Archive for January, 2017

Please join us at 5pm EST on Sunday 29 Jan 2017 for Midrats Episode 369: The Future of America’s Military at Risk, with Bob Scales

To meet the national security requirements of our republic in the years to

come, what direction and emphasis do we need for our military? What are the false horizons we need to watch out for, and what important areas do we seem to be either ignoring or forgetting?

For the full hour our guest to discuss this and more will be Bob Scales, Major General, US Army (Ret), discussing with him many of the issues he raises in his latest book from Naval Institute Press, Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk.

Described by the Naval Institute Press:

Scales on War is a collection of ideas, concepts, and observations about contemporary war taken from over thirty years of research, writing, and personal experience by retired Major General Bob Scales. Scales’ unique style of writing utilizes contemporary military history, current events, and his philosophy of ground warfare to create a very personal and expansive view of the future direction of American defense policies.
Each chapter in the book addresses a distinct topic facing the upcoming prospects of America’s military, including tactical ground warfare, future gazing, the draft, and the role of women in the infantry. Fusing all of these topics together is Scales’ belief that, throughout its history, the United States has favored a technological approach to fighting its wars and has neglected its ground forces.

MAJ. GEN. Scales commanded units in Korea and the United States and two units in Vietnam, and he is the recipient of the Silver Star for action during the Battle of Hamburger Hill. He completed his service as commandant of the Army War College.

Catch the show live or pick it up later by clicking here. Or you can find the show later on our iTunes page or at Stitcher


The Revolt of the Women

January 2017


Back in May we covered the strange decision to shoe-horn our female Sailors in to male uniforms.

From the May 2016 post;

All you need to know about the birth of the transgender combination cover you you can find out from those it was first experimented on, the female Midshipmen at USNA who were forced to be the first ones to wear it at graduation. Ask them.

Since then, the female Midshipmen and junior officers that have reached out to me with their concerns have also provided me a view of the command climate we have when it comes to discussing this. When I asked them to write about it, they backed off as they don’t want to deal with the backlash.

There was no rising demand for this from the fleet. Those most affected were not asked their opinion. No one was all that happy about it. Well, some were. Those who had the idea and those who found that this move scratched their personal socio-political itch.

As we do is such cases, everyone followed orders and marched forward – regardless of how silly and uncomfortable we looked.

There were some that took action to fight while others shrugged, and we should all take a moment and give then a nod of appreciation.

When faced by a boneheaded decision by those above you who will not listen, and even if they did you don’t think they would hear or care, in the military you have few options.

As reported by our pal Andrea Goldstein at T&P, in an act of impressive Beltway guerrilla warfare – this happened;

When normal avenues of dissent were exhausted, including asking questions at all hands calls and writing criticisms routed via the chain of command, female Navy officers took matters into their own hands. … Female Navy officers serving on Capitol Hill incorporated the article into a template distributed via social media that was used to write members of Congress. The same officers who worked on the Hill also worked to make sure the letters were properly responded to, the right questions asked of the right people.

While the Navy required the cover change on Oct. 31, 2016, many women refused to buy it, instead waiting for passing of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act . Their advocacy and hard work paid off. When President Barack Obama signed the NDAA in December 2016, it superseded the requirement to go out and purchased the “unisex” cover. The law changed the mandatory wear date of the unisex cover to October 2018. It also required the Secretary of the Navy to be transparent about the composition of wear test groups and their results, stipulated that wear test groups be representative of female personnel, and identify costs as a fraction of service members’ pay. The law furthermore required “an identification of the operational need” of the cover, forcing the Secretary of the Navy to explain why the changes are being put forth at all.

Despite the change in the law, Navy has still not released a new message announcing the delay. Perhaps Navy leadership hopes that women won’t know better and will go out and buy the mannish unisex cover that cost millions to develop. Nonetheless, female Navy officers now get to keep their covers, and by law have a say in a decision that affects them.

Bravo Zulu Shipmates. Bravo Zulu.

Their work of art is on page 399.

All I know is this – if for some reason I ever do something to upset any of these women, would someone be kind enough to let me know so I can send flowers, candy, 500 rounds from, or anything that would get traction to apologize short of genuflection? I don’t think this is a group you want to cross.

Just plain impressive.



The following article was published in Proceedings in December, 2010, and seems prescient given recent comments about the Alliance by President Trump. We are highlighting it today both to stir debate on the topic and to draw attention to a commentary coming in the February issue called “NATO No More” by Michael Kambrod.

