Nothing is written.
What everyone is planning to happen may, in a very short time, seem like a paranoid fever dream.
We need to be humble as we try to think about what China will be in the coming decades. Japan stretches, The Philippines decides that they like us again, and all of a sudden Vietnam is one of the most welcoming places in Southeast Asia for an American.
The 2nd decade of the 21st Century is an interesting place, but what about China in the next couple of decades?
Will the South China Sea be full of PLAN CSG, or awash in a pathetic mix of warlord weapon smugglers and refugees? China the hegemon, or China the bloodbath of tens of millions fighting each other for scraps? Something in between?
If you lean towards some natural rise of China to displace the USA and stand astride the globe, Daniel C. Lynch over at FA has an article that demands your attention;
Over the past three months, uncertainty over the course of Chinese development has intensified, with a steady flow of mostly bad economic news: yet another plunge in the stock market, which was already crumbling and kept afloat only by massive state intervention ; mounting corporate debt; and a hemorrhaging of foreign exchange reserves, to name a few. The reality is that China is staring economic stagnation in the face, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is panicking. The party appeared to have acknowledged the seriousness of its economic woes, which can only be worsened by a declining and aging labor force …
No country in history has relied as heavily on investment to both fuel GDP growth and maintain the existing structure of GDP as China.
Even though China’s rise seems to be on the verge of setting, outsiders should exercise caution in how they interpret this dramatic shift. It need not, for example, lead to China’s “collapse.” Some who predict a Chinese collapse  point to the dissolution of the Soviet Union: another half-reformed communist superpower. A more appropriate comparison would be to Japan and its “lost decade” … The end of China’s rise will most likely hurt the CCP far more than Japan’s did its elites.
Even so, saying that China’s rise is ending is not the same as saying the country will collapse. Poor, authoritarian countries can stagnate for decades and yet never face political collapse.
Bingo. China has a history of this kind of behavior. That would be my most likely COA inside the “China staggers” construct.
There is some evidence to suggest that younger Chinese are, like their counterparts in other societies, becoming increasingly “postmodern” in their political and cultural outlooks: more tolerant of diversity, exploratory in their studies and careers, and spiritually rather than materially focused. In particular, they have become strongly conscious of an imperative need to preserve and nurture the environment. As the CCP increasingly finds itself beholden to this segment of society, it may be compelled to accept a gradual transformation in the party itself, one that results in a more open and enlightened institution. This is a long-term vision. It may not even be realized in the next ten to 20 years, but it is an outcome for which everyone with an interest in the situation should, at the very least, hope.
Hope isn’t a plan, but if it is, a plan must have Assumptions. With each Assumption should be a Branch Plan in case that Assumption is found to be false. The prudence of caution and hedge should be our guide so we don’t invest precious resources in things that are a little too based on what we think China could be.
For our Navy, the service that needs the longest lead time, multi-mission flexibility should be the cornerstone of everything we invest in training, manning and equipping our forces.
History will deliver to the future the China it wants to. Odds are, it won’t be what the majority of the people in the national security nomenclatura are briefing.
Ask for three Red COA … and then a 4th.
NB: Scroll to the bottom for updates.
Some blog posts are best put together with few words, but lots of pictures. Pictures matter. Pictures also need to be understood in each cultural context in which they are viewed.
Yesterday’s events that led up to the capture and release of our 10 Sailors will be better known in time, and is best reviewed then. That “how they got there” story is a very separate story than the more important story about what the Iranians did with the opportunity we gave them.
Think about not so much the view with your eyes, but with the eyes of those who do not wish our nation well; those who are on the fence, looking for the strong horse; those friends who lean heavily on their confidence in the great United States Navy.
Look and think about this part of the story – it will have much longer impact on our nation than the tactical details about how we got to the point where our flag was pulled down, our Sailors had their hands behind their heads, and from that sad view in the corner, our female Sailor appears to have been forced to wear a head scarf.
Oh, and yes; you must watch the video.
ویدئو: لحظه دستگیری ملوانان آمریکایی در حریم آبی ایران در خلیج فارس pic.twitter.com/KPAf3USGrA
— روزنامه شرق (@SharghDaily) January 13, 2016
Update: More video.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
Update II – Electric Boogaloo: Like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex, you will be made to watch.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
UPDAE III: Interior video post capture. Nice comm gear.
— Abas Aslani (@abasinfo) January 13, 2016
We have a new CNO, and now we have his view of where he sees the Navy and where he wants us to go; A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.
Let’s do something a bit different and go through it together. I don’t feel like crafting a broad overview, and I don’t want to Fisk the document either. Let’s go Old School blogger and put this together as I read it.
Before we get started at page 1, let’s define what it is not. If you are looking for a strategy paper, then this is not the publication you are looking for.
You can go to the embedded document below, or click here and open it in another tab, but let’s get started.
The initiatives laid out in this Design represent initial steps along a future course to achieve the aims articulated in the Revised Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century (CS-21R) in this new environment.
Oh no. Off the bat we have all sorts of staff failure. I am disheartened. As a recidivist staff weenie, I can be scrappy on such things, but really folks. From the “planning to plan” school, we lead with “initial steps” … following a MAR15 update to a 2007 document? This does not inspire confidence, but let’s push though and assume that we have not been marching in place for eight years. We’ll give you a mulligan.
