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Nighttime in the maritime environment can range from a deep, bottomless black (typically for the first night trap after an extended inport period) to a riot of color and light in foreign ports. The combination of water, sky and light can make for compelling optics in the normal course of events, but come Christmas time, it assumes a special ambiance. One of our family’s traditions (when I wasn’t deployed) was to head down to the piers after Christmas Eve services to look at the ships’ holiday lighting. Not everyone has that opportunity (and given our current location, alas, neither do we) – so as a form of Christmas card from me to all of you, presented here are ‘Christmas Lights – Navy Style’
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Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and peace and prosperity in the new year to come.

w/r, Steeljaw Scribe

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy | 1 Comment

We are fast approaching the end of the yearlong celebration of the 100th Anniversary of US Naval Aviation – and what a year it has been. Between the Heritage paint schemes, celebratory conventions, special programming and dedicated ceremonies, much ground has been covered. The outside observer may be forgiven, however, if they are led to believe carrier aviation is the whole sum of Naval Aviation – based on a casual review of said observances. (Fret not friends, YHS is a Life Member of tailhook and well beholden to carrier aviation, so no heresy will be found here, so put down the pitchforks – SJS). They would be missing out on how Naval Aviation set cargo records during the Berlin Airlift. Flew and fought hardscrabble, close quarters battles with Huey’s staged from LST’s in the Mekong Delta. How, in concert with small DER’s, it formed a critical piece of our long-range, early warning barrier prior to the ballistic missile age with WVs and specially configured blimps. Patrolled vast, hostile reaches of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans searching for Soviet attack and ballistic missile subs.

They would also miss how it was part of the mission to probe deep into hostile territory with a battery of electronic gear that at times was a cross between Radio Shack and Star Wars, searching for the ever elusive signals that would indicate a new threat or change in defenses for targets on hidden lists for a war no one wanted to go hot. It is perhaps this group, shore and carrier-based, that has at once remained the most obscure subset of Naval Aviation while performing one of the most critical missions of the Cold War – intelligence collection.

The gap between what we know with certainty and what we conjecture (guess) is in constant flux and through time immemorial, efforts have been expended on almost infinite means to close that gap. Indeed, the driving impetus for bringing the airplane (which itself was more of a curiosity than accomplished fact in its early days) into the military were the possibilities implicit in gaining the ultimate “high ground” for scouting and reconnaissance supporting ground and naval forces. Indeed, Naval Aviation was born with the patrol/scout mission in mind.

Information collected was binned as actionable (useful in an immediate or near term sense — i.e., troop movements along the trenches, battleships seeking their opposite numbers for decisive engagements, etc.) or cataloged for longer-range/big picture use – “strategic” information if you will (and yes, we know this is a vast oversimplification). In the beginning, most of the information collected was visual — recorded observations by pilots passed at post-mission debriefs that evolved into still photography with either handheld or airframe mounted cameras.

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A colleague forwarded my way a discussion thread stemming from a recent online article focusing on the nation’s war colleges, the professional education of our war fighters and the faculty of said institutions so engaged. It is a relevant discussion as we find ourselves on the precipice of Draconian cuts in defense and, it seems, nothing is being taken off the table (yet) – including our postgraduate and professional institutions. The author of the article on improving PME that generated the thread, Prof. Joan Johnson-Freese (NSA Dept), takes aim at the current hiring practices of the Service’s PME – the Army, Naval and Air War Colleges. Highlighting an increasing trend of PME faculty positions as a jobs program for active duty officers retiring in place, she notes:

The problem snowballs when increasing numbers of retirees — who have little or no experience as educators — are hired as faculty, or, more insidiously, into a burgeoning number of administrative staff positions. The staff positions include assistant deans, associate deans, deans, program directors, special advisors, and “professors” with various titles, whose duties are sometimes — at best — unclear. Often, these jobs are filled without advertising the positions, or as the result of “worldwide” searches that always seem to produce the officer who was sitting down the hall waiting to retire as the only viable candidate. The educational goal of the institutions can be undermined by the desire to use the institutions as a jobs program for retirees. The result: the war colleges increasingly become bureaucracies driven by the bureaucratic goal of self-perpetuation.Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges

(I would note, that the author’s preface reflects the process across the federal government, but especially within the Services and DoD Agency of staffing with position descriptions “tailored” and targeted for a particular individual who will be retiring into that position. Fodder for another time. – SJS)

On the other side of the balance sheet, she asserts that (generally speaking) civilian faculty are often garnered from the ranks of academic “also rans”and walk-on prospects — a few diamonds are found, but for the most part, “stacks of dead wood” would be the order of the day. A third set, the so-called “practitioners” is also identified – notable for the specialized skill sets they bring, but mindful of the “expiration date” this knowledge set carries and its usefulness, absent refresh, as time marches on. Viewed in sum, the mix turns the mission of the PME schools on its head, turning them into holding pens for those marking time to full retirement in comfortable surroundings instead of institutions graduating mid- and senior-level officers armed to critically think, challenge and articulate solution sets in an increasingly complex world. The author does go to some pains to differentiate the Naval War College from the generalized meme and offers a three part solution based on the NWC’s experience which I will touch on later.

