Archive for the 'Navy' Category


The Cyber Dragon

July 2016


An excerpt of this article was published in the July issue of Proceedings. The full article is provided here for further context and explanation. This article does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or U.S. Cyber Command.

China and the United States appear to be engaged in a long-term competition, and one area of particular concern is cyberspace. What used to be considered a significant, overwhelming advantage of U.S. military capabilities relative to the rest of the world, including China, has recently been called into question. Recent Chinese military writings confirm the centrality of cyberspace operations to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) concepts of “informationized warfare.” This paper examines Chinese writing on these concepts. It proposes that China has been actively seeking to position its sources of information power to enable it to ideally “win without fighting” or if necessary, win a short, overwhelming victory for Chinese forces. It concludes with some recommendations for how the U.S. might counter China’s informationized war strategy.

Chinese Strategic Thinking and “Informationized War”

There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!

-Cosmo, from the movie “Sneakers”, 1992

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

-Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

Chinese military and strategic thought is markedly different from Western tradition. Fundamentally, China views the natural state of the world as one of “conflict and competition” rather peace and cooperation. The goal of Chinese strategy is to “impose order through hierarchy.”[1] The natural conclusion is that due to this state, the world needs global powers, perhaps even a super power, to manage the conflict and competition and bring harmony. Timothy Thomas has identified several components to Chinese military thinking, to include: [2]

  1. A more broad and analytic framework that holistically incorporates information-age strategy;
  2. While remaining prominently Marxist, it “examines the strategic environment through the lens of objective reality and applies subjective judgment to manipulate that environment to one’s advantage”;
  3. The use of stratagems integrated with technological innovation, creating a hybrid combination targeting the adversary’s decision-making process to induce the enemy to make decisions China wants;
  4. The constant search for shi, or strategic advantage. Shi is thought to be everywhere, “whether it be with the use of forces, electrons, or some other aspect of the strategic environment”; and
  5. The object of “deceptively making someone do something ostensibly for himself, when he is actually doing it for you.”

Shi is the “concept born of disposition … of a process that can evolve to our advantage if we make opportune use of its propensity.” Chinese military thought seems to differ from Clausewitz, becoming focused on shi where Clausewitz finds “ends” and “means” as the most important. Shi aims to use “every possible means to influence the potential inherent in the forces at play” to its own advantage, before any engagement or battle takes place. Therefore, the engagement never actually constitutes the decisive battle that Clausewitz envisions, because it has already been won.[3]

Chinese military writing contemplates war transitioning to an “informationized” state “in which informationized operations is the main operation form and information is the leading factor in gaining victory.” Information is a resource to be harvested and exploited, as well as denied to the enemy or manipulated for advantage. Nations and militaries “can be wealthy or poor in this resource. Overall wealth in information is what will ultimately matter most in peacetime competitions, crises or military conflicts.” [4]

China considers herself at an information disadvantage, so her use of information harvesting and exploitation in cyberspace align with her strategic intention. Thomas likens it to three faces of a “cyber dragon”: peace activist, spook and attacker. The peace activist is the face of the dragon concerned with internal and external soft power (improving China’s image, respect and perhaps fear or awe of China abroad, while remaining on guard internally against a Chinese version of an “Arab Spring” or “Orange Revolution”). The spook is the uses of cyber techniques to not only acquire information but also to reconnoiter adversary information systems, perhaps laying the groundwork for future attack or deterrence capabilities. The attacker face uses offensive capabilities and concepts to deter, or if necessary, paralyze the information capabilities of the adversary. The goal is that these three faces “work in harmony to achieve dominance over any potential adversary.”[5]

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) books such as the Academy of Military Sciences’ Science of Military Strategy and Ye Zheng’s Lecture on the Science of Information Operations “reflect a consensus among Chinese strategists that modern war cannot be won without first controlling the network domain.” This tracks with current U.S. doctrine that emphasizes dominance in the network domain as “central to deterring Chinese forces and protecting U.S. interests in the event of crisis or conflict.”[6]

Importantly, PLA writers emphasize first strike and first mover advantage in the network domain to “degrade or destroy the adversary’s information support infrastructure and lessen their ability to retaliate.” This creates strong incentive to strike in the network domain just prior to the formal onset of hostilities.[7] China’s lines of effort in support of this strategy include:

  1. Gaining information through reconnaissance of cyber systems, and manipulating or influencing Western or American perception and technology to establish strategic advantage;
  2. Using that reconnaissance information to position its forces, to locate vulnerabilities, and be in a position to conduct system sabotage;
  3. In a crisis, using system sabotage to either render information technology systems impotent, or expose strategic cyber geography to establish offensive cyber deterrence.[8]

Chinese writers publicly state that China lacks the ability to successfully launch a first strike at the present time. This is because they believe that Chinese networks are constantly penetrated by adversaries, and because of U.S./western control of most of the Internet’s core architecture. PLA writers do recognize the vulnerabilities of relying on Western technology supply chains for hardware and software operating systems.[9]

Chinese writings suggest information is the bonding agent for strategic action from which China will be able to amass enough power that it will be unnecessary for her to use military force to accomplish her objectives. If force is necessary, China will be in such an advantageous position that the military conflict will be a forgone conclusion. Consider the game of chess. Andrew Marshall, former Director of the Office of Net Assessment, noted that “most of the game is not directly aimed at checkmating the opponent’s king. Instead, the early and middle parts of the contest are about building a more advantageous position from which checkmating the opponent almost plays itself out.”[10] Indeed this is why most competitive games of chess end not in checkmate, but rather concession or a draw. The player on the losing end knows that he or she will lose, perhaps in a finite number of moves.

Recently, the Chinese political and military leadership established a new unit within the PLA to enhance its cyber operations capabilities, space operations and cyber espionage. This new unit, called the “Strategic Support Force,” is part of a larger military reorganization program. In some ways, it might be seen as a counter to the establishment in the United States of U.S. Cyber Command. Along with hoped for improvements to China’s already formidable cyber offensive and defensive capabilities, the unit will also focus on space assets and global positioning services, as well as interference with RADAR and communications.[11] This is a clear sign of the importance that the leadership places on fighting and winning in the information domain.

Beyond its military activities, China’s information control system remains critical to ensuring regime survival. However, understanding this system is made more difficult by the fact that the PRC goes to great lengths to “deliberately and systematically attempt to control how China is understood by both foreigners and Chinese alike,” according to Christopher Ford.[12] He goes on to note:

The modern Chinese information space remains a controlled one, subject to pervasive government monitoring and censorship, widespread and increasingly sophisticated methods of media-savvy opinion management, and the ever-present possibility that the citizenry will face penalties for venturing too far beyond the bounds of the CCP’s official line.[13]

Diplomatic and international policies are also built around giving China maneuvering room to interpret norms, rules and standards to serve domestic needs, principally through the primacy of state sovereignty. China must constantly seek to balance economic growth with maintaining the Party’s grip on power. Not only is Internet usage controlled and censored, but it is also a tool for state propaganda.[14] Chinese “journalists” are, to a large degree, arms of the Chinese propaganda system, transmitting the official “party line” to the population, while at the same time providing feedback “to the leaders on the public’s feelings and behavior.”[15]

Chinese authorities use a number of techniques to control the flow of information. All Internet traffic from the outside world must pass through one of three large computer centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – the so-called “Great Firewall of China.” Inbound traffic can be intercepted and compared to a regularly updated list of forbidden keywords and websites and the data blocked.[16]

Within China, the government heavily regulates and monitors Internet service providers, cafes and university bulletin board systems. It requires registration of websites and blogs, and has conducted a number of high profile arrests and crackdowns on both dissidents and Internet service providers. This “selective targeting” has created an “undercurrent of fear and promoted self-censorship.” The government employs thousands of people who monitor and censor Internet activity as well as promote CCP propaganda.[17]

While the CCP retains the ability to shut down entire parts of the information system, to include Internet, cell phone, text messaging and long-distance communication, it truly prefers to “prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. And here lies the real strength of the system.”[18] The “self-censorship that the government promotes among individuals and domestic Internet providers is now the primary regulating and control method over cyberspace and has experienced great success.”[19]

China has long been rightfully accused of being a state sponsor of cybercrime and intellectual property theft . This has led to a high level of domestic cybercrime “due in large part to rampant use and distribution of pirated technology,” which creates vulnerabilities. It is estimated that 54.9 percent of computers in China are infected with viruses, and that 1,367 out of 2,714 government portals examined in 2013 “reported security loopholes.”[20] Chinese networks themselves, by virtue of their size and scope, may represent a gaping vulnerability.