Clunk. Just as we step forward, we clang our nogg’n in to the overhead; What was that again?
Revised Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century
I really want to like this, so let’s take a deep breath and see if we can make it to page 2.
Hey, we can call page 2 the BJ Armstrong memorial page, as we kick it off with Mahan. You can never go wrong quoting Mahan for a good review of the fundamentals … but … oh no again …
The essence of Mahan’s vision still pertains: America’s interests lie beyond our own shores. What was true in the late 19th century holds true today – America’s success depends on our creativity, our entrepreneurism, and our access and relationships abroad. In an increasingly globalized world, America’s success is even more reliant on the U.S. Navy.
Wait, we’re warming up;
this Design will address three major and interrelated global forces that are increasingly used, increasingly stressed, increasingly important, and increasingly contested. These three forces energize the quickly changing environment in which the Navy must operate, and if required, fight and win.
The first global force is the traffic on the oceans, seas, and waterways, including the sea floor – the classic maritime system.
A second increasingly influential force is the rise of the global information system – the information that rides on the servers, undersea cables, satellites, and wireless networks that increasingly envelop and connect the globe.
OK, standard as well.
The third interrelated force is the increasing rate of technological creation and adoption. This is not just in information technologies, where Gordon Moore’s projections of exponential advances in processing, storage, and switches continue to be realized. Scientists are also unlocking new properties of commonplace materials and creating new materials altogether at astonishing speeds.
Helpful review, but let’s keep going to the middle of page 3, and there it is.
For the first time in 25 years, the United States is facing a return to great power competition. Russia and China both have advanced their military capabilities to act as global powers.
Russia and China are not the only actors seeking to gain advantages in the emerging security environment in ways that threaten U.S. and global interests. Others are now pursuing advanced technology, including military technologies that were once the exclusive province of great powers – this trend will only continue.
We have named names. Excellent and the right call – and a solid departure from previous such documents. This brings focus to the mind.
On to page 4, we also have a very welcome datapoint,
There is also a fourth ‘force’ that shapes our security environment. Barring an unforeseen change, even as we face new challenges and an increasing pace, the Defense and Navy budgets likely will continue to be under pressure. We will not be able to “buy” our way out of the challenges that we face. The budget environment will force tough choices but must also inspire new thinking.
Bravo Zulu CNO. As we get within range of the Terrible 20s, an understanding of this will be essential for everyone to understand.
So far, we seem to have a King Cake of a new year’s document. A fun little prize in the middle of a bunch of cake, but that is OK. I don’t think this is designed for the maritime chattering classes, think tankers, or keyboard armed pontificators. This is an introductory document; a “Design.”
As you get to page 5, you get the “Core Attributes;” Integrity, Accountability, Initiative, Toughness.
Do these seem like sound fundamentals? Sure, and welcome. These are refreshingly time tested, clearly delivered, and a absent some of the socio-political agenda checklist items found in previous such documents. These are solid items leaders in the field can build things around.
Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.
Page 6 brings the Four Lines of Effort; 1;
Strengthen Naval Power and and From The Sea
Outstanding. All of this is related to projecting national will from the sea and builds off the previous CNO’s “Warfighing First.” More of this.
Achieve High Velocity Education at All Levels
An education focus with four specifics on page 7. Fine, especially;
Understand the lessons of history so as not to relearn them
So, we will expand history requirements in line with STEM requirements? Asking for a friend.
Strengthen Our Navy Team for the Future
Weak leaning towards fluff in the beginning, but strong at the end. Five points that mention leader/leadership five times … in the last two bullets. I do have some embedded issues with Sailor 2025 the first two bullets seem to be rubb’n on it like a dog on fresh deer skittles. 2025 is worm eaten with divisive, quota driven, Social Justice, and retrograde items in its “Culture” section – but I’ve always assumed much of it is harmless feeding of Vaal, so no deal killer.
Expand and Strengthen our Network of Partners
A bit from the “take-charge-and-carry-out-the-plan-of-the-day” item bin, but in line with Orwell’s quote above, workable.
That is about it.
As stated in the opening, if you expected more, you won’t find it. This is good at what it is, a broad directional outline of what a leader wants you to keep in mind as you focus on your area of responsibility.
– Focus on how you will project force in a more challenged sea, with more constrained resources.
– This is a service that has time tested fundamentals that you should use as a benchmark.
– Don’t get distracted by shiny objects other have thrown in your way.
More to follow.
It has been building for awhile, but it took Syria to have it break above the ambient noise for many.
Some of the best writing has been of the curious and interested variety with a raised eyebrow or two, but unfortunately, some in the general press has been a bit alarmist. Though I don’t blame him for the title, David Axe’s article at the DailyBeast, U.S. Fears Grow of a ‘Newly Awakened’ Russian Navy, is a more benign example of the type;
A new report from the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch paints a sobering picture of Putin’s increasingly aggressive fleet—and its deadly international shows of force.
For the first time in 24 years, the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch has published an unclassified report warning against a rapidly rearming and increasingly aggressive Russian fleet.
