Author Archive

96a65e5a81119e6eddb280d61f9cf1f0When was the last time you thought about not just nuclear weapons, but nuclear power? Not just the engineering aspects, but the political, sociological, and hidden strategic risk of nuclear power?

It is funny how a topic can keep coming in to your scan after being in the background for so long. The last few weeks, the Navy and the Atom kept breaking above the ambient noise.

First was something I first wrote about 30-yrs ago as an undergrad. The topic of the paper, which I received a very disappointing B- on if I recall correctly (NB: when your POLYSCI professor rants against militarism and you are NROTC, avoid military topics on papers) was New Zealand deciding they were going to ask, and we were going to tell, or we could shove off.

We shoved off.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced during a joint news conference with Biden in Auckland that New Zealand had invited the U.S. to send a ship to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary later this year. Biden, who is visiting New Zealand as part of a tour of the Pacific, said he had gladly accepted the offer.

“It will be yet another expression, another expression of our close and cooperative relationship between both of our countries that we’ve worked together so hard to strengthen,” Biden said.

No U.S. warships have been allowed to visit the country since the 1980s, when New Zealand introduced its nuclear-free policy. Because the U.S. won’t officially confirm or deny if its ships have nuclear capabilities, New Zealand’s default position has long been to ban them from its waters. But as military relations have improved between the two countries in recent years, speculation had grown that New Zealand would allow the U.S. to participate in its anniversary celebration.

“It would be very odd for us to have all of our friends and acquaintances there, sending ships to celebrate our 75th Naval commemorations, and yet on the same point not have the United States there,” Key told reporters.

Key still needs to formally sign off on the ship visit. The prime minister said he did not yet know what type of vessel the U.S. was planning to send, but said it would still need to comply with New Zealand law, which requires that he be satisfied that any ship entering the country’s waters has no nuclear capabilities.

PEO LCS, call your office. Great liberty. Congrats to whoever goes.

That little move got my attention, and as I pondered one 30-yr old topic, look what else came through the mists of time;

The Russian Navy is preparing a contract with the nation’s largest shipbuilder for eight new nuclear-powered missile cruisers.

According to local media, United Shipbuilding Corporation Deputy President Igor Ponomarev says the contract is currently under review. The construction of the first vessel is expected to commence in early 2018.

The new missile cruisers will be designed by the Severnoye Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and are expected to have a deadweight of 17,500 tons, a length of 200 meters (650 feet0 and to be equipped with more than 200 missiles including a version of the S-500, the newest and most lethal Russian missile system.

That is about 80% of a Kirov Battle Cruiser and, if they move forward with what will unquestionably be an very expensive warship, it will be interesting to see deployed.

The Russians have been modernizing the smaller units its fleet in the last few years with quite a bit of success, and this would be a step in modernizing their blue water fleet. Interesting concept, not unlike the one they had for the Kirov;

“Nuclear-powered cruisers are autonomous and well-armed. They can face various challenges in any part of the world ocean. The Russian Navy has not placed orders for vessels of this class since 1989. The decision to build several ships means that Russia pursues geopolitical interests to maintain its presence in remote parts of the world.”

Things come in threes, and after reading the bit about the newest Russian aspirations, I thought of one of my more dystopian conversations as of late that involved nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This doesn’t go boom, or glow all that much at all – but compared to dirty bombs or nuclear war – this is more likely to occur.

In your mind, picture all the CVN we have. Now picture all the SSN/BN we have as well. Add to that how many port visits they make globally each year. Put that to one side.

Recall the reaction to the rather insignificant release of radioactivity at Three Mile Island, and the reaction to very significant nuclear releases at Chernobyl and Fukushima. In between these data points are a lot of possibilities. Put those to the other side.

Put this in the center. Though the Russians (nee Soviets) have had a few significant nuclear accidents, we have not. The Russians have a different press and social culture than the West, so impact is different. What would the impact be here of either a nuclear accident (unlikely) or some kind of release – however small – following a terrorist attack against one of our nuclear powered ships (unlikely, but not hard to outline)?