Options for the U.S.

Both the 2015 National Security Strategy and 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy state that the U.S. desires to “deter” or “prevent” China from using cyberspace to conduct malicious activity. To do so, the United States may want to consider strategies which have the following desired outcomes:

  1. Build up Chinese confidence that they are achieving their goals and devote resources to attacking networks where the United States wants them to be;
  2. Increase ambiguity in China’s understanding of the information they are able to acquire;
  3. Introduce doubt in China believing it has the ability to disrupt American information networks; and
  4. Force China to expend more resources focused inward to controlling information within China that threatens Communist Party control.

Unlike the other domains, cyberspace is entirely man-made and the physical properties which characterize it can be altered, almost at will and instantaneously. Traditional geographic constraints do not apply, and we can alter the cyber strategic geography to reinforce American competitive advantages that can aid in achieving some of the goals mentioned above.

For example, many American networks that interest Chinese cyber forces reside on public and commercial Internet service provider (ISP) backbones, such as those owned by Verizon and AT&T, and use commercially available equipment, like Cisco routers. We like to think of “cyberspace” or “the Internet” as being a “global commons,” (see the 2015 NSS), but in reality, nearly all the physical infrastructure and equipment is privately owned and subject to manipulation. The information itself travels on electrons, which can also be manipulated.

The U.S. might develop alternative information pathways and networks, perhaps solely owned and operated by the government or military and not connected to the public ISP backbone. By keeping the existence of a separate network a secret, China may continue to devote resources to attacking and exploiting existing government networks residing on public ISP’s. Alternatively, the U.S. could permit China to acquire access to this surreptitious network in order to feed it deceptive information. In either case, the Chinese regime’s confidence in its ability to disrupt or deceive U.S. information networks could be placed in doubt at a time of our choosing.

Existing information networks could be made more resilient. Peter Singer recommends that we think about resilience in terms of both systems and organizations. He identifies three elements underpinning resiliency: the capacity to work under degraded conditions, the ability to recover quickly if disrupted, and the ability to “learn lessons to better deal with future threats.”[21]

The DoD can also play a role by establishing more consistent network security standards. Cleared defense contractors (CDC), such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing for example, are priority targets for espionage. The DoD can leverage its buying power to mandate accountability, not only for the products developed by the contractors, but also for the security of the information networks they use. It can work to bring “transparency and accountability to the supply chain” to include using agreed-upon standards, independent evaluation, and accreditation and certification of trusted delivery systems. It should address supply chain risk mitigation best practices to all contracting companies and the Department.[22] Resiliency, risk mitigation and security can reduce China’s confidence that it can successfully execute system sabotage or offensive deterrence.

Another strategy might be to develop capabilities that permit the U.S. to execute cyber blockades or create cyber exclusion zones. A cyber blockade is a “situation rendered by an attack on cyber infrastructure or systems that prevents a state from accessing cyberspace, thus preventing the transmission (ingress/egress) of data beyond a geographical boundary.” Alison Lawlor Russell has researched the potential of blockades, carefully examining case studies of Russian attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Estonia in 2012, and comparing them to more traditional maritime blockades and “no fly zones.” She notes that it is a “legitimate tool of international statecraft … consistent with other types of blockades” and can be, though not always, considered an act of war.”[23] Cyber exclusion zones seek to deny a specific area of cyberspace to the adversary, sometimes as a form of self-defense.[24]

As previously stated, China’s information strategy is designed foremost to ensure regime survival. It has erected a massive information control system for the purpose of monitoring, filtering and controlling information within China and between China and the world. The Chinese Communist Party spends more money and resources on domestic security and surveillance than the PLA.[25] Clearly, in the minds of the Chinese Communist Party, information control is a critical vulnerability. Therefore strategies which seek to keep China focused inward may be advantageous. The U.S. might invest in technologies which can be easily inserted into the Chinese market that encrypt communication or permit Chinese users to bypass government monitors. Targeting China’s information control regime should align with current and historic cultural proclivities. For example, environmental degradation, corruption and an urban-rural divide are areas of concern for the Chinese people. Sophisticated highlighting of these issues put pressure on the Communist Party.

The U.S. will not be as successful if does not address the modern, “informationized” concept of war. This should not be taken as a call to change our understanding of war or its nature. War remains violent and brutal, and should be avoided when possible. But the use of information to exploit the adversary and achieve strategic advantage is not being addressed by strategic and military planners as well as it might. Information capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum, cyberspace, and elsewhere remain stove-piped and walled off from planners. The Department of Defense (and the U.S. government) continues to treat information as a separate compartmented capability rather than treat it holistically – a resource that supports our national security.

The 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy does make mention of force planning, to include the training and equipping of cyber forces. However, cyberspace is just one part of the information domain. We need to better integrate the growth in advanced technology into planning, not just acquisition. We need to consider the impact of dual use technology and its proliferation worldwide, not just to China. We must consider the implications of Chinese information technology companies providing goods and services in the U.S. – especially to the U.S. government. The DoD should develop human capital investment strategies that leverage America’s strengths, and consider new ways to recruit, train and keep the best and brightest in the military, intelligence and national security communities. Just as the “space race” of the Cold War ushered in the modern “Information Age,” .


China’s use of cyberspace operations to support her strategic goals is like the canary in the coal mine. While the U.S. maintains several competitive advantages, it is clear that China is investing large amounts of time, energy, people and resources to achieve her strategic desires, probably within our lifetime. Yet there is reason for the U.S. to be hopeful. It engaged in a long-term competition with the Soviet Union, and was ultimately victorious. This competition was not so long ago, and America has a wealth of talented veterans in the military, civilian and academic worlds who know what it takes to engage in a long-term competition with a rival while trying to avoid a shooting war.


[1] Jacqueline N. Deal, “Chinese Concepts of Deterrence and Their Practical Implications for the United States,” (Washington, DC: Long Term Strategy Group, 2014).

[2] Timothy L. Thomas, “China’s Concept of Military Strategy,” Parameters 44, no. 4 (2014-15).

[3] Francois Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China (New York: Zone Books, 1999). p. 34-38.

[4] Barry D. Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War,” (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014).

[5] Timothy L. Thomas, Three Faces of the Cyber Dragon: Cyber Peace Activist, Spook, Attacker (Ft. Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2012).

[6] Joe McReynolds et al., “Termite Electron: Chinese Military Computer Network Warfare Theory and Practice,” (Vienna, VA: Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Timothy L. Thomas. China’s Cyber Incursions. Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War.”

[11] (Rajagopalan 2016)

[12] Christopher A. Ford, China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2015). p. 13-14

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rebecca MacKinnon,. “Flatter World and Thicker Walls? Blogs, Censorship and Civic Discourse in China.” Public Choice 134 (2008): 31-46.

[15] Ford, p. 19-21.

[16] Michael Wines, Sharon LaFraniere, and Jonathan Ansfield. “China’s Censors Tackle and Trip Over the Internet.” The New York Times. April 7, 2010.

[17] Thomas Lum, , Patricia Moloney Figliona, and Matthew C. Weed. China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy. Report for Congress, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013.

[18] Ford, p. 32.

[19] Ibid. P. 38

[20] Amy Chang. Warring State: China’s Cybersecurity Strategy. Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, 2014.

[21] P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). p. 170-171

[22] Ibid., p. 202-205.

[23] Alison Lawlor Russell, Cyber Blockades (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014). p. 144-145.

[24] Ibid., p. 146-147.

[25] Chang.

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 10 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 340: China’s Maritime Militia with Andrew Erickson

As China continues to slowly use a variety of tools to claim portions of her maritime near-abroad in the South China Sea and elsewhere, part of their effort includes what can almost be considered naval irregular forces – a Maritime Militia.

