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Honesty Can Be Uncomfortable

February 2013


I met my wife because my school district allowed me to play soccer for her High School, as my High School didn’t have a soccer team. On the day we met I had my head shaved all the way around the sides and the in back, but I featured a huge flop of long brown hair on top that I would pull back into a pony tail when playing soccer on the field. I dressed in big baggy jean pants and often wore very large T-shirts or flannel shirts untucked. I frequently would wear either a pair of combat boots or good ole fashion ‘Chuck Taylor’s’ as a fashion statement… because it was the early 90s baby! and in the era of grunge that’s what a legit grunge nerd from the country who played sports in an inner city school in the south like me thought cool and tough was supposed to look like in order to avoid fights. Fortunately, or not, for me… during my Senior year the woman I would eventually marry told me she wouldn’t go on a date with me until I cut my hair and learned how to dress. She was blunt and honest the day she looked at me in the eyes, put her hand on my cheek, smiled, and told me that on the inside I was attractive to her, but on the outside I looked like a complete idiot and she would not be seen in public with me until that changed. Her honesty made me uncomfortable, and it forced me to make decisions, but sometimes things need to be said.

During the panel discussion on the Chinese Navy last week at the USNI West Conference in San Diego, Captain James Fanell, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Information Operations for US Pacific Fleet had some “bracing” comments about the Chinese Navy. When I quote “bracing” I am actually quoting Sam Roggeveen of the Australian Lowy Institute Interpreter blog.

What makes the comments “bracing” is that they are both blunt and honest in commentary. Sam noted the Captain’s comments like this:

Fanell’s language is, well, bracing. He calls China ‘hegemonic’ and says it displays ‘aggression’; he claims China ‘bullies adversaries’ and that it has become a ‘mistrusted principal threat’. Watch Captain Fanell’s presentation from about 21 minutes into the above video, or read below for some more select quotes:

  • (China’s) expansion into the blue waters are largely about countering the US Pacific fleet.’
  • The PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare…Make no mistake: the PRC navy is focused on war at sea, and sinking an opposing fleet.’
  • On China Marine Surveillance, which supervises and patrols China’s claimed maritime territory: ‘If you map out their harassments you will see that they form a curved front that has over time expanded out against the coast of China’s neighbours, becoming the infamous nine-dashed line, plus the entire East China Sea…China is negotiating for control of other nations’ resources off their coasts; what’s mine is mine, and we’ll negotiate what’s yours.’
  • China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims…China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation’.
  • In my opinion, China is knowingly, operationally and incrementally seizing maritime rights of its neighbours under the rubric of a maritime history that is not only contested in the international community but has largely been fabricated by Chinese government propaganda bureaus in order to “educate” the populous about China’s rich maritime history, clearly as a tool to sustain the Party’s control.’

Sam Roggeveen is right to describe Captain Fanell’s comments as “bracing,” because it has certainly been awhile since we have seen an American in a public forum speak the truth about China in this way. While we will never see an American diplomat speak like this, nor does the opinion of a US Navy Captain carry the weight of, say, a four star Admiral; this is still very powerful commentary when it comes from a man who is responsible for the evaluation of all intelligence gathered by Pacific Command every single day.

Is China’s expansion into the blue waters largely about countering the US Pacific fleet? Captain Fanell mentions in the very next sentence that his assessment is primarily informed by China’s development of specific platforms, naval armaments, and training. You don’t have to be an expert to come to similar conclusions, as there is only one ship in the world that China would spend vast resources towards developing an anti-ship ballistic missile to specifically mission kill – a US Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Similar to the US, there are several places where Chinese naval tactics development are discussed openly in the context of information and technology from an academic perspective, and nearly every one of those discussions focuses on defeating the weaknesses specific to the US Navy. It’s noteworthy that the pundit class in state media believes the PLA Navy is vastly superior to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, thus only the US Navy is a peer to challenge. Personally, I think that is a bad assumption, but it is also unclear if the public pundits truly represent what PLA Navy officers believe in private. When one considers the tension between those two nations today, overconfidence can lead to frightening outcomes due to miscalculation, and nobody wants to see that.

Is the PLA Navy going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare? For the most part, yes, but I do question how we quantify the activities of China’s hospital ships. With that said, apparently all the PLA Navy practices in exercises is indeed combat with other naval vessels, and the exception other than the hospital ships people like to site actually appears to reinforce the rule. For example, it is often suggested that China’s anti-piracy deployments represent China’s embrace towards contributing maritime security to the global community. I used to believe that, and I would like to believe that, but how can I ignore the facts developed from years of consecutive deployments? The PLA Navy consistently deploys three ships to escort large commercial vessels that travel at a speed far too fast for pirates to effectively engage. The PLA Navy escorts these ships in an internationally recognized transit corridor that is already heavily patrolled by the international community and pirates largely avoid. The PLA Navy is protecting ships that already have armed private security personnel. For a nation that thrives on information campaigns and propaganda for domestic consumption by their people, there really is a remarkably limited number of stories that describe any actual anti-piracy work being done by those PLA Navy ships. As an observer, when I look at what the PLA Navy is doing with their anti-piracy patrols, all I can think about is what a fantastic place that is to monitor US Navy operations off of Yemen and EU naval operations off Somalia! After a few years of observing the PLA Navy in practice, I refuse to believe the primary reason the PLA Navy is cruising back and forth at high speed with three navel vessels is to protect commercial vessels that have less than zero chance of actually being attacked, much less hijacked by pirates. Therefore the PLA Navy is there for reasons we can only speculate, but given the nature and record of Chinese engagement both public and private globally, that speculation must include purposes of espionage. Everything about PLA Navy deployments in the name of anti-piracy looks like a long distance learning opportunity, and despite the steady propaganda stream from ships on that deployment, those activities show scant evidence that the PLA Navy convoy escort mission is truly about practicing anti-piracy.