And while the report—which the Navy intends for public consumption—has been years in the making, recent events have underscored just how serious its findings are. It’s becoming clearer by the day that, with the strong backing of President Vladimir Putin, the Russian navy is making a serious effort to challenge the world’s preeminent maritime power—the United States.
David makes some good use of folks from the USNI cadre, Norman Polmar and David Wertheim, and the tone of the article is mostly calm – but the choice of the headline is important.
Though much of us in the national security chattering class have always kept an eye on Russia, a large segment has not. They have been focused on the Long War and not much else besides a glance across the Pacific. For them, a returning Russia to the international stage in force has upset their table and is messing with their preconceived notions of what this century should be about.
No reason, at least from the maritime side of the house, to “fear.” Be curious, be watchful, but really nothing to fear. One thing we should do is to continue to watch, write, and discuss where Russia is going. By doing so, the conversation will keep people informed.
Mostly, people only fear the unknown. That is where we come in – let’s study and write about Russia more. Some of us miss her anyway, and who knows – maybe she can give us some ideas we can use to improve our own navy.
The USA can’t do it all in WESTPAC, and we shouldn’t do it all. When it comes to regional security, the USA does have comparative advantage compared to some of our friends and allies, specifically economic power, and technology.
They have comparative advantages in geographic location and manpower. If we can combine our advantages in to the right package, there is more then enough there to give China pause in her expansionist ambitions.
Over at The National Interest, Jerry Hendrix is thinking about this and thinking right;
There is a Goliath menacing the western Pacific. China’s construction of three huge artificial islands with obvious military capacity in the South China Sea has already destabilized the security equilibrium in the region. Given the rising tensions and outright challenges to the established international security order in the western Pacific, it is time for the United States to align its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program with its Pivot to Asia initiative, in order to strengthen the region’s Davids.
Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Singapore have been increasingly united in their resistance towards Chinese aggression, but their unity, though powerful symbolically and legally compelling, can go only so far in the face of China’s rapidly expanding military capacity and capabilities. They will need new platforms adept at complicating China’s territorial designs and integrating with allies, partners and neighbors.
Jerry covers the math well further in the article, but when reading it, I kept coming back to the title, If China’s Goliath Threatens Asia, Then Arm David.
So David, in that story, is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger. Now why do we call David an underdog? Well, we call him an underdog because he’s a kid, a little kid, and Goliath is this big, strong giant. We also call him an underdog because Goliath is an experienced warrior, and David is just a shepherd. But most importantly, we call him an underdog because all he has is — it’s that Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armor and a sword and a javelin and a spear, and all David has is this sling.
Well, let’s start there with the phrase “All David has is this sling,” because that’s the first mistake that we make. In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There’s cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There’s heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there’s artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That’s what David has, and it’s important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot. It’s not this, right? It’s not a child’s toy. It’s in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he’s turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it’s going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That’s substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it’s roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun. This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers — experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up — and he’s not 200 yards away from Goliath, he’s quite close to Goliath — when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another.
So what’s Goliath? He’s heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he’s going to be fighting another heavy infantryman. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the key phrase is “Come to me.” Come up to me because we’re going to fight, hand to hand, like this. Saul has the same expectation. David says, “I want to fight Goliath,” and Saul tries to give him his armor, because Saul is thinking, “Oh, when you say ‘fight Goliath,’ you mean ‘fight him in hand-to-hand combat,’ infantry on infantry.”
But David has absolutely no expectation. He’s not going to fight him that way.
So the Israelites up on the mountain ridge looking down on him thought he was this extraordinarily powerful foe. What they didn’t understand was that the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness.
And there is, I think, in that, a very important lesson for all of us. Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.
Let’s stick with this angle on David vs. Goliath.
If we want to help our Davids, how do we do that? By using each partner’s comparative advantage, and acknowledging critical vulnerabilities as well – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We should make sure we keep our Davids light, mobile, efficient and deadly. If we do that, who knows, perhaps we too can stand in the distance and watch them fight and win for themselves.
After the Russian moves in to the Crimea, there was a fair bit of goofing at the old Russia hands in the Pentagon who were excited after years of being ignored, shuffling around the halls waving dusty Harvard Graphics slides to anyone they met – but that cute phase is long past.
Almost everyone appreciates that, while not the Soviet Union, the Russian bear still demands respect. Encouraged by their victory over the USA in the strategic direction in Syria – expect Russia to continue to push the envelope of their regional influence back to her traditional boundaries.
In line with that, everyone should keep up to speed with the latest Russian naval developments. With both domestic use and sales on the international marketplace, our Sailors of the middle of the 21st Century will have to know Russian hardware as well as their fathers knew Soviet Hardware at the end of the 20th.
You can go ahead and put on your Christmas vacation reading list the latest from ONI, The Russian Navy: A Historic Transition. You can download at the link or read below … but this is an excellently digestible UNCLASS primer.
Just a few pull quotes:
The new technologically advanced Russian Navy, increasingly armed with the KALIBR family of weapons, will be able to more capably defend the maritime approaches to the Russian Federation and exert significant influence in adjacent seas. This multi-purpose force will be the forward-layered defense of Russia and its maritime exclusive economic zone and will be able to promote Russian diplomatic interests, advance maritime science, combat piracy, and provide humanitarian assistance.