What is China doing with these assets, why are they being used, and what could we expect going forward as she taps in to a variety of assets to attempt to establish her authority?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Andrew S. Erickson.

Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and is an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, for which he has authored or coauthored thirty-seven articles.

He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in history and political science. He has studied Mandarin in the Princeton in Beijing program at Beijing Normal University’s College of Chinese Language and Culture; and Japanese language, politics, and economics in the year-long Associated Kyoto Program at Doshisha University. Erickson previously worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a Chinese translator and technical analyst. He gained early experience working briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese, he has traveled extensively in Asia and has lived in China, Japan, and Korea.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later by visiting our iTunes page or at our Stitcher page.

President Obama has proclaimed 17-23 June the National Week of Making. The White House is championing the Maker Movement, a cause that respects creativity, inventiveness, and ingenuity. Makers have a passion for creating machines, tinkering with them, and making improvements. New technologies such as 3D-printers, easy-to-use design software, laser cutters, and open-source software are making it easier than ever for everyday Americans to design and prototype their ideas, as well as to solve problems.

The Navy celebrated “Maker Week” on 21 June by sending a part to space. That day, members of Congress, senior military personnel, and members of the zero-gravity 3D-printer company Made In Space, gathered in Washington, D.C. to send the Technical Data Package (TDP) to the International Space Station (ISS). No expensive rocket launch was needed, the TDP simply provided data to produce the part onboard.

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class A Figert uses a 3-D printer aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class A Figert uses a 3-D printer aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

The TDP contained plans to create a part called “TruClip,” designed by three Sailors of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) while underway. The device is designed to protect the clasps used on handheld radios by flight deck crew in rough conditions. A TruClip costs only $0.06 to produce onboard the ship’s 3D-printer, far less than a replacement radio clasp which costs $615. 3D-printers are proving to be a worthwhile investment, for in the 2½ years prior to TruClip the Truman needed $146,000 worth in replacement clasps; since TruClip was introduced only two clasps have been needed. The Navy intends to capitalize on these savings by introducing 3D-printers to its other nine aircraft carriers.

The Department of the Navy’s greatest resource is its Sailors, Marines, and civilian workforce and their ingenuity. Secretary of the Navy Ray Maybus created Task Force Innovation to foster creative problem solving throughout the ranks. With his support, it has funded the introduction of Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) for use by sailors to make their ideas real in the same spirit as the maker movement. The potential of this concept is ground breaking; new designs can be tested and instantly distributed to the entire fleet for construction.

Great progress currently is taking place in the field of 3D-printing, also known as additive manufacturing. The technology has its origins in the 1980s, though it has only recently started to mature as a practical means of producing items. The public’s familiarity with additive manufacturing is often limited to using inexpensive 3D-printers, like Makerbot, to create plastic trinkets. While 3D-printers may not yet be able to print smartphones, they are capable of much more than making plastic models. After years of being relegated to constructing models for designing and prototyping, the private sector now uses additive manufacturing to produce finished parts made of various materials including ceramics, glass, and metal alloys.

It is vital for the military to recognize the potential of new civil technologies. Additive manufacturing is projected to lead to the democratization of manufacturing, allowing the dissemination of production directly to the consumer. It will cut supply chains and eliminate the need to maintain large inventories of spare parts. This change will perhaps be as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, which democratized knowledge and enabled the Renaissance.

Private innovators are leading the charge for additive manufacturing development, notably Made In Space. This small American startup was founded in 2010 with the intent of making additive manufacturing practical in space. The team started out flying their 3D-printers in NASA’s zero-gravity “Vomit Comet” aircraft, taking it on over 400 parabolic flights as a proof of concept. They created the first 3D-printer to be used in space, which was sent to the ISS on 21 September 2014.

Civilian-developed technologies have often been dismissed in military minds, before proving their worth later on. One notable example is the Higgins boat. The United States Marine Corps developed a strategy for amphibious warfare in the interwar period, but like other naval forces of the time, lacked an adequate landing craft to implement it. After trying numerous unsatisfactory Navy-designed craft, the Department of the Navy (DoN) finally selected a design from a struggling civilian boat maker from New Orleans, Andrew Higgins.

In 1926, Higgins designed “Eureka,” a 20 knot shallow draft boat for use by loggers and fur trappers on the bayou. A metal arm, called a skeg, extended along the bottom of the keel to protect its rudder and propeller in shallow water, and its spoon-bill bow allowed it to easily run up on the shore. The Navy invited Higgins in 1937 to design a landing craft based on Eureka. Higgins’s design was adopted by the Navy, and its definitive form, the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), was produced in the tens of thousands.

Higgins’s design received minor modifications to make it more effective in combat, with important impact on the war. Originally it lacked a bow ramp, meaning troops had to jump over the sides to disembark. The Japanese pioneered this feature, which was discovered in 1937 by future Marine Lieutenant General Victor H. “Brute” Krulak, then a First Lieutenant, while serving as a military attaché to Japan. He witnessed the Japanese land in China, and was immediately impressed. Then-1stLt Krulak reported his findings to the DoN, but it had no interest in imitating the Japanese. It was not until 1941, when he went around the DoN and directly to Higgins, that this important feature was added.

Illustration of an LCVP. U.S. Naval Institute

Illustration of a “Higgins Boat”– an LCVP. Click to enlarge. U.S. Naval Institute

The landing craft Higgins designed made an enormous contribution to Allied victory. It made amphibious operations like the Pacific island hopping campaign and Operation Overlord in Normandy possible. General Eisenhower gave the boat immense praise, saying “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

The Higgins boat is an example of civil technology being adopted by the military to great effect, just as additive manufacturing has the potential to do now. In all times, the Department of Defense needs to remain at the cutting edge and recognize the potential of emerging technologies. Additive manufacturing is a current example which the military must explore. Fortunately the DoD is wasting no effort in this regard; the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are all working to take advantage of additive manufacturing.

Senior sponsorship helps, in addition to support from Secretary Maybus, the need for innovation is also recognized by the President. In 2012 the White House announced the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — America Makes — as a partnership between the departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and manufacturing firms, universities, and nonprofit organizations to collaborate on research, development, and demonstration of additive manufacturing. In 2014, President Obama hosted a Maker Faire at the White House. The White House recognizes the need for innovators to collaborate, a major theme of the maker movement at large, with its preference for open source-software and crowdsourcing ideas.

The military benefits most when its best minds collaborate with and learn from private industry and academia. This was shown in the past when future-LtGen Krulak conveyed his thoughts to Higgins. On 21 June, it was demonstrated by having Sailor-designed blueprints sent to a tech startup’s 3D-Printer in space. The goal of Task Force Innovation is to lower barriers and cultivate change. Everyone, from junior enlisted to flag officers and startup companies to multinational corporations, have an equal opportunity to voice their ideas. The delivery of TruClip to the ISS shows what is possible when the military and private sector work together. The Navy has come a long way since the Higgins boat-era and now fully embraces all creative concepts to problem solving.

Picture1It was history in the making on Sunday, 26 June, as an international contingent celebrated the opening of the expanded Panama Canal. I was proud to be there with the U.S. Presidential party, led by Dr. Jill Biden. For Panama, the expansion represents a potential for growth in the country’s maritime sectors and serves as a symbol of national prestige. In recognition of its strategic maritime significance, and the value U.S. Southern Command places on forward engagement with the region, the USS Oak Hill (LPD-51) sailed through the canal a few days earlier (using the older and narrower set of locks). The Oak Hill was pierside at the canal’s Pacific entrance during the ceremony to recognize this Panamanian accomplishment, to celebrate this second engineering marvel that dramatically expanded the path between the seas, and to signal our continued commitment to working with our partners to ensure its defense.

Picture2From the very beginning the Canal—both the original and this expanded addition—offered both great promises and significant challenges. It required an investment of time, talent, and treasure—in blood and dollars—as well as great commitment and patience to turn opportunity into reality. At U.S. Southern Command we see transregional opportunities and challenges and the need for multinational solutions everywhere we look—especially standing beside this new Panama Canal.