My observations here are somewhat colored by my experiences with post-graduate education, both at the Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey) and in JPME Phase 1 at NWC, but as a non-resident seminar student. In the case of the former, as a national Security Affairs (Soviet/East European Studies) Master’s student I had the opportunity to study in a curriculum that had scholars of national and international repute on staff. Included were the likes of Vernon Aspaturian, Robert Bathurst, Jiri Valenta and Kerry Kartchner among others. In the NSA course of studies, there wasn’t any coddling of students and the red pen was definitely wielded – but ultimately, to good effect. We were challenged to set aside orthodoxy and cultural norms, to look at issues from a differing perspective and in turn to press and challenge our professors. My seminar on nuclear weapons and national security certainly epitomized that environment as was the critique of my Master’s thesis on theater nuclear forces and strategies. All of which served good purpose in the approach I took in subsequent tours dealing with strategy and policy on the various staffs I served – less so for my operational tours. The non-resident seminar program on the other hand, with the exception of the national security studies phase, could pretty well be slotted under the practitioner side of the ledger, designed and scoped as it was for the student already in the Fleet and engaged in a full time job – and so while the intangibles of a campus delivered PME at NWC were missed, the concept and value are understood and informed by my NPS experience.

Turning then to Prof. Johnson-Freese’s three part recommendations, let’s examine each in turn:

“PME schools cannot overhaul the military retirement system, but they can limit the number of retirees hired onto war college faculties. One possibility would be to limit such hires to a percentage of the total faculty. This would force consideration of hiring retired officers for specialized talents and future potential, and not just for routine tasks with a nod to past rank taken as immediate qualification for the post.”

As a card-carrying member of the retired cohort I would concur – case-by-case, specialty by specialty. it isn’t closing the door altogether on that group, but rather raising the bar for admittance. Being a present instructor with the rank of Captain or Colonel should not grant entrée in and of itself, yet those who have demonstrated or show potential as teachers and scholars of a high order who come from a military background would presumably still stand to gain placement. This cohort is important because of the validation it offers the PME – that it isn’t just filled with ivory tower dwellers who have not been on the battle line. Conversely, it is also important that the War Colleges do not become another technical trade school – there is a need for diversity in perspective, background and experience that may be shared and imparted to the military students. It was one thing to study, for example, the whys and whereofs of the Czech Prague Spring – it was another matter entirely to study under someone who survived to emigrate and teach about it (and still another matter about filtering those same perspectives). That brings up the next point about the civilian-sourced faculty:

“PME academic faculty need a tenure or tenure-like system that not only gives them a goal to achieve through greater productivity, but allows them to cohere as a stable faculty and participate fully in the life of their colleges. Just as in a civilian institution, faculty should be reviewed after five years for their classroom abilities (considered over the long term, and not just based on sometimes fickle student evaluations), but also as academics serious about their careers, as demonstrated by published, policy-relevant scholarship.

Let me hasten to add that she underscores attainment of tenure is not a guarantee of permanent employment, and that even after tenure is granted, “Being retained permanently should not mean — as it often does now — automatic promotions with accompanying pay raises.” High levels of expectations should be established for scholarly, relevant work outside the class. Insofar as the NWC is concerned, I know there has been value found in several venues, some with immediate applicability to my current line of work. The third recommendation is one I find especially helpful and worth pursuing – because it is also the one most tied to “relevance” as viewed by a customer FO/GO or SES:

“More effort should be made to bring practitioners and experts from other specialized fields to the war colleges, such as the highly successful Secretary of the Navy Fellowships from the 1980s, a program that has since been discontinued but should be revived. However, these fellowships should be temporary and terminal. Outside experts and practitioners should come to the PME system, teach in the core curriculum or offer electives in their field, and conduct research and curriculum development — and then return to their regular posts elsewhere. Otherwise, they might well end up spending their time in PME trying to make their visiting positions permanent instead of serving the needs the fellowship was meant to meet.”

The challenge here might be in the grey area that exists between the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (like CNA and RAND) and the War Colleges, and the Navy’s own Federal Executive Fellowship program. And herein might be fertile ground for active and retired alike who have gained some standing in particular fields to break out of the detailing/contractual lock-step cycle and further explore and expound on an area of concentration – not necessarily as a PhD candidate, but as a post- practical master’s. The flow of such practitioners through the PME institutions would serve to keep the respective faculties up to speed and ensure the curricula maintain relevancy and currency. And perhaps it might just serve as the source of the next maritime strategy.

If we are to keep our PME institutions as viable sources of education for following generations of leaders, relevancy and validity must be ensured, and that starts with the faculty. In the course of the ensuing thread of comments and critique a central theme emerged that a creative tension needs to exist between the two principle factions (active duty and civilian professors) over the focus of effort and that it is incumbent on the senior leaders at these institutions to ensure one side or the other doesn’t prevail. A delicate balancing act to be sure, but that is why they (the senior leadership) are in those positions. Prof. Johnson-Freese offers a model for that management and presumably has instituted it within her organizational reach in her time at NWC. I, and many others I think, would be interested in knowing how that model’s implementation has fared and the particular challenges in implementing it.

Your thoughts?

Update: Some commentary (provided SEPCOR) on Prof. Johnson-Freese’s article in general and the Naval War College in particular is provided below As pointed out by my colleague (who provided the same) “…together with NWC Professor Emeritus Tom Hone’s comment on “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges”, by NWC Professor and former DSDM Department Chair Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, NWC Don Chisholm’s commentary on war college faculties is not only a guide for thoughtful management of faculty at PME institutions in general, but a strong bulwark against past and future arguments in favor of closing the Naval War College.”: 


 A Comment on “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges,” by Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese ( by Tom Hone)

 Introduction: The Problem

The very interesting essay by Dr. Johnson-Freese touches on the heart of the problem faced by the war colleges in its first sentence, where Dr. Johnson-Freese says that the war colleges are “the country’s professional military education institutions.” But there is often a great difference between an educational institution such as a well known liberal arts college and a professional school. Indeed, one of the criticisms often leveled against professional schools of law and medicine is that their programs are too narrow, or too technical, and that therefore they really don’t prepare tomorrow’s doctors and lawyers to learn as they progress through their careers.