It will also provide a flexible platform for Russia to demonstrate offensive capability, threaten neighbors, project power regionally, and advance President Putin’s stated goal of returning Russia to clear great power status.
They have a mission as we do. They also have catch-up to play, and some grievances to work on. They are not Western, nor Eastern – they are Russian.
Part of being Russian, they like to follow their plans – if they have the resources to do so. As their capabilities and resources grow, where will they go and what will they do? Well, they will tell you.
The Navy’s peacetime missions are:
• Deter. Maintain strategic nuclear deterrent forces—strategic nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)—in permanent ready status, able to deliver a timely retaliatory strike or deploy in times of growing tension to deter an attack against Russia.
• Defend. Maintain and deploy constant ready general-purpose naval forces to protect and defend Russia’s national interests both in adjacent seas as well as in more distant waters.
• Demonstrate. Use the select deployment of general-purpose forces as an “instrument of state” to support Russian foreign policy.
In times of increased tension and war, the Navy’s priority missions are:
• Protect. Protect the sea-based strategic deterrent force.
• Interdict. Interdict or blunt an aero-space attack against Russia from the maritime directions.
Note their ease of discussing nuclear weapons. Don’t discount it, not a bit.
Again, read it all – especially the end of it. A lot of the old Soviet Navy gear will begin to fade year by year, and the newer stuff will take its place. Some of which we have seen in use in Syria. It will give the Russians not just a new look, but new capabilities and a new mindset.
Oh, and the pic above, there is another one for PACFLT in the report. I like the above though as it gives a nice insight in to what the Russians see as “their” naval zone of influence. What we think of the Caribbean and the waters between Guam and San Francisco? Yep, perhaps what these waters mean to the Russians.
Ponder, then ponder some more next time someone starts to speak of no fly zones, maritime exclusion zones and all that.
In our up-or-out system, not everyone can or should have a full active duty career option. By design, you need a large cohort of the young that will neck-down over time in to a small wedge at the top. Performance, boards, and life decisions of service members have always helped the culling as people progressed over time.
That many people leave early, even very promising people, is a requirement of our system. This simple fact should not be seen by itself as bad. With the many variables as are in retention, especially with abrupt budget derived demand shocks, adjustments will need to be made. However, we have enough historical aggregate data on retention vs. economic variables that in admittedly clunky ways, we can adjust the sweeten/sour knob to get our end numbers more often than not.
We have run in to a little problem though. A difference that was manageable with a once small sub-groups of personnel, as that sub-group has grown by design as of late, has become a problem. A problem that is creating a more inefficient personnel system. One that is running in to a wall on the path to an externally derived end-state benchmark.
That problem is life. As reported in NavyTimes by Meghann Myers and David Larter;
For the first women to earn the coveted dolphin pin, it’s decision time about whether to stay in the Navy. And so far, only three of the original 24 have signed up.
“I would probably expect that most of the women are going to get out,” Lt. Jennifer Carroll told Navy Times. “I don’t know exactly what everyone’s personal reasons are for it, but I think a lot of it has to do with co-location.”
Carroll said she is considering leaving the Navy instead of becoming a department head, principally because it’s unlikely she’ll be able to find orders in the same area as her husband, an E-2 Hawkeye pilot.
Everyone here is aware of the top-down desire for a high % of female senior officers, sooner more than later, but is that achievable without excessive abuse to the larger system? Is such a targeted number of female senior leaders so high because it meets someone’s sociopolitical metrics? Sure, you can do that … but you will have to assess a lot more women coming in the pipeline. To make that number work, geometrically more, but the retention percentage difference won’t change. You will not be able to change biology and psychology. You will always be chasing the dragon as the ratios will always be skewed.
“Regardless of community or gender, committing to a department head tour requires dedication and sacrifice by our junior officers and their families,” SUBFOR spokesman Cmdr. Tommy Crosby said in an email. “Submarine force leadership remains committed to mentoring our junior officers, male and female, as they face this challenging decision.”
Factoring in those unplanned losses leaves the retention rate at 16 percent for the first submarine officers, Crosby said. … Crosby noted that retention for nuclear-trained women in surface warfare stands at 14 percent …
But within those communities is a great disparity. While 41 percent of male SWOs stick around, about 22 percent of their female colleagues do.
The problem is that we have a very powerful political movement that does not understand the military, but does know how to make a living off the heavily male skew in the military. A skew that, in many ways, exists for the same reason one exists in the NFL.
There are more varied physical requirements in our Navy than the NFL, thank goodness, so there are more opportunities for the average female to serve – but even that hits a wall unless you start to artificially pump the system.
Though women make up over 50% of the population, even if you removed all physical and cultural barriers to a desire to serve, you could never expand female numbers higher than they already are in a volunteer military, nor would you.
The reason? No matter how many people you try to brainwash in the socio-political reeducation “Lean In Circles,” most women want, if they have found a good enough mate, to have as full of a life as they can – as they define it. Biology gives a woman a very small window to do that.
For many women, two of the most significant parts of pursuit is to have a successful marriage and to raise the next generation.
For an officer that receives her commission at age 22, she comes off her first sea duty at age 25 to 28+/-. Let’s say they are average for their college graduate peer group and get married at 27. In line with most of their cohort, the average age of their first child is 30. Age 30, yes, you know that age. That is also the age that female fertility starts a steeper downward curve – dropping off very fast at 35.
