Archive for the 'Tactics' Category
Please join us at 5pm (US EDT) on 18 September 2016 for Midrats Episode 350: 21st Century Patton, With J. Furman Daniel III:
Put the popular, and mostly accurate, image of the flamboyant General Patton, USAgiven to us by popular culture to the side for a moment.
Consider the other side of the man; the strategic thinker, student of military history, and innovator for decades. This week’s episode will focus on that side of the man.
For the full hour we will have as our guest J. Furman Daniel, III, the editor of the next book in the 21st Century Foundations series: 21st Century Patton.
Furman is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona. He holds a BA (with honors) from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Georgetown University.
There’s a growing realization that we must leverage the value of unmanned systems across the full range of naval missions—not to pursue “unmanned” for the sake of “unmanned” in a zeal to be more technologically advanced, but because it makes sense, taking us to the next level and beyond. As natural complements to our existing ships, aircraft, and submarines, unmanned systems bring the ability to efficiently increase both the capacity and capability of our force; there are missions where unmanned will bring comparative advantage over existing manned counterparts. In man–machine lash-ups, unmanned technology will take us even further.
Against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous and volatile world, unmanned systems offer an opportunity to meet defense requirements at every level. Making this case, and making headway on mainstreaming unmanned across all warfare domains, begins with understanding the most fundamental aspects of warfare. Through this deconstruction, the value-added of unmanned becomes readily apparent, cutting through existing practices, communities, domains, and mission sets—all sources of friction when introducing disruptive technology. If we make this case effectively, our force and its many constituents will press to mainstream unmanned as expeditiously as possible. With bottom-up energy and creativity teamed with top-down leadership and fiscal support, we have the best chance to harness unmanned’s potential. This is an imperative in a world where competitors and adversaries already are moving out with unmanned technology.
To Understand — So what? . . . Then what?
When we think about what we do in the realm of warfighting, it comes down to four essential elements: observing, orienting, deciding, and acting—the OODA loop. Air Force Colonel John Boyd crafted this concept in part from observations of air combat engagements in the 1950s, but its relevance is more broad, and scalable from the tactical to the strategic. In simplest form, we “observe” with sensors, we “orient and decide,” then we “act” with effectors. This process takes place across all domains and is iterative. Technology is both accelerating and fusing the steps, taking us to the point of forecasting.
Increasingly, it is not so much the “with what” (the province of things and the communities that employ them) and the “where” (the domains in which we operate), but rather the “how” and the “how fast.” The result is to understand and then take appropriate action, faster than the adversary and inside their OODA loop. Protecting one’s decision process while confronting the adversary’s is increasingly valued today; it is a foundation for both information warfare and the growing realm of electromagnetic maneuver warfare.
Unmanned brings game in each phase of the process, across all domains (traditional and nontraditional), and in doing so improves the speed of response and subsequent ability to adapt—faster than the adversary. Ultimately, the ability to see farther, understand more quickly, act faster, and adapt continuously become the essential elements of a winning team in today’s fast paced threat-filled environments. Unmanned systems are key elements in realizing a learning warfighting system that senses, evaluates, acts and, adapts continuously.
If we accept that the main thing is to understand—and to be able to take appropriate action, faster than the adversary—then we must plumb our system and processes to function as frictionless as possible, and we must populate these systems with platforms, vehicles, and payloads that permit us to fight in constantly adaptive ways. The ability to adapt as rapidly as possible, with as little friction as possible, with systems and lash-ups that permit adaptability—by design—is essential to winning in today’s fast-paced battle environments. This concept is not new. The value of “plug-and-play” is well established in the consumer world as an efficient means to leverage rapidly evolving technology. Coupled with modularity and open architecture, these tools can be put together in adaptive, creative configurations producing new ways; and the tools themselves can be adapted, leveraging the best that technology offers, providing new means. This approach arms us to first survive, then operate, and ultimately prevail in an increasingly contested world.
Speed of action and agility are valued in a fight. Improved speed can be realized both in terms of executing faster and by executing differently, using the same things in new ways. A prime example is how we think about what it takes to execute successfully at the tactical level. Traditionally, it is a linear process progressing through “find, fix, finish”—the sequential steps to consummate full mission execution. Technology and the speed it offers bring nonlinear and cross-domain opportunity. The prospect of executing faster through increased connectivity and multipath solutions is here now.
Unmanned systems can be an efficient means to populate connection points. Increasing connection points—or nodes—both manned and unmanned, brings density and resilience to our warfighting architectures, whether they be systems, systems-of-systems, or services on demand, and with it the means to prevail in contested environments. Unmanned systems can populate nodes in an increasingly connected/connectable force, bringing the ability to adapt more rapidly to changing environments.