The American people and our friends are comfortable with our nuclear ships because they are used to them. They are comfortable because we have had such a superb safety record for decades. Our nuclear designs are the best in the world and everything comes second to safety.

All that being said, all human institutions and creations are flawed. None are perfect. It would be one thing to have a nuclear armed ship sunk in combat on the open seas with miles of water between it and the nearest person; but what about the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Norfolk? Groton? Yokosuka?

No one could claim this as a black swan; this is a pink flamingo. Exotic, but well known.

What would the domestic and international response be following an incident where even a small amount of radioactive leakage occurred, especially if it followed an attack while tied up to the pier or moored close ashore upwind from a city of over a million souls?

When does nuclear power become “that?” What would be the tipping point?



CnwQTWyWYAAEbiPFrom our seats in North America, the best response to the upheaval in Turkey over the last week is to be calm up front, but task a little extra work in the back office behind the door.

Political chaos and recovering from successful and unsuccessful coups are not unheard of in Turkey. While there are some aspects of the Erdogan government that are less than ideal compared to previous governments, there are good reasons to not buy in to some of the more excited reactions to Erdogan’s response to the coup. At this stage of the game, excessive concern about USA/NATO’s nuclear weapons stored there, NATO status, or the Islamist vs. Kemalist nature of the government should not be top of mind.

Military uprisings, regardless of outcome, never have clean endings or result in gentlemanly treatment of the losing side by the winning side. As such, patience is in order to give the Turks a chance to find their balance again. We should give them time.

The next few months will tell the story, but let’s look at the Most Likely vs. Most Dangerous COA, and some of the Planning Assumptions we are working with.

Hope isn’t a plan, but with the right Assumptions, you can write a plan around it. Let’s be optimists and run with COA-Hope as Most Likely.

Good thing for everyone, I don’t have to make that up – Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret) has a must read looking forward on what steps we should take with Turkey post-coup. Though I non-concur with his 3rd point, he outlines a solid step forward.

If things in the background would trend in a way we would like, these initial steps would go a long way of firming up that path. Even better, if there was a slight drift away from where NATO and the USA would like to see Turkey go, such actions might help the better minds in that star-crossed nation nudge things back in the correct direction.

In summary, here are his four points;

First, we need to stand firmly on the side of the Turkish civilian government.

Second, we should send our senior military officials to Ankara to hear from their counterparts about the situation while congratulating Turkey’s leadership on doing the right thing and helping stop the coup.

A third smart move by the United States would be to increase cooperation in intelligence sharing and targeting against Kurdish radical terrorist groups.

Fourth, and finally, the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions.

We, NATO, and Turkey should be so lucky to have this as an entering argument, but we need to do the responsible thing and look at our assumptions.

We are assuming that Erdogan will not go in the direction he was already heading – a more Islamist Turkey. That is assuming against the trend.

Moderation usually requires peace. If we are assuming that Turkey’s part of the world will become more peaceful, then that is assuming against the trend too.

We could go on, but let’s just stick with those two assumptions being invalid; Turkey more Islamist, a move enhanced by insecurity and internal strife. Those will not create effects on the ground that are in line with what NATO sees itself as in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. That needs a Branch Plan. One variation of that Branch Plan could have a few Decisive Points that lead someplace I’m not sure how we would deal with.

1. NATO membership revoked or best case, as Greece did in the 1970s, Turkey leaves NATO’s military command.
2. In line with #1, NATO nuclear weapons need to removed to a more secure location.

In an ideal world, #2 should happen well before #1 and should really be a stand along plan, but history on occasion moves faster than we like, and not in an ideal order. Though we are far from #1 and #2 today, it doesn’t take all that many more cards pulled from the deck and we could find ourselves close. As the SECSTATE said recently;

Turkey could fall foul of Nato’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.

The US “will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice,” he said, “but we also caution against a reach that goes beyond that and stress the importance of the democratic rule being upheld”.

