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p1-w2-vietnam-a-20140512There is something happening in WESTPAC that needs a closer look.

In addressing China’s push in to the sea, the Western response is almost reflexive – and bellicose. Via David Larter at NavyTimes;

The U.S. military’s top commander in the Pacific is arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to counter and reverse China’s strategic gains in the South China Sea, appeals that have met resistance from the White House at nearly every turn.

Adm. Harry Harris is proposing a muscular U.S. response to China’s island-building that may include launching aircraft and conducting military operations within 12 miles of these man-made islands, as part of an effort to stop what he has called the “Great Wall of Sand” before it extends within 140 miles from the Philippines’ capital, sources say.

In the closest Western nation to China, Australia, we have an interesting twist from their Latest White Paper;

Former minister Kevin Andrews has used today’s release of the long-awaited Defence White Paper to pressure the Turnbull Government to send warships within 12 nautical miles of contested islands in the South China Sea.

The 2016 Defence White Paper maps a course towards a total of $195 billion in Defence capability or equipment by 2020-21, together with a larger military force of 62,400 personnel, the largest in a quarter of a century.

Mr Andrews’ call comes just days after the Commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet said it would be “valuable” if the Royal Australian Navy conducted “freedom of navigation” operations in the disputed region.

The Liberal backbencher said Australia must now follow the United States’ example.

“We have to exercise that freedom of navigation and means being prepared to sail our naval vessels, to fly our aircraft through that region and say we want unrestricted trade routes in this area,” Mr Andrews told the ABC.

OK. those are grey-hull ops, FON ops, and generally showing everyone you have a big stick.

What are the nations closest to China doing, those of a distinct Asian culture and a few thousand years of national history in dealing with China? They have grey hulls, they have warships – but it isn’t their navy by-and-large that they are sending out.

Let’s go north to south. Japan;

Japan has placed 12 of its coast guard vessels around the disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea. The deployment comes days after it inaugurated a new defence radar system in the region, and is meant to patrol the islands called Senkaku by Japan and termed Diaoyu by China.

The fleet comprises 1,500-tonne patrol ships – all of them newly inducted – and two Shikishima class helicopter carriers. All the newly-built ships, capable of high-speed manoeuvres, are fitted with 20mm guns and water cannons. Tokyo said the enhanced patrolling is to protect the waters surrounding the region, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Vietnam;

The stand-off between China and Vietnam over the former’s decision to place an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea escalated on Tuesday when a Chinese coast guard ship rammed a Vietnamese coast guard ship. The Vietnamese vessel allegedly suffered several “gashes” in its metal hull according to the Wall Street Journal. No Vietnamese sailors were injured and the boat did not sink. The incident reflects a sort of escalation in the dispute. While a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese civilian vessel (a fishing boat) last month, Tuesday’s incident is a case of two coast guard ships from the two countries becoming involved in a physical altercation. In another incident, a Chinese vessel fired a water cannon at a Vietnamese ocean inspection ship. No naval assets from either side were involved in either exchange.

So far, neither Vietnamese nor Chinese officials have commented on the incident. The initial report comes courtesy of a Vietnamese TV news station VTV1.

Indonesia:

On Saturday, a large Chinese coast guard warship in Indonesian waters rammed a vessel that was being towed by an Indonesian patrol vessel. The vessel being towed was a Chinese fishing boat that had been illegally fishing in Indonesian waters around the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. Another large Chinese warship arrived on the scene and forced the Indonesians to release the fishing vessel. However, the eight-member crew of the Chinese vessel had already been arrested, and are still in custody.

The Natuna Islands have always been sovereign Indonesian territory. They are far away from China, but because of the rich fishing grounds, China would like to use its military power to seize the islands from Indonesia.

They could be using their navy, but they aren’t.

When you have a grey hull, you are signaling that you consider this dispute a national security issue; a white hull signals that you see it as a legal issue.

As we plan to run up the battle flag at flank speed, we may want to ponder a bit why those closest to China are taking a different approach.



hitchhikerHow did we get here, to this place pointed out to us by Kyle Jahner at ArmyTimes?

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has repeatedly complained about the convoluted, slow and expensive acquisitions process, and cited the Modular Handgun System program as a glaring example.

“We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?” Milley said to an audience at a Washington, D.C., think tank on March 10. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

Leadership; that is how.

It all starts in Congress, of course, but the uniformed services have much of the blame to share along with them. As warfighters allowed themselves to transmogrify in to simple fonctionnaires – so we find ourselves at this point.

Through the years allowed ourselves to become numb to the various habits, regulations, instructions, regulations, and laws that have layered us like so many beggarweeds on a long-haired spaniel after a run through a fallow field in summertime.

Each little part can be traced back to someone’s good idea made flesh, or an attempt to prevent fraud, waste, abuse, or the hobby-horse of a pushy and ill-informed leader advocating a program no one wants. Each bit accumulates, but no part leaves.

We also have the sad effect of allowing leadership and integrity to be substituted by paperwork and process. We exist in a world where it is common and accepted practice to say, “The right thing is to do X, but IAW OPNAVINST 1313.99Xy, Section IV, para 1.A.(2).g.iii, we can’t.” Always with the royal, “we.”

As even a small and simple thing as a pistol takes an absurd length of time, we attempt to jump generations of developments to compensate – and as we see time and time again from A-12 to DDG-100 to a replacement for the M-16 and the 5.56mm – we fail in the face of the green eye-shade.

