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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?


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.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy | 50 Comments

A Munich Moment

February 2016


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.


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.

navyflag-596x425Experimentation is good and fine, but when is it time to take a cold view and say – that’s enough?

In a time where we complain of tight budgets, are we throwing too much at one of the SECNAV’s pet projects? Via David Alexander at Reuters;

When the Navy first tested biofuel versions of marine diesel and jet fuel in 2012, it spent eye-popping sums for small amounts.

In one case, it paid $424 a gallon for 20,055 gallons of biofuel based on algae oil. To test the Great Green Fleet in the summer of 2012, it spent nearly $27 a gallon for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, later mixed into a 50-50 blend. The $15-per gallon-cost was four times that of conventional fuel.

The fuel for the Great Green Fleet deployment over the next year is a competitively priced blend of 90 percent diesel and 10 percent biofuel made from beef fat, Navy officials said.

A California firm, AltAir Fuels, is contracted to supply 77 million gallons of the fuel between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016.

The Navy pays $2.05 a gallon, thanks in part to a subsidy of 15 cents a gallon from the Commodity Credit Corp, a government-owned enterprise that supports farm products.

Fuel costs in the last few years have fallen through the floor. We are now an oil exporting nation once again, and via fracking, we have greatly expanded access to fuel at inside our lifelines. Supply is no longer an issue for the economy in general, and well beyond a threat to our Navy.

Why are we doubling down on an idea that seems from the 1970s? Why are we also creating our own pet industrial policy?

To boost production of alternative fuels, the Navy has awarded $210 million to help three firms build refineries to make biofuels using woody biomass, municipal waste and used cooking grease and oil. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing an additional $161 million in crop supports.

The refineries are expected to begin operations this year, with full production not likely until 2017.

Is this what we need to spend our money on?

There is a financial cost, but what other risks are we taking on? What are we buying in to? What are we investing our reputational capital in?

Robert Bryce has outlined some shoal water we should all note;

One of the companies that got a lucrative biofuel contract from the military was the San Francisco–based Solazyme Inc. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2009, Solazyme got a $223,000 contract for 1,500 gallons of algae-based motor fuel. That works out to $149 per gallon. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Solazyme has also been a big donor to Democratic causes, giving some $300,000 to Democratic candidates and committees. The company has also donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Last month, Fortune reporter Katie Fehrenbacher wrote an excellent piece about the spate of failed cellulosic-biofuel companies that have been backed by Silicon Valley promoter Vinod Khosla. In 2006, Khosla claimed that we “can replace most of our gasoline needs in 25 years with biomass.” One of Khosla’s investments was in Range Fuels, the failure of which I wrote about on NRO back in 2011. Range Fuels got a $76 million grant from the Department of Energy as well as an $80 million loan that was guaranteed by the federal government. Despite the failure of Range, Khosla plunged forward with a company called KiOR, which claimed it could profitably produce liquid fuels from the wood of pine trees. The company got tens of millions of dollars in government money, but its process never worked as promised, and it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The state of Mississippi, which provided the company with a $75 million loan, is now suing Khosla, as well as several KiOR executives, claiming the state was deceived about the company’s technology.
… the marketplace is trumping government mandates and subsidies. Today, ethanol distilleries are consuming about 40 percent of all domestic corn output in order to produce fuel equivalent of about 600,000 barrels of oil per day. (Total U.S. consumption in 2014 averaged about 19 million barrels per day.) And it took roughly four decades of mandates and subsidies for the corn-ethanol industry to grow to that size. Let’s compare that result with what has happened in the oil patch. Since 2006, thanks to the shale revolution, domestic oil production has increased by more than 3.6 million barrels per day. Thus, in just this past decade, the oil sector has increased production by six times the total output of every ethanol distillery in America. That increased oil production didn’t happen because of congressional mandates or subsidies. It happened because privately owned companies risked billions of dollars, and in doing so they innovated in everything from drill bits to mud pumps.

With the service still suffering from the Fat Leonard scandal, all this money going to places it has no economic reason to makes me a bit itchy. That is the worst-worst case. Best worst-case, just a boondoggle. Best case? You were just following orders.

My instincts are that this remains what it looks like, a well meaning but misguided personal priority of the SECNAV. It does not make sense from an economic or national security point of view – but that is just my view, and he’s the SECNAV. His call.

Government money chasing hard to defend programs do not result in a kind judgement from history. Sal’s recommendation: let this be pushed by the civilians and political appointees – this is their business. If in uniform, do what your job strictly requires, but edge your way out of the picture when the PAO comes around. The reward is small, but the potential frag pattern is huge.

Nothing is written.crisis_background3

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 [1]; 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 [9] 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.


The Strategic Everyone

January 2016


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.

Update: More video.

Update II – Electric Boogaloo: Like Malcolm McDowell’s Alex, you will be made to watch.

UPDAE III: Interior video post capture. Nice comm gear.

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