That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack if it leads down the path where we need to look at #1 and #2. Those nukes are housed on an airbase in the suburbs of a city of 1.7 million.

The fact that we should even be concerned with this begs the question; besides bureaucratic inertia, why in 2016 do we need a bunch of nuclear gravity bombs stored only 125 miles as the Hornet flies from the Syrian border?

That, perhaps, is another post for another day. In any event, we live in interesting times. Though I think our world will be closer to Most Likely COA-Hope as outlined by Stavridis, it is probably prudent to have a few plans on the shelf to deviate from if some variation of the Most Dangerous COA peeks above the horizon.

On a personal note, like Admiral Stavridis, I served for four years with NATO and developed some great working relationships with good men, officers and NCOs . Once this went down, in particular I thought of a Turkish Air Force officer, now close to Colonel, who I enjoyed working with immensely. He, his wife and children were right out of central casting of what we would see as an almost ideal American military family. Hope they are on the right side of things. I once thought he and those like him were the future of Turkey, now – not so much, and that is sad.



Social-Media-Marketing-StrategyNot since having to give training in the early 1990s to people about the proper protocol involved with “Reply” vs “Reply All,” “cc” vs “bcc,” or explaining to a Chief of Staff that email do not have Date Time Groups, have I been more perplexed by a DoD movement involving internet based communications than what came out at the end of June. This time it is Social Media and politics.

Open up the 29JUN2016 MEMORANDUM from OSD at this link (do I need to explain that you should ‘right-click’ and then select ‘open in new tab’ – I’m not sure if I do anymore) and take some time to read it over. If you’re in a hurry, then trust me on the pull quotes below – you’ll get the point.

Let’s back up a bit. Since I was a wee-pup, we all knew the Hatch Act restrictions well. Nice, comfortable, and a warm fuzzy blanket ease to it:

DoD personnel are prohibited from engaging with potential candidates and their authorized representatives on any matter related to their official duties under any circumstances.

All DoD personnel should also be aware of existing limitations on participation in partisan political activity, which is regulated by the Hatch Act and implementing regulations and departmental policies for DoD civilian employees and by DoD Directive 1344.10 for military members.

Military Members

The primary guidance concerning political activity for military members is found in DoD Directive 1344.10 [Guidance for Military Personnel]. Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. Active duty members may, however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform.

In general, all federal employees may use social media and email and comply with the Hatch Act if they remember the following guidelines:

(1) Do not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace.
• Federal employees are “on duty” when they are in a pay status, other than paid leave, or are representing the government in an official capacity.
• Federal employees are considered “on duty” during telecommuting hours.
(2) Do not engage in political activity in an official capacity at any time.
(3) Do not solicit or receive political contributions at any time.

“Political activity” refers to any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group (collectively referred to as “partisan groups”), or candidate in a partisan race.

No one of substance has ever thought this unfair or hard to understand. Solid stuff.

Welp … looks like someone just discovered social media and didn’t sit through the full brief:

…active duty military members and further restricted civilian employees are prohibited from participating in partisan political activity. Therefore, while these employees may “follow” “friend” or “like” a political party or candidate running for partisan office, they may not post links to, “share” or “re-tweet” comments or tweets from the Facebook page or twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Such activity is deemed to constitute participation in political activities.

No direct links of “likes” to partisan sites (akin to distribution of literature)

…while off duty and away from the workplace, a further restricted employee may post on social media his opinion about a Presidential candidate, “share” a friend’s endorsement of a political party, or “like” a candidate’s Facebook page. However, the employee may not “share” a post from a campaign Facebook page, “retweet” a message from a political party, or “like” a post that requests contributions for a candidate.

Where to start?

First of all, OSD does realize that there is a lot more to social media besides Facebook and Twitter, correct? What about Snapchat, Yik Yak, Instagram, LinkedIn, Periscope, and others? Am I being pedantic? Well, that is my nature, but no, I don’t think so in this case. What this tells me is that those who wrote this really are not creatures of social media at all.