What to do? I think General Milley has shown the way. Within acceptable guidelines, point out publicly with a bit of scorn and sarcasm, the system we have been given mostly by those wearing civilian suits. Fix what we can, shame what we can’t.

Even before the submission deadline last month, the road to a new pistol has been long and winding. In 2008, the MHS started as an Air Force program. But little progress was made before January 2013, when the Army kick-started the latest efforts by asking industry for more information. Additional discussions with industry drew out the release of the 350-plus-page document until August 2015. Then the solicitation’s deadline for submissions was Feb. 12 of this year.

As defined before, this timelineis 1.6 WorldWars. Six years just to submit a solicitation.

Congressman Thornberry; over to you.



IMG_0114Everyone has their own name for the series of conflicts spinning off from the waxing of the most radical interpretation of Sunni Islamic Extremism, but with each passing incident, I become more and more comfortable with “The Long War.”

At its core, this is a religious war, and those wars last the longest time as you are not fighting primarily for land, resources, power, or ego – but for ideas and the pursuit of a home for your immortal soul. Many are not comfortable with that concept, but they need to get over it. Regardless of what your motivations are, if any; if you are being attacked by someone motivated by a religion, then you are part of a religious war.

The latest attack on Brussels is just that, a tactical action in this phase of a war that pre-dates 11 September 2001. Others can argue the start date, but it is older than those fresh faces showing up at boot camp this summer.

Why Brussels this time? Simple, Brussels isn’t just the capital of the small nation of 10-million souls, Belgium – it is the capital of Europe. In the mind of the Islamic State, Europe is the heart of the West. The West is the home of secularism, Christianity, and tolerance of Jews. It also happens to be a place where there are sanctuaries near targets where, relatively unmolested by authorities and under the protection of cowed co-religionists, they can plan, support, and if needed, hide after their operations.

There is ease of mobility and an ability to blend in that makes the most difficult part of any operation is gathering the weapons and explosives to do the killing. Basic OPSEC is all that is needed. Money is of little issue, nor is finding willing fighters.

After a half-century of an uninterrupted and failed experiment in multi-culturalism, Belgium and other Western nations now have a critical mass of unassimilated native born radicals. Even better, they have been recently reinforced by well over a million unaccompanied military aged males born and raised in even more radicalized cultures. The direction unaccompanied, unemployable, and alienated young men usually head points to one thing – there will be more and more attacks like we saw in Brussels. An attack, by the way, that is just another iteration of what has been seen in the USA, UK, France, Spain, Russia and other nations over the course of the last few decades. There is nothing new here, except that a few more people are noticing.

Besides the self-inflicted demographic foolishness Western Europe beclowned itself with over the last half-century, in Europe’s near abroad forces are continuing that will drive more and more radicals their way to join the cells that are planning additional attacks.

From sectarian Iraq to the Madmaxistan that followed the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, reality has hopefully put to bed any fevered dreams of democracy in North Africa through to the Middle East’s Arab states. The least radical nations, and our best allies, are those who have a strong monarchy like Jordan, or that have a military strong man keeping a lid on the bubbling Islamists that are woven through their society, like Egypt. The best we can hope for is something like Tunisia where the political elite are doing their best, but as the graphic shows, they do not have a benign populous that can be relied on to create a civil society in mass for at least a generation – if then.

Even inside the Western umbrella, there are huge problems. Turkey continues to drift out of the Western orbit, by design. Their leadership’s increasingly authoritarianism, handmaiden to the refugee crisis, and open flirtations with Islamism sends another clear signal that the once sick man of Europe is drifting to something not seen in the modern period. It isn’t pleasant, but the facts are right there for all to see. The modern, secular West has lost the war of ideas in Turkey. That leaves them one way to go – and they are half-way there already.

The Gulf States are small, but important and fickle allies. Their security is balanced on their benefactor against Shia and Persian ascendency in the East – Saudi Arabia.

Lower oil prices has emphasized that the House of Saud’s nation is held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They are rightfully focused on the problem in Yemen – a challenge that is beyond the scope of this post, but is more important than the press it gets.

OK. That is a lot of “what” and “so what;” what about “what’s next?”

Two things. First, we need to look very seriously about which nations we allow visa free travel from. The UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Germany among others already have a significant critical mass of native born radical Islamists – and their numbers are about to increase dramatically.

Second; the Islamic State must be destroyed. If not, well … let’s use as a planning assumption that it will be. Syria and her allies will push from the west. The Kurds will clean up their lines and serve as an anvil in the north. The Shia-led Iraqi forces with American help will squeeze the Islamic Forces out of Sunni Iraq. As that happens leading up to the inevitable fall of Raqqa, many of the thousands of Western passport holding Islamic State militants will return home. Some will try to just get back to a normal life, but many will not. They will be tasked to either move to other ungoverned areas of the world to continue the work of the Caliphate there, or will return home to attack from within with their fellow radicals who stayed home to build the logistics, intelligence and HUMINT needed to get the best effect from attacks inside the belly of the Western beast.

What about the USA and her navy? Regardless of the results of this year’s election, this war will continue to come to us. As we have back away, it has followed us – and will continue to. As we saw in Brussels where Mormon missionaries and a USAF officer’s family were wounded – they can kill American anywhere. Also know this; we will be attacked again here just like we were in Boston, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, and Chattanooga. As you read this, there are multiple cells working on the next mass casualty attack in the USA.