In short, there’s a tension between “education” considered in its broadest sense and the sort of advanced schooling that prepares professionals for their careers. This tension dogs the faculties of the war colleges, and it inevitably must. On the one hand, they are supposed to “open and enlarge” the intellectual horizons of their students. On the other hand, they are supposed to help their students prepare to win the nation’s wars, help set the nation’s strategy, and plan and conduct counterinsurgency campaigns.

 The Naval War College’s Solution

The Naval War College (where I taught in 1985-86 and 2006-2009) deals with this tension in several ways. The first is by making one part of the curriculum (the study of strategy) more “intellectual” while making another part (the mastery of joint operations planning) intellectual but also heavily “practical.” You can think of the Naval War College curriculum-and its faculty as well-as spread across a continuum from the highly intellectual to a combination of the intellectual with the art and practice of planning military operations.

Given this continuum, you would expect to see very academically strong instructors, with outstanding publishing records, in the Strategy Department and mostly active and retired military officers with great operational experience in the Joint Military Operations Department-and in fact that is what you do see. At the same time, there are prominent academics even in the Joint Military Operations Department: professors Milan Vego and Donald Chisholm, to name just two.

This illustrates the second way the Naval War College deals with the tension between education (defined broadly) and professional education (which is far more technical and focused): the College “seeds” its operations department with academics, just as the best law and medical schools recruit and retain scholars who bring to their programs the sort of erudition that even professional students need to encounter.

The third way that the Naval War College deals with the continuum that runs from strategy to operations is to encourage and reward cooperation and communication across department boundaries. In my first tour at the Naval War College (1985-86), there was a lot of informal but meaningful contact between my department (then called National Security Decision-Making) and the Strategy Department. Faculty from those two departments even met informally with their colleagues in the operations department to talk about teaching strategies, research, and current issues relevant to the College’s program. There was less of this informal contact in my second tour (2006-2009), but that was because the teaching load was greater, and, in my case, because I was trying to do the research and publishing that Dr. Johnson-Freese advocates.

The fourth way that the Naval War College tries to overcome the problems described by Dr. Johnson-Freese is by rewarding research and publication. I benefited from this during both of my tours teaching at Newport. Both times, my department chairs (in two different departments, by the way) encouraged my research and writing and even did their best to find time for me to study and write. In addition, I always had colleagues who were happy to read and comment critically on what I wrote. That’s why I went back to the Naval War College a second time-because of an atmosphere that challenged me to think and to learn.

The fifth way that the Naval War College addresses the tension between education broadly defined and education defined narrowly is by allowing faculty to come and go. In my case, I never intended to stay for a long time at Newport. Instead, I wanted to (a) gain experience that I could plow back into the curriculum, (b) “get where the action was” as much as I could, given my skills and background, and (c) show I could both publish and manage-that is, combine intellectual work with practical work.

If you’re educating professionals, you can’t treat them like regular undergraduates. You can’t retreat to your special discipline and take refuge there because your students won’t have that option once they leave the war college and go off to make war or prepare for it. Their profession is demanding-intellectually, socially, ethically, and in terms of the demands it makes upon their energy. To be an effective instructor, you need to have had at least some experience like that of your students. That doesn’t mean that you should be shot at and survive, but it does mean that you should have found yourself challenged- seriously challenged-as a thinker and as a decision-maker. My experience with the Naval War College is that the College’s leaders have liked potential faculty with that background, and I think they have been correct to like them.

 The Bottom Line

What it comes down to in the end is leadership, especially from the war college presidents and their department chairs. Dr. Johnson-Freese noted in her essay that when she became a department chair in 2002, she found that most of the active-duty officers in her department at the Naval War College intended to stay as instructors once they retired. Her next act as the new chair should have been to tell every member of her department that this would not be possible and that, in fact, it was not and would not be department policy while she was the chair. Put another way, she faced a severe leadership challenge, and it was her duty to deal with it in such a way as to balance her professional ethics with the need to alter the social atmosphere that existed within her department.

That is never easy to do. I still grit my teeth when I think of some of the management or leadership errors that I made when I was a manager in the Navy and the Defense Department. But it’s what senior leaders get paid for. The chairman of a department at the Naval War College usually has under him or her an outstanding faculty. It’s up to him or her to lead that faculty-to change expectations, if they need changing, and to institute new standards of professional behavior, if new standards are needed.

I would very much have appreciated Dr. Johnson-Freese explaining to me and to her other readers what precisely she did to move her department toward the model that she describes in her essay. I admire the model. I have attempted to “live it.” But it’s not an easy model to implement, and those charged with leading the war colleges need to learn from former successful leaders in those institutions how to make them what they should-and can-be. Perhaps Dr. Johnson-Freese will provide that sort of guidance in a subsequent essay. I certainly hope so.


NAVWARCOL Prof. Don Chisholm on managing war college faculties:

“A major difficulty in attracting and retaining competent civilian faculty is to find those who grasp the “otherness” of the JPME institutions and are still willing to come. I think in Newport, as Tom Hone pointed out, the Strategy and Policy Department has consistently done a spectacular job in this. JMO has been more challenged because the nature of what it teaches (I chaired our faculty recruitment committee for a number of years and experienced this first hand) attracted mostly second-tier PhD’s. We ultimately decided that it was better to hire retired officers with the requisite active duty bona fides and develop them into builders of curriculum, etc. than to go the other route, based on credentialing rather than potential intellectual contribution. I think we have mostly succeeded with this course of action.