Is China bullying neighbors for control of maritime territories? Even a casual reader of American newspapers or cable news realizes the answer to this is obviously yes, because that is what China’s neighbors are saying themselves. Even more noteworthy China doesn’t apologize for their behavior, they simply make more threats. The pattern of escalation continues to increase as well, most recently involving PLA Navy warships marking a Japanese naval vessel and helicopter with radar lock suggesting potential missile engagement. In that context of belligerent aggression for maritime territory, Captain Fanell describes the China Marine Surveillance cutters as having “no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s expansive claims” and claims the organization “is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organization.” It is a bold claim few have made publicly before, but it does raise the question – what other purpose does the CMS serve? In an article published December 29, 2012 Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general of the China Society of Military Science made it clear that China’s so-called “self-restraint” might not last much longer. The context is very clear, China is who is restraining themselves from others who are occupying maritime territories of China, in China’s opinion.

As I observe Captain Fanell giving his personal opinion (and Sam Roggeveen does note in this article that Captain Fanell’s opinions are that of a Captain, not the US Navy officially), I see his comments as an honest evaluation of Chinese activities at sea that also makes me a bit uncomfortable. It is too bad we have to get such refreshing blunt talk from a Navy Captain based in Hawaii as opposed to a Flag officer in DC, because the approach of publicly skirting what China is doing without calling them out is not containing or limiting the belligerent behavior of China when they engage their neighbors in disputed maritime territories – indeed every month it appears China has escalated tactically a little more. I was shocked and a little unnerved today when I saw an anti-war editorial in the Global Times English edition, because I can’t remember the last time I saw such a thing. An anti-war editorial in Global Times is the equivalent of an editorial in Newsmax downplaying the threat of a nuclear Iran; it’s that extraordinary and unexpected. And its mere presence raises a serious questions: how close is China to war with Japan if Global Times is publishing an anti-war editorial?

In terms of how the Chinese handle their propaganda, is that not a significant deescalation step? Is the tension becoming too comfortable?

At every level of government and business in the United States, and likely most of our allies, America is being subjected to a relentless and persistent cyber espionage campaign with the theft of technology and information at the forefront of the efforts, and the Chinese government – despite having the worlds most sophisticated and actively engaged internal internet security and monitoring technology in the world – does nothing to stop it. Over the long term, unless you honestly believe China will buck every historical trend and sustain growth indefinitely, the United States sits in a very favorable position relative to China and is in a very comfortable position to allow China to mature as the nation continues to rise economically and militarily. In the short term however, particularly as the tensions of demographics, energy, and environment start to bubble over the surface in China over the next five years, we need to ask ourselves if there is any danger of China looking for a distraction with an external neighbor as those internal problems start to really bubble over. History tells us that the rise of every nation to any legitimate form of regional or global power usually leaves a trail of blood. Is there strong evidence coming from China today that suggests the rise of China in the 21st century will be an exception? I pray it will different this time, but given the trends of coercion, disruption, theft, and belligerence I see no reason to expect the exception.

It is past time for the United States to start being more honest about China in public like Captain Fanell was at WEST, even if it does make people uncomfortable, otherwise our political leaders are going to find themselves in a war no one expected to come; the business community will find themselves in a war they are incapable of supporting; the American public will find themselves in a war they do not understand, and even if it is a small war it will still be felt globally; so it is unlikely anyone is prepared to deal with a war that includes the worlds two largest trading nations. With Japan and China each fielding multiple ships to the same regions with several hundred sailors on both sides serving on those ships, recognize that even a single small naval battle between those two nations could kill a lot of people very quickly.

Nobody wants to see a confrontation between China and the US, but where is the evidence that both countries are playing by the same rule sets? When folks operate by different rules on the road, eventually there is an accident.


Questioning the 2020 CVW

June 2012


The following letter is dated June 22, 2012. This is a good question.

Dear Admiral Greenert:

We appreciate your renewed emphasis on the principle of “Warfighting First” for our Naval forces. As part of this focus, you have discussed the imp01tance of the U.S. Navy being prepared for the maturing anti-access/area-denial (A2/ AD) threat environment, and specifically the “challenges posed by emerging threats to access like ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced submarines and fighters, electronic warfare and mines.” One of the places where we know these challenges exist is in the western Pacific Ocean, where the Department of the Navy is attempting to provide the military resources to support the Administration’s “rebalancing” initiative. Given these developments, we believe that the growing A2/ AD capabilities in this region, combined with other immutable characteristics like the geographic “tyranny of distance,” demand a careful review of our future capabilities.

As you know, our eleven nuclear-power aircraft carriers (CVN) give us the ability to surge combat power to a regional crisis at the time and place of our choosing, making them a critical component of our focus on the Indian and Pacific Oceans. However, the long distances in the region combined with A2/ AD challenges raise questions about the future strike power of the Carrer Air-Wing (CVW). As we posture our forces, is the planned CVW of the 2020s structured to meet the range, persistence, stealth, ISR, and payload demands that will be required to operate in this theater? We would appreciate your help in understanding the cost and capability trade-offs that you are considering as you plan the Carrier Air Wing of the future. As always, thank you for your service to the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, and the Nation.


J. Randy Forbes
Member of Congress

Todd Akin
Member of Congress

Posted by galrahn in Navy, Policy | 41 Comments

He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

– Albert Einstein

Your definition of diversity is probably flawed in application of this blog post, because you are being indoctrinated to think it means something else.