There will be ungoverned areas in the world, or poorly governed areas, that will be sanctuaries and areas of expansion for radical Islamists. We will have to work with local forces where we can, and take independent action where we must. Though many want to re-focus on some imaginary possible future great power conflict on the high seas – and we must – or want to keep rejustifying the results of the CONOPS playsets of the 1990s with LCS/FF, but we must also man, train, and equip for what we have now and will have as an ongoing engagement – The Long War.

From high-volume, high-accuracy naval gunfire, to special operations, to land attack cruise missiles, to TACAIR, we will need to be able to project national will ashore from waters, airspace, and property that we alone control. We must be able to do it with no notice, or with great fanfare. A light footprint with as little risk to casualties as possible, or lighting punitive expeditions ashore that accepts losses.

That is the reminder from Brussels. This enemy gets a vote, and it is voting for war. To paraphrase Trotsky; we may not be interested in a religious war, but a religious war is interested in us.



CompanyWe are a Navy at war. The war we are in is not a conventional war, but it is one nonetheless. It is a war that relies heavily on intelligence.

Irrespective who or where you wish to place the blame, can anyone be even remotely comfortable with this timeline?

After Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) expressed her displeasure of the ongoing situation during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Mabus explained that when Branch’s name came up in 2013 in connection to the Glenn Defense Marine Asia bribery case, he chose to pull Branch’s clearance out of an abundance of caution with the understanding that Branch would either be cleared or charged within the coming weeks.

“So by the early fall, September 2014, I decided that we had to nominate a successor, which we did, but because of intervening events that nomination did not appear until last fall,” Mabus continued. In September 2015, Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train was nominated as Branch’s replacement.

Let’ review the timeline:

NOV 2013: Clearance of VADM Branch pulled.

SEP 2014: 10 months – Decision to replace VADM Branch.

SEP 2015: 22 months – Relief identified by name.

MAR 2016: 28 months – Still no action.

Has there been a sense of urgency from the very top? Ownership of the problem? Priority rack-n-stack?

“At the same time the nomination appeared, we had a new chief of naval operations who rightfully wanted to make sure that flag officers were in positions of the best skill sets and the best qualifications,” he continued.

Since Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson took command in September 2015, there has been no further word on Branch’s future in the Navy or his potential replacements.

“I’ve been checking with Gen. (James) Clapper, the head of national intelligence, to ask him if there was any degradation of naval intelligence, any concern about how we’re operating or the quality of information that we are gathering or how we are processing that. And I have been assured that there’s not,” Mabus said.

His two deputies, each of whom has more than 30 years of experience, have handled the classified information, Mabus said.

So, SECNAV’s implication is that he has punted the question of if a VADM with no security clearance can run and serve as the leader of the world’s largest naval intelligence organization to a subordinate – and being that there has been no action in half a year – he thinks that all is fine? That the SECNAV has no opinion if this is having any impact? That, in 28 months, the organization is doing just fine with a leader who cannot attend meetings, read message traffic, attend briefings, or evaluate projects in work or in development?

Does that not beg the question – then why on Earth do we need to fill that billet in the first place?

28 months.

“When I was informed in late 2013 that Adm. Branch was possibly connected to the GDMA case, I thought because of his position I should remove his clearance in an excess of caution. I was also told — assured — at that time that a decision would be made in a very short time – in a matter of weeks, I was told – as to whether he was involved and what would be the disposition of the case,” Mabus explained.

“We continued to check on that over and over and over again and got nothing.”

The so-called Fat Leonard investigation is still ongoing today, two and a half years later.

OK. So we are, the entire organization, content being subject to the IG’s sloth-like progress?

What else has been done on the same timeline?

WWII:

DEC 1941: Pearl Harbor
10 Month Mark: OPERATION TORCH Invasion force underway
22 Month Mark: Forces reach Voturno River in the invasion of Italy
28 Month Mark: D-Day invasion 2 months away

Development of the atomic bomb from US entry in to WWII:

10 Month Mark: Manhattan project 2 months old
22 Month Mark: Oppenheimer appointed head of Manhattan Project
28 Month Mark: First Plutonium sample produced.

What harm is the delay? There is the harm to our nation and its navy. There is harm to the SECNAV who is forced to seem hapless to his own organization’s Ottoman level of bureaucratic inadequacies. There is harm to a US Navy Vice Admiral who for 2.5 years has been denied justice – forced to live under a cloud that has brought in to question his decades of service, and unquestionably has not only permanently degraded his professional life, but his personal life as well.

Who will be held to account if the assumption of innocence is validated? If charged, at what price?

Either way, if there is no action taken from the Navy Yard to The Hill to address this blot of a process, no one will be in a position to wonder why subordinates hold orders and our legal/IG/NJP system in contempt.

To shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s just how it is.”, is to be part of the problems, not the solution.



602The modern age has not just made the world flat, it has made it transparent. Just as the internet lowered the barriers to entry in the areas of reporting and commentary from everything from pet cats to grand strategy, so too has it changed the ability of military forces to move with any degree of confidence that they can control who knows where they are when.

A great example of this real-time OSNIT has been around for centuries, but what has changed is the timeline has moved from weeks to instantaneous. If there is an IP connection, you are being watched in real time. No way to block it – you just have to live with it.