Let’s get away from that for a moment and look at the substance. Where we are is that the CO of Naval Base Swampy can park his 1997 Yugo in his designated parking space with his “LaRiva-Puryear 2016” bumpersticker, but Seaman Timmy can’t share a story about his hometown posted by the “Hoefling-Schulin 2016” on its Facebook page after their campaign bus broke down there?

Really? If he does this after hours, while on leave, via a medium where both the sender and receiver agree on both ends to see each other’s posts, he is in trouble as if he stood on stage in uniform and introduced a candidate?

Interesting republic we have become.

I would offer that this goes way too far. It also begs the question on who are the Facebook and Twitter police? Who is going to decide who is going to be held to account and who is not? What are the rack-and-stack criteria for deciding whose complaints are worth running after and whose isn’t?

This policy is both too specific, too vague, and is not in the spirit of the Hatch Act. It should be withdrawn and refined. If we are to err, let’s do that in line with allowing Shipmates a space to share their ideas with their friends, on their own time, in their preferred manner. The Hatch Act was clear and as such, was easy to follow and enforce. This? Not even close.



philosophy_03When the path towards progress in a field becomes muddied, the best response may be to step away from all the technical specifics that make up day-to-day practice and begin pulling up the floorboards. In other words, rather than continuing to push on the science, it may be best to ask about the unspoken philosophies supporting that research effort.

What could an article by Adam Frank at NPR, unrelated to anything involved directly to national defense, have to tell us about how we look to build the fleet for mid-century? Actually, quite a lot.

One of the underpinnings of the critique of many of the flawed program decisions of the last few decades has been that smart people were excited about the possibility of new ideas and technology so much that they fell in love with them. As such, they were unable to accept the cold, hard truth of what real world experience, data, and facts showed them about the object of their affections.

With each passing iteration their hopes and desires became more unmoored from the reality that was making a shadow on the ramp or displacing water pierside.

Is this situation just our problem, or a common part of the human condition when people have too much faith in the theories that they become emotionally invested in? Well, no it’s not unique to us; we may share a crisis of consciousness with the world of physics that is best explained by another discipline, philosophy.

In a book trying to rewire some of the philosophical foundations that inform physics, physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Roberto Unger published a book in 2014, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. Frank pulls out some observations that need to be reviewed.

…our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain…it all adds up to muddied waters and something some researchers see as a “crisis in physics.” …the lack of empirical data has led the field astray.

Think about our approach to LCS at the start from assumptions related to NLOS, manning, mission modules, along with what we saw with DDG-1000, ACS and other programs. Does this hit home?

“Science is corrupted when it abandons the discipline of empirical validation or dis-confirmation. It is also weakened when it mistakes its assumptions for facts and its ready-made philosophy for the way things are.”

This ground is well plowed, but here is where it gets interesting. Good people in hard jobs sometimes make mistakes, but why?

Is the answer to be found in the realm of philosophy? Is our debate between transformationalism and anti-transformationalism just our theater in a larger intellectual conflict? Is the same conflict to be found not just in programmatics, but also in different approaches to future strategy?

One of the more memorable quotes from Alvin Toffler is, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The quote speaks towards the necessity of adaptability, and intellectual humility in knowing when one is wrong regardless of the amount of intellectual effort put into developing a concept.

Before there is any empirical validation of models developed to explain reality, all there is, are concepts. Concepts governed by rules of logic, which can get ahead of themselves in many instances, and become more about validating a logic-based ontology rather than ensuring understanding of anything outside of that rule-based reality. Cosmology over the last decade or so has begun to exemplify this circumstance, and in many ways, so too has the Navy.

“Some researchers now see popular ideas like string theory and the multiverse as highly suspect. These physicists feel our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain with the extra “hidden” dimensions of string theory and the unobservable other universes of the multiverse.”