It was great to visit the Oak Hill the day before the ceremony and talk to the officers, chief’s messes, and assembled crew. Embarked was a U.S. Marine detachment with equipment to help illustrate our humanitarian-assistance/disaster-relief (HA/DR) capabilities and our commitment to rapidly respond to any neighbor in need, such as our support after the recent earthquake in Ecuador. U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley eloquently captured what the Oak Hill represents: “a warship, coming in peace, symbolizing a legacy of partnership, commitment, and ready assistance in times of need.”

Picture3On board the Oak Hill, we talked with one officer who said that his earlier UNITAS deployment (an annual multinational naval exercise we host) as a lieutenant (junior grade) kept him in the Navy. We talked about how the Navy runs out of ships long before it addresses all the global requirements we face. We talked about the prioritization of requirements to other important regions and how that inevitably results in minimal allocation of Navy ships to help safeguard our interests in this vital region. I told him that once the littoral combat ship comes on line in greater numbers, U.S. Southern Command will seek to increase its presence in collaboration with maritime forces of the region to better protect our southern approaches and counter threat networks.

Picture4For now, we will make the most of the short deployments like that of the USS Lassen (DDG-82), which over a period of weeks wreaked havoc on drug traffickers in the tropical eastern Pacific; and with other Navy ships changing home ports from one coast to the other, such as the USS George Washington (CVN-73) and crew who excelled in partnering engagements and conducted multiple exercises during their South American transit. We are eager for the transit of the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and the USS Wasp (LHD-1). I commented to the young officer that transiting ships should not make quick dashes to their new ports; their time in the Americas should be maximized because our presence is so limited and their ability to create goodwill is something on which you can’t put a price tag.

The Oak Hill was the only warship from any nation to attend the Canal Expansion opening ceremony. When it comes to defending the Canal, however, the duty is shared by many. Following on the ceremony’s heels, civilian and military organizations from 21 regional partner nations, with forces led by Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and the United States, will conduct PANAMAX 2016, an exercise to demonstrate our shared commitment to the defense of the Panama Canal.

Standing beside this great achievement, I see the Canal as a metaphor for the region. It is the embodiment of transregional connections. Its defense depends on a partnership of nations—no one can do it alone.

Transregional Opportunities and Challenges

Picture6This region has never held such opportunity. The last remnants of the Cold War may finally be fading as a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations unfolds. Political change in Argentina also shows the promise of improved relations. In Colombia, a peace accord is progressing toward closing more than 50 years of political violence. Yet the obstacles to turning these and other opportunities into reality are large and growing. Astounding violence and related murder rates; transregional criminal networks trafficking not just in drugs, but also humans, illicit natural resources, weapons, and more; endemic corruption; small but concerning numbers of radicalized fighters joining the Islamic State in Syria—all these elements pose challenges to the region. Those challenges flow up to the southern approaches of the United States; what affects our neighbors soon enough is felt on our streets and cities.

Transregional Connections

Picture7Just as the Canal has global reach and impact, so do many of the challenges and concerns that touch Latin America and the Caribbean. More and more, geographic combatant commanders, focused on regional areas of responsibility, are seeing and responding to transregional challenges. In our interconnected world, we need to pay attention to those nations and non-state organizations that may be pursuing strategies across multiple borders and regions. If we are concerned about Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe, we should pay attention to what they are doing in Latin America as well. If we are concerned about China’s performance as a responsible actor in a transparent rules-based system in the South and East China Seas, we may want to better understand their activities in the Western Hemisphere. If we are concerned about Iran’s use of surrogates and proxies in the Middle East, we should keep an eye on their clandestine activities across Central and South America.

The Panama Canal stands as a testament to vision, tenacity, and an enduring symbol of partnership—opportunity turned to reality through patience and perseverance. In Latin America we can achieve great and necessary things with the same patience and perseverance. In the face of these challenges, the United States is fortunate to have stalwart friends, allies, and partners throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, who are committed to working with us and one another to ensure our hemisphere remains a beacon of stability, security, and prosperity.

On a closing note – you never know when you will bump into a fellow Academy Alum. Sitting next to me at the canal inauguration ceremony was Maximo Mejia, the Government of the Philippines Administrator for Transpiration and Communications and USNA class of ’88.

16 ships from 9 nations (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.) maneuvered in close formation for a surface ship Photo Exercise, 9 June 2016

16 ships from 9 nations (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) maneuvered in close formation for a surface ship Photo Exercise, 9 June 2016

Our theme for BALTOPS 2016 was straightforward: “Baltic Unity and Strength bring Security.” “Unity,” though, is a word tossed around quite a bit without much thought given to the actual definition. So what unifies 15 Allied nations and 2 Partner nations in these Baltic Operations, and — now that BALTOPS is over—how is what we did here relevant to the problems Europe is facing today?

The strength of the assets represented in this year’s iteration of BALTOPS was evident from the earliest stages. Forty-three ships and submarines along with eight hundred troops from fifteen Allies and two Partners of NATO speak for themselves even when presented in the sterile form of a Power Point slideshow at a mid-planning conference. Once the ships were steaming in formation for the Photo Exercise (PHOTOEX) or deploying LCACs and AAVs to storm a beach, the message became even clearer. These force offerings showed a unity of resolve, a common purpose and commitment to security which will no doubt be a major theme within the upcoming Warsaw Summit. The nations of NATO are unified in their commitment to the defense of the whole.

15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) for a surface ship Photo Exercise

15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) for a surface ship Photo Exercise

Seven hundred troops from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, and Finland made up the assault force. Within the short period of ten days they stormed the beaches three times, in three different countries. While talking to Marines of different nationalities it became clear to me that their perspective on unity was a little different; the unity they felt comes from relationships on a personal level. Parliaments and Congresses and Summits can talk about unity and friendship, but those friendships between military Allies and Partners are worked out in ships at sea and in the mud and sand ashore. There is a saying I heard once which I believe came from the British military, “We sweat in peace so we do not have to bleed in war.” We work hard now to be better prepared for anything that may come. In BALTOPS we are sweating together.

There is another sort of unity at work in BALTOPS and that is a unity of effort. BALTOPS 2016 is the largest live, NATO-led, joint air-maritime exercise in Northern Europe. At first that distinction may seem to contain a few too many qualifiers to actually be relevant. The level of integration, though, between the air, surface, and subsurface assets in this year’s exercise is really unprecedented in recent memory. BALTOPS 16 stressed complex coordination between units.

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From waterspace and airspace management to radio communication, each piece of the puzzle had to fit together. First, the mine countermeasure vessels swept the operating areas to locate and neutralize any mine threats. Submarines and surface ships conducted anti-surface and anti-subsurface warfare to obtain local maritime superiority, protecting the high value units. Sailors and Marines boarded other surface vessels and searched for prohibited materials during Maritime Interdiction Operations. Ships assigned to the surface task units worked with friendly aircraft to provide air defense coverage over the high-value units.

The sequence of events was designed to be rigorous. The first landing in Hanko, Finland, was only one day after we sailed from Tallinn, Estonia. Training intensified as the forces in Sweden met opposition forces and prepared for the final exercise phase in Poland. I am continually impressed with the cohesion achieved in such a short time. Unity of effort is not just a plan. It is a common purpose that serves as guide when the plan falls to pieces.

A United States Air Force ‎B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish air force ‎F-16 Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German ‎Eurofighter ‎Typhoons and four ‎Swedish ‎Gripens over the Baltic Sea, 9 Jun, 2016

A United States Air Force ‎B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish air force ‎F-16 Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German ‎Eurofighter ‎Typhoons and four ‎Swedish ‎Gripens over the Baltic Sea, 9 Jun, 2016

Unity of effort is what allowed the forces from the seventeen participating nations to adapt and move forward. This unity is not built on common principles alone; it is not just built on friendships; it can be discussed at tabletop exercise, but it is really developed and put to the test in places like BALTOPS. Raw power is not enough to guaranty the security of the Alliance because that power can be misdirected. It is when power is guided by a common effort, each part working together, unified, that NATO really delivers on its obligations to defend peace in Europe.