For Mr Guvenc, 51, and a group of four friends, the parade of military hardware through their city is irresistible. Sipping coffee from a stunning balcony with a panoramic view of the channel, they explain that the photographs they share online are pored over by military strategists and analysts around the world.

“Usually these ships are out of sight. We don’t know what they are doing,” explains Devrim Yaylali, 45, an economist who has been spotting ships for nearly 30 years. “The Bosphorus or the port is the only place you can see them.”

His friend Yoruk Isik, 45, an international affairs consultant, chips in: “Here, you can be in Starbucks with an espresso and a ship is literally 250 metres away.” The sharp bends and strong currents in the channel means that the boats must slow right down to manoeuvre, making them easy to photograph. “There’s no other place on earth where you can capture them so well.”

That is the easiest way to do, but it applies world wide. Sure, you can sneak B-2 in to Diego Garcia, if you wanted to. Are you going to be able to hide a large scale movement anywhere else?

Real time video is no longer a competitive advantage that we have. It is quickly becoming a global commodity.

Smartphones, drones, commercial imaging satellites, and just the byproduct of a much more populated, connected, and vigilant world; we are all under the all-seeing eye. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

There are some positives to this. You have more effect with well positioned presence ops, feints, or for the highly sophisticated – “gaslighting” the enemy so their OODA loop becomes a mobius strip.

That last bit. That is the fun part. What isn’t fun is knowing that you have to assume that wherever you are, if you can see something besides water, even a small terrorist cell may know right where you are real time. Regardless of what you may or may not see, you may be seen anyway.



AusTop10Read and read widely.

Building off a comment during the last Midrats by our guest, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, I took time this week to read Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper. Follow the link and give it a read, what an superior bit of work by our fellow Anglosphere brothers on the other side of the world.

As outlined in a great summary video by the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe, the White Paper is a clear eyed view of the world coming up in the next decade; a world that has dark shadows that demands a free people to have the ability to project hard power. Australia is well aware that defense spending in Asia is now above that of Europe. They are a continent sized nation blessed with resources, a high standard of living and with a thin population – surrounded by nations that are not.

I think this is just more than a paper, e should expect follow through;

Dr Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said he believed Australia is likely to join the US in conducting formal exercises.”There is a strong possibility we’ll become more involved in the South China Sea, particularly through freedom and navigation exercises alongside the Americans or other regional partner.

Professor Medcalf said the paper “reinforced the view that Australia sees the South China Sea tensions as a legitimate Australian security concern”.

The paper underscored that Australia is a US ally and Australia is building security partnerships with a range of countries in the region; it mentioned Indonesia, India and Japan in particular as countries Australia would want to build stronger security partnerships with.

“The paper highlighted that Australia’s security environment is becoming more complex and uncertain and much of this is related to Chinese power and the way China’s using that power,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

A big part of this buildup will be the Royal Australian Navy … with a bit of a bone it its teeth it seems;

Professor Mohan Malik at Honolulu’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies points out that China’s strategic thinkers are counting on the countries of the region going through three phases in response to China’s new assertiveness.

He points out that leading Chinese analysts such as Yan Xuetong, Shen Dingli and Shi Yinhong believe that regional countries will soon abandon resistance and move to accommodation of China and then, finally, reconciliation on China’s terms.

With the US presidential campaign giving the world a deeply unsettling premonition of a President Trump, it’s a key moment for other responsible powers to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law rather than the law of the jungle.

Australia, through Turnbull’s white paper, is saying that it will step up. The naval build up would not be big enough for Australia to win a standalone war against China.

But it does increase Australia’s heft, complicate the plans of any enemy, and mark Australia out as an important ally in any common defence of the Asia-Pacific peace.

On China’s current trajectory of increasingly using brute force against its neighbours, every country will have to make the hard choice to decide its stance. When the Soviet Union challenged Europe, Finland yielded its sovereignty to Moscow on vital matters while Britain stood staunchly opposed.

The real significance of last week’s defence white paper is Australia has chosen not to be a feeble Finland but to be a resolute Britain.

This resolve should encourage Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines and others in the area.

Of interest has been China’s reaction. A sample of quotes;

“China is seriously concerned about the contents in the white paper that touches upon the issue of South China Sea and is firmly opposed to the accusations against China ” said Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), at a press conference on February 25, adding that the South China Sea issue isn’t one between China and Australia, and the freedom of navigation in that region has never been and will never be affected for all countries, including Australia.

These remarks are negative and we are dissatisfied about this.”

Reading the document, you quickly determine that it does not take much to get the Chinese excited. Here are the quotes that got everyone turning their heads;

Territorial disputes between claimants in the East China and South China Seas have created uncertainty and tension in our region.

While major conflict between the United States and China is unlikely, there are a number of points of friction in the region in which differences between the United States and China could generate rising tensions. These points of friction include the East China and South China Seas, the airspace above those seas, and in the rules that govern international behaviour, particularly in the cyber and space domains.

Australia also has deep economic security interests in South East Asia. The region’s growth presents significant opportunities for Australia’s economy and prosperity. Two-way trade with ASEAN countries was worth over $100 billion in 2014. The waters of South East Asia carry the great majority of Australia’s international trade including to our three largest export markets in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Nearly two thirds of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea, including our major coal, iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports

Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes. Australia also opposes the assertion of associated territorial claims and maritime rights which are not in accordance with international law,

Australia has called on all South China Sea claimants to halt land reclamation and construction activities…

The absence of an agreed framework for managing the competing claims in the South China Sea highlights the importance of ASEAN and China agreeing to a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as soon as possible.