I had the great pleasure of going to the Naval War College last Thursday to attend a few events ranging from a promotion ceremony to the semester awards ceremony for the Naval War College graduating class of 2012. As many of you know, the annual Current Strategy Forum was also held last week, a forum with a great tradition of being highly informative and intellectually challenging.

While on campus I took the opportunity to solicit opinions from several students regarding this years Current Strategy Forum, and everyone tended to focus on one specific panel of General and Flag officers that was moderated by Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work. The single most noted characteristic of this particular panel was how one could not slide even a piece of paper between the opinions and positions of the uniformed officers; they all spoke from the same piece of paper.

Of all the ways to describe any panel at any forum, I’m not sure one could describe any such panel in a more disturbing and insulting way.

I imagine the current administration is very proud that publicly there is no disagreement among General and Flag officers on any particular issue, but I can think of no greater marker that should concern a citizen of this nation – a nation that has been fighting wars since September of 2001 where all General and Flag officers appear to agree on everything in public. We are seeing a wider variety of different opinions publicly in print today from the Peoples Liberation Army Navy even under existing Chinese censorship laws than we are from leaders of the United States Navy in a land of free speech – and that is simultaneously remarkable and disturbing by any metric. We casually dismiss such things to the alter of partisan politics, an alter not worthy of the worship it is granted during any period of war for a superpower.

This policy of everyone in the DoD speaking from the same sheet of paper that was enforced by Secretary Gates and now Secretary Panetta is a real problem, because when every leader in the US military has the same opinion in a public forum – particularly at someplace like the Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College – all but one of those leaders is redundant. In unison the whole of the Department of Defense is publicly saying the world is simple, and they know the answer to every question. Any organization with such public hubris deserves to be destroyed, and if that destruction is by budget then that result is earned rightfully. There is no defense for solidarity of mind among leaders for any organization intrusted with so much responsibility. Under no theory of order has solidarity of opinion been a strength in a free thinking society, and in the highest funded government agency where national security and means of arms is stated as purpose, that kind of oligarchy is dangerous to any free society.

“If you and I think the same, then one of us is redundant…. Diversity is what leads to better problem solving and more creative ideas that can help build an organization and build a business. People should be seeking out more diversity, not settling for less.”

-Tim Penner, Procter & Gamble Canada

PACIFIC OCEAN (May 8, 2012) The guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) conducts a passing exercise with USS Underwood (FFG 36) in the Pacific Ocean. Underwood is deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Southern Seas 2012. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stuart Phillips/Released)

Mark Faram of the Navy Times has scored an article many reporters have been seeking for years – one of those ‘come out and ride my ghetto ride’ type articles, which in the Navy means a trip on one of the frigates. USS Elrod (FFG 55) is only 27 years young serving on what my be her second to last deployment. Not bad, considering the Oliver Hazard Perry frigates are one of the few surface combatant classes in decades where a large portion of the ships will actually serve their full designed life cycle.

The article has a very detailed section described as Tough Life, and it begins like this:

This is Worcester’s second tour on Elrod and third on a frigate. He made chief onboard Elrod and is proud to be back as the ship’s top enlisted sailor.

“I feel there’s something special about these ships and the type of sailor it produces,” he said. “Grow up in this environment and you’ll be a better sailor for it — our sailors don’t just survive, they thrive.”

That sentiment is echoed up and down the ranks. Life is tough onboard the 453-foot-long, 45-foot-wide ship. The gear is old and has a tendency to break. But still, Worcester said, the mission gets done because of the crew.

“We’ve got old machinery that doesn’t always work. In fact, we still have electronic gear in here that uses vacuum tubes. You know how hard that is to fix?” Richards said.

Even worse, he said, is the lack of spare parts. Many of the companies that provided the gear in the 1970s and 1980s are now out of business, causing Elrod and the other frigates to scrounge for parts and often make their own.

“And that’s where our sailors benefit,” Richards said. “Sailors learn their jobs best by doing them, by tearing down gear and rebuilding it — and this is a real hands-on environment for them to learn.”

The entire article is well written, so credit the journalist, but it still amuses me how the hard work by a sailor on a 27 year old frigate is romanticized on the internet while the hard work by a sailor on the newer Littoral Combat Ships is somehow akin to cleaning the heads with your own toothbrush. I got started in my IT career with old mainframes that used vacuum tubes, and anyone who romanticizes any aspect of working with that technology needs a drug test.

But this isn’t really a story about technology, because the sad truth about the Oliver Hazard Perry class is that the ships have long been obsolete. What this article is really about is how truly fantastic sailors in the US Navy are, and how lucky the nation is that we the nation can put virtually any ship in the hands of our well trained, motivated, professional sailors and the sum of the ship + crew is often greater than the ship itself. The old idiom is correct – necessity is the mother of innovation, and in the case of the frigates the necessity for the hulls has been fostering innovation in sailors towards keeping the ships relevant despite the ships being obsolete years ago when their combat capabilities were sacrificed to the alter of the accountants.

What made this article in Navy Times a great read for me was the candid commentary of Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate (SW/AW) Asa Worcester, the ship’s command senior chief. His words are no different than what one will hear from most senior chief’s on any ship in the fleet, only that it is refreshing to see where ownership of the ship and everything associated with the ship – good and bad – is captured in a public news story. When discussing the reduced size of the crews on frigates today, “That’s not a bitch, that’s a fact that we live with every day ‘cause the mission still has to get done,” Worcester says.