The whine from the Air Force civilian professor that made the rounds recently suggested to me, after looking at his vita, that he probably couldn’t get a research university job, “settled” for the Air Force institution and never quite grasped its mission — and for some long time too. More broadly, to some extent this may be explained by the second-tier academic status of some significant number of civilian faculty at JPME institutions, who, at least some of them, evidently could not gain tenured positions in mainstream academia, and yet yearned for some semblance of that life. I viewed (and continue to view) this effort as a subversion of the proper allocation of personnel resources at the JPME institutions.

 When I came to Newport more than a decade ago, I understood that I was shifting from one career to another, even though I continued with the title of “Professor.” That doesn’t mean that I abandoned interest in research and publication, but that I understood that it would take on a secondary complexion to be pursued in the interstices between curriculum development, faculty development, and teaching. And, truth be told, at times I chafe under this priority, but I also recognize that I decided to come to Newport and to remain there.

At the war colleges, there ought to be a continuing friction between active duty faculty and civilian faculty over the proper focus of effort. The leadership of these colleges needs practically to exploit this friction in order to produce better curriculum, not to allow the one or the other to “win,” and at the same time not to allow the conflict to become so intense as to drift into a state of anomie. I think for the most part, the Naval War College has succeeded in sustaining this creative friction

To gain a fundamental understanding of the institutional development of American higher education, let me commend Lawrence Veysey’s fine book “The Emergence of the American University” (circa 1964, I think). Veysey limns out the origins of the three strands of education that have always existed in uneasy tension with each other from the beginning been part of the university, namely between (1) undergraduate education; (2) PhD teaching and research; and (3) professional education. His description accords with my own experiences over a couple of decades in public research universities.”


Posted by SteelJaw in Navy | 1 Comment
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“In the information age we substitute mass for speed, a high degree of simultaneity for sequential action,” he said. “And access is highly valued: access to information, access to ideas, access to the domains of conflict. The Streetfighter concepts are meant to secure access and achieve high speed. That is, to be able to alter initial conditions, develop very high rates of change, stop things before they start…that’s what the military is paid to do.” – VADM Cebrowski (13 Mar 200)

Asymmetric forces and anti-access/area denial have been getting an increasing share of press of late – and for good cause. In the past year or so the poster child for the latest thing in A2/AD, the DF-21D has netted a good portion of that press, a pretty impressive feat for something that by all accounts is somewhere between the final stages of development and IOC. Still, when racking/stacking threats in the present and near future, the reality of the present threats to our naval forces is that the burden falls on cruise missiles, which have seen operational use in a variety of theaters and conditions. Cruise missile capabilities have advanced on par with their supporting technologies — engines, materials, navigation, seekers, etc. From relatively large, slow and medium-altitude threats they have progressed to smaller, faster, longer-range weapons with complex seekers, sophisticated navigation systems and challenging profiles from launch to terminal stages. Concurrent with the improvement in technology has come proliferation across a large number of delivery platforms operating from the shore and above, under and on the surface. In-line with this development, some delivery platforms have emerged, evolved or morphed into optimal platforms for delivering cruise missiles. Among these are the Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft being fielded by the PLAN.

In a separate fora, I received the following brief, which turns out to be a pretty comprehensive look — all from sources on both sides of the Bamboo Curtain of what is rapidly becoming yet another A2/AD challenge for naval planners and commanders in the region. It’s author, George Root (a former Midway-sailor) passes:

“The PLAN’s emphasis on building a very large number of Type 22 Houbei Fast Attack Craft needs more emphasis in Navy and allied thinking. According to in country open sources, by February of last year, the PLAN had fielded over 80 of these vessels and the number is growing. As illustrated in the attached Type 22 focused presentation, just four of these C-803 missile shooters could provide double shooter coverage over the entire Taiwan Strait from the relative tactical safety of the Chinese coastal islands.

In my view, the fact that today, the PLAN could field over 640 mobile 100+nm missiles (80 vessels x 8 C-803s each) in the Chinese mainland littorals should give those interested in China’s growing anti-access capabilities some serious cause for concern.”

PLAN’s Type 22 Houbei FAC _July11_R1

“Streetfighter is alive, and well, and is an inevitability” – VADM Cebrowski

Indeed — but not where originally intended it seems… Your thoughts?

crossposted at

Posted by SteelJaw in Hard Power, Navy | 26 Comments
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“Washington should show its political will and stop playing with guns on China’s doorsteps.
‘Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.” – China Daily (27 July 2011)

Last week the Taiwanese press revealed an incident that occurred on the 29th of June wherein one of a pair of PLA-AF SU-27s crossed the median line between PRC and Taiwan while ostensibly pursuing a U-2 conducting reconnaissance in international airspace. The story briefly ran in the Western press and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mullen, when asked to comment on the incident, noted that while ” (W)e both have to be very careful about how we fly them,” the US would be undeterred in continuing to fly the missions. In the days that followed, “opinion” pieces ran in the China Daily (source of the quote above) and Beijing Global Times – both generally recognized sources of “official” Chinese messaging without coming directly from a government spokesperson. Both articles, pointing to the the recent visits by the PLA CoS to the US in May and the visit by ADM Mullen in mid-July, noted the difficulty in re-establishing these early steps in mil-to-mil relations and how this action (the continuation of U-2 “spy” missions) threatened their continuation. For it’s part, the Global Daily quoted a military expert’s analysis on China’s “legitimacy” in challenging the missions:

Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China can legitimately interrupt US surveillance moves.”It is impossible for China to deploy the electronic countermeasures needed to set up a so-called protective electronic screen in the air to deter reconnaissance. Sending flights to intercept spying activities is essential to show China’s resolution to defend its sovereignty,” Song said.”The US has insisted that their spying on China brings no harm by using the excuse that it is safeguarding its own security,” Song said. “US spying activities, arms sales to Taiwan and uneven military communications with China have been the top three major barriers for military ties between the two countries,” he added.