Our third Strategic Defence Interest is in a stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order which supports Australia’s interests. The Indo-Pacific includes North Asia, the South China Sea and the extensive sea lines of communication in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that support Australian trade.

There are more cards to play and elections to play out over the next decade, but there is one card that will be fun to watch. The Japan card;

Australia’s submarine industry has been given a much needed boost, with confirmation in the Defence White Paper that the Government will order 12 new vessels as part of its future submarine program.

Government yet to announce who will build submarines and where Japan, Germany and France vie for contract Government pledges to keep as much work as possible in Adelaide

But the much-delayed decision on who will build the subs, and where, will not be made until the middle of the year.

Japan is seen as the front-runner to win the $50 billion contract and the Turnbull Government has pledged to keep as much work in Adelaide as it can.

Japan. That would be interesting to watch.



109 Unleash the Beast Billboard (2)In the ongoing Telenovela that is the LCS program’s wobbly progress to being close to some definition of FMC in a PMA to be named later, we are at a point where well meaning true believers and critics of the program both share the same emotional space; a slightly masked sucking of the teeth waiting for good news.

The Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) has arrived in a Jacksonville, Fla. BAE Systems yard, according to a Friday release from the Navy.

The ship had left Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story, Va. on Wednesday headed to Florida to finalize repairs to its propulsion system that suffered damage in mid-December, according to the service.

The Navy will finalize the repairs to the combining gears ahead of shock trials that will prove the ship’s systems in a simulated combat scenario.

For the true believers, having LCS on both coasts nursing self-inflicted wounds to their exquisitely designed innards is no time to have something negative to take place with shock testing. The Navy has already spent all its good will and political capital on this system on The Hill. It just can’t survive any more bad news. Good people have done all they can to make it a success, but as Charlie Brown gives Lucy side-eye …

For the critic, they don’t really need any more references to point to that they were correct over a decade ago about the sub-optimal concept and execution of these two classes of ships. At this point, they want the best to be made of what our Sailors will be put in to harm’s way on, with a hope that in the 2030s we will be producing a better calss to replace them for today’s aspiring teenagers to command.

This generation is stuck with what the previous generation bequeathed to them. You go to war with the Navy you have, not the Navy you wish you had. Like hillbilly armor on a HUMVEE in ’04 – you do what you can with what you have.

So, here is to wishing the USS MILWAUKEE (LCS-5) the best once they get out of the yards and head to shock trials. Unleash the Beast.

May they have no need for the OPREP binder, a tow cable, and only normal use of a tug. May we learn what we need to and get on with the business of making the best of it.



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17th

A Munich Moment

February 2016

By

Yesterday, Richard Fontaine over at WarOnTheRocks provided one of the better summaries I have read about what was floating around in the ether at this year’s Munich Security Conference.

As a result of the discussions, a mood of frustration, even somberness, settled on the Munich participants this year. There have been difficult conferences before: in 2003, during the white-hot transatlantic fight over the looming war in Iraq, and in 2007, when Vladimir Putin denounced a “unipolar” world and previewed a more aggressive and anti-Western Russian line. Perhaps Munich 2017 will be sunnier and more hopeful, with many of this year’s challenges having faded into mere annoyances. Yet there is a good chance that many of the problems that so bedeviled the transatlantic partners this past weekend will remain on the crowded agenda for time to come.

A good chance? Yes, a very good chance.

He had five major take-aways:

1. Russian confidence.
2. European disarray.
3. Pleas for U.S. leadership.
4. Sense of American irrelevance.
5. Little hope for Syrian peace.

I’ll let you read his full post for how he outlines the five, but I think his five are about spot on – mostly because it is what has been groaning out of Europe all year.

You can batch these in to three groupings, though all five are interrelated, but not in the way most people think. We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now let’s stick in order.

Russian confidence and European disarray: For the entire period I wore the uniform and now over a half a decade since my retirements, people who respect history have been warning the Europeans and Canada that they need to take national defense seriously. In recent history, there have been those who thought they could move the needle from within, only to lash out once their turn on the rowing bench was done (Gen. Craddock, USA and SECDEF Gates just two examples).

Some of the cry had been out of a proper sense of fairness and shared sacrifice, but others like myself did it out of affection knowing that my nation was only an election or two away from the American public not willing to defend those who won’t defend themselves.

The Russians are confident as they have seen the Europeans’ failure to rise to the occasion after the slow but steady American decoupling from Europe. The Russians are confident because they perceive that they are winning. They respect strength and have contempt for weakness. The only stiffening of spines they have seen recently have been from the Poles and a little more concern from the Americans – but for the balance of Europe? No.

In the diplomatic and informational domains, they have probed with success. In economics, they are the weakest – but with what they respect the most, their military efforts continue to be a plus from them from the eastern borders of Ukraine, Crimea, and even to the point that the once great Royal Navy cannot even defend its coastal waters;

Britain had to rely on the US, Canada, France and Germany aircraft to protect its territorial waters more than 20 times last year, with the Royal Navy’s reliance on its Nato allies far greater than previously thought.

Defence experts say Russian submarine activity off Britain is returning toward Cold War levels.