We are three decades into the life of the Oliver Hazard Perry class, almost as long into the Ticonderoga class cruisers, and over 2 decades into the Arleigh Burke class destroyers – and in these three ship classes there are many examples of public demonstrations of pride by sailors who have or are serving on these vessels – and the public perception of those classes today is a reflection of that pride expressed by those sailors. Basically, they sold us long ago on how good the ships are, even though an honest assessment would highlight any number of flaws in the ships. In the real world ships have flaws, big deal – sailors find ways to work around them and in some cases find virtue in the challenges and solutions. Thus is the nature of ships and sailors going back centuries – if not a few millenia if we were to ask the ancient Greeks.

Before 2 years ago, sailors didn’t publicly say much of anything nice about LPD-17, but over the last two years, story after story (outside the Navy’s own information machine) has changed the perception of that ship class – indeed one might suggest Lucien has done that to some degree discussing his old ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) on these blog pages.

I just thought it was worth observing that as sailors take ownership of their ships (including the unique challenges that come with all new ships), the perception of a ship can change fairly quickly right before our eyes, often leaving critics to shout in a vacuum of mirrors. Once upon a time the Oliver Hazard Perry class was a highly criticized program, indeed the first Oliver Hazard Perry class ship to field the three major capabilities touted for the FFG-7 class: RAST + Link 11 + LAMPS III – was USS Underwood (FFG 36), or said another way the Navy commissioned 35 OHP frigates without the 3 big promised capability upgrades, and the Navy was heavily criticized at the time for doing so. Few remember those kind of details these days, because history is written at the end of a story, not in the middle of the beginning which is where we find the LCS story today.

It is going to be fascinating to observe the Littoral Combat Ship classes as they head from their initial phases of operations and early deployments towards a true networked battle force contributor, because as ships get fielded and more sailors get engaged with the new ships – and most importantly innovate capabilities by taking ownership of the LCS and the associated unique challenges of the LCS program (to include the modules – not just the first three either), it is a virtual certainty the perception of LCS will change over time, just as it always been with every other new class of ship over the last century.

What makes it different with LCS? I am not sure it really is different, although an argument can be made that the information age has impacted the public perception of the LCS. Mass information on any subject in the information age gives the effect of amplifying problems, but as we have seen with LPD-17 recently, it also amplifies opportunities as they emerge over time, which means we can expect it will also amplify the perspective of the LCS sailors who for the most part, haven’t even begun to tell their stories yet.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 4 Comments

I rarely ask questions at the Naval Institute conference events I attend. I usually let my USNI blogging partner Lucien Gauthier do the Q&As because as a brilliant enlisted sailor who introduces himself at part of the NATO Stratcom office in uniform, he usually has everyone on any panel sit up and focus as he asks a good question.

But because Lucien wasn’t asking a question to this panel and acquisition topics are more along the discussions I tend to have over at my home blog, you can see my question starting at about 1:00:00 into the discussion on this video. If you want to know what VADM Skinner said in response to my question, then you need to quit missing meetings at US Naval Institute Conferences and show up next time, but with that said – the point by Dr. Eric Labs on quality vs quantity is really good – and if you watch the video the next question is sort of a follow up to my own question, and after VADM Parker USCG addresses the follow up question, VADM Skinner gives very interesting answers that are not edited out – and are worth hearing.

It really wasn’t my intention to put the Admiral on the spot like that, but I think the question on requirements process is important, and I also feel it is important to challenge the assumptions within the process to insure requirements don’t get out of hand on shipbuilding.

I am left thinking about these things following this exchange and the themes of USNI Joint Warfighter 2012 as it relates to acquisition and technologies:

1) Will the DDG-51 Flight III, after any possible HM&E adjustments and with a much bigger radar, have the flexibility and adaptability to be relevant for the expected life cycle of the ship making the quantity vs quality cost argument valid?

2) If we ignore how the entire story of AEGIS and attribute that story to the Ticonderoga class completely, we can legitimately suggest that the first year of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer was in 1980 when the US Navy initiated a design study competition between 7 contractors. The Navy took what was a mostly mature combat system by that time and issued the contract to Bath Iron Works for DDG-51 on April 3, 1985. The ship was commissioned in 1991 and the first in class USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) was sent on her first deployment in 1993, despite numerous problems typical of any first in class ship. Basically, it took 13 years to go from first contract to first deployment with the Arleigh Burke class, and I think that’s valid even though I do realize the combat system development dates back much further and the Arleigh Burke was the first ship to be built specific to a combat system.

For the USS Freedom (LCS 1), the Navy was able to use R&D funding to shorten the time of developing a new warship with first design contract for LCS issued in 2003, commissioning of LCS1 in 2008, and first deployment in 2010. That process, while too ugly for some people to stomach, cut the development cycle of a Navy ship to 7 years – the fastest development cycle in peacetime for any Navy ship over 2000 tons since World War II. If the Navy wants faster development cycles for ships, they need to learn to like programs that look very ugly in public, because innovation includes failures along the way, and failures will be public in the information age.

3) If you want to be adaptable to the speed of change with acquisition, then the requirements process needs to reflect that, and VADM Skinner was exactly right in his opening comments (see the video in the entirety to view his comments) when he discussed the “necessity to establish requirements with clarity,” which is the comment that drove my question. A theme of Joint Warfighter 2012 was the necessity for future combat platforms to have space and flexibility – and to use that space to ensure that every new platform can be agile in an environment of rapidly changing technology, because it is technology where the United States military has superiority today. The training piece of how to use new technology should be more difficult than the acquisition of adjusting and reusing flexible platforms, and in some cases already is. VADM Parker discussed this in regards to the USCG when he noted that almost every Cutter not built in the last few years performs a mission it was never designed to perform. My impression is the training and flexibility of the US Coast Guard, which as an organization is small enough to be agile when leaders are agile, is how those systems remain relevant to modern threats.