The NATO Alliance and Europe in general is beset on all sides: a leadership in Russia that oddly seems more interested in burning than building bridges, a migrant crisis of epic proportions not seen since World War II, and barbarians that are not only at the gates but have actually come inside in the form of Daesh. The Baltic Sea is center stage for some of these challenges, while others are being played out in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and greater Atlantic. The answers to each, though, are heavily dependent on the maritime domain.

Unity on the operational and tactical level is necessary to achieve the goals which have been agreed upon at the strategic level. If the Alliance is not unified, the message it sends is muddled and its strength, wasted. During BALTOPS 2016 we saw a force unified at every level. We honed our skills in amphibious, anti-submarine, anti-surface, and mine counter measure warfare and are now better prepared to ensure regional security in whatever way we might be needed. What we have done in the Baltic Sea for the last two weeks reverberates far beyond this body of water…even the Pacific. The ramifications reach every part of the Alliance.

U.S. B-52 Bomber laying and exercise mine during BALTOPS 2016

U.S. B-52 Bomber laying and exercise mine during BALTOPS 2016

“In the context of the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenge, does what we are seeing unfolding with BALTOPS represent a credible, operational scenario, really?” Mr. Nick Childs, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, asked me this question last week in a phone interview via satellite while on board USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), the command ship for BALTOPS 2016. Great question! To answer it, you have to consider the elements of an adversary’s A2/AD strategy.

First of all, it is easier to keep someone out of an area in the maritime domain than it is gain access. The proliferation of asymmetric weapons systems, easily obtainable on the open arms market, exacerbate the problem. An A2/AD network may consist of a series of radars situated along a coastline to provide early warning and cueing to a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles with ranges far exceeding recognized territorial limits of 12 nautical miles. Likewise, we have seen a rise in asymmetric weapons systems such as diesel electric submarines, unmanned underwater vehicles, and “smart” mines that pose a significant and unseen threat in the underwater domain.

Positions of mines laid in WWI and WWII in the Gulf of Finland

Positions of mines laid in WWI and WWII in the Gulf of Finland

To get to at least one aspect of Nick’s question in the time allotted, I chose to focus on the proliferation of the mines as a pillar of A2/AD. I was reminded of a recent post in this venue by MNCS Jacob Mazurek: “Ten Mining Campaigns That Shaped Mine Warfare.”

In his piece, Senior Chief Mazurek states: “History tells a different story about naval mine warfare. When naval powers fight, mines can be a game changer. They can keep enemy warships locked in port, they can restrict an enemy’s movements, and they can destroy an enemy’s shipping. When the enemy depends on the sea for supplies, mines can be used to choke their industry and to drive them out of a war.” That is truly the essence of an A2/AD strategy.

While the threat of mines at sea may seem far, far away to the general public, the fact is that the danger is actually very close. In fact, right here in the Baltic Sea, there exists a host of historic minefields from World War I and World War II. Naval mining can happen everywhere from rivers to deep water, and in all kinds of environments. Should the enemy succeed in laying a major minefield, mine countermeasure (MCM) forces can expect to work for months or years clearing mines. In the course of long, dangerous operations, ships will be lost and the job will become much harder.

Suspected WWII Bottom Mine found south of Uto, Sweden, by Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper HNOMS Otra (M351) during BALTOPS 2016

Suspected WWII Bottom Mine found south of Uto, Sweden, by Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper HNOMS Otra (M351) during BALTOPS 2016

While practicing to deter future conflicts, the mine countermeasures portion of the BALTOPS has had the opportunity to clear both exercise and actual historic ordnance—real threats that are here right now. During a portion of BALTOPS 16, meant to simulate the clearing of a beach before an amphibious landing, German, Norwegian, and Estonian MCM units not only found the dummy mines intentionally laid for training, but also real-world historic unexploded ordnance including aircraft bombs, old maritime mines, an anti-submarine depth charge, and a torpedo.

Photos show that the weapons have remained largely intact for the better part of a century—a German commander joked that he immediately recognized the fine engineering of his countrymen from a different era. The observation articulates the progress we’ve made with allies and partners over the last six decades and displays ideals inherent in NATO. Now former belligerents are working together as Allies and Partners to dismantle the mines laid by both sides of past wars, practicing skills that will ensure the communication lanes are open for all in the Baltic Sea.

During BALTOPS 2016, 15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20).

During BALTOPS 2016, 15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20).

There is a saying in the mine warfare community: “Our wake is the fleet’s path . . .” MCM operations during BALTOPS 16 are no different. 15 MCM ships from 11 countries with over 700 sailors have worked diligently over the course of the first phase of this exercise to clear approximately 40 square nautical miles of water space leading up to planned large-scale amphibious operations. Clearing the path of mines is a critical precursor to mitigate risk of any naval operation, exercise or otherwise. We used some dummy mines in the simulation, but for the mine countermeasure vessels, this isn’t just an exercise…the consequences of overlooking historical ordinance could be very real indeed.

Mines are also an economic weapon. Often their desired effect is multi-faceted and not only the destruction or disabling of warships, but also the disruption of commercial shipping. NATO has been down this road before. During the 2011 Libya campaign, Gaddafi’s special forces sewed four mines in the approaches to the port of Misurata and closed the besieged city to humanitarian aid for two weeks as NATO mustered the right capability to eradicate the threat.

The technique was not sophisticated. The Libyans had no mine laying ship. They simply floated the Cold War era mines into position inside Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS) and then the frogmen slashed the sides of the hulls to sink the boats and deploy the mines.

Libyan mines from 2011. Note the shape of the RHIB as sinks while deploying the anchor of the mine in the approach to Misurata. Archive photo by VADM James Foggo

Libyan mines from 2011. Note the shape of the RHIB as sinks while deploying the anchor of the mine in the approach to Misurata. Archive photos by VADM James Foggo

Now multiply those four mines by 2,500 and you have an idea of the known historical ordnance that remains in Baltic waters. Imagine what those four mines could do if placed somewhere like the Straits of Hormuz or Malacca or the Danish Straits and you get a sense of how integral BALTOPS MCM training is in defeating A2/AD strategies.

Mines protect coastlines and often fit into a country’s greater scheme of maritime defense in order to deny access to or control a region. Repeatedly, history has proven that due to their low cost, high availability, and deadly outcomes, mines are effective force multipliers and battle space shapers. Mine warfare has progressed significantly from the simplest contact mines; modern mines use acoustic, magnetic, and pressure sensors and can fire rockets or torpedoes against ships or submarines. Any future naval war will involve maritime mines. Minesweeping goes back to the basic functions of the Navy: keeping the sea lanes of communication open. It is my view that, as an Alliance, we cannot let the skills of mine warfare atrophy or it will be at our own peril.

For Minemen, it is not enough to have a myopic perspective on their warfare area. They must operate in conjunction with each phase of an operation. During BALTOPS, MCM is in lock-step with amphibious and surface warfare operations. Among the different disciplines, though, Mine Countermeasures is an underestimated warfare area. Within most navies around the world, mine warfare is a specialized career path, often undermanned. Mine countermeasure vessels are smaller and often overshadowed by their larger surface counterparts. The substantial MCM footprint at BALTOPS 2016 bucks this trend, representing the third biggest task group in the exercise. MCM must remain a critical element in our planning for any contingency operations worldwide.

MCM is an excellent example of how we are stronger together. By combining resources and dividing responsibilities the BALTOPS flotilla has been exponentially more effective than each unit would have been alone. Together, differences in expertise and budget difficulties are overcome, a simple but powerful example of the strength of the NATO Alliance and Partnerships.

A United Kingdom HUNT Class ship conducting a controlled underwater explosion southwest of Bornholm, Denmark, during BALTOPS 2015

A United Kingdom Hunt-class ship conducting a controlled underwater explosion southwest of Bornholm, Denmark, during BALTOPS 2015

The Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG-1) has been operating in these waters since its inception in 1973. As an example of the effectiveness of NATO MCM efforts in the Baltic, during the international NATO maneuver Open Spirit 2015, in which SNMCMG-1 participated, 172 mines were found and 38 countermined.