As the first American Commander-in-Chief famously admonished, no alliance should be permanent; is it time to bid farewell to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

When it comes to NATO, Americans might ask themselves, “WWGD?” (“What would George do?”) In his 1796 farewell address, President Washington advised his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” His words have been dusted off and revisited throughout U.S. history; their relevance seems to be resonating again.DATELINE: OTTAWA, CANADA, 17 DECEMBER 2019—In a move that many international observers long anticipated, Canada officially withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) today, severing the last transatlantic link of the alliance and effectively ending the organization in all but name. Coming some ten months after Canada’s neighbor to the south pulled out of NATO, the announcement today met muted responses from the 26 remaining European members of NATO. Canadian Prime Minister Mike Meyers explained his government’s decision largely as a necessary cost-saving move, noting that since the American withdrawal from the organization, Canada no longer had ready access to the strategic movement and global logistics resources that the United States had previously provided to other NATO member states. . . .”

This “news” story is, of course, completely hypothetical—but it does represent one potential scenario for an end to NATO. The story only mentions the very end of the alliance, the moment when Canada pulls out as a byproduct of an earlier political decision on the part of the United States. But as the story alludes, the dissolution of NATO would not be a rapid event. Rather, it will be the result of a long series of smaller events, a gradual melting rather than a catastrophic collapse.1 But what might that series of events and shifts look like en route to the end? What might be the motivations that could drive the American political leadership of 2019 to pull support from a treaty organization it had so much of a role in creating? And is this at all plausible? Europeans, after all, have foreseen the death of NATO over and over again, with each shift of American politics. So much so, over the past 20 years, that to their eyes it appears that this is a story very much like that of the boy who cried wolf.

2000px-NATO_OTAN_landscape_logoSuch an event not only could occur, but it appears that it is increasingly likely to occur. Not soon, and not precipitously, but it is sadly an apparently probable eventuality if conditions within NATO do not change. Due to a fundamental misreading of the state and nature of the domestic American political scene by the political elites of the European NATO members, the alliance already may be well down the trail for this potential outcome. The forecast presented here is one in which the United States maintains friendly diplomatic relations with the individual nations of Europe, and interacts both on the nation-to-nation level and with the supra-national structure of the European Union. The relationship with the United Kingdom, our deepest tie, is certainly secure, as are the linkages with France and Germany and some other major contributing nations. But in the wake of the end of conflict in Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is quite possible that politics may drive the United States in a direction toward which it is historically inclined.

This is a future in which the United States no longer considers itself responsible for the collective defense of Europe. In this evolution, it becomes clear that when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made his openly dismissive comments about “New Europe” and “Old Europe,” he was not speaking in isolation, as many Europeans appear to believe was the case. Rather, he was tapping into a raw nerve within American public opinion. Indeed, by 2004 a full 80 percent of the American public believed that the United States was contributing too much to the security of other nations by acting as a “global policeman.”2 In the American context, this includes membership in NATO and the de facto subsidizing of European security by American taxpayers and military members.

In this vision of the future, American relations may be bilateral, trilateral, or involve short-term episodic coalitions created and shaped through situation-unique diplomacy to deal with a specific event. Indeed, over the past 18 years these have increasingly become the main American method for waging war. Such a future is particularly plausible if one understands the forces that today buffet American political leaders. To understand this point, however, one needs to grasp the foundation of those political winds swirling within the United States. And to do that it is necessary to go back almost 20 years, to the momentous period of 1990-1991.

Dust-Up Over Desert Storm

That time period witnessed two momentous events with regard to NATO and popular opinion in the United States of its transatlantic allies. First and most obvious, there was the collapse of the Soviet Union. We need not recount that history here; it is sufficient to note that between January and August of 1990 a series of internal crises ultimately ended in a failed coup and the effective end of the U.S.S.R.3 These events, of course, followed on the heels of German reunification and the de facto collapse of the Warsaw Pact as a viable military threat—the combination of which effectively ended the original raison d’etre of NATO.

But soon after the final act of that collapse came Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led responses, first the defensive operation known as “Desert Shield,” beginning in mid-August 1990, and then the subsequent combat operations known as “Desert Storm,” which began in early 1991. Both involved ad hoc coalitions of nations orchestrated by the United States, and neither involved NATO—despite the fact that the nations of Western Europe were the most direct second-order beneficiaries on the basis of their vulnerability to Middle Eastern oil-driven prices.