Unmanned systems also bring the possibility of disaggregating functionality for the larger purpose of enabling dispersed fleet operations over much larger areas—scalable and tailorable to ever-changing missions and threats. Over time, many, if not most, of our ships, submarines, and aircraft have evolved into multimission systems, highly capable but also concentrated and expensive. Disaggregating the functions of sensing, understanding, and effecting with unmanned systems brings the potential to more efficiently mass effects without massing force, increase reach, and present the adversary with operational dilemmas.
Unmanned systems largely have evolved by matching warfighting need to emerging technology—a requirements pull. Whether as an immediate extension to an existing platform, to see over the hill, extend beyond the visible horizon, or augment existing sensors, they’ve expanded reach in a linear manner. The ability to distribute and net unmanned systems also has demonstrated great value, bringing with it improved spatial coverage, to include cross-domain opportunities and reach. This compounds the linear contribution even further. Ultimately, with improvements in autonomy comes the prospect of human–machine collaborative teaming, which may well equate to a step change improvement in capability and capacity when compared to forces composed of manned systems exclusively.
Together, these three aspects span the value-added proposition of unmanned systems, natural complements to our existing manned force vice outright replacements. Along this continuum of application is a corresponding relationship that shifts from human-assisted to human-supervised and ultimately to human–machine collaborative teaming. As unmanned systems’ use and reliability grow, so too will the confidence we place in them. Trust will drive the pace of man–machine teaming within the larger context of human command and increasing levels of machine control executing human intent.
Fighting at Machine Speed
The case for unmanned rests in how it brings value to existing capabilities. Ultimately, fighting at machine speed is to combine what humans and machines do best, to create a sum greater than the parts. Unmanned systems make this vision executable. Unmanned systems complement manned through a continuous process of cognition and execution, where machines and humans interact seamlessly—the essence of teaming.
The speed of calculation and raw processing power machines bring in a deterministic realm coupled with the skill, imagination, and wisdom of humans operating in chaotic environments results in better decisions faster. In the fights of today and into the future, the side that harnesses this lash-up most effectively will prevail. With our fusion of technology and talent, coupled with a warfighting philosophy that values initiative, we’re the best equipped force to reap these benefits. A well-trained fighting force armed with these ways and means becomes super-empowered down to the mission command level, a combination hard to beat.
Editor’s Note: USNI will be publishing a three-part series of execution plans—for undersea, aviation, and surface—in upcoming issues of Proceedings.
Please join us on 26 June 2016 at 5pm EDT for Midrats Episode 338: Trans-national terrorism and the Long War with Bill Roggio
When the BREXIT dust settles one thing will remain – the Long War against Islamic terrorists.
In a wide arch along its bloody edge, Islamic extremism continues to look for new opportunities for expansion, and within the borders of Dar al-Islam seeks to impose a retrograde view of Islam by destroying religious minorities, secular governments, and Islamic modernizers.
This Sunday returning guest Bill Roggio will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more. Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.
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.
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.
Summer, 1777: Two objects made from gunpowder-filled kegs and tied together with line drifts alongside the British frigate Cerberus near the Connecticut coast. Sailors in a captured schooner tied alongside attempt to recover the objects. All at once, an explosion destroys the schooner and kills most of the sailors. These were the first mines, invented by David Bushnell (of Turtle fame). This is the beginning of the story of naval mine warfare.
Naval mine warfare has a history as old as the United States. From its beginning in the workshop of David Bushnell through to today’s Quickstrike mines and Littoral Combat Ships, many events formed the story of mine warfare development. These are the ten mining campaigns that have had the biggest impact on shaping mine warfare.
1. Crimean War
In 1854, England led a coalition of Great Powers nations against Russia in response to a Russian attack against Turkey. Naval forces assaulted Russian ports in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. To counter these forces, Russia ordered over a thousand contact mines developed by inventor Immanuel Nobel. In the Baltic, these mines deterred the British from attacking Kronstadt, thus preventing an attack on the Russian capital of St. Petersburg.
Matters were different in the Black Sea. As in their Baltic ports, the Russians laid electrically-fired, controlled mines in the waters surrounding Sevastopol. The British neutralized this threat by quickly capturing the mines’ shore-based firing stations. Largely improvised, the moored contact mines in the surrounding waters proved more nuisance than threat. Most could be neutralized using men operating from small boats.
The Crimean War represented the first case of large-scale, military-sponsored mining. Just as importantly, military observers from many nations were on hand to learn the value of these weapons. Russian successes in mining led many nations to begin developing their own mine warfare programs. Mining may never have taken root as a serious tool of warfare had it not been for the Crimean War.
2. Civil War
With long, navigable rivers and a tiny navy, the Confederacy was vulnerable to waterborne attack. Mines proved a cheap and effective way to stop the Union ironclads. USS Cairo, a large ironclad, became the first major war vessel lost to a mine when it struck a moored contact mine on the Yazoo River in 1862. Continued mine-strikes induced Union captains and admirals to devise methods to counter these weapons. Despite their mine countermeasure (MCM) efforts, Confederate mines sank a total of 29 Union ships, and damaged 14 more before the war ended.