Lots of thought and work have gone into defining what is known, how something can be known, and what the best paths towards certainty in knowledge are. Among many others, there are two camps of thought; Empiricists and Rationalists. The debate between the two regards how we can be certain in what we know. In contemporary Cosmology, Rationalism is holding sway, in that the validity of math alone is enough to establish knowledge. However, Empiricists are earnestly pushing back.

Theoretical physicists are inherently Rationalists aided by a powerful ally in mathematics. They can model the universe in equations based on axioms and other equations that have been empirically validated. However, the physics isn’t based on reasoning alone, experimental physicists work to develop experiments that test theoretical work done by other physicists, towards validating, falsifying, and refining theories.

From this a question arises; how far can one extrapolate from the empirically proven before the certainty of empirical observation can no longer faithfully add verification that reasoning lacks? Many argue today that theoretical physics has ventured to a point that rationality is being relied upon far too much, with validation being derived not from observation of phenomena, but from abstract models of how it is thought reality to be.

To put the question another way: When is it right to give up on using reason alone to understand something? In a more military sense, when does a strategy or policy created with a Rationalist approach need to be replaced by the Empirical experience of those implementing the strategy or policy?

The military has its own Empiricists and Rationalists. From a structural sense, the design of the chain of command makes certain ranks empiricist and others rationalist. Any practitioner of the naval service will repeatedly experience their best-laid plans needing to be revised over, and over again. The most humble person aboard ship is the watch bill coordinator—who are constantly called to the quarterdeck, having to one-line and revise the list of names standing watches. Reality is swift, fast and unforgiving with random medical appointments, those unbeknownst on leave, and numerous other reasons that prevent watchstanding. Simply put, Empiricism beats a Sailor into perfecting their ability to lead.

The Rationalists in the military develop after years of toiling under the empirical kludge, developing the ability to think abstractly about what must be accomplished to ensure victory and train the next generation of service member.

If Empiricism is painful, then Rationalism is seductive. Understanding the system we operate can lead to confining decisions within what has been established, regardless of being proven. For Cosmologists, it can be the elegance of math, the beauty within equations that leads them to confining their inquiry within what is beautiful. For the Navy, it is maybe not beauty that confines inquiry, but it is something similar, and something that results in hubris at its worst.

A recent article by the Navy Times cites that the experience with the Littoral Combat Ship has informed an examination of the Navy’s rating system, resulting in a decision to breakdown the barriers that define a rating.

With the Littoral Combat Ship having only proven itself in need of refining into something more like a Frigate, we can see where the military is taking more of a rationalist approach than empirical. Rather than un-learning, the Navy is building on unproven theories. It has chosen to not unlearn methodologies so recently developed. It’s time to demonstrate how we’ve pulled-up floor boards, and taken a hard look at our recent history to ensure we’ve actually proven, falsified, and know what decisions we are making.

This post was co-written with CTR1(IW/SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III.



Why do nations historically have blue water navies? In broad terms, the primary driver is economics. From Vikings looking for new lands and plunder, to Columbus’s search for a more efficient way to spices of the East, to the mercantilist reliance of a global free flow of goods at market prices to support the hard empire of Britain, to the same for the soft empire of the United States – nations put to sea in force to support economic requirements at home.

Of course, other reasons from pride to habit soon latch on to a growing fleet – but look at the core driver. Every nation must do what it can to survive – and a strong economy keeps living standards improving and bellies fed. China is no different. When you see the historical record of Chinese internal strife derived from economic turmoil and uncertainty, the force to protect her gains from global trade becomes even clearer.

A datapoint today for you to ponder. Thanks to a point from our friends Claude Berube and Chris Rawley over at StrategyBridge, there is a great tool out there from Sea Around Us for those interested in the undertold but globally critical economic resource that are global fisheries. Follow the link and play around a bit – but here are the graphics that tell a deeper story;

China’s catch in 1990.

China90

China’s catch data in 2010.

China10

If you want to know why China is building a blue water navy, perhaps some of the reason is China specific as we have discussed before, from national pride to regional control – but a larger part is simply the same reason all naval powers have shown up on the scene; their economic interests require one.



skull-piramidRobert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.