But the larger part of the rift, as it relates to U.S.-NATO relations, really centered around American domestic political perceptions about the actions of its NATO ally, Germany. Although little remembered now outside of the United States, throughout the period of German reunification problems had surfaced in U.S.-German relations, not the least of which was an attitude of paternalism on the part of the American political elite.4

As early as the second week of September 1990 it was widely reported in the United States that Germany, a nation to which the United States had committed massive resources for more than 40 years, had at that point contributed less to the defensive coalition of Desert Shield than had its much smaller NATO peer (and fellow NATO ally to the United States) Portugal.5 American public opinion started turning against Germany, and was only partially mitigated with regard to NATO by the fact that other NATO allies, most notably England, but also France, were stepping up and committing not only money, but their own soldiers and airmen to the effort.

By the end of the year, and with a U.N. resolution and mandate pending, temperatures in the United States toward its German NATO ally rose to something of a fever pitch of outrage. Significantly, in light of later political developments in the United States, this anger and disdain for Germany came not from the political right, but from the political left. Moreover, it came from some of the people who are right now, in 2010, at the very pinnacle of U.S. political power.

In late December 1990, Representative David Obey (D-WI)—the man who in 2010 is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and therefore by some political estimates one of the five most powerful politicians in the entire U.S. government—said the following:

Germany is absolutely outrageous. They are the worst because they have been the principal lecturers about the behaviors of others, and the principal beneficiaries of the collapse of the Soviet Union . . . . For ten years they have lectured us about the international need of American fiscal responsibility, getting our deficits down, until we nearly gagged . . . . But here they are, looking after their own interests (financing the merger with East Germany, sending aid to the former Soviet Union, and underwriting the cost of Soviet forces still in Germany) but nickel-nursing when it comes to world interests.6

The message to the American public was clear, as stated by one of the highest-placed American elected officials: America could not count on cooperation in military affairs even from the nation that most directly benefited from the contribution of trillions of dollars and more than eight million man-years of American labor in that nation’s defense over the course of four decades. It was a narrative that bit hard into the American public’s political perception of Germany, and to a lesser degree, the rest of Europe and NATO.

‘An A Team and a B Team’

DoD (John McDowell)

The transatlantic relationship was strained anew in 1999; for nearly a decade, European NATO members had fallen further and further behind in military technology and manpower, leaving the United States to carry the bulk of the load in combat against the Serbian Republic. Lieutenant General Michael Short, the U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the air campaign, forthrightly declared, “We’ve got an A team and a B team now.”

Beginning just two years later, the United States and most of Europe entered into one of the most prosperous periods of the post–World War II era. Not long after this sustained economic boom began, two other trends also made themselves apparent: The European members of NATO commenced, almost across the board, to reduce their defense budgets and defy NATO budget targets of 2 percent of GDP, even as NATO began to advocate the expansion of its defense umbrella to more countries.7 The combination of these factors meant that as every year passed, U.S. taxpayers and troops carried a proportionately higher percentage of the collective defense load for the benefit of European nations, even as European technological prowess and manpower declined, creating an ever-widening capabilities gap. This alone, however, was not considered significant until the first time NATO went on the offensive.

In 1999 NATO collectively decided to initiate combat against the Serbian Republic to end the events taking place in the Serbian province of Kosovo. During and immediately after that conflict, two other realities became apparent to the American voting public that adversely affected U.S. public opinion about Europe and NATO. The first was that because of the reduced European military budgets of the previous decade, almost none of the European NATO allies was capable of conducting combat operations alongside the United States, and this forced the United States to carry the majority of the risk and combat load. American aircraft accounted for 768 of a total of just over 1,000 NATO aircraft.8 The U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the air campaign, Lieutenant General Michael Short, was even publicly quoted as saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve got an A team and a B team now.” Those nations that failed to invest in precision guidance or night capabilities or beyond-visual-range systems were “relegated to doing nothing but flying combat air patrol in the daytime; that’s all they were capable of doing.”9

Many Americans resented all this and considered it as something of a betrayal, particularly since Kosovo was seen as a European issue, not nearly as much an American one.10 The second factor that incensed U.S. public opinion against NATO was the concept of “consensus” being used by European NATO nations, particularly by those who were making little or no contribution to the actual combat efforts, to control American actions through veto in the tactical targeting process.11

When Popular Opinion Sours

Europe does not seem to acknowledge certain realities about the domestic American political scene or the forces currently in play in the United States. In particular, there seems to be a lack of understanding of how directly the U.S. government reacts to popular opinion, and an apparent inability to recognize what that opinion actually is with regard to Europe and NATO.