Pleas for U.S. leadership & sense of American irrelevance: for almost all of living memory, the Western European nations have lived and prospered under the American military umbrella and have become too used to not carrying their load. Ukraine, Syria, and the migrant crisis is an order of magnitude greater European issue than North American. America isn’t irrelevant, it is just that in elections over the past eight years, the American people have decided that they no longer wish to unequally take on the West’s burdens, to only then be pilloried, insulted, and blamed for the effort. America decided that we will help others who help themselves – so Europe will have to re-learn how to keep their own house in order and we’ll help where we can, if it is in our national interest. Selfish and irresponsible? Not really, just traditional statecraft.

This mood is from both sides of the political spectrum in the USA as well. Where there was once a bi-partisan consensus for American to lead in all significant European security issues – that consensus is long gone. There is now a bi-partisan consensus for just the opposite.

The numbers back up the general vibe. As derived from the CIA factbook, let’s review the top-line numbers.

natojpg

Until these numbers come more in line, there is only so much any elected American official can do to convince the American people that, once again, the American must do what the Europeans can, but won’t.

Now let’s shift to the last – little hope for Syrian peace: define “peace.” Is peace a frozen conflict? No. If nothing else, we have proven that over time. Why is Western Europe at peace right now? Simple. There was a sound military and political defeat of fascism in Western Europe. There were boundaries made and then for the most part there was massive and merciless ethnic cleansing that created relatively ethnically homogeneous nations inside agreed borders. Where there is conflict today is where in places like eastern Estonia, eastern Ukraine, and spots of bother in the Balkans where significant minority groups were left. That is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Syria and northern Iraq is the Balkans of the Arab World. If militant Sunni Islam is your greatest enemy, then you have one option in the Game of Thrones-ish war going on now in Syria; let Assad win and play the strongman over a subjugated people, come to some accommodation with the Kurds, and move to destroy ISIS with the Russians before Turkey gets involved. There is really no other realistic option. If we will not back the Russian play, if we cannot offer a better way to end the conflict, then we should just get out of the way. At other earlier points in time, there were perhaps other more attractive options, but 1QCY16, this is where we are.

There are a lot of places where people seemed to believe because we should do something, we will/can do something. To get from “should” to “will/can” there has to be a critical bridging function known as leadership from the POLMIL level.

Shifting to the original failure in the Arab Spring, the Libyan theater of operations; listen to the following from our friend Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

The clock is ticking for Western powers to intervene militarily against ISIS in Libya — and Canada has a responsibility to join a potential mission there, says NATO’s former supreme allied commander.

“If we’re going to have an impact in Libya, now is the time to get involved, over the next six months,” retired U.S. navy admiral James Stavridis said on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“We have to act before the Islamic State becomes even stronger … otherwise we’re going to have another massively failed state on the periphery of Europe.”

Is he correct? Is this something the international community “should” do? Yes and of course. What is missing then?

Let’s go back to the fundamentals. Is there a popular will in Europe to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, and British forces and money? No. Is there a popular will in North America to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with Canadian and USA forces and money? No.

Is there leadership in place at the levers of power in Europe and North America that has the desire to bring the popular will to a national will to take action? No.

As such, as much as the theory is sound in early 2016 – as sound as the theory of the invasion of Iraq was in 2003 – will there be any such action in Libya or Syria? No.

As a result, what should one do? Think and plan for consequence management. Wargame Most Likely and Most Dangerous COA and then clearly identify Decision Points for Branch Plans. Do it twice; once with pro-active leaders, one with passive/dithering leaders. If that has not already been done, then we will just have to make it up as we go along when, as our politicians like to say on occasions, we find out about events on the news.

This is the world that was asked for at the end of the last decade, especially in Western Europe. It is what we have. Tomorrow will have to do the best it can with its inheritance.



c5db817c565459e739af64f9cd6c617a9189b9eaLack of self-awareness. We all know people who suffer from this problem. Can organizations suffer from the same?

Let’s look at the basics of looking for problems and fixing them and see where it takes us.

As a firm believer in continuous improvement, no organization can remain excellent over time without clear, and often cutting, self-examination. Good, regular “preventative maintenance” is just solid leadership. When all is well, you want to make sure all is well. You inspect, measure, compare and report. If something is not what it should be, you correct and move on.

Sometimes, problems come to you before you can find them. At sea, in the air, or even in a car – you can often “feel” something is not quite right well before a light or alarm goes off. Sometimes it is obvious like a subtle shimmy or noise, other times obvious – but you never just ignore it, you investigate.

As is often the case, you may not find the cause of your unease on the first path you take in trouble-shooting. You try one thing for a certain period of time, and if that is not productive, you move on to another possibility. What you don’t do is to double down on an area of investigation that, in a reasonable period of time, shows you nothing that is wrong.

Most can agree with this. So, let’s move away from the practical area of trouble shooting to the other side of the brain, the bureaucratic method.

What if an organization created to fix a problem finds nothing, but in its search, exemplifies a greater problem that is infecting the entire organization?

Well, we may have that.

Behold, the Pentagon’s Office of the Senior Adviser for Military Professionalism;

(RADM Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel amid a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks. Those fears may have been overblown, she said.

“We’re not in a crisis. But this subject of human behavior requires constant attention,”

What have we found?

The slew of scandals that emerged a few years ago made for stunning headlines. A Navy corruption scandal. An Air Force major general who oversaw nuclear missiles was fired after his drunken bender on a visit to Moscow offended both his Russian hosts and his own staff. An Army four-star general was reprimanded for spending lavishly on official trips.