4) VADM Skinner finished the panel session by discussing how how oversight has run amok – that there is too much oversight in the requirements process. That is an interesting statement, because on the same day he is saying that, an article in Defense Daily by Mike McCarthy came out and said:

Language in the defense policy bill currently before the House of Representatives that calls for an investigation into cracking and other problems on the first Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) addresses old issues that have already been resolved, the Navy says.

Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley sent a letter this week to a House supporter of the LCS program, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), saying a section in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would offer “little insight” to the current state of the class.

“While the Navy certainly welcomes recommendations and will fully support added oversight regarding its ship design, build and test processes, I share your concern that Section 129…reverts back to issues identified and corrected early in the program and will add little insight regarded the progress and current status of the program,” Stackley said in the May 15 letter.

This is a great example of oversight run amok, Congress investigating a problem that was identified, discussed, repaired, and had the lessons learned passed back to the shipbuilder – LAST YEAR. And while VADM Skinner is highlighting how added layers of oversight can be disorganized and in many ways not beneficial to programs, his boss Sean Stackley is basically in a position where he is being forced to say he will “fully support added oversight” even though it’s pretty obvious to any informed taxpayer that this specific oversight is simply another layer of political and bureaucratic busy work with no purpose. There is way too much ‘after the fact’ oversight and in my opinion, there appears to be ineffective oversight in front of these programs.

Congress is currently representing a classic example of being part of the problem and not part of the solution, and this issue with LCS is a great example. If Congress would turn their goggles around and quit worrying about past problems, because everyone on the planet knows Congress is going to support the Navy buying more Littoral Combat Ships – Congress needs to make their role getting ahead of problems. When elected officials exercise their responsibility of oversight by being armchair historians of problems, it helps no one. But looking forward, Congress should be – with the FY13 NDAA (H.R. 4310) – looking at the mission modules, the impacts including costs of having to develop software integration for two combat systems to work with the various payload systems for LCS, and most importantly the future manning and maintenance plans for the Littoral Combat Ship – particularly since the Navy plans to use overseas home ports for the ship. If Congress wants the GAO to go back and look at something related to the LCS program and figure out how we got here, take a look at something that has impacts to future programs like the requirements process – and have the GAO explain how the Navy got the cost estimates so completely wrong and added a requirement for speed instead of endurance for a vessel intended to conduct presence operations overseas.

That’s important, because quite honestly if someone – and maybe it should be Congress – doesn’t get ahead of this DDG-51 Flight III concept, we could be in real trouble. I completely get that a new design would be expensive, but it’s going to cost the United States a hell of a lot more if the DDG-51 Flight III is unable to remain combat relevant throughout it’s life cycle – and I have to be blunt, it’s nearly impossible for that case to be made credibly by the Navy. The Navy is taking a smaller AMDR radar than they actually want for DDG-51 Flight IIIs and leaving the ship with no room for growth. If the Flight III is funded for 10 years – starting in FY18 – that means DDG-51s purchased in FY28, fielded in 2033 and serving 40 years to 2073 will remain combat credible. That’s intellectually insulting. Not a single vessel – NOT ANY SHIP OF ANY NATION – built during World War I was combat credible in World War II.

How am I supposed to believe the Navy requirements process – that apparently has too much oversight, and has concluded DDG-51 Flight IIIs at age 20, despite no margins for growth, will be combat credible in 2050 – is a requirements process that isn’t at minimum flawed and potentially altogether ineffective? In my opinion, the requirements process is broken, but I also find myself in complete agreement with VADM Skinner – the oversight process in acquisition is broken too.

The panel session on Wednesday morning discussing remotely-piloted vehicles provided several insights into the future of unmanned technology. With Captain George Galdorisi moderating, the panel included Dr Norman Friedman, Brig Gen Peter E Gersten USAF, Col Timothy Healy USA, and LTCol Thomas “Buzz” Rempfer USAF.

This is the second time I have heard LtCol Rempfer discuss unmanned systems. He is a former F-16 and A-10 pilot who flies UAVs today in the combat air support role for troops over Afghanistan, and previously Iraq. LtCol Rempfer discussed the big differences between flying combat air support missions in fixed wing aircraft vs what he is able to do today with remotely piloted vehicles. With his A-10 he usually had just enough fuel to take a tasking, orient towards a target, strike the target, and go home. Despite the ability to deliver a punch in his A-10, he never had any opportunities during a flight to get true situational awareness on the ground or develop any type of connection with the folks on the ground. With his remotely piloted vehicles he would have an opportunity to stay with the unit he was supporting for long periods of time, get to know the commanders on the ground, and get engaged in the situational awareness unlike anything a fast, manned fixed wing fighter is capable of doing. He stressed the relationship between air support and ground operators did matter, but no one knew it would until the UAVs gave the USAF more time over the AO to discover this.

Dr Friedman suggested that no one should get too comfortable with the majority of UAVs that have been developed today. The panel suggested what will likely happen is that the current generation of vehicles may end up being theater specific, incapable of scaling to other theaters primarily because today’s unmanned aviation systems over Afghanistan are largely dependent upon the assured access that we enjoy in the air. Dr. Friedman noted that several smaller companies in the unmanned systems space today may not survive as the DoD moves towards more robust systems, and may not be able to make that transition with the DoD.

But it was Col Healy who first brought up the buzz word most people look for in the unmanned systems hearings – artificial intelligence. In the context of the bandwidth discussion – which is the great limitation of unmanned systems, artificial intelligence is needed to condense the bandwidth costs of the system to allow the system to perform several functions of the aircraft without the pilot, but that doesn’t mean artificial intelligence will lead to complete autonomy. Col Healy suggested there will never be truly unmanned combat systems, “A man will always be in the loop” he said.