It appears to surprise Europeans to discover that during the 1990–2007 period, the general population of the United States developed a more negative attitude toward Europe and NATO. Those American attitudes, moreover, were exacerbated during the 2003–2006 period, when even left-wing American comedians took to mocking European leaders (and by extension, America’s NATO allies). Among the general population, negative attitudes toward Europe accelerated. Positive attitudes toward France, for example, went from 56 percent in 1984 to 45 percent in 1990, then to 39 percent in 1994. U.S. opinion about Germany went from a 76 percent rating of those who believed that relations with Germany were important in 1984 to 73 percent in 1990 and 66 percent in 2004. More recent surveys place the opinion of both of these major NATO members another ten percentage points lower, in large part in reaction to the anti-Americanism that was so evident in Western Europe from 2003 to 2007.12 And this opinion is not limited to the general public but is reflected upward, through American political leaders of both major parties as well.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been vocal in his criticism of NATO’s contribution to the Afghan war effort: “I am not satisfied that an alliance, whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed to Afghanistan.”

In 2007, newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued the first of what has become an annual scathing assessment of NATO and its contributions in Afghanistan. In it, he said, “I am not satisfied that an alliance, whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed to Afghanistan.”13 These were harsh words from a man known for maintaining a civil and even diplomatic tone in most of his dealings.

Indeed, American public opinion toward Europe had sunk so low by 2008 that even as Europeans lauded then-candidate Barack Obama following his stirring speech in the Tiergarten in downtown Berlin in July 2008, Obama’s political opponents were actually able to use the very fact that he was popular among Europeans as a political weapon against him.14 And more directly related to NATO, in 1998, a year before Kosovo, when Americans were asked, “Should we increase our commitment to NATO, keep it the same, decrease it or withdraw entirely?” (with “keep it the same” being considered a neutral rating of 0 percent) the response from American political leaders was an astonishing -21 percent.15 The numbers only get worse from there. Yet those deep and building sentiments of a preference for isolationism, a decrease in affection for some of the leading nations of Europe, and a clear desire for withdrawal from international military-aid efforts, do not seem to be known or understood by leaders in Western Europe. Indeed, it seems they are blind to American political history and political forces over time—an irony for a continent which continually reminds us how little history we have.

‘Essentially Foreign to Our Concerns’

In his farewell address to the people of the United States, President George Washington enjoined his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” But he was even more explicit in exactly what he meant when he wrote this often-quoted statement:

So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.16

Library of Congress

When it comes to NATO, Americans might ask themselves, “WWGD?” (“What would George do?”) In his 1796 farewell address, President Washington advised his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” His words have been dusted off and revisited throughout U.S. history; their relevance seems to be resonating again.

This is an American political document that has been repeatedly cited and used for more than 200 years. Even today one finds it used regularly by both political parties, regularly, as a foundation for political speeches in major campaigns. And both Democrats and Republicans, for different reasons, may be on track to once again use this document and the underpinning ideas therein not only to drive reductions in the size of the U.S. military, but also to use them as a justification for adhering to Washington’s plea about permanent alliances—and pull out of NATO.

On the left end of the political landscape, the Democratic Party has a tradition of opposing large standing military forces dating back to President Thomas Jefferson.17 The opposition is based on a traditional liberal interpretation of the dangers to liberty that such a force represents.

But there is a similar tradition of opposition to large military forces (and foreign “entanglements”) on the political right, as represented by the Republican Party in the United States. In that case it ties in closely with the thesis of noted military sociologist Samuel Huntington, who noted that true “conservatives” are traditionally opposed to large military forces because the support thereof requires more government, more taxes, and therefore more intrusion into the lives and business efforts of the citizenry.

Both political parties shelved their traditional positions after 1945, as the obvious threat of the Soviet Union and communism trumped the historical American inclination toward isolationism and small military forces. But it is not beyond the pale to speculate that once U.S. forces exit Iraq, and the mission in Afghanistan is either reduced or eliminated, these central elements of American political life may well come to the fore again.