But Klein said those are anecdotal and she’s found no systemic or deeply rooted cultural problem. “We’re seeing numbers within historic norms,” she said.

OK. No crisis. Good intentions here though;

“We always want to be shooting for a target that decreases the incident rate.”

“We think the right answer is a little different for each service based on their heritage.”

Improvement. Good. What other subjective ideas have come up in two years? I say subjective, as I don’t see any metrics. What we know is that they like the Marines and the Army and all their schools. They think, ahem, that the Navy and USAF officers spend too much time … well … not going to school, I guess;

During the past two years, Klein and her seven-member staff have helped the Navy and Air Force set up their own centers: the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center at the Naval War College in Rhode Island and the Air Force’s Profession of Arms Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio.

“Those two organizations are helping airmen and sailors to understand the importance of trust, humility, integrity, empathy. They are helping them understand those very important virtues of command,”

Let’s take a moment and let that soak in. Based on a staff of seven’s subjective service envy, we have set up schools that won’t touch but a few officers, to understand “trust, humility, integrity, empathy.”

If you have made it through the selection process for an officer program, OCS, NROTC, USNA, and go through at least one sea tour – and we as an organization do not know at a minimum that you are a trustworthy person with integrity – what are we doing? As for humility and empathy, neither one of those things can be taught, they can only be demonstrated.

I’ve worked a lot with Marines, Army, and Air Force personnel, and have served in their units as well. Do they have different cultures? Sure do. But …

“The Army and the Marine Corps have a very mature profession of arms,”

“The ground forces, they send really junior people into leadership positions. They have company command, they have O-3s going into command, and their professional identity is learned very early on,” Klein said, referring to the paygrade for captains in the Army, Marines and Air Force. Navy O-3s are lieutenants. Yet the Navy and the Air Force, historically, “are very technically focused,” she said.

That is an incredibly broad brush. I’m not sure what she is actually going for here. Is the implication that our Navy is “immature” in its professionalism? That your standard issue Navy O3 has no “professional identity?”

That might be true in isolation, but I don’t see that in any general way in the Navy than other services. A LTjg flying a EA-18G? A LTjg XO of a PC? A LT SEAL?

Do we need more LT and LCDR commands? Of course, and to our great shame we don’t, but I don’t think that is what her team is focused on.

… Klein found that the Army and Marine Corps created “centers of excellence” for commanders’ professional development, but the Navy and Air Force had not. These organizations develop training programs for current and future leaders that focus on the intangible virtues of leadership as well as more mundane matters like travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles — issues that can cause headaches for some leaders and their staffs.

I’ll stop there. You can read the rest Andrew Tilghman’s bit over at MilitaryTimes. But after two years, the answer for the Navy and the Air Force is less time leading Sailors, forward deployed, honing their craft – but busy work ashore to make sure they don’t have issues with,

travel regulations, restrictions on accepting gifts and using official vehicles

This has nothing to do with “warfighting first” or building leaders, this has everything to do with trying to prevent bad news stories that evolve from fallen beings in an imperfect world making leadership read embarrassing stories like Fat Leonard in … MilitaryTimes.

Goodness knows we don’t want “some leaders” having headaches or their staff’s dealing with problems.

Shipmate, I’ve got news for you – the job of “some leaders” and their staff is just that – dealing with headaches. That is why they exist.

I am not impressed. We have no uptick in human failings, by her own admission, and are not in crisis, but we are acting as if we are in crisis. It begs the question, why?

If we are concerned about people with personality defects being promoted, then we need to stop promoting them. Do the regression analysis. More schooling is not going to make an adult suddenly have more empathy or humility. Look deeper in to a culture that promotes people with these problems. If we actually have one.

Do we have things in our Navy culture that needs improving? We sure do, but I don’t see anything in RADM Klein’s report that would do that except more LT commands.

Another thing we need to do is to know when we have dug a dry hole. Let’s go back to part of an earlier quote;

RADM (Peg) Klein has spent nearly two years helping the services sharpen their professional development and leadership training. Her office was created in March 2014 …

Wait for it;

She has asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter to extend its life through January 2017. “A little bit more time is a really inexpensive investment in getting traction in these ideas that we’re trying to institutionalize,” she said.

A few years ago, I tried to create a measure of time that would give proper context to the programs we keep shoveling money borrowed from our grandchildren in to. I called it a WorldWar, or WW.

A WW is the length of time it took to fight WWII. 1,366 days = 1 WW.

From March 2014 to Jan 2017, that is roughly .76 WW.

In ~3/4 the time it took us to fight WWII, we are going to have a 2-star and a staff of 7 look in to the cause of,

a spate of scandals involving senior officers and mounting concerns of a systemic or cultural problem in the ranks.

~.5 WW in to that investigation, the group realized that concerns were unfounded, but they liked their little exercise and wanted to extend its life by another 50% to see if they could find any more happys that needed to be put in to glads. Any light grey that needed to be dark grey.

If you are looking for cultural problems, you can start here. In a time where the US Navy is facing,

… a $7 billion reduction in fiscal 2017 funding – about 3.5 percent over last year’s plan … The Navy is planning on a uniformed force of 322,900 sailors in 2017, down from 327,300 authorized in 2016 and last year’s forecast of 326,500 for 2017. … the permanent elimination of a tenth carrier air wing and four aviation squadrons, and a new request to take seven cruisers out of service in 2017 …

… and we are trying to keep a Flag Officer project alive another year that, after two years, determined that the purpose for which it was created was unfounded, nothing is systemically broken, but they found some things they personally found interesting that they want to spend unknown millions of dollars to tinker with.