What if they want to have 2 kids? 3 or even 4? Look at what is required in your 30s for a career officer. Grab a calendar. Grab a clock. Benchmark your life. Do the math.
As outlined in the referenced article, I am OK with this retention rate. As a son, husband, and a father; I respect that for women, life choices are more difficult and nuanced than for men – and in their 20s and 30s less flexible. Biology does not have a reset button or reward late bloomers.
The lower retention makes sense given the realities of life. In the end, we get a few years of service from outstanding JOs who just happens to be female. Smart, driven professionals who served their nation for a few years active duty, and then leave to raise the next generation of leaders, citizens, and even blogg’rs.
Maybe some will transfer to USNR, some not. Either way, we should support their decision and celebrate their service. We are a free nation, and this is the lifestyle choice of a free people. Let them leave with a smile and leave them with a smile … that will support the recruitment of the next cohort of servicemembers.
For those dual service couples who stay and try to make it work with the female staying on active duty? Well, here is some advice from my personal experience. The only 2-child female career active duty officers who have successfully made it work (success defined as an intact marriage and children not being raised by a 3rd country national), was when the husband shifted to USNR and became a full time house-husband. Good men, good officers all – but that kind of man is hard to find, and you have to find them. Men like that come as-is with their own sets of life goals; you can’t force-break one in a “Lean In Circle.”
Of course, some smart people know this math and social construct, but ignore it. Why? For some, it is complicated. They have zero top-cover to tell the truth. They are just trying to keep their head down until the PCS cycle makes it someone else’s immediate problem.
For others, it is simple; they need the issue. That is what justifies their job. It is what brings their paycheck. Create a crisis that cannot be solved? If you can make that a business, well hey – good work if you can get it.
What is our Navy to do? Speak the truth. Look for ways that produce more operational good than bad. Fight the need to make metrics for the Potomac Flotilla happy talk when they hurt the Fleet. More importantly, stop making our female Shipmates feel guilty or that they have done something wrong by wanting what is the right of every woman – to choose the lifestyle that they find fulfilling.
Half a decade or so of service as an officer in the world’s greatest Navy followed by raising a gaggle of great kids? Beats two divorces, weekend visitation, and a dusty 20-yr shadow box any day.
As reported by our friend Chris Cavas, at an American Society of Naval Engineers symposium this week, we heard an interesting series of statements from those who are responsible for providing the tools we give our Sailors to take to sea.
In the background we could also see an enlightening contrast between the tinkerer and the warfighter.
First, the tinkerer;
“How do we deliver the capabilities going forward, what does it take to do that?” John Burrow, the Navy’s top civilian official for research, test and evaluation, asked a professional audience in Washington on Tuesday. “It takes investment, a willingness to take on risk, a willingness to fail.”
“From an engineering point of view — a science point of view — if we don’t push the envelope, take it to the outer edge, we’re not going to achieve the capabilities we need.”
Without pointing to specific entities, Burrow decried critics who focus on defects.
“We need to be willing to go off road, to change direction,” he said, noting that it’s not always apparent at the beginning of a program what eventually will be needed.
“I don’t think we can get a group of people to deliver a requirements package that’s perfect,” he said, “and then at the end we have trouble with cost and schedule. I submit that with that linear process, we shouldn’t be surprised that we have problems at the end.”
Is he really speaking of two different things here, experimentation vs. the need for functional systems at sea? Is his problem that two different goals have been welded together and as a result, produces an inferior product?
We’ve often discussed the compounding nature of technology risk and the danger that places programs run under concurrency. It is the secondary effect of concurrency that I believe he is complaining about.
The first part of his quote is spot on about basic research and development. You test a lot of things expecting a lot of failures. That way we know what doesn’t work, and can refine the refinable to get something of use, an improvement, or perhaps even a breakthrough.
The second part is the classic requirements battle of change and disconnect. When you look at the dog’s breakfast of DDG-1000 and LCS in particular, you can see where we have a forced pairing of technology development & concept evaluation with a very real need to get warships in to the fleet; concurrency. As a result, we really haven’t done either very well or in an acceptable timeframe.
Now for the warfighter;
Read the comments from Rear Admiral Pete Fanta, USN, Director Surface Warfare (N96). He threw out some good thick slices of USDA-Prime red meat. I had to back up and re-read it to see if he actually said what I thought he said. Salamander, on balance, approves.
We have been floundering since the end of the Cold War when it comes to our ability to advance the fight from our warships. “Build a little, test a little, learn a lot” has morphed in to “Spend a lot, testify in front of Congress a lot, learn new ways to make PPT slides.”
The desire of the revolutionary transformationalists to meld “if we don’t push the envelope, take it to the outer edge,” to “build aircraft and ships now” has left the decades and centuries of evolutionary development behind. Results speak for themselves, and while rolling in that froth we have failed to execute the fundamentals.
Why don’t we have better weapons at sea? Simple, they have not been a priority. The technology is there, while the perfect is on PPT; the good is on the shelf, as an unfunded requirement.
“We still have a requirement for a Tomahawk cruise missile to attack surface ships sitting on the books. In fact it’s been reiterated for the past 15 years,” Fanta noted.