There work has continued as part of BALTOPS. I recently observed a demonstration of the MCM capabilities led by SNMCMG-1 and was blown away. The capabilities these ships bring to the fight are incredible—ships that practically hover over the water to reduce their pressure signature, unmanned drones as large as a small ship under computer control, electronic arrays, robots that can set underwater charges. The technology is being put to good use. When an officer of Danish command operating mine-hunting Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) was asked how often his ships found historical ordnance the answer was “every time we go out.”

swimming-elephantAlternative Title: Navy Grants Salamander Lifetime Beer Tab at Army-Navy Club’s Daiquiri Lounge.

From the start, and we are talking about over a decade ago, surface, aviation, and submarine offices with operational Fleet experience, not theory or PPT hype, warned that both crew manning and mission module concepts as proposed for LCS were problematic at best, and non-executable at worst. They were silenced at best, career adjusted at worst.

It took a decade, billions of dollars of opportunity cost, and untold numbers of careers and reputations to get here, but it looks like our Navy is going to take the right steps to salvaging as much utility as possible from this – how can I put it in a polite non-homebloggy way – “white elephant” of a program.

Let’s take some time to review our friend David Larter’s latest;

The review ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will likely include recommendations to shift to a Blue and Gold crew structure, a set-up used on ballistic missile and guided missile submarines where two crews swap custody of a single hull to maximize deployed time. The Navy has been moving away from rotational crew models other than the Blue and Gold out of concern that maintenance issues may slip through the cracks for crews serving only temporarily aboard any ship.

The review will also recommend changing some of the signature modularity of the program — the concept that ships at sea could readily swap out sensors and weapons packages to meet emergent missions.

Instead of three mission modules being available to switch out on deployment, the Navy is looking at moving to a “one ship, one mission” approach, where each LCS will be designated as surface, anti-submarine or mine countermeasures ships with the ability to switch out if needed.

As warned, and it will do neither well, but it will do better than nothing – which by design, is the only other option previous decisions have left us with.

“The goal of the review and specifically the crew proposals made by SURFOR is increased stability, simplicity, and ownership,” the official said. “An updated crewing plan, as well as adding more sailors to the core crew is the first step.”

Admiral Vince Lombardi approves. When nothing is going right, focus on the fundamentals first. This isn’t rocket science. Well, close to rocket science – but nonetheless, not rocket science.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testified in 2015 that he opposed all cuts to shipbuilding because it is harder to build a ship that any other thing the Navy could cut to save money.

“Because cuts to our shipbuilding programs are the least reversible in their impact on our fundamental mission of providing presence and in their consequences to the industrial base and to our economy, I am committed, to the maximum extent possible, to preserve ship construction and to seek reductions in every other area first, should further budget reductions such as sequestration become reality,” Mabus said in written testimony.

As in all things related to shipbuilding, there is the political and economic to consider. Though in the case of LCS the end result displacing water is sub-optimal, SECNAV is exactly correct on this aspect of it all. The money must flow, good or bad, it must flow.

The next step remains clear; we need a replacement for LCS at least on paper, using the better EuroFrigates in production as the benchmark for the right ship between 3,500 and 5,500 tons displacement. We need it now more than later so we can have them in the Fleet FMC in their PMAs as LCS-1 is ready for the breakers at the end of the Terrible 20s.

This time, no pinkie promises, no Flash Gordon, no Tiffany, no transformationalism. That mindset failed us so far this century. As we Southerners are like to say; let’s not get stuck on stupid.

If we learn our lessons well, there is great opportunity here. With the process and mindset as outlined in Larter’s article holds, indications look solid going forward.

U.S. aircraft deliver relief supplies to the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in January 2010. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

U.S. aircraft deliver relief supplies to the congested airport in
Port-au-Prince, Haiti in January 2010. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

During the earthquake tragedy in Haiti, American aid planes often circled Haiti’s sole open runway for hours. How is this possible for a nation on an island? Would rapid revival of the seaplane capabilities perfected by the United States decades ago, materially improve such situations? And could seaplane technology be a force multiplier aligned with advances in stealthy, electrically-powered “E-Planes”, some of which could be airborne almost indefinitely?

In an era which prizes cost-effectiveness, emphasis on the coastal and littoral, and the innovative use of smaller, lighter forces, perhaps seaplane usage merits a review. Today, other maritime nations, and nations with maritime aspirations – such as Russia, China, Japan, Germany and Canada – each have impressive seaplane or amphibious aircraft programs underway. Even Iran has displayed maneuvers with numerous small indigenous military seaplanes, albeit their capabilities are uncertain.

For humanitarian and political situations such as Haiti and Japan, seaplanes could be uniquely capable of delivering large amounts of aid to earthquake, hurricane and tsunami victims, as well as rescuing survivors. This would be “showing the flag” in very productive way, and most importantly, delivering help speedily and efficiently. For purely military considerations, seaplanes can address urgent needs in coastal warfare, port security, maritime patrol, cyber warfare and decentralized “swarm” defense and attack.

Martin P6M SeaMaster with beaching gear in 1958. Naval Institute photo archive

Martin P6M SeaMaster testing beaching gear in Baltimore, Maryland in 1958. Naval Institute photo archive

A seaplane future is not merely hypothetical; many components were tangibly produced by the late 1950s, and some of the planes were in early series production and operational.[1] The main flying components of that force were the Martin Seamaster strike aircraft, the Convair Tradewind transport and tanker, and the Convair Sea Dart fighter. In addition to Navy use, both the Air Force, and Coast Guard had admirable records employing seaplanes after WWII. Airplanes such as the Grumman Hu-16 Albatross were not only “tri-service” but sometimes “tri-phibian” with land, sea, and “frozen-sea” – i.e. ski – versions.

By the late 1960s however, these and other major U.S. seaplane programs were canceled, and the seaplane was sunk without a trace from U.S. Navy service. And so the era ended. But should it? Recent advances in computerized design and composite aircraft construction, and discussions of rising sea levels, again pose the question – is there room in U.S. military and civilian doctrine and budget for a small but effective force of multi-role, long-range seaplanes?

Seaplanes, “E-planes”, and submarines may in fact be powerful cross-multipliers of force. The modern submarine’s almost unlimited capability for electrical generation and water electrolysis could provide indefinite fuel for stealth electrical or fuel cell engines of manned or unmanned sea planes and drones. Similarly, high-persistence sea planes could be the disposable, semi-autonomous eyes, ears, and delivery/retrieval platforms of submarines submerged many miles away. Perhaps most importantly, seaplanes could augment the recent increased national emphasis on cyber defense. Standing patrols would help address not just domestic cyber threats per-se, but the entire spectrum of offshore cyber, radio, electronic and electromagnetic threats. And they could ensure that such defense is not merely optimized for the Navy’s own networks and systems – vital as this is – but that it can efficiently protect American civilian assets with an effective deterrence and response – keeping these electronic and tangible “rogue waves” far from our shorelines.

Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 seaplane used for air-sea rescue. Image courtesy Wikipedia/Toshiro Aoki

Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 seaplane used for air-sea rescue. Image courtesy Wikipedia/Toshiro Aoki

In hindsight, the incremental costs and risks of a re-invigorated seaplane program can be expected to be a small fraction of the $40 billion spent on the V-22, with benefits and aircraft survivability equal or greater. And – as a counterpoint to the US/EU tanker acquisition spat – a American buy of a small quantity of say, ShinMaywa US-2s or Bombardier 415s may aid inter-country collaboration with our important allies. Perhaps a low-cost, high-impact, rapidly-effective plan could include such a buy until the United States’ own seaplane capability again “ramps up”.

We have spent hundreds of billions over the last few years guarding our vital sea lanes. We now need a judicious, cost-effective strategy for the Navy to help protect our “E lanes” – including not only tangible military action over the oceans, but domestic cyber assets, radio-frequency and electromagnetic activities. Hopefully, the next humanitarian crisis or military challenge will be aided both literally and littorally by seaplane technologies which are not “if only we still had” but rather “already here and available”.

[1] Trimble, Wiliam F. Attack from the Sea – A History of the U.S. Navy’s Seaplane Striking Force. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2005.

Moral Bonds of War Word MapPer last month’s post on the USNI Blog, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, challenged veterans to “stay connected with those they served with” as an answer to help stop “young Marines from killing themselves.”