National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.

With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.

That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.

That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.

Ponder the nature of man;

… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.

Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?

So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …

Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,

is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”

If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?

The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?

People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.

The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.

Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.

The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.

What is next then?

Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.

We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.

I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?

Hat tip Jack.



swimming-elephantAlternative Title: Navy Grants Salamander Lifetime Beer Tab at Army-Navy Club’s Daiquiri Lounge.

From the start, and we are talking about over a decade ago, surface, aviation, and submarine offices with operational Fleet experience, not theory or PPT hype, warned that both crew manning and mission module concepts as proposed for LCS were problematic at best, and non-executable at worst. They were silenced at best, career adjusted at worst.

It took a decade, billions of dollars of opportunity cost, and untold numbers of careers and reputations to get here, but it looks like our Navy is going to take the right steps to salvaging as much utility as possible from this – how can I put it in a polite non-homebloggy way – “white elephant” of a program.

Let’s take some time to review our friend David Larter’s latest;

The review ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will likely include recommendations to shift to a Blue and Gold crew structure, a set-up used on ballistic missile and guided missile submarines where two crews swap custody of a single hull to maximize deployed time. The Navy has been moving away from rotational crew models other than the Blue and Gold out of concern that maintenance issues may slip through the cracks for crews serving only temporarily aboard any ship.

The review will also recommend changing some of the signature modularity of the program — the concept that ships at sea could readily swap out sensors and weapons packages to meet emergent missions.

Instead of three mission modules being available to switch out on deployment, the Navy is looking at moving to a “one ship, one mission” approach, where each LCS will be designated as surface, anti-submarine or mine countermeasures ships with the ability to switch out if needed.

As warned, and it will do neither well, but it will do better than nothing – which by design, is the only other option previous decisions have left us with.

“The goal of the review and specifically the crew proposals made by SURFOR is increased stability, simplicity, and ownership,” the official said. “An updated crewing plan, as well as adding more sailors to the core crew is the first step.”

Admiral Vince Lombardi approves. When nothing is going right, focus on the fundamentals first. This isn’t rocket science. Well, close to rocket science – but nonetheless, not rocket science.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testified in 2015 that he opposed all cuts to shipbuilding because it is harder to build a ship that any other thing the Navy could cut to save money.

“Because cuts to our shipbuilding programs are the least reversible in their impact on our fundamental mission of providing presence and in their consequences to the industrial base and to our economy, I am committed, to the maximum extent possible, to preserve ship construction and to seek reductions in every other area first, should further budget reductions such as sequestration become reality,” Mabus said in written testimony.

As in all things related to shipbuilding, there is the political and economic to consider. Though in the case of LCS the end result displacing water is sub-optimal, SECNAV is exactly correct on this aspect of it all. The money must flow, good or bad, it must flow.

The next step remains clear; we need a replacement for LCS at least on paper, using the better EuroFrigates in production as the benchmark for the right ship between 3,500 and 5,500 tons displacement. We need it now more than later so we can have them in the Fleet FMC in their PMAs as LCS-1 is ready for the breakers at the end of the Terrible 20s.

This time, no pinkie promises, no Flash Gordon, no Tiffany, no transformationalism. That mindset failed us so far this century. As we Southerners are like to say; let’s not get stuck on stupid.

If we learn our lessons well, there is great opportunity here. With the process and mindset as outlined in Larter’s article holds, indications look solid going forward.



hqdefaultIf you have not already, you need to read one of the more important wake up calls written by a navalist this year; Bryan McGrath’s remarks published over at WarOnTheRocks, War and Survivability of U.S. Naval Forces.

It will come to no surprise to those who read my post last week, that I am roughly in full alignment with the direct and unblinking comments he brings to the reader;

(in the post-Cold War era) …we built and operated a Navy in the post-Cold War era that reflected this. We created a fleet architecture that raised defense to a high art. We became proficient in the art of precision land-attack and maritime constabulary missions while the surface force essentially abandoned the playing field of offensive naval warfare. Because there was no anti-submarine warfare threat to speak of, we walked away from the mission while turning our sonar techs into .50 cal gunners and visit, board, search, and seizure crew. We walked away from the anti-surface mission to the point where we haven’t built a ship in the United States that could kill another ship over the horizon since USS Porter in 1999.