In response to a question, Col Healy discussed how the US Army is fielding units that have already teamed manned and unmanned systems. He stressed the value of having the manned and unmanned pilots in the same room during a mission brief was having a significant impact to how missions are conducted, and provides real opportunities to teaming as manned and unmanned systems continue to develop operational concepts and tactics. As more robust remotely controlled strike aircraft are fielded in the USAF and US Navy, the panel left the sense that teaming between unmanned and manned is likely the future in the strike space as well, and will be the future growth area of remotely controlled air systems.

There was one question raised regarding unmanned surface and underwater systems. Dr Friedman suggested that sea state is going to severely limit the utility of unmanned surface vehicles unless larger unmanned surface platforms are developed. This reminded me of the early ideas in the Navy (that were never taken seriously, unfortunately) to just make the entire Littoral Combat Ship unmanned just to see what the problems are to make a large ship unmanned work. Dr. Friedman said the missions of surface vehicles will mostly focus on port activities. Unmanned underwater systems are advancing a much greater pace, and as underwater communications continue to improve this space is going to have significant impact on the way the US Navy fights – not only with submarines but also at the fleet level. Dr Friedman specifically pointed to mine warfare as an area unmanned systems will be required in the future, because as mines continue to get more sophisticated and when deployed in large numbers, he suggested unmanned underwater systems may be the only way to clear minefields in the future.

Following the panel session I asked several in attendance regarding the US Navy’s development of unmanned systems, specifically regarding the perception that the development of unmanned systems has been it is coming along too slow. This was the view of ADM Roughead in the last days of CNO, and Bob Work has frequently discussed the necessity of the US Navy to move faster with those systems. Admiral Greenert recently announced the Navy will move faster on the Large Displacement UUV, a system that was previously thought of as nothing more than a DARPA project. The reasons for the potentially slow-go on unmanned systems include budget priorities, the usual bureaucracy, and community resistance – particularly on the naval aviation side. With the Joint Strike Fighter sucking the budget of naval aviation it is unclear if the US Navy will have anything similar to a robust UAV capability before 2020, and I’m not only speaking of carrier based UAVs but UAVs from most ships. Ultimately everyone seemed to agree it will be the submarine community that advances unmanned technologies in the Navy with the continued development and deployment of unmanned underwater technologies – which some of the folks I discussed this topic with suggested may have the most promise in unmanned technologies long term anyway. Regarding Littoral Combat Ship, it would appear morale is low, but mostly because no one really seems to have any sense of where the mission modules are in terms of development. Amusingly, it’s almost as if no one cares either.


Of the many topics discussed by General Cartwright on Day 1 at USNI/AFCEA Joint Warfighter Conference 2012, it was his discussion of the nexus between electronic warfare and cyberwarfare where the General grabbed my attention. This Sydney Freedberg article at AOL Defense captured the discussion briefly in the last paragraph.

“There is a nexus coming between electronic warfare and cyber,” between traditional electronic jamming and countermeasures and new-fangled hacking, Cartwright concluded. “One knocks the door down and the other goes in and does the dirty work.” The current turf wars between the electronic warfare and cybersecurity communities miss the vital point, he said. In the cyber realm, “we’ve been thinking 90 percent defense, 10 percent offense. That’s bass-ackwards for us,” he said: We need to stand ready to seize the electromagnetic offensive.

There are several questions I have been asking myself since General Cartwright spoke yesterday afternoon, chief among them being what exactly does 90% offensive cyber and 10% defensive cyber look like? Does this mean firewalls need to be reconfigured as smart honeypots, ready to go offensive as soon as an intrusion attempt is made from an unknown or unidentified system? How does this work, and is the existing security model for networked systems fundamentally wrong? General Cartwright actually used the example of protecting a computer with anti-virus software as an example of the defense first mentality in cyber, but I am not convinced that’s a good model for his ideas.

First, let me highlight that I truly appreciate General Cartwright challenging assumptions and projecting alternative futures for how cyber will impact the technologically driven military of the United States; indeed in many ways it’s refreshing to hear. With that said I am not certain that everything is as cut and dry as General Cartwright suggests, and one mans defense may be another mans offense when it comes to the cyber domain.

For example, using the same anti-virus software example, is it accurate to say anti-virus is a purely defensive model of cyber activity, or would it be more accurately to highlight the offensive capabilities triggered in response to threats. As a virus exploits a networked system, anti-virus systems are often configured to counterattack the virus immediately, preventing the execution of rogue code and isolating the rogue code towards preventing further damage to a system. The physical world analogy is to run down the bad guy and throw them in jail – which is difficult to describe as a defensive action. This raises the question, why exactly is 90% defensive and 10% offensive the wrong approach? Use of offensive military power is subject to a variety of factors regardless of domain, and given the way the US spends money on nuclear deterrence, self-defense technologies for people and platforms, and other defense capabilities applied in multiple domains (which can be anything from the investments in stealth in a submarine to jamming technologies of various kinds) – it isn’t as if the posture of US military forces is somehow divided by formulas for offensive and defensive capabilities. With that said, there is no question several nations have taken a 90% offensive and 10% defensive posture against the United States (China being one such nation), and perhaps if we were more offensive in cyber ourselves we would likely influence that balance of action for those attacking us.

Where Cartwright starts really making sense on the issue is specific to aperture exposures that will almost certainly be exploited in some way in the future. Again, from AOL Defense:

“We built the F-35 with absolutely no protection for it from a cyber standpoint,” he said. Just as historical aircraft used to have an “EMCON switch” — short for “emissions control” — that could turn off all electronic transmissions from the aircraft when it needed to avoid detection, Cartwright said, today’s aircraft need a switch that shuts off all the electronic apertures through which they can potentially receive transmissions, lest electronically savvy enemies hack into them. “As a guy who spends his life on the offensive side of cyber, every aperture out there is a target,” Cartwright said.