China Daily, which tends to be a little more restrained or conservative in tone, emphasized Chen’s comments during the recent visits:

During Mullen’s visit to China, Chen Bingde, the General Chief-of-Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, also voiced his concern on potential miscalculations or even clashes between the two militaries. While China welcomes the US military presence in Asia-Pacific for its constructive role in maintaining regional stability, that does not mean that China will compromise on issues relating to its territorial integrity or national security. Chen criticized the US naval drills in the South China Sea and attempted arms sale to Taiwan, and also urged the US to reduce or halt its military surveillance near China’s coast. Given the increasingly interdependent relations between China and the US, and the commitment by both governments to build a cooperative partnership in the 21st century, it is in both sides’ interests to build and maintain good-neighborliness based on mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and national dignity. (emphasis added)

Which, of course, preceded the ‘good fences = good neighbors’ quote above.


China, like North Korea and the former Soviet Union, is openly hostile to reconnaissance flights, taking every opportunity to display their impatience and displeasure with the missions. Generally speaking, unlike the Soviets and North Koreans, the Chinese have been less inclined to shoot down reconnaissance aircraft unless they were actually over Chinese territory (the wreckage of several Taiwanese U-2s shot down over the mainland are on display in a Beijing military museum). T0 a degree, that has been a function of their inability until the recent past decade to reach out and touch US platforms, like the U-2 (and presumably the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS which has been forward deployed to Guam for a while now). The deployment of SU-27 FLANKERs, purchased from the Russians (and now, indigenously produced J-11’s) have served to significantly extend the PLAAF’s reach, both in range and altitude, over the much less capable F-8 and even the That, however, does not mean that they will not react to US aircraft engaged in intelligence collection missions off the Chinese coast. Ample evidence of how a reaction can go wrong, especially if the reacting fighters are overly aggressive, is provided with the midair between a PLAAF J-8 and a Navy EP-3. Though it turned out badly for the Chinese pilot (whose body was never found) the exploitation of the EP-3 after it made an emergency landing at a nearby airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan, proved to be a windfall for Chinese intelligence. Still, the manner and size of a reaction to reconnaissance missions can be used as yet another means of “signaling” to another country. A reaction by a pair of fighters that maintains a stand-off distance of 5 or so nautical miles, effectively shadowing the recce aircraft signals the awareness of the observed nation to the presence of the aircraft and the mission assigned. An intercept with aggressive maneuvering, like a CPA inside 50 ft, “thumping” or other clearly hazarding maneuvers might serve as a warning to open distance from the edge of a nation’s airspace (even though the recce aircraft may be in international airspace) or even a warning that future missions will be met with hostile fire. It’s all part of a range of strategic communications (like so-called “op-eds” in State-owned or directed media). So, what is the context here?

China, I believe, has clearly laid out three redlines where the future of mil-mil exchange and talks are concerned – China’s claims to the South China Sea, the continuance of arms sales to Taiwan and so-called “dangerous military practices” that are typified by US reconnaissance missions. In each of the high-level visits, this was the message delivered to the US – “here are our conditions for further progress.” The message builds on actions taken from the tactical to strategic — from serial harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in the South China Sea and intercept attempts at high-level reconnaissance aircraft (don’t forget – this took place after the visit by Chen to the US and before Mullen’s visit to China) to pursuing a bi-lateral condominium of “understandings” with nations bordering the SCS, eschewing multi-party fora and working hard to exclude US presence and influence. It is at once a fairly aggressive tack, but one that has remained hidden in plain sight of US policymakers who are wrapped up in three wars abroad and dealing with fiscal issues at home. As part of a carefully crafted strategic communications campaign, the target audience isn’t just the US, but more importantly, regional states. The message it carries – the US is in relative decline across all measures of power but more importantly, in the area of real power and presence in the region, its primacy is declining to such a degree that its reliability is increasingly suspect. Therefore, measure carefully your actions and intent for it is in your better interests – in the long run, if you not only reduce reliance on the US and its instruments of regional presence and power (e.g., naval and air forces), but work with us to reduce this increasingly risky and reckless presence. Combining challenges in relatively low-risk actions – like increasingly aggressive intercepts of US recce aircraft. Just when, for example, has the US militarily reacted to an aggressive intercept, much less shoot-down of a recce platform? Nothing was done to the North Koreans or Soviets even in the face of several high profile incidents like the Pueblo. Throw an unmanned recce platform into the mix as a potential target for a demonstration during a high stakes stand-off and it could get very interesting very soon. The very near sea trials of the former Varyag CV, allegedly named Shi Lang, serves as another point. China knows full well that it can’t compete hull-to-hull with the US CVN/CVW team – but it doesn’t need to because the US is so strapped worldwide in terms of force structure and OPTEMPO. Rather, the Shi Lang is at once a message and warning to states like Vietnam and the Philippines that should they decide to put force behind their challenge to China’s claims in the area, their naval forces are wholly inadequate to the job by themselves, and again, the US won’t be one to be relied upon to fill the breach.