That is where we find ourselves by our own hand, and this is where we need to go;

We have to be begin to be more direct about what we face. We have to recognize that our unchallenged mastery is now challenged. We now have to recognize that there are nations who see the system we’ve crafted since World War II as unhelpful to their strategic goals. We have to recognize that in order to deter nations like this, naval forces operating weeks over the horizon are insufficient. We must recognize that presence, showing the flag, being there, is just not enough.

Distributed lethality is the leading edge of that recognition. By increasing the unit-level lethality of virtually every ship in the Navy and then operating them innovatively in a dispersed posture designed to present an adversary with numerous and diverse threats to what he holds dear, we are once again realizing the deterrent value of offensive power. The surface force seems to have recognized the changed environment, the re-emergence of great power dynamics, and the requirement to break a defensive mindset while taking to the operational offensive once again. Future strike group commanders and numbered fleet commanders and four-stars must begin to think about and more importantly communicate a recognition that the stakes have changed, and that a force that places too much value on survivability may be placing insufficient emphasis on threatening the other guy’s survivability.

We need to harden surface presence forces not just for the sake of protecting the people serving on the ship, but also to present would-be aggressors with a more effective deterrent. We need — when we talk about survivability — to ensure that we are talking about it as a means to an end — conventional deterrence — and not an end unto itself

Finally, I want to try and get something going here with you. I’d like us to stop talking about “survivability” altogether. That’s right — eliminate it from our lexicon. When you folks go back to your jobs wherever they may be, but especially at the Pentagon, the systems commands, or at the surface type command, try to get the Navy to walk away from it. Truth be told, it is a loaded term, and one that conveys defense and weakness and timidity. The Air Force — which has a much tougher job in justifying the expense of large land bases that don’t move — never talks about “survivability.” They talk about “hardening,” as I’ve done here today.

We need to harden the surface force in order to make our adversaries spend more of their tax dollars in trying to overcome it — or better yet — decide that such expenditures aren’t worth the opportunity cost. This is, of course, the essence of conventional deterrence.

He brings a lot more to the discussion. Read it all.



The ongoing discussion of the meaning of “distributed Lethality” and methods of achieving it at sea is a welcome return to a more forward leaning posture. By its nature, it assumes a more aggressive navy – as all successful navies have been. There is another side to this posture, something that is always there but becomes more apparent with a stronger light thrown on the subject. As the cliche goes, the enemy gets a vote. The enemy gets to shoot back.

There are certain timeless fundamentals of the naval service that historically applied to the US Navy in its operations; offensive punch, forward through the fight, and an acceptance that we will lose ships and Sailors, yet complete our mission in spite of it.

Besides the small isolated incident or skirmish, the realities of war at sea have not been known in the present generations’ living memory – only on the edge of rapidly evaporating national memory is it there. As such, do we really have an understanding of what it means to put your ships, your capital ships, in harm’s way? That is what “forward deployed” means. That is what “From the Sea” implies. That is what “presence” requires. Have we become too comfortable, complacent, and entitled in our maritime dominance to think that Neptune’s Copybook Headings no longer apply?

In all the wargames we go through, in our discussions about the next conflict at sea with a peer or near-peer challenger – have we fully hoisted onboard what this means?

What does it mean to lose a capital ship? First, we must define a capital ship. In WWII, the capital ship was the battleship and the large-deck aircraft carrier. The German battleship BISMARCK, the British battlecruiser HMS HOOD, the American heavy cruiser USS HOUSTON (CA 30), and the aircraft carrier USS FRANKLIN (CV 13) all met that war’s rough definition of a capital ship. Three of the above were lost in combat, and the 4th, the FRANKLIN, just survived sinking from same.