This staff has done its job. It has some recommendations – some that one could argue could have been discovered in a much quicker time. It is time to let it submit its report and to recode the manning document.

It has been .5 MM.

The Tamarians may have had, “Shaka, when the walls fell,” perhaps we can have, “Klein and Hagel on leadership.”



130517-N-YZ751-017 ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 17, 2013) An X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) demonstrator conducts a touch and go landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). This is the first time any unmanned aircraft has completed a touch and go landing at sea. George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

I have found some of the responses to the latest announcement about UCLASS to be sadly telling about how little some have learned from the Age of Transformationalism that begat LCS, DDG-1000, and F-35.

To me, the decision on UCLASS is a good news story about a focused and learning institution, but others seem slightly stuck between rage and disappointment when they realize that by the end of FY17 we won’t be launching sharks with lasers on their foreheads off the #3 catapult.

First the announcement via Sam on Monday;

The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) effort is being retooled as primarily a carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling platform — one of several Pentagon directed naval aviation mandates in the service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget submission.

The shift from UCLASS to the new Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) will be made alongside an additional buy of Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets over the next several years and accelerated purchases and development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Let’s pause here a bit and review two things.

First, we have known for a long time that we have intentionally taken away one of the most critical requirements of carrier based aviation, deep strike. The light attack community won their internacine Beltway war and killed off the VA and VF community with the help of accountants and industry lobbying. Yippee for them, I guess.

In an ever more short sighted effort to dig around the cushions to find more change, we mindlessly let an organic tanking ability fade away. As people decided that long range strike and anti-submarine warfare wasn’t going to be an issue in their PCS cycle, why not go ahead and take that money now and let others deal that those papered over problems later. Action complete.

Their personal victory did work for their PCS cycle, but as requirements regressed to the mean, we found our aviation fleet tactically limited, operationally confined, and the nation’s power projection ability at strategic risk.

Second, let’s be clear about where we stand with unmanned systems. Ignore the PPT vignettes and cartoon sci-fi theory, but rest on the cold facts that the hardware is relatively untested in a sustained operational environment. The software is between crawl and walk in the crawl-walk-run spectrum. The JAG community and diplo-political considerations are not even close to being ready to ponder any type of strike capability beyond some kind of “reusable TLAM.” For those who think of autonomous strike and AAW with Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) or drones or whatever we are calling them this week, they need to fully hoist onboard the fact that the hardware and software are the easy problems. The JAG and diplo-political problems? Good luck with that.

Where does that put us now? Well, we don’t have any attack aircraft on the drawing board, nor do we have any heavy fighters on the way. FA-XX is looking to be more “F” than “A” – but we’ll see – but that is WAAAYYY off from making shadows on the ramp.

Right now and in the next decade, what do we need? We need to do what we can to regain what we lost, a airwing with legs.

USNI News understands the Navy commissioned a study last year with the Center for Naval Analysis that found that modifying the existing UCLASS program was more capable and cost effective than a modified V-22, Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, bringing back the retired S-3 Viking or using the JSF.

Tanking with UAS from a hardware and software standpoint is doable and reachable. Extra bonus, the carrier airwing and aircraft carriers will build experience of maintaining and operating with UAS at sea. We will learn things we have not even thought of yet. We will refine the equipment, modify requirements, and smart men and women will come up with ideas that will make the next steps a greater success.

It is natural that UAS move on to ISR and even strike – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We can do something earlier that we need yesterday, tanking. In doing so, we greatly increase the odds of moving in to ISR and strike with success.

Even tanking will be a challenge, but if we can’t make that work, we can’t make ISR or strike work anytime soon either.

We can make that work, or we can’t. Either way, tanking first is the best approach to UAS today given what we know of the hardware and software that exists today. Not aspirational, not on the PPT, not on the vignette. No. What the folks at Pax River can work with inside a POM or two.

NAVIAR (sic) spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove would not confirm any details on the CBARS program ahead of the release of the FY 2017 budget next week when reached by USNI News on Monday.

One defense official told USNI News the Navy’s priority would be to develop and perfect the control and the connectivity systems with the idea being those basic systems could be used to on different carrier based airframes.

“The Navy has already said it wants to develop the airframe iteratively and that the most expensive part of the [development] is creating a system for an aircraft to move on, off and around the carrier,” one defense official told USNI News on Monday.

That, my friends, is beautiful thinking. UAS skeptics and UAS fanboy enthusiasts should all nod their heads in support.

Innovation, imagination, and progress is part of our competitive advantage when we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. This is good.

One final note; as he is on many things, the SECNAV is greatly mistaken on manned vs. unmanned carrier air;

Last year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the F-35C would be “almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” he said in address at the Navy League’s 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

Step away from the PPT. UAS have a future, but they are simply a tool. They are a tool that can do many things – but there will always be a requirement for a “man in the loop” in the messy business of war. A man there, on station, with the training and mind to make decisions on the spot – and to be held accountable for his actions.

Also, talk to your JAG at the end of the vignette. The news of the death of the manned aircraft has been greatly exagerated.



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