“We know what Tomahawk is capable of,”…
“We’re talking about evolving the capabilities that we have,” he said. “I got a great truck” — the Tomahawk. “It’s a big missile, it’s sitting inside my [vertical launch system] cells right now. What other things can we put on it or make it do, whether with a seeker, without a seeker, dumb seekers, smart sensors? We’re looking at all of that.
“This missile is going to be around until the mid-2040s,” Fanta noted. “I think I better figure out more things to do with it than just hit a spot on the beach.”
Like Harpoon, it is a bit dated, but it is better than nothing – and is a good capability bridging weapon until we get focused and get something better.
That was not the most interesting thing he said. RADM Fanta has put down a marker, and BZ to him for doing it deftly;
Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, the director of surface warfare at the Pentagon, was blunt in responding to a question about why the US can’t seem to field similar capabilities in a timely manner.
“We can get there, but get the hell out of my way,” Fanta declared, speaking to the bureaucratic obstacles. “I can get there fast, I can get with the same capability, I can get it on the ships, but I can’t do it in a risk-averse, fear-centric organization.
“That’s not you folks,” he said to the civilians in the room, “that’s us wearing the uniform. I’m willing to go be the chew toy for Congress if I fail. You let me go try it, I’ll go do it. You let me bolt it on, I’ll take the risk. I’ll find a [commanding officer] out there that’s willing to point it in a direction and fire it” and understand the risks.
“I can’t do it in an organization that spends three times as much on proving it might or might not work perfectly every single time, as I can if I just go do it. Every success we’ve had we just went and did. Every major failure we’ve had has been an opinion on the level of failure by someone else.
That may be a little too blunt, but it’s the truth,” Fanta said. “We need to get out of this risk-averse culture.”
There is your elephant. He is speaking about leadership. Our senior leadership. I don’t know if he just put his boss on report, in a fashion, but who cares if someone tries to construe that he did? He is a Flag Officer in the world’s greatest navy. Speaking blunt truths is what he is paid the big-bucks for. It is a serious job when your orders determine how many men and women return from going in to harm’s way.
Everything begins and ends with leadership. All else is simply decoration.
More of this. Much more of this. This is the clear, direct, and blunt talk among professionals we need. In areas such as this, in public is a great place to do it. It encourages junior leaders by example.
At the same event, USNI’s own Megan Eckstein picked up a few other items that should encourage navalists even more that we have good people in hard jobs who are thinking right.
“There are systems that we’re using that we’re moving from defensive capability into a very aggressive offensive capability,” Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) Rear Adm. Jon Hill said during the panel discussion, referring to the SM-6.
Surface Ship Weapons Office Program Manager Capt. Michael Ladner told USNI News in November that he was pursuing software-only upgrades to the missile that would allow it to take on other missions, which he said he could not discuss. But he said the new missions “focus on distributed lethality and shifting to an offensive capability to counter our adversaries’ [anti-access/area-denial] capabilities.”
The SM-1 had a great anti-surface combat record, let’s give SM-6 that same capability and perhaps a few other fun ones as well. Give CO’s a toolbox to do their job, not just a bag of hammers. This is all very good. Megan also snagged another good RADM Fanta point,
… the Navy needed a way to better protect its four Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) destroyers forward stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. Since the ships are so focused upward on searching for missile threats, they became vulnerable themselves to cruise missiles and other incoming munitions, Hill told USNI News in September. Rather than station another ship nearby to protect the BMD destroyer, Navy engineers realized they could install Raytheon’s Sea Rolling Airframe Missile (SeaRAM) anti-ship missile defense system onto the ships – even though SeaRAM had never been integrated with a destroyer or its Aegis Combat System before.
Without naming the specific new threat, Fanta said during the discussion that “a new threat pops up in the Eastern Mediterranean, we have a very low probability of kill against that new threat. Within six months, we had moved over $50 million. Jon Hill had found a contractor that was building a new asset. We redirected new mounts and new systems out to those destroyers. His testing folks decided how it could actually be done better, faster, cheaper and smarter. We shipped the mounts to the Mediterranean – never been done to do an install in the Mediterranean. And now we’re testing it in the Mediterranean in the Spanish ranges.
“We went from a probability of kill of very low to a probability of kill of pretty damn high,” Fanta continued.
The advantages of extra deckspace and freeboard.
Are we making up for some lost time? Perhaps. The talk is right, and some action is moving. Watch the money and follow-through … but the needle is twitching and drifting in the right direction.
This is the stew of the realists and their allies the antitransformationalists – something we should have a hearty appetite for after a few decades of the toasted rice-cakes fed to us by the Cult of Transformation.
The last year has seen a welcome shift in the center of gravity for navalists in the national security arena in a direction that will help our navy rebalance towards the end of the Terrible 20s that will be defined by budget stress and an excess number of sub-optimal platforms warping our perception of per-unit power projection. It took a few decades for us to get here, so let’s look at how we got here.
Dizzy in the head following our victory in the Cold War, a large cadre of people came in to positions of influence that really thought that not only was the world new, that war itself was new. They thought they had found a new world via an ahistorical, blinkered perspective of technological progression limited to their professional lifetime. Not unlike the nuclear weapons fetishdom of Eisenhower’s “New Look” – they thought they had a gift of being at the right time in a technological leap where their brilliance will be able to facilitate a transformation that decades and centuries of prior leaders could not make happen.