War at sea is brutal, often fast, and the destruction of men and material shockingly extensive. It does not matter if it was 31 BC, 1942 AD or 2020 AD, this will be the same. As it was, as it is, as it will be.

What is a capital ship today? For the sake of argument, let me pick two that most of you would agree is if not a capital ship, then at least a High Value Unit. First, the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) and the USS BATAAN (LHD 5). For planning purposes, let’s assume that the REAGAN’s ship company and attached airwing composes 5,680 souls. The BATAAN, fully loaded with Marines, 3,002.

Let’s look at the average loss rates from our selection of WWII capital ships. Not the worst, just the average. What would that mean today? What loss of life in one day? A loss that cannot stop operations or shock anyone – indeed must be planned for as we know it will happen at one point?

Well, here is the graph that tells the butcher’s bill.

butbill2020jpg

One could argue that the most difficult part of the loss of a CVN or LHD with a full wartime complement on par with other capital ships lost at sea would not be the operational or tactical implications, but the political implications. Do we have the PAO, INFO OPS, and even PSYOPS pre-planned responses well rehearsed and, yes, focus grouped to deal with such an immediate loss? If not, we are at national strategic risk poking our nose anywhere.

Look at the LHD numbers; 2,183 dead in one day. That is just a little more than all the losses of the USA and UK in Iraq during the three years bounded by 2006, 2007, & 2008 – combined.

The loss of a carrier? That would be roughly the same as all the USA and UK losses in Iraq in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, & 2009 – combined.

In almost any scenario such a loss would take place, there would be no time to pause, consider, or debate. You have to fight on – indeed, you need to assume such losses and plan around it.

Are we prepared for this as a Navy? Has the Navy properly prepared our political bosses? Are they prepared to respond to the citizens’ reaction?

We should all hope so, as history tells us that is not a matter of if, but when.



IMG_3160_zps002a59aePart of our naval mythology is informed by fiction as well as real history. With a few exceptions, as a nation, the USA always likes to see itself as the good guys, the shining city on the hill where good people want to go to do good things. In some ways this aspirational self-reflection is good, but it isn’t reality.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
– Winston Churchill

In the Cold War fiction The Hunt for Red October, we had our preferred universe,

Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
Captain Ramius: I suppose.
Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?
Captain Ramius: No papers, state to state.
Capt. Vasili Borodin: Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.
Captain Ramius: Oh, at least.

That is nice to read, but that isn’t where we are today.

We need to be ready for our co-existing parallel universe where the USA and specifically its forward deployed Navy is not seen as the good guys worth running to – but a high value unit worth everything to destroy.

If one small harbor boat can take out the USS COLE (DDG 67), put on your red hat and ponder the next act that could follow a successful operation from this cell;

At least five officers of the Pakistan Navy received death sentences in a secret military trial for allegedly trying to hijack a Pakistan Navy vessel to attack a U.S. Navy refueling ship, Daily Pakistan reports.

The attackers allegedly attempted to hijack the F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigate Zulfiqar, the lead ship of its class, with the intention of using the ship’s missiles to attack a U.S. Navy refuel vessel in the Arabian Sea (other sources claim that the target was a U.S. aircraft carrier).

The frigate they were going to take control of was the Pakistani version of the Chinese Type 053H3 frigate. With a crew of 170 and the offensive surface punch of 8 C-802 ASCM and a 76mm gun – not to mention 3,144 tons and 404-ft of ramming if they wanted.

In nations with significant penetration by Islamic radicals, there is a lot of exceptionally capable naval kit for the taking, if you have the right team. How many on a ship need to turn to make a national asset to a terrorist weapon? Depends on the ship and the clever nature of the conspirators.

The more you think about it, the more you see how lucky we have been that compared to the ground, the seas have been relatively secure. Don’t assume, “if,” but “when” we see Green on Blue at sea.

Something to ponder on a when on watch as the ship from nation X is not quite acting right, not where you expected her to be, and – well – makes your skin itch a bit.



« Older Entries