Auf Wiedersehn, Adieu

American public opinion toward Europe has been slowly but steadily dropping over the past 20-plus years. Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Obey, the man who effectively controls half of the entire U.S. budget, once referred to Germany as “outrageous” for its failure to commit to Desert Shield/Desert Storm, after so many years of Germany telling the United States what it must do. Public opinion polls in the United States have subsequently found that 80 percent of Americans think that the United States spends too much on the security of other countries. This sentiment has leaked over to American political elites who have returned a -21 percent vote of no confidence toward NATO—and that was before the American reaction to NATO operations in Kosovo, let alone the perceived tepid response of NATO to the American call for a “surge” in Afghanistan in 2010. (France, as it reintegrates, is sending more than 1,000 men to NATO headquarters in Belgium, but only agreed to send an additional 80 men to Afghanistan to actually fight as part of NATO there.)

All of these downward factors, combined with traditional American inclinations toward isolationism, a building resentment among everyday Americans regarding European defense budgets and capabilities, and a now nearly 30-year tradition of the United States being forced to create de facto “coalitions of the willing” either alone or under U.N. auspices, are building political pressures on U.S. leaders—pressures that may well see the United States pulling out of the alliance. This seismic shift appears to be occurring without acknowledgment of these pressures by the European members of NATO.

Without the United States, it is not likely that the military aspect of the transatlantic alliance would last much longer. Canada, not out of sympathy but out of a simple lack of resources, would probably follow the United States out of NATO and perhaps into something more akin to a Commonwealth Alliance. The United States, for its part, may well participate in some sort of informal agreements, perhaps an expansion of the much-cited “Special Relationship” that it maintains with the United Kingdom. In any event, the result would be the same: the death of NATO.


1. Personal conversation, Dr. Stanley Sloan, Rome, Italy, 5 April 2010.

2. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004,”

3. Professor Archie Brown, “Reform, Coup and Collapse: The End of the Soviet State”, BBC History,

4. Frank Costigliola, “An ‘Arm around the Shoulder’: The United States, NATO and German Reunification, 1989–90,” Contemporary European History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1994), pp. 87–110.

5. Carol J. Williams, “Desert Shield Gets Low Priority in Bonn,” Los Angeles Times, 11 September 1990.

6. Marianne Means, “Our Deadbeat Allies, Germany Worst Deserter of Desert Shield,” Reading Observer, 31 December 1990.

7. Linda Bentley and Robert Leavitt, “The NATO Expansion Debate: Reviewing the Arguments,” Global Beat Issue Brief No. 25 (2 February 2 1998),

8. “Clinton increases U.S. troops for Kosovo force,”, 2 June 1999,

9. John A. Tirpak , “Washington Watch: Short’s View of the Air Campaign,” Air Force Magazine, Vol. 82, No. 9 (September 1999),

10. “North Atlantic Treaty Organization: NATO and the post–Cold War world,”

11. See Wesley Clark, Waging Modern War, for his descriptions of NATO vetoes over targeting.

12. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Surveys, 1984, 1990, 1994, 2000, and 2004,

13. Robert M. Gates as quoted in Ahto Lobjakas, “Afghanistan: US Unhappy with NATO Allies’ Troop Contributions,” Radio Free Europe, 24 October 2007,

14. The examples are legion, but this essay at the influential conservative Web site “American Thinker” is typical:

15. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004.”

16. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 19 September 1796, full text available at

17. Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For The Common Defense (New York: Free Press, 1984), p. 105.

AC208B-Cessna-Caravan-AGM114-Hellfire-01-e1467998582695As I started the week with a Hendrix Renaissance Festival over at the homeblog, I’ve since read a few things that hit back on a core concept of “Influence Squadrons,” and I thought it was time to bring the topic back up over here.

For those who need a brush-up on “Influence Squadrons,” take a moment to go back to the start in 2009, and then the 5-yr anniversary nudge from 2014.

Much of the discussion of the economy of “good” vs. the exquisite vapor of the “perfect” involved our surface force. There is more to global engagement than just coming from the sea, and that is why this quote from our friends at ThinkDefence popped out at me;

Although the RAF conducts defence engagement activity with many nations and like the other services, has many nations wanting to come to the UK for training, the complexity of the RAF’s basic equipment does have a limiting effect on the types of defence engagement activity it can carry out.

For many years the gulf between modern Western combat aircraft and those of less developed nations has grown ever wider.

Aircraft like the Typhoon or even F-16 are enormously expensive to purchase and operate and need a developed engineering and training infrastructure that is simply unattainable for most, especially those likely to benefit most from even basic air power components such as logistics and ISTAR.