Aggressively following the post-Goldwater-Nichols diktat of Jointness, they picked up the McNamara Era mindset that, like GM made Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile versions of the same car by changing the grill and a few other items – all the services should be able to make do with the same kit.
Using carefully crafted green eyeshade practices that would make Quartermaster Bloomfield proud, they were convinced that the warfighter needed to make compromises to make the metrics fit in DC, regardless of the actual combat utility of the item in question. A penny-silly and pound-foolish track record only brought in more “oversight” and regulations – further compounding a system with each passing year decoupled from operational experience.
Few breaks were in place to counter an almost pentecostal fervor toward what was becoming a personality based procurement process. Any opposing ideas, cautioning, or points-of-order were seen as naïve at best, disloyal at worst. As dissent was silenced and blind endorsement rewarded, humility – and a refined evolution of systems gave way to an ego driven revolutionary movement.
Initial warning signs were seen as early as the Bush-41 administration, but the transformationalist party culminated at the opening of this decade when the grim truth of what we bought with this new movement began to displace water and make shadows on the ramp (if they made it that far).
What did we get? I’ll leave the other services alone, but what we got was A-12, ACS, titanium fire mains, warships without the ability to engage other warships, an entire class of sub-optimal hulls we still do not know what to do with, a Joint Strike Fighter that no one is happy with, technology demonstrators made of balsa wood, EFV, and flight decks full of light fighters circling CVN in some strange mobi-strip VFA-centipede refueling each other.
Yes, that does need to be reviewed almost monthly if for no other reason than as a warning to future generations.
So, what have Neptune’s copybook headings brought us that should give us cheer? Let’s go to the title of the post.
Range: Jerry Hendrix’s paper from CNAS last month, Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation continues to get traction. The first phase of this argument started when Jerry and I were barely LTs with the coming death of the A-6 and towards the end of that decade, the light attack mafia’s destruction of the VF bloodline. That argument was lost. The results are clear.
The end of the Cold War – followed by the decision to cancel the replacement aircraft for the A-6 Intruder, the A-12 Avenger II – began a precipitous retreat from range and the deep strike mission that had long characterized the carrier air wing. The rapid successive retirements of the A-6 Intruder, F-14 Tomcat, and S-3 Viking that followed, and the decision to replace these aircraft with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet – originally designed as a replacement for the short-ranged fighters and light attack aircraft – shrank the average range of the carrier air wing from over 800 nm in 1996 to less than 500 nm by 2006. This occurred just when competitor nations, led by China, began to field A2/AD systems with ranges of 1,000 nm or more.
Just in time for the design of the replacement for the F/A-18 that will patch over not just the range issue, but the shortcomings of the F-35C and the significant capability gaps that will exist in whatever carrier based drone fleet we develop. The heavy fighter should be back.
Reach: Now that potential challengers on the high seas are leaving brown and green water, another screaming voice can no longer be ignored. We really do not have a way to reach out and touch anyone. Those few ships that can carry a ASCM are stuck with an old but useful Harpoon, a weapon modern AAW defenses have made much less effective. Other nations have one to two generations better ASCM than we do. We are making progress towards something better, but for now – there isn’t much to distribute in our distributed lethality. The transformationalists were so busy looking in to the far future, they forgot that the now and near future may have to go to war at sea.
The joint DARPA/ US Navy LRASM program was initiated in 2009 to deliver a new generation of anti-ship weapons, offering longer ranges and better odds against improving air defense systems
Risk: Rest assured, the transformationalist have been chastened but not humbled in the last few years. Ignoring their track record, may of them have moved on to one of the last areas where PPT seems to trump physics, technology, and ROE – unmanned systems. Even there, smart voices are saying smart things that should help us be able to get something useful for the fleet. Not something ethereal that never makes it like the A-12, but perhaps something usable like the VIRGINIA Class SSN.
One of the better points in this regard was made recently by Bryan McGrath;
The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Aerial Strike and Surveillance program proposes one jet to do both jobs, but ongoing argument between the Navy and Congress has delayed its request for proposals: Some lawmakers want Naval Air Systems Command to focus on strike capabilities, but the Navy wants to maintain an emphasis on a long-range surveillance platform.
“The problem is, if you try to stuff both missions into one airframe, you end up sacrificing one,” former destroyer skipper retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath told Navy Times. “We need both strike and surveillance, and we probably need them in two separate aircraft.”
More of that thinking will get shadows on the ramp sooner.
Russians: Ah, yes. Russia. As Dr. Dmirty Gorenberg pointed out this summer on Midrats, from a naval perspective, the Russians will have a lot of work to do in modernizing their fleet. Though we have their most high profile ship off Syria, the Slava Class Cruiser MOSKVA, she is just what is left of the former Red Banner Fleet of the Soviets. Russia is working now on her smaller ships and submarines, and then we’ll see what she can do later in modernizing larger ships. As she showed in the Caspian, her ships have quite a bit of punch relative to their size and have a good bit of kit.