Strengthening personal moral bonds between veterans is part of the answer. So is strengthening moral bonds between U.S. Presidents, members of Congress and those they order to war. From 1798 to 2016, Congress made 11 declarations of war and 11 statutory authorizations for the use of military force. Congress did not authorize the Korean War. President Truman committed American troops to war in Korea citing U.N. authorizations and resolutions.

1798-2016 US Declarations of War and Statutory Authorizations

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National moral bonds in the U.S. were strongest during World War II. The president requested and the Congress declared war against Japan and Germany. Three of President Franklin Roosevelt’s sons served with distinction in combat during World War II. James Roosevelt earned a Silver Star and promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elliot Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 aerial combat missions as a pilot and commander and retiring as a brigadier general. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Americans committed themselves to the personal and national sacrifices necessary for unconditional military victories over Japan and Germany. Their sacrifices included a draft, rationing, and military industrialization instead of commercial industrialization. From 1941 to 1945 more than 16 million Americans, about 12% of the U.S. population, served in the military and over 405,000 military members were killed.


Click to enlarge

From 1950 to 2016, the moral bonds between Presidents, members of Congress, most Americans and those ordered to fight their wars have become increasingly tenuous and sporadic. Presidential and Congressional strategies to avoid domestic political risks by incrementally side-stepping their constitutional duties repeatedly failed to produce military victories. Neither have they increased national security nor global security.

The most recent statutory authorizations in 2001 and 2002 started two ill defined and open-ended wars lasting more than three times as long as the declared wars with Japan and Germany.

Instead of spreading the cause of democracy these wars are destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa while forcing Europe to absorb tens of thousands of refugees. The sons and daughters of Presidents at war no longer wear the cloth of the nation and lead their fellow Americans to victory in combat against the nation’s declared enemies. The percentage of veterans in Congress continues to decline:

  • 18.7% in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
  • 64% in the 97th Congress (1981-1982)
  • 73% in the 92nd Congress (1971-1972)

Presently, less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the military. Most Americans connect with their military with a “thank you for your service” and heart-felt applause for military members and patriotic ceremonies at major sporting events.

The political and media attention presently given to our wounded and post war veterans is necessary but not sufficient. Strong and enduring national moral bonds are created and sustained before, during and after our wars. They require Presidents and members of Congress to lead a majority of Americans in fulfilling the moral obligations necessary to win wars. The difficulties in fulfilling these obligations necessarily constrain wars. They require that all Americans return to sharing wartime risks and sacrifices, not just the 1% in uniform.

Next — Changing the Veteran Narrative: Moral Injury

In an earlier essay , I described how technology will make the future littoral environment even more dangerous and increase the power and reach of smaller ships and shore batteries. I described the need to test and develop flotillas of combat corvettes and other craft and proposed a few platforms currently being built in the United States for use in this experimentation. My article continues the argument originally made by Vice Admiral Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes in their path setting article on the Streetfighter concept. However, successful combat in the littoral environment will have to be a team sport. Fortunately, we have the US Navy and Marine Corps team who can execute this mission, if enabled to develop new capabilities and doctrine to employ them.

This paper is not an argument to kill the Liberty or Freedom class LCS/FF. It is offered for cost and capabilities comparison purposes only as the actual cost data is not for public release. The LCS is a capable mother ship for the operation of other smaller platforms, particularly helicopters. Further the LCS is a cost effective platform for open ocean anti-submarine warfare the corvettes we shall discuss here described here cannot do. We have much more work to do in fully exploring the applications of the LCS/FF.

The United States and her allies require capabilities and doctrines to operate in the littorals to provide on scene presence in areas of controversy such as the South China Seas. By being present we can shape the environment and prevent competitors from achieving effective control using salami slicing tactics and intimidation. If tensions arise to the point of requiring deterrence such forces can provide considerable numbers and resilience as to force an opponent to have to make a serious effort to remove the flotilla supporting littoral outposts. This will reduce the urge for “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em” scenarios which can rapidly escalate. If deterrence fails, these combined forces will pack a considerable punch and contest, if not remove, sea control. Over time such forces operating together could create their own Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD) zone (creating a “No Man’s Sea” where both sides’ zones overlap), gradually advance our own zones and then peel away an opponent’s AA/AD zones.

A truism illustrated in the book The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky is genuine revolutions in military affairs do not usually arise out of incremental improvements but in taking new capabilities and systems and employing them in a truly unprecedented configuration. This is the mindset we should adopt when considering how best to employ flotillas of corvettes in littoral environments. Flotillas should not be considered on their own but as part of a combined arms effort. We must change how we think of the design of the corvette and its employment with other joint forces. The flotillas, operated primarily by the Navy, should be supported by littoral outposts operated by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and United States Marines. Their combination can be very powerful. To take full advantage of them, we must rethink how we operate the combined force. Here I’d like to examine first the flotillas and then the littoral outposts.

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

We must reexamine how we think of the corvette or light frigate. First let us address the definition of Corvette, which historically has ranged between 500 and 2,000 tons in displacement, though there have been variations on this theme. The more important factor is the effect of modern electronics and weapon systems granting smaller platforms enhanced capabilities, similar to what has occurred in aircraft. This provides the ability to adjust to the offensive environment of the sea by the distribution of capabilities in smaller profile platforms, however corvettes measure time on station in days not in the minutes aircraft do.

One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.

Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.

Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.

The mission of such platforms will be challenging but necessary, particularly in light of aggressive salami slicing lines of operations which require presence to counter. In peacetime, flotillas of corvettes will maintain presence to shape the environment, assure our allies, be observable witnesses to aggression, and train others in conduct of sea control. In an environment of increasing tension, they remain on station to continue scouting, shaping, deterrence and assurance while giving larger signature platforms space to maneuver. At the outset of conflict in a real shooting war they have one mission… attack. Attack like Arleigh Burke planned and Frederick Moosbrugger executed but with updated tactics, techniques, and procedures which enable massed force from distributed forces (See Jeff Cares Distributed Network Operations). Ships will be lost; the question becomes what will be lost when the inevitable hits occur.

While it is tempting to continue the technological trend and employ such small platforms without crews, there are significant limitations which it appears solutions have not arisen. The first is the limitation of control of such vessels. Modern Electronic Warfare means the connections to small platforms will likely be severed. While artificial intelligence has made great advances it does not appear ready, or ready in the near future, to address the challenges and complications of operations at sea specifically for factors such as rules of engagement, fusing information, training allied forces, etc. Robots are not known for their imagination and ingenuity. Further there are considerable sociological prohibitions about lethal force capable platforms operating on their own. Robotics and automation should be designed into such platforms to augment the performance of and decrease the size of the crew, but not replace them. With secure line of sight communications, manned platforms could be teamed with unmanned platforms to provide sensors and firepower.

We need to decrease our dependence on hardkill systems. One of the potential driving factors of increasing the size of such platforms is the compulsion to place Aegis weapons systems on them. We may likely gain the ability to place highly capable sensors on smaller platforms. The move away from transmitting wave tubes on current passive electronically scanned array radars such as SPY-1 to more capable and lighter weight transmit receive tiles used in active electronically scanned array radar systems such as in the APG-81 on the F-35 fighter. However the limitation then becomes one of missile systems, etc. If a force is dependent on hardkill systems, it accepts the risk of not being able to defend itself adequately should active measures fail. Given the proven history of effective electronic warfare, decoys, etc. it would be prudent to take a mixed approach. However, decoy systems, etc. are only as effective as their ability to emulate the intended target. Fortunately, corvettes generally can have very small signatures and other platforms can have even smaller signatures.

Military history shows warships built for niche purposes are very successful in actual wartime though their operators often expand their use outside the original intended mission, thus the need for experimentation.

In the essay in Proceedings, I offered an example for purposes of comparison and analysis, an up-armed variation on the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) as an example of what a combat corvette could offer. Even when doubling the total ownerships costs of the FRC for the modifications described between 12 and 14 FRCs could be owned and operated for the cost of a single LCS and its helicopters. The FRC has an endurance which is competitive with the LCS.