One of our guest authors has previously chronicled the complete waste of money and almost total failure of ISAF’s efforts to create an Afghanistan air force but in Iraq, the US had much more success. In Iraq, they started with simple equipment and worked up to the F-16’s they are now flying. The Iraqi forces had the advantage that they could read and write and that they had used complex aircraft before, but by starting with aircraft like the Cessna Combat Caravan they achieved a workable, sustainable and effective capability without breaking the bank or it collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.

Accepting the extensive and excellent work carried out by the RAF with NATO partners and other advanced air forces this is a proposal to extend that down the technology ladder for less advanced air forces, especially those in Africa and some parts of the Middle East.

Building on the activities that are currently carried out.

If as a nation we are at all serious about preventing conflict then we must include the benefits of ‘air-power’ and invest in capabilities accordingly.

He is, of course, talking well inside the lifelines of the “Influence Squadrons” concept, but on the air side of the house.

The quote above is only a very small bit of an extensive and in depth investigation by ThinkDefence. Though focused on the UK/RAF possibilities, it is almost perfectly scalable to any USA effort that might be made along the same lines.

I highly encourage you to read it all.

While you are reading it I would like you to consider this; when matched with a naval “Influence Squadron” and partnering efforts our Army and Marines are already good at – this is really a Joint concept. Execute all at one time in one country?

That is powerful.

ulleungdo-surrenderNavalists from Norfolk to Yokosuka have spent the last few months since the election pondering the what, how, and when of the 355-ship navy that the incoming Trump Administration is using as a planning goal.

I’ve enjoyed the conversation and seeing the arguments about different constructs to get there, but as shiny and attractive the topic is, there is a background stage-whisper that keeps getting louder. We all know it is there, but like makeup on a growing skin lesion, you can only mask it and pretend to ignore it so long.

There is something that is even more important than strictly numbers; there is the training of your Sailors, proper manning levels of your ships, and correct maintenance and upkeep of your ships that you plan to bring to battle.

As Admiral Rozhestvenski’s tired, reeking, barely seaworthy fleet chugged in to view of Admiral Togo’s fleet, it wasn’t the numbers that sealed the Russians’ fate; it was training, maintenance, and training that sealed their fate.

This fact comes up throughout naval history, and it applies now as well.

At the Surface Navy Association meeting on 11JAN17, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Moran, USN played the Bishop of the Church of the Hard Truth to anyone who can only see new hulls;

Via John Grady from USNINews;

The message Navy leaders are sending to President-elect Donald Trump’s team is: We need money to keep the current 274 ships in the fleet maintained and modernized first and then give us the money to buy more ships.

Moran said the Navy is “lucky to get 90 percent” of what it needs in its readiness accounts.

In talking with the press and in his address, he said, “It is really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel” if maintenance is continuously deferred, causing ships to be in the yards far longer in the yards than expected with costs rising commensurately.

“Deferred maintenance is insidiously taking its toll.”

Not only does this add greater risk and a growing gap between the combatant commanders’ requirements and what the service can deliver, “you can’t buy back that experience” and proficiency sailors lose when they can’t use their skills at sea.

“At some point, we have to dig ourselves out of the hole,”…

What is that dollar figure? How many years and how much per year, have we been deferring? What is the aggregate total of deferred maintenance?

Deficit spending leads to bankruptcy. Unaddressed deferred maintenance of a fleet leads to death, defeat at sea, and strategic risk to the nation it serves.

We need more of this conversation.

Please join us at 5pm EST on 8 Jan 2017 for Midrats Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?.

The 1980s might be getting some of its foreign policy back – but why is our entire defense framework in the second-half of the second decade of the 21st Century based around ideas forged when the Chrysler K-car was still a young platform?

Is our present system creating the conditions for our uniformed senior leadership to forge the best path for our military to support national security requirements?

Our guest for the full hour is returning to Midrats to discuss this and more; M.L. Cavanaugh.

Matt and is a US Army Strategist with global experience in assignments ranging from

the Pentagon to Korea and Iraq to his current post at US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. He’s a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, where he provides regular commentary and analysis. He’s also a contributor to War on the Rocks, and Matt’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and at, among other publications. After graduating from West Point in 2002, he earned his Master’s degree at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on supreme command under Professor Emeritus Colin Gray at the University of Reading (UK). You can find more on Matt at and he can be reached via Twitter @MLCavanaugh.

Join us live if you can by clicking here. If you can’t join us live, you can also download or listen to the show by clicking on that same link or by going to our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.