With her navy again at sea – and this time putting ordnance down range – and her submarines once more haunting the shores of other nations, this is a great opportunity to bring out the realists cudgel against the ever-present Beltway transformationalists who are happy to spends billions of dollars for programs that never deploy, while Sailors and Marines are ordered to go in to harm’s way without the tools they need.
There is a lot to be positive about in the change of the conversation looking forward to the next year. This should help steer the development of unmanned systems, the replacement for the F/A-18, DDG-51, and the LCS albatross in a direction that will give us products we can be proud of. Programs that reach for a solid hand-hold before progressing forward, as opposed to making a leap of faith that results in to a fall in to the abyss.
The gap we have is one that has been growing for over a half a decade as the war and those fighting it on the front lines have faded not just in numbers, but as part of what the citizens are talking about among themselves and what the sources they get their information from dedicate less time to covering.
This fade has a variety of sources. Part is the very real reduction in fighting forces on the ground. Part is a war weariness in some quarters of our nation. Some is that we have been at war for so long, it has simply become part of the background noise.
A large percentage of it, I would argue, is coming from a retreat from those in leadership willing to engage on the topic either by desire or by direction. It is well known that national security and defense issues are not President Obama’s preferred areas he wants to invest his time and political capital. His Secretary of Defense is a quiet yet effective technocrat. When you look to the Service Secretaries, take a moment to think what you have heard from them as of late.
Let’s start close to home and do a news.google search for Secretary of the Navy Mabus and limit it for what comes up in the last month.
- A Harvard Law lecture where he talked about his efforts to reduce DON carbon emissions and combat sexual abuse.
- A meeting with the Zambian President.
- Announced the first director of unmanned systems (OPNAV N99).
- Announced that feminist and founder of the Navy’s latest endorsed sociopolitical fad, “Lean In Circles.” as sponsor of our next submarine, USS MASSACHUSETTS (SSN-798).
If you are a seapower advocate, that should give you some pause when you wonder how we fight “sea blindness” and all that comes with it – not to mention the larger issue of keeping the American people informed and inspired.
As sense of disinterest at the top can, naturally if let to settle, filter down. There are multiple indicators that it is filtering down, and has been for awhile.
Via MilitaryTimes’ Hope Hodge Seck’s survey of last year;
“that the mission mattered more to the military than to the civilian,” said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University who studies the military. “For the civilian world, it might have been easier to psychologically move on and say, ‘Well, we are cutting our losses.’ But the military feels very differently. Those losses have names and faces attached to [them].
Troops say morale has sharply declined over the last five years, and most of those in uniform today believe their quality of life will only get worse. Compared to 2009, more are unhappy with their pay and health care, and very few trust that senior leaders fully support them. A closer look at what’s driving this trend:”
That is the feeling of many who are serving now. No small part of this is hearing, and being told again and again – why they are doing what they are doing – and even more important, that their fellow citizens know. A lot of focus has been on retaining “our best” via new tools, but this general feeling of drift and fading presence may be impacting attracting “the best” to our service academies.
Of colleges with decreasing applications for enrollment, #14 is the Naval Academy, and #2 is the Air Force Academy. There are a complex reasons for both that are not helped by sustained internal efforts to tarnish their brand with constant public posturing on sexual abuse, social issues unrelated to the mission and even micro-aggressions and safe spaces. Regardless of the cause, these are two more data points along a trend.
We have all been in commands where the Commanding Officer, however good he is in one area or another, has some areas that he just isn’t that good in. Perhaps it isn’t an area of interest, natural skill, or simply an oversight. In such cases, what does the XO, CMC, and the rest of the command do? Ignore it? No. They compensate for it as best as they can. They reinforce their CO’s weak areas through their own efforts and carry out the plan of the day.
If you are not happy with your civilian neighbors’ and friends’ understanding of the national security situation; if you are not happy with the image the press and media culture gives of those who have served; if you are not happy with the lack of a military point of view in the public arena – then do something about it. Support your leaders getting more involved, and if they won’t then do it yourself.
We cannot complain of a civil military gap or a frustration with friends and neighbors who don’t know a bomber from a boomer, Syria from Sri Lanka, if we have not made the effort to do our part to fill the gap.
If you have a skill to write, there is a venue for all skill levels to engage – from the swamps we blogg’rs hang out in, to fruited plains of online journals, to the heights of publication on dead tree. If you are comfortable on the stage with a microphone in hand – there are organizations all around who are looking for speakers. If you are part of organizations from networking groups to hobby clubs, join their leadership team.
Think no one is talking about military related issues? Be that voice. Think that veterans are invisible to the general public? Slap your mini-warfare device on your lapel and be that presence.
If you refuse to be that voice, and refuse to move from the shadows – then accept where we are and where we are drifting, as you are not participating in civil society, you are subject to it.
Get involved. Write. Say “yes” to the invitation. Go on the talk show. Engage in the conversation. Support what is good and correct, oppose what is not.
No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.
- On Midrats 21 August Episode 346: “The Farsi Island Incident – Is the Navy a Learning Institution?”
- Red Pill or Blue Pill in Syria & Iraq?
- American Billy Fiske — One of the Few
- On Midrats 14 August 2016 – Episode 345: Fisheries as a Strategic Maritime Resource
- Towards a Post-R2P, Post-Nation Building Counter Terrorism Policy