None of this happens overnight and as mentioned, not without a strategic communications campaign. The point is recognizing that one is underway and that the terms of engagement may in fact be changing.

Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.”

Indeed – but as many a suburbanite will tell you, fences can also be very polarizing to a neighborhood, especially when built outside of where property lines are clearly understood and recognized.

Crossposted @

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 “Fleet Problems” as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself – which by the 1930s was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this observer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as more people in leadership looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant — the battleline. It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for carrier-based dive bombers, so different form the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Proof would come at Midway when both forces were employed — the B-17’s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown struck at the heart of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi’s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion. Here then is the story – fittingly from the perspective of one of the few WWII dive bomber pilots still with us, LCDR George Walsh, who flew that great beast of an aircraft, the SB2C Helldiver in the Pacific theater. – SJS

As we enter the second half of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, I have found no reference to the “Fleet Problems” of the 1930s that were of great importance to the progress of naval aviation. These exercises were conducted at sea by hundreds of ships and aircraft of the peacetime Navy to prepare our nation for possible war. The Fleet Problems were vital, providing realistic training for the generation of professional naval officers, mostly Annapolis graduates, who were responsible for leading America to victory in WW II despite enduring the hardships and sacrifices of the 1930’s. The exercises were well planned and intense, demanding all the devotion and talents of the men who participated under conditions that simulated wartime and called for extended tours of sea duty.

As you look back on these Fleet Problems you will find it mystifying that we were so unprepared for the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the Battle of Midway was badly mismanaged.

“The “Fleet Problems” should not be confused with the “War Games” conducted at the Naval War College in Newport. The fleet and not the college developed the strategy and tactics for air warfare in the Pacific.1 It was in the conduct of these exercises that our Navy perfected the techniques of aircraft carrier operation and proved the usefulness of carrier task forces as an offensive weapon.

It is interesting to trace the progress of naval aviation from the earliest introduction of a carrier, the Langley (1922), into the 1926 Fleet Program VI as an auxiliary to Fleet Problem XXI in 1940 when the carrier Task Forces acted as a long distance striking force independent of the main battleship forces.

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A Reminder – Pandas May Be Cute, But They Have Sharp Teeth and Claws…

The DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) is in play again in the press and implicitly linked in comments by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Staff that cancellation of at least one of the Ford-class carriers and retirement of some number of others is being considered by DoD ( would note, however, that to draw a straight line between the two is a little simplistic). Surfacing this discussion was the publication of an article in the Taipei Times (14 July edition) last week that led to a good bit of churn on this side of the Pacific:

“People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde confirmed earlier this week that China was developing the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the first Chinese official to publicly state that the missile is in development. His comments came as the English-language China Daily reported that the DF-21D had a range of 2,700km (ed. or about 1460 nm -SJS), well beyond assessments by the Office of Naval Intelligence last year, which put it at about 1,500km. The missile, which is capable of hitting moving targets at sea and is seen as a potential threat to aircraft carrier battle groups, would represent a powerful deterrent to the US Navy in the Pacific.”

One of the arguments about the very existence of the DF-21D was that while there is a surprising amount of information in scientific and technical journals hinting broadly at such a capability for the PLA, publicly, at least until now, there hadn’t been anything forthcoming from the PLA officially recognizing the existence of the program or stating a requirement. In fact, one of my erstwhile colleagues in my day job claims it is all maskirovka, in no small part, I am sure just to aggravate me, I think.

Well, no more. The PLA CoS’ very explicit comment, coming on the heels of ADM Mullen’s visit, ripped that bandage off, confirming that indeed, China was working to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile and that it was aimed primarily at deterring the use of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific. The joker in the deck, however, was the mention of the 2700 km range – well beyond the previous estimates of “in excess of 1500 km” in open sources such as the annual DoD report to Congress on China’s Military Power. As recent as late last year, ADM Willard, current CDRPACOM likewise indicated such when declaring his thought that the DF-21D had reached initial operational capability (IOC). In turn, this has left a number of Western analysts scratching their heads.

Figure 1. Comparative ranges of a 1500km DF-21D vs 2700km DF-21D

From a notional GEOLOC in the Guangdong province, the implications of Figure 1 ought to be pretty clear – a 2700km range would force carriers to operate outside not only the first island chain, but at or outside the second chain and thereby effectively nullify any operational employment in the contested area until the ASBM threat is neutralized. By extending that virtual umbrella of protective fire against the most versatile, flexible operational unit for wide area sea control, the aircraft carrier, the PLAN and PLA-AF would gain a greater degree of freedom to operate in critical areas such as the South and East China Seas with the greatest threat coming from US and allied subs – no mean threat, but more manageable without having to deal with carrier-based air. Presumably land-based air forces would be dissuaded or suppressed by the very large conventional ballistic missile striking force the Chinese are acquiring and deploying. One interesting possibility stemming from this condition is that China also gains a greater margin to operate its embryonic carrier force in a more effective manner against regional actors.