Delivering the EA-18G to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be a highly celebrated event, and rightfully so. This December, RAAF Six Squadron began their transition from the F/A-18F to the EA-18G. In January of 2017, the RAAF will take custody of their EA-18Gs and begin flight operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. In February of 2017, the RAAF EA-18Gs will fly-in to the Avalon Air Show, Melbourne Australia – a capstone event for the U.S.-Australian team orchestrating the foreign military sale (FMS). Unfortunately, media announcements and fanfare may not adequately capture or commemorate the storied relationships, close partnership and hard work of the team that made this epic milestone possible.

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

RAAF’s first Growler during a July 29, 2015 ceremony in Boeing’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. USNI News Photo

The Electronic Warfare (EW) landscape has been one of the most heavily-guarded domains of the U.S. military portfolio. The marking “NOFORN” was the default classification for all EW information, indicating that EW information was not be shared with any foreigner. Growing up in this environment, it seemed inconceivable we would one day execute the EW mission side-by-side with any partner nation.

That changed in 2013 when the RAAF redefined their EW posture and requested twelve brand-new EA-18Gs, two electronic warfare ranges, a training contract for EW aircrew, intelligence officers, and maintenance professionals. This pivot exponentially expanded the RAAF’s ability to sustain an EW infrastructure and offensive capability for years to come. The RAAF and wider Australian Defense organizations designed the EW material acquisition plan impeccably. The plan accelerated the EA-18G’s “capability realization” through an academically disciplined architecture of networked FMS cases. The RAAF EW portfolio encompassed all elements to support the EA-18G as a “platform,” or in other words “EW equipment.”

A straightforward move on paper, but EW tacticians will understand that EW requires a vast depth of knowledge beyond the equipment. To quip, if EW had a Facebook status it would read: “it’s complicated.” There is a “je ne se sais quoi” ingredient to EW. As the RAAF realized, this ingredient lies within the people and the know-how. Traditional FMS transactional activity could not capture the “je ne sais quoi” ingredient, it required compressing seven decades of EW “corporate knowledge” into 24 months. If anyone could make that leap, it’s the RAAF.

Aligning EW methodologies is an incredible asset to both Australia and the U.S. Aligning tactical know-how and EW methodology is critical to our shared interests, and it was imperative that Australia gain this knowledge. EW is unlike kinetic air-to-ground payloads that simply require target coordinates, or an air-to-air missile that needs an appropriate target. It requires our sensors to call the signals the exact same thing, employ the exact same waveforms/payloads, and deliver at the exact same time with exact positioning. If we do not put the “right” payloads on the “right” target, we undo each other’s effects, degrade blue systems (called electromagnetic interference – EMI), or completely miss the target. Simply put, having the same equipment is not enough. Mission effectiveness requires that we think alike, train alike, and speak the same EW language.

To achieve total alignment and close the “corporate knowledge gap,” the U.S. and RAAF established a personnel exchange program (PEP), to embed RAAF pilots and aircrew in operational U.S. Navy Expeditionary EA-18G squadrons. In July of 2013, only three months after signing the FMS for twelve EA-18Gs, we ambitiously planned to start training aircrew in October of 2013 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), with RAAF aircrew serving two year stints in deployable units by early 2014. This aggressive timeline represented the hardest path to traverse in our fledgling EW partnership.

Integrating RAAF aircrew into the FRS and then into operational VAQ units meant moving mountains. Mountains made from decades of cultural biases resisting the precise things we were trying to accomplish. This meant assembling a team and working through painstaking details, dubbed “stubby pencil work” by one of the most vital and experienced active duty EW experts leading our team.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the West Coast of California, Pacific Ocean, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd "Woody" Woodford.

Cockpit view of an Australian EA-18G Growler off the Coast of California, August, 2016. Courtesy FLTLT Todd “Woody” Woodford

The short story is that we did it. A cross-functional team including professionals from the Naval service and other wider DoD organizations changed the tactical EW realm from “NOFORN” to “YESFORN.” Men and women worked long hours, gave up “flex-Fridays”, curtailed summer leave plans, even skipped convalescent leave and poured their hearts and souls into the mission. Senior Navy, U.S. DoD, and RAAF officials took risks, trusted their teams and approved the necessary things to ensure the partnership would be durable. The team believed in the mission and got it done.

