or deliver the first punch.” To be sure, forward, visible, and ready Surface Forces backed by credible combat power is a cost imposition for which an adversary must consider in its decision calculus.

The gravitational center of the Navy is controlling the sea in order to project more power, in more places. Recent events in the Red Sea highlight that we must get this right. And making sure we get things right is all about shaping the future, a future in which our men and women have the tools, the training, the tactics and the talent they need to fight and win against opponents who wish to challenge our interests and do us harm.

Our Surface Forces are indeed forward, they are visible, and they are ready. In a world where the pace of operations has clearly never been higher, my main job as the Surface Forces Commander is to ensure all our surface warships are ready. I’ve also directed a redoubling of our efforts in pursuit of a renewed emphasis on sea control to ensure we maintain the advantage.

To the ratcatchers in USS Mason and USS Nitze, and throughout the Surface Force, thank you for your fighting spirit. I am ever more hopeful for our future!



Please join us at 5pm EST on 6 November 2016 for Midrats Episode 567: Goldwater–Nichols; Problems and Solutions

The systems that trains, mans, and equips our military – and provides guidance and support to their civilian masters is broadly shaped by Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. There is much discussion that in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, is there a better system to serve our national security requirements than one designed at the height of the 20th Century’s Cold War?

Using his article in War on the Rocks, Don’t Rush to “Fix” Goldwater-Nichols as a starting point, our guest for the full hour to discuss this and other related issues will be Justin Johnson of The Heritage Foundation.

Johnson spent over a decade working on defense and foreign policy issues on Capitol Hill before coming to the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense were I am now a defense and foreign policy analyst at Allison Center for National Security and Foreign Policy.

Johnson received a master’s degree from the Naval War College with a particular focus on terrorism and the maritime domain. He is also a member of the 2013-2014 Future Leaders Program at the Foreign Policy Initiative, the 2011-12 class of Next Generation National Security Leaders at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the 2012 class of the Heritage Foundation’s Marshall Fellows.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Johnson grew up in Iowa before moving to Eastern Europe. After living in Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic, Johnson attended Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia where he studied philosophy and art.

Join us live if you can, or if you forgot the time change, you can pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page or our Stitcher page.



« Older Entries