Based on the displacement and design of the FRC, it could be outfitted with two to four ASCMs (perhaps the Naval Strike Missile), the 11 cell SeaRAM system, and decoy system such as the Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff and/or the Rheinmetal Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY). Sensors upgrades would be a navalized version of the APG-81 or other AESA in a rotatable pedestal housing. Offboard sensors would include an aerostat or towed kite system with a surface search radar and/or UAVs similar to the ScanEagle. If these offboard sensor systems cannot be operated together from the same platform, then the corvettes can work in teams.

There are many factors which must be worked out. There may be other platforms more suited or complementary to this role, such as the Mark VI patrol boat, the Stiletto experimental platform, the SeaSlice experimental platform and the Ambassador Class missile boat. The upgunned version of the Sentinel class FRC could perform the role of its namesake, the day to day presence patrol missions in littoral regions, while a platform like the Stiletto would conduct sweeping attack and scouting runs in the event of conflict or the need to conduct a demonstration of resolve. Some of these platforms would not have to be manned. Those conducting high risk missions can be teamed with manned platforms to augment their scouting capabilities and firepower. The important point is the exploration of the concepts, tactics, techniques, procedures, and doctrine in wargames, campaign analysis, and fleet exercises to understand the impact advancing technology is having on naval warfare.

One threat to flotillas of corvettes is enemy submarines. Submarines would have some challenges tracking and effectively employing torpedoes against corvettes due to their small size, speeds, etc. Submarines would have to make modifications to their combat systems and torpedoes to address the flotilla. Submarines’ best opportunity to attack the flotilla would be in chokepoints. The flotillas can have an effective means of negating the submarine. Without sonar, it would appear the corvettes are very vulnerable, but simple tactics can negate the effectiveness of a submarine. As the flotilla approaches a littoral chokepoint they launch lightweight torpedoes pre-emptively in a snake search pattern in the direction of travel. The submarine will likely abort any effective targeting and have to run. Given the high rate of false positive contacts likely to be produced in littoral environments, just as many torpedoes would likely be expended by conventional ASW ships with sonar systems, etc. The number of torpedoes expended can be greatly reduced by the contribution of other forces as will be describe below.

The employment of flotillas of corvettes is only one element in how we need to approach littoral warfare. Equally, if not more, important to success in littoral conflicts is the employment of combined arms. The Proceedings essay briefly touched on the concept of Littoral Outposts as contributors to the effectiveness of flotillas. Such outposts deserve further exploration as they can contribute significantly to the success of future military conflicts and competitions.

Littoral Outposts composed of combined Navy, Marine Corps and other joint/coalition forces can contribute greatly to sea control. The Proceedings essay has already described how such forces can contribute to sea control employing shore based anti-ship cruise missiles, sensors, UAVs, etc. This is only the beginning. Such teams can contribute to ASW, AAW, and strike. Using denial, deception, hardening and mobility in the littoral environment these teams can present a difficult challenge to a competitor. All this would be accomplished by employing new technologies in new and innovative ways.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We’ve discussed organic responses from corvettes to submarines, but the littoral outpost can greatly reduce the threat of submarines to corvettes and other platforms. The simplest and most conventional solution is the employment of Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) for submarine hunting helicopters. Such helicopters can be stationed ashore or aboard ships operating further back (such as the LCS). Technology also offers effective and innovative approaches to littoral ASW. Littoral outpost can launch a swarm of UAVs employing sensors to conduct grid searches of submarines or minefields in chokepoint areas. When a target is detected and prosecution is initiated the drones could potentially drop charges or these could be launched from shore based mortars. The charges can be very deadly to a submarine as demonstrated by the Hedgehog ASW mortar in World War II. In addition to the MAD UAVs, forces ashore can launch small Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) which act as mobile sonobuoys. The effectiveness of such systems can be greatly enhanced by the survey of such chokepoints in peacetime to identify wrecks and other metallic objects which could generate false positives, etc. In times of crisis, Littoral Outposts and corvettes can work together to plant mines in the chokepoints thus creating a dangerous environment for submarines to operate in.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). Corvettes are vulnerable to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). If allowed unfettered access to an area, MPRA has the ability to eventually find and pick out of the clutter small craft like corvettes and deliver weapons or direct weapons and platforms to kill them. The key to the success of the MPRA is time and unfettered access. Littoral outpost can nullify this in different ways. First we noted the size of a corvette limits the size (and therefore range) of surface to air missile systems. So while advanced light weight AESA radars can give a corvette the ability to search and locate MPRA, they don’t necessarily have the weapons which can reach out and touch them or drive them off. Littoral Outposts can be armed with such long range weapons and employ either their own air search radars or employ cooperative engagement systems to guide off the corvette’s track. Littoral Outposts can also employ short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the F-35B. If employing land based radars the Littoral Outposts can disperse the sensors and missiles so as to retain one when the other is destroyed. Or they can remain silent and be queued from land based aerostats or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft flying from aircraft carriers or air bases further back. Just the knowledge surface to air missiles or aircraft may be hidden in Littoral Outposts can effectively nullify MPRA which are very vulnerable to such weapons and platforms. Taking advantage of denial, deception, hardening, and mobility Littoral Outposts can present a threat to enemy aircraft which is difficult to find, fix, and finish. However, MPRA do not enjoy the same environment when they are radiating to locate small ships in the clutters of the littorals.

Littoral Outposts can make significant contributions to strike. Marine and Navy Expeditionary forces working together can deliver offensives strike operations to sea or land. Employing mobile launchers such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with different weapons (and increasingly in the future weapons which can change roles) Littoral Outposts can deliver fires to affect ships at sea and targets on land. The same HIMARS employed to launch surface to surface missiles can also launch surface to air missiles today. Many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) today can also perform land attack missions. Again the F-35B provides similar opportunities.

Combining flotillas of corvettes with Littoral Outposts and littoral transportation platforms like powered barges, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM); the US can create mutually supporting elements to conduct maneuver in the littoral environment. Employing denial, deception, rapid hardening (digging in), and mobility, joint forces can advance in the littoral environment in the face of Anti-Access Area Denial (AA/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries. Littoral Outposts operated by, with, and through allies create AA/AD zones of our own. Behind these AA/AD zones we can then operate higher profile platforms such as aircraft carriers, etc. From these zones, flotillas of corvettes and other seaborne platforms sortie out to conduct sea control/denial and strike operations. From these zones, Littoral Outposts conduct support and strike operations. Once the environment has been shaped, the littoral outpost forces advance with the support of the conventional navy and flotillas. The Littoral Outposts then create new forward AA/AD zones behind which the process advances continues.

As the combined force advances their AA/AD zones advance and enable the attrition of an opponent’s AA/AD system, particularly the sensors (such as MPRA) necessary to enable them. This process will gradually wear down an opponent’s AA/AD system. If our opponents have become too reliant upon AA/AD, they will find themselves in a vulnerable position. Thus in time a combined force can contribute to the peeling away of AA/AD systems and gain maneuver space for the fleet near an opponent’s shore.

A combined arms approach to littoral combat can be very effective. We should be taking advantage of the trends in weapons and how they enhance the lethality and reach of smaller and smaller ships and shore batteries. In essence we must expand the Distributed Lethality concept to embrace our USMC and NECC capabilities in the littoral threat environment. However, to be effective and achieve true revolutions will require changing the way we employ these systems and capabilities. By employing combined arms of flotillas and littoral outposts we and our allies can confront potential opponents with a powerful deterrence force. These forces can enable us to shape events and prohibit aggressive behaviors in peacetime. As crises arise, they provide a resilient force which cannot easily be defeated thus providing stability. Finally in actual combat they provide a deadly threat which can support the larger fleet objectives by contesting and peeling away an opponent’s AA/AD network.

Here we have only addressed the outlines of what the Navy-Marine Corps team’s potential for combined arms in the littorals. We should conduct wargames, experimentation, and analysis to explore the options more fully and identify what other joint capabilities can contribute to this deadly environment. These combined forces should be able to provide commanders with options to address an opponent’s competitive actions in pre-hostilities, deterrence, and if required open warfare. Much more work needs to be done if we are going to remain viable in this new deadly environment.

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