But few capabilities, if any, are ever so neatly packaged, and on closer examination there are some flies in the ointment. Further in the same article, Chen notes:

“…the DF-21D, which can be fired from mobile land-based launchers, was still in the research, development and testing stage, adding that such high-tech devices were difficult to bring to maturity. ‘The missile is still undergoing experimental testing and it will be used as a defensive weapon when it is successfully developed, not an offensive one,’ Chen told reporters. Its development ‘requires funding inputs, advanced technology and high-quality talented personnel … these are all fundamental factors constraining its development’ Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying, in comments that were ostensibly intended for a domestic audience.” (emphasis added)

There is a considerable level of effort to translate plans and parts associated with the now decommissioned Pershing II, ostensibly the basis of the DF-15 and land attack variants of the DF-21 family (see Fig. 2), into a system that marries sensors, C2 and “shooter” (aka missile) designed to take out a mobile platform in the broad ocean area. Recall that the Pershing II added a MaRV that married a 5-80kt warhead (with an earth penetrating option) with terrain-scene matching radar to give this relatively low yield weapon a remarkable hard-kill capability owing to a CEP inside of 30 meters. From bases in West Germany, the flight time of the Pershing II to Moscow was on the order 10-14 minutes – and drove the Soviets to the brink as they considered it a first strike weapon in a larger strategic exchange with the US. The fact that its deployment was a reaction to their own deployment of the game-changing road-mobile SS-20 and in all likelihood, was targeted against the operational and support elements for that missile system was conveniently overlooked. It is, however, instructive for our purposes here to note that the manner in which the Pershing II’s range and payload were upgraded and enhanced – through a lighter structure, enhanced propellants and advanced onboard flight and terminal guidance, would likewise be applicable to the DF-21 family. It is altogether conceivable and in keeping with the Chinese design, development and deployment of a range of missile families and capabilities that a similar process was followed to reach the DF-21D.

Figure 2. (l to r) Pershing II, DF-15/CSS-6 with MaRV, DF-21/CSS-5

However, color me skeptical about the 2700 km claim. Time and again more than one nation – ours included, has learned that you just can’t keep scaling up on a “Tim Allen” design basis (“more power”) and expect everything to work. As range increases, the loads (aerodynamic heating, gravity, etc) on the reentry vehicle correspondingly grow, but not at a 1:1 pace. For example, at 200,000 ft (the point at which re-entry begins) thermal loading on an ICBM-class RV will cause the tip to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500 deg.F – the most minute differentiation in the rate of ablation near the tip will cause the RV to at best, modify its ballistic flight profile, affecting accuracy or at worse, adjust so dramatically that airframe body breakup is incurred. To avoid this occurrence, RVs are spin stabilized before re-entry to ensure uniform ablation, but that incurs another series of events to be dealt with, and so on. This, in large part, is one reason why the leap from a space launch vehicle (SLV) to IR/ICBM class weapon is not as clear or fast as the reverse (IR/ICBM → SLV), and should give pause to assessments over the alleged development of ICBM capabilities by some countries.

The Pershing II was classified with a 1,770 km range. A reading of the development of the MaRV for the Pershing II in William Yengst’s monograph, “Lightning Bolts: First Maneuvering Reentry Vehicles” is instructive in the challenges presented by the flight, re-entry and post re-entry aerodynamic loading on the airframe, developing a nose cone that was sufficiently ablative to withstand reentry yet transparent electromagnetically enough for the terrain scene matching radar and developing a guidance and maneuvering system that would survive reentry and be robust enough for terminal maneuvers approaching 8-gs in the target area. No small leap for 1978 and similarly today when looking at an alleged 2700km missile. An alternate explanation would be either a deliberate falsification as part of a larger strategic communications ploy (surprise) or just a simple transpose of a “2” where a “1” for a 1700 km vice 2700 km missile would be much more believable. To be sure, an extra 1,000km range would open up a wide range of possibilities for the PLA, not least of which would be greater strategic depth to afford protection against future counter-ballistic missile threats (either ascent-phase interceptors – still very much the stuff of PPT dreams or VLO/UCAV-Ns, less PPT, but years away from a notional weapons capability) while maintaining coverage out to the first island chain and expanding its fleet of open ocean sensors and platforms feeding the reconnaissance-strike complex supporting the DF-21D.

The simple fact of the matter is that DF-21D is out there and constitutes some quantifiable level of threat to our deployed carrier force. That in turn has engendered a certain degree of hand-wringing, but simply cancelling programs and cutting force structure on the basis of a weapon itself and its supporting C2ISR infrastructure allegedly still in the throes of development would seem a bit hasty. To be sure, fiscal prudence demands close scrutiny – of all programs, especially in the current and near-future fiscal climate. Yet there is a strategic imperative at play and it goes to what form our forces will take after we have disengaged from protracted conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increasingly there is talk of “off-shore balancing” and while that is still a somewhat amorphous form, what is clear is that under such a concept, expeditionary forces supported by naval and air forces will be more relevant than those configured for long-term engagement in continental land-wars and nation building. Prudence, again, dictates a thoughtful examination of the configuration of those naval forces, the flexibility inherent in well designed, time-tested platforms (like the CVN and DDGs) but ensuring there is capacity for growth and adaption to mission changes.