OK, the General is discussing deep cyber theory to a general audience, so this means something different depending upon how much your understanding is on the details. Basically what Cartwright is suggesting is that any radar is an aperture because similar to the way false signals can be fed into radar signals. The theory is an encoded signal can be sent through the data stream to a radar to exploit the integrated system. The problem is the processing isn’t there to do that yet, so there really isn’t any way to defend against it because the capability doesn’t actually exist. The General is rightly applying Moore’s Law here, but is also combining a conclusion that eventually the ability to exploit every aperture will be possible and that is what allows his theory to be promoted – and on Cyber issues the General is certainly credible enough on the issue to be taken seriously.

Indeed this is probably some legitimate fortune telling regarding challenges in 2025 and beyond, and as delays occur with JSF perhaps that is the right platform to highlight as vulnerable. But it’s also futurist and while the discussion is important (particularly in conferences like Joint Warfighter) – it’s theory and difficult to reconcile as a vulnerability that can be planned for at this time. Another real issue with Joint Strike Fighter is that all of that code will make it difficult – thus very expensive – to adapt a defensive posture against such threats in the future. Again, in a military of advanced systems with lots of code in advanced software – this is going to continuously be a challenge until the development cycle of complicated systems can be shortened significantly.

Cartwright is exactly right to forewarn on these issues, because in a sense he is exactly right – apertures are of every kind are issues that must be dealt with in the evolving cyber challenge – and the ability to turn off apertures as receivers is a defensive tripwire that may need to be integrated into future systems. When the US is heading down a networked way of war, turning off apertures is going to make that whole ‘network’ aspect of future war very difficult. A lot to think about, hopefully the video is online soon for others to watch and discuss.

Posted by galrahn in Cyber | 5 Comments

Letter from Congressman Randy Forbes and Congressman Todd Akin to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus dated May 1, 2012.

Dear Secretary Mabus:

In 1981, then-Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, issued a Memorandum on “Ship Counting Methodology” for counting Battle Force ships. Noting the political nature associated with how ships are counted, Lehman believed the Carter Administration “overstated the overall size of the Navy” and that a methodology for ship counting was therefore required to count “those ships which actually contribute to the Navy’s wartime mission of combat and support.”

We revisit this history because we are concerned the Department of the Navy may again choose to alter the rules by which it has abided for the last three decades when counting the total Battle Force size in an effort to exhibit to the public a larger fleet than actually exists. In your February 2012 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee you stated that:

The new FSA (Force Structure Analysis) will consider the types of ships included in the final ship-count based on changes in mission, requirements, deployment status, and capabilities. For example, classes of ships previously not part of the Battle Force such as AFSBs developed to support SOF/non-traditional missions, Patrol Combatant craft forward deployed to areas requiring that capability, and COMFORT Class Hospital Ships deployed to provide humanitarian assistance, an expanded core Navy mission, may be counted as primary mission platforms. Any changes in ship counting Rules will be reported and publicized.

To our knowledge, the Congress has not received notification of a change in the rules. And on April 18, 2012, Undersecretary of the Navy, Robert O. Work, reaffirmed this fact when he said “The 300 ships that we [will] have in 2019 are ships that we count right now.” However, in an interview with Defense News from April 30, 2012, Undersecretary Work also stated that the Navy is “looking at updating (its) counting rules.”

Considering your testimony from February and Undersecretary Work’s statements, we write today to inquire if your office has plans to revisit the methodology it has used for counting the Battle Force since the release of the Febtuary 2006 Navy plan for 313-ships? More specifically, is the Navy still considering counting Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) or Hospital Ships (T-AH) as part of the Battle Force? Given that the Congress is tasked by the Constitution to “provide and maintain a Navy,” we trust that any changes to how the Battle Force is counted will be executed in full consultation with the Legislative Branch so that a mutually agreeable outcome can be achieved.

As always, thank you for your service to the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, and the Nation.

This letter is posted online in PDF format as part of this AOL Defense article. The May 29, 1981 memo by Secretary Lehman was previously classified, but has since been declassified and is available at this link. If you haven’t seen the memo I encourage you to take a look, because Lehman was specific that the wartime mission of the Navy drove decisions for counting. It is noteworthy that the memo didn’t need much explanation either – in other words the guiding methodology for what was and was not a battle force ship was short, simple, and to the point.

The potential classification of Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) or Hospital Ships (T-AH) as battle force ships is largely seen as a political issue at a time when the Navy is currently having trouble reaching a goal of 300 ships.

For example, what exactly is the point of counting the current Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) as battle force ships? The Navy has never given much thought about the PCs, indeed has never demonstrated until very recently they actually wanted the ships – which is why the US Coast Guard operated several of them for years, and now once the PCs approach end of life the Navy suddenly not only upgrades their weapon capabilities but wants to count PCs as battle force ships? All of the PCs are already between 12-19 years old and their life is only considered to be about 25 years at best – meaning all current PCs are likely to be retired between 2020-2025 anyway. The shipbuilding plan doesn’t include a PC replacement, so other than being able to count ships as part of the battle force for the short term, what exactly is to be gained? Is this only a political issue?

Here is another question… what if the Navy decides to put in a PC replacement? Does counting PCs as battle force ships benefit in any way should a potential PC replacement program pop up?

The Hospital Ships (T-AH) are a different issue entirely. At first my thought was, why not… after all the hospital ships today can serve in a support role for wartime operations, and are used for soft power operations today which are missions that have also been conducted by amphibious ships counted by the rules.