The fruits of the combined Navy and RAAF endeavor are nothing short of epic. During their two years of service, RAAF aircrew did more than simply learn EW tradecraft and “tick the box,” or “tick” as the Aussies would say. Instead, RAAF officers excelled at nearly every squadron leadership position including, but not limited to: acting Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Training Officer, Division Officer(s), and Standardization Officer. RAAF officers served in every critical billet in an EA-18G squadron and did so with the utmost professionalism and dedication.

This experience and its success continues to be all about the people. It is about the dedication to establish the partnership, the camaraderie forged on deployments, the life-long friendships and bonds that will never be forgotten. There should be little doubt that the capital effort put forth by RAAF officers in U.S. Navy squadrons will persist and carry them to commanding heights within their organizations, just as they “raised the bar” of excellence within ours.

These conspicuous achievements send a clear message that “this thing isn’t over, it’s just warming up.” The way forward includes Growlers in Australia, an indefinite U.S. Navy-RAAF officer exchange beginning in 2017, continued RAAF training at FRS Squadron 129 (the cradle of U.S. Navy EW), and select RAAF aircrew attendance at the EA-18G graduate course HAVOC. The combination of these institutional and close interpersonal relationships will forever align and bond our countries in the EW domain, a massive “tick.”

Without a doubt, the celebration and congratulations for the incredible hard work of the many people in the EA-18G RAAF program is well deserved and symbolized by the Avalon fly-in. This piece was nothing more than a reflection on the incredible depth of the successes forged by people. As our unassuming RAAF brothers and sisters would say in celebrating years of hard work, “cheers mate, well done.”

flyingreactor_drawingThere are some things that should stop everyone in their tracks. At the top of that list should be an apparent lack of risk awareness concerning nuclear weapons.

This line from Patrick Tucker’s article in last month’s The Atlantic stopped me cold;

Future nuclear missiles may be siloed but, unlike their predecessors, they’ll exhibit “some level of connectivity to the rest of the warfighting system,” according to Werner J.A. Dahm, the chair of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. That opens up new potential for nuclear mishaps that, until now, have never been a part of Pentagon planning. In 2017, the board will undertake a study to see how to meet those concerns. “Obviously the Air Force doesn’t conceptualize systems like that without ideas for how they would address those surety concerns,” said Dahm.

Stop. Stop right there.

If this reporting is accurate, the work of Air Force Scientific Advisory Board needs to be halted immediately and a thorough review of the members and leadership of the board conducted by an outside party.

Our nuclear weapons themselves must in no way be part of any IP connectivity or network enabled in any way. Full stop.

“We have formal Air Force documents that detail the formal certification process for nuclear weapons. To what extent do the current models for certifying nuclear systems carry over into these modern, network enabled systems and how would you re-conceptualize certification for systems that are likely to come out of these recap programs?” asked Dahm.

Some support systems? Sure, but command, control, mission loading, arming, and launch must be contained in a robust, hardened, isolated & closed system. Simple, almost primitive, with multiple physical human interfaces required. To be even thinking of network access to the weapons systems themselves is the height of irresponsibility; even more irresponsible than a reliance on GPS or satellite systems as a point of failure between authorization, launch, and “servicing the target.” Ahem.

This is the same kind of thinking that leads otherwise smart people to think “smart gun” technology is a good idea. It simply assumes away all risk, and places everything in the unstable hands of hubris-centered hope ungrounded by operational experience.

The fact that future nuclear weapons will be far more networked (though not necessarily to the open Internet) will create better safety and oversight, and allow for more coordinated operations. But more connectivity also introduces new potential vulnerabilities and dangers.

“You have to be able to certify that an adversary can’t take control of that weapon, that the weapon will be able to do what it’s supposed to do when you call on it,” said Dahm. “It isn’t just cyber. That’s definitely the biggest piece, but … When was the last time we built a new nuclear system? Designed and built one? It’s been several decades now. We, as an Air Force, haven’t done certification of new nuclear systems in a long time. These systems are different … What are the surety vulnerabilities for such a system, so to speak? How would you address them? How would you certify that the system will work when you need it to work and will do what it’s supposed to do?”

That’s what the study will cover.

The entire entering argument is wrong.

The only thing worse than the accidental launch of a nuclear weapon would be for our deterrent to be unable to perform when tasked – or worse – a hostile power thinks they can prevent its use.

Eric Schlosser’s book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, is required reading for those not up to speed on how lucky we have been when it comes to nuclear weapons in case you are overconfident.

Opening additional paths for benign or malicious human malpractice?

No. Just no.