There is a school of thought that is quick to draw parallels between the emergence of the carrier and demise of the battleship as highlighted at Pearl Harbor, but I would point out that was as much to do with the inherent lack of adaptability of the ships on Battleship Row that Sunday morning in December as the added dimension to naval warfare demonstrated by the Kido Butai. I would also note, that the same capability brought to bear against the BBs was also applied at Coral Sea, Midway and Santa Cruz, but there were no calls for ceasing production of CVs after Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp were lost to air- and submarine attacks. Indeed the carriers showed their adaptability and flexibility in the utility of their main battery, carrier-based air wings that were composited based on mission, in flexing from sea control to war at sea, to strike support and long-range AAW. And when a new weapon, the kamikaze appeared later in the war we changed tactics, adapted current and emerging technologies (networked fires, improved C2, long-range CAP, attack operations, airborne- and distant surface radar pickets) and even began looking at the potential of emerging technologies like surface to air missiles as a solution set. To be sure, we were still taking grievous losses (witness Okinawa and the beating the DDRs and USS Franklin endured), and the emergence of atomic weapons again proved a challenge. My intent isn’t to rehash the long history of carrier aviation and its adaptability in the face of emerging threats, that has been done much more ably elsewhere. It is rather, to thoughtfully consider the challenge presented, examine all avenues of countering, realizing that frankly, while the DF-21D presents a very high profile threat, the reality of the tactical scenario is that there are a great many more sub- and supersonic cruise missiles, launched from a variety of platforms that are increasingly proliferating around the world and present a far greater threat to all naval platforms.

And that demands a degree of perspective be employed by force planners and naval leaders.

Crossposted at

BOSTON (NNS) — Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today the next Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier will be named the USS John F. Kennedy.
The selection John F. Kennedy, designated CVN 79, honors the 35th President of the United States and pays tribute to his service in the Navy, in the government, and to the nation.

“President John F. Kennedy exemplified the meaning of service, not just to country, but service to all humanity,” said Mabus. “I am honored to have the opportunity to name the next aircraft carrier after this great Sailor and inspirational leader, and to keep the rich tradition and history of USS John F. Kennedy sailing in the U.S. Fleet.”

Well, guess that explains why no response from SECNAV to our petition submitted to name the next CVN “Enterprise.” Going to start a new one and add the signatures from the previous one. This fight’s not over. – SJS

USS O'Kane (DDG 77) launches an SM-3 Blk 1A for FTM-15 (source:

Another test of the SM-3 Blk 1A was successfully completed last night with the intercept of an IRBM-class target:

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA), U.S. Navy sailors aboard the Aegis destroyer USS O’KANE (DDG 77), and Soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command operating from the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, successfully conducted a flight test of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) element of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System, resulting in the intercept of a separating ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean. This successful test demonstrated the capability of the first phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) announced by the President in September, 2009.

At 2:52 a.m. EDT (6:52 p.m. April 15 Marshall Island Time), an intermediate-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Reagan Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, approximately 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. The target flew in a northeasterly direction towards a broad ocean area in the Pacific Ocean. Following target launch, a forward-based AN/TPY-2 X-band transportable radar, located on Wake Island, detected and tracked the threat missile. The radar sent trajectory information to the Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system, which processed and transmitted remote target data to the USS O’KANE. The destroyer, located to the west of Hawaii, used the data to develop a fire control solution and launch the SM-3 Block IA missile approximately 11 minutes after the target was launched.

As the IRBM target continued along its trajectory, the firing ship’s AN/SPY-1 radar detected and acquired the ballistic missile target. The firing ship’s Aegis BMD weapon system uplinked target track information to the SM-3 Block IA missile. The SM-3 maneuvered to a point in space as designated by the fire control solution and released its kinetic warhead. The kinetic warhead acquired the target, diverted into its path, and, using only force of a direct impact, destroyed the threat in a “hit-to-kill” intercept.

During the test the C2BMC system, operated by Soldiers from the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, received data from all assets and provided situational awareness of the engagement to U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command.

The two demonstration Space Tracking and Surveillance Satellites (STSS), launched by MDA in 2009, successfully acquired the target missile, providing stereo “birth to death” tracking of the target.

Today’s event, designated Flight Test Standard Missile-15 (FTM-15), was the most challenging test to date, as it was the first Aegis BMD version 3.6.1 intercept against an intermediate-range target (range 1,864 to 3,418 miles) and the first Aegis BMD 3.6.1 engagement relying on remote tracking data. The ability to use remote radar data to engage a threat ballistic missile greatly increases the battle space and defended area of the SM-3 missile.

Initial indications are that all components performed as designed. Program officials will spend the next several months conducting an extensive assessment and evaluation of system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

FTM-15 is the 21st successful intercept, in 25 attempts, for the Aegis BMD program since flight testing began in 2002. Across all BMDS elements, this is the 45th successful hit-to-kill intercept in 58 flight tests since 2001.

Aegis BMD is the sea-based midcourse component of the MDA’s Ballistic Missile Defense System and is designed to intercept and destroy short to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats. MDA and the U.S. Navy cooperatively manage the Aegis BMD Program.

This test in essence replicates what Phase I of the European Phased Adaptive Approach will be capable of in final form — a sea-based SM-3 Blk 1A intercept of MRBM/IRBM class missiles with cueing from a forward-based sensor (here the TPY-2). The lead element of Phase I, the sea-based element, is already deployed with the scheduled deployment of the USS Monterey (CG 61) earlier this year on BMD patrol. Worth emphasizing is that while deployed on BMD patrol, Monterey is nonetheless still capable of multiple missions, of which BMD is one, demonstrating the flexibility of these mobile, sea-based units.

USS O'Kane (DDG 77) (via

Announcing the 137th Annual Meeting of the US Naval Institute:

More than ever we need you there, in person, at the meeting. I’m going and have registered – registration is free (but required) for USNI members. See you there.

w/r, SJS

P.S. Don’t forget to vote – while the Board of Directors may have stated the intent to “delay any change in the Institute’s mission statement whatever the outcome of the balloting”, balloting nonetheless continues and it is important we follow through to help establish the grounds for the forthcoming “wide-ranging and fully open debate led by the membership.” Vote here.

(cross-posted at

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