However, the reason I think the Hospital Ships (T-AH) are more problematic is that the hospital ships are specifically used as part of a diplomatic role for the United States, and their missions are executed under concepts rooted in Strategic Communications. Does it undermine the strategic communications aspect of medical diplomacy if the Navy starts counting the hospital ships as part of the “battle force?” All it takes is for one US hating foreign reporter to write a front page article how the Hospital Ships are “battle force ships” according to the US Navy and the STRATCOM of Medical Diplomacy with hospital ships becomes an uphill political climb. If the missions the hospital ships are deployed on have any function in strategic communications on behalf of the United States, it does appear claiming those ships as “battle force ships” would in fact be counter to the purpose of the ships missions in the 21st century, and be counterproductive without any obvious benefit.

I am not sure if the Navy gains by listing the hospital ships as part of the battle force. My sense is there is some loss in strategic communications, but how big or small that loss is depends a lot on how important the Navy considers the strategic communications of the hospital ship missions to be on these medical diplomacy deployments. It may not be a big deal though?

Last week an interview by Chris Cavas of Undersecretary Bob Work that discussed this topic was posted to Navy Times here. It covers the PCs and Hospital Ships, as well as JHSVs and other ships including special mission ships under consideration related to counting rules. Is this simply politics, or is there more to it than politics?

Time will tell.

Posted by galrahn in Navy, Policy | 10 Comments

Naval Diplomacy

April 2012


The dispatch of HMS Dauntless (D33) to the Falkland Islands is likely to put a virtual stop to suggestions and speculation Argentina might attempt a military campaign as part of the recent tensions surrounding the islands. While it is possible to suggest that the presence of Prince William as one of the helicopter pilots gave the Falkland Islands issue more visibility to the tensions surrounding the oil and Argentina with the British public, it is ultimately the presence of a single Royal Navy warship and the rumor of an associated submarine protecting the islands that gives both the local population and commentating analysts confidence that the islands are safe from adventurism – whether that adventurism from Argentina is real or imagined.

In a recent Guardian interview, part of the larger coverage on the Falkland Islands war that occurred 20 years ago, Rear Admiral Sir John Forster Woodward offered his tactical perspective on events in the Falklands today.

If the Falklands are ever captured by Argentina it will be impossible to win them back, says Woodward. “We could not retake the Falklands. We could not send a task force or even an aircraft carrier. If we had been in this state in 1982, the Falklands would be the Malvinas. We rely on sending reinforcements by air, but that would be impossible if we lost control of the airfield at Mount Pleasant.”

He is not, however, as despairing as that sounds. “The problem doesn’t arise, because they won’t be taking it,” he says, rapping his knuckles on the kitchen table for luck. “I hope I’m right.”

His hope is based on the recent arrival of the destroyer HMS Dauntless. “We need her surface-to-air missiles. The Argentines might hope to overcome the four Typhoon jets at Mount Pleasant with a dozen Mirages and then bomb the airfield out of action, but while she’s there with her missiles they won’t try that. I’m not sure the Government understands how important she is.”

Argentina believes Britain has also sent a nuclear-powered attack submarine, or SSN, which the MoD neither confirms nor denies. As an expert submariner, Woodward sees the use. “If they want to invade, it will have to be by sea and an SSN will chop them up. They know that.”

If you haven’t read the article, it is worth reading in its entirety. Also worth reading is this article from Chris Parry in the Daily Mail.

The inherent capability of seapower to dissuade aggression is often taken for granted, until it is plainly obvious. It is highly questionable whether HMS Dauntless (D33) is actually preventing a new war in the Falklands, as it is highly questionable whether Argentina would ever try to take the islands by force again, but it is very clear that the presence of credible naval power will cease the tension that comes from speculating about military action.

What the presence of HMS Dauntless (D33) around the Falkland Islands does is clarify the costs to Argentina of military adventurism, specifically forcing Argentina to adjust any calculations potentially made undertaking a military option to retake the Falkland Islands. In any scenario where two sides face off against each other in diplomatic disputes, the addition of military power by either side forces adjustments to the cost calculations of the other side.

With that said, the Royal Navy is the smallest it has been in centuries, and today is too small to sustain deployments of Type 45 destroyers or nuclear attack submarines for the protection of the Falkland Islands indefinitely. When HMS Dauntless (D33) leaves the region, should a similar replacement not show up – it is a safe bet that the political rhetoric and tension will return to the Falkland Islands.

One final thought. It is still remarkable – to say the least – that a single warship in the 21st century can still carry with it so much political influence and virtually cease the potential for tension through the forward deployed presence of credible naval power alone. In a nation with a large Navy like the US Navy, the value of a single ship is often taken for granted by the political leaders and the people of the United States who enjoy the benefits that come from being a large naval power, but in a small Navy like the Royal Navy, the influence of naval power stands evident today to one and all.

General Norton A. Schwartz, USAF and Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, USN have authored a story over the weekend that focuses on AirSea Battle. The article attempts to answer many lingering questions, and takes on the difficult task of laying out more detail behind the purpose of AirSea Battle.

Worth reading in full.

Regardless of what ‘else’ AirSea Battle doctrine ultimately does for the United States, the daunting task of working out the technical integration challenges of the US Navy and US Air Force so that both services can be interoperable during combat operations is a worthy enough task to make the AirSea Battle effort important. From an outside perspective, realizing genuine interoperability might seem like an easy thing, but it is likely one of the more difficult challenge of AirSea Battle doctrine facing both services. There are more than a few stories where a Navy aircraft and an Air Force aircraft would be over the same mission target in Iraq or Afghanistan, and neither pilot could talk to the other. That seems so basic at casual glance, and yet it is anything but simple.

Posted by galrahn in Air Force, Navy | 11 Comments
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