During the assault on Mobile Bay, RADM David Glasgow Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” The target of his order was the captain of the second ship in his column entering the Bay, who stopped when the ship ahead struck a mine. Farragut did not show flippant disregard for the danger posed by mines. Over the previous three nights, he had men clear a channel through the minefield. The ironclad that sank was on the wrong side of the marker buoy. Farragut based his order on a calculated risk decision to continue ahead through the cleared channel.
The Civil War demonstrated to the world the value of the naval mine as a major weapon of war. At the same time, it taught the world lessons about the importance of developing mine countermeasures. These lessons led to mine warfare developments worldwide, paving the way for the future of mine warfare.
3. Russo-Japanese War
In 1904-1905, Russia and Japan fought a war for control of Korea and Manchuria. As a warm-water port, Port Arthur on the Manchurian coast was a major base for the Russian Pacific Fleet. Russia mined its sea approaches to keep out their enemies. Japan reversed this tactic with the innovation of laying mines in Port Arthur’s harbor approaches to keep the Russian fleet in port.
On April 12, 1904, Russian destroyers set out to scout and clear Japanese mines laid the night before. When one destroyer encountered part of the enemy fleet, Russian Admiral Makaroff sent his fleet to attack. Crossing over the freshly laid mines, they successfully beat back their enemies. Victory was short lived. While returning to port, Makaroff’s flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, struck a mine and sank in two minutes with the admiral on board. A second battleship struck a mine shortly afterwards. Deprived of its fighting admiral and two battleships, the Russian fleet remained effectively blockaded until the city was ready to fall. Through mining, the Japanese had wrested control of the sea from their adversaries.
Drifting mines laid in the open ocean during the Russo-Japanese War continued to float around the Pacific for years afterwards, posing a significant hazard to ships of all nations. These hazards led to the Hague Convention of 1907. Meeting to develop rules for the use of mines in war, this convention established many limits that remain in effect to this day.
4. World War I: Dardanelles Campaign (1915)
The Gallipoli Campaign was an attempt by the Allies to break through the Ottoman defenses on the Dardanelles in Turkey to free shipping routes to Russia and to raise regional support to the Allied cause. To counter this attempt, the Turks laid 11 mine lines protected by nearly 100 artillery pieces in the narrowest stretch. The British minesweepers, converted trawlers manned with civilian crews, were unable to operate in the face of the heavy bombardment. After two weeks of unsuccessful sweeping at night under constant assault while illuminated with searchlights, the British admiral decided to do an all out effort of daytime sweeping with battleships providing close support.
On 18 March, the British battle force destroyed many fortifications while absorbing nearly every heavy shell remaining in the Turkish arsenal. Then things went wrong. Unknown to the Allies, on the night of 7 March, a single Turkish minelayer laid a line of 20 mines in the battleships’ turning area. At the height of the 18 March battle, the Allied battleships turned in their usual area and immediately struck the new mine line. Within a very short time, the 20 mines caused the loss of 3 battleships and one battle cruiser. That one mine-line may have been arguably the most cost effective method ever used to damage a fleet.
The Dardanelles campaign showed the power of a layered defense containing mines and it illustrated the need to protect MCM forces. Most importantly, it underlined the value of using intelligence in mining.
5. World War I: North Atlantic
The mining campaigns of World War I represented a major advance in how countries used mines, introducing a a number of innovations in both mining and MCM that are still in use. It saw the first use of submarine mining, the first Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) fields, and the first large-scale mining and MCM effort.
German U-boats posed a major threat to Allied shipping during this war. At first, British attempts to mine the English Channel proved ineffective, as submarines slipped over the mine fields in the darkness. The British remedied the situation with powerful searchlights and aggressive patrolling. Later in the war, the Allies attempted to seal off the North Sea in a major mining campaign called the North Sea Mine Barrage. At the total mining and MCM cost of $80 million, the barrage included 70,000 mines in a field stretching from Scotland to Norway. After the war, 82 minesweepers worked 18 hour days for five months clearing these mines.
Mining and MCM technology both advanced during the war. Germany first used submarine mining soon after the United States entered the war. U-boats built with inclined mine tubes laid mines off several American ports on the eastern seaboard. The American Mark 6 antenna mine used a copper wire suspended above the mine that caused the mine to detonate when it contacted a steel hull. A major British advance was the Oropesa sweep, which allowed a single ship to sweep instead of connecting with other ships in a team sweep.
6. World War II: New Technology
World War II kick-started the development of most of today’s technology and tactics. Allies and Axis powers alike used mines on a global scale during the war. In the Pacific, the Japanese laid large barrier minefields to limit the ability of American submarines to freely access their sea lines of communication. America eventually overcame this obstacle by charting the minefields and developing mine-avoidance sonar equipment.
In the Atlantic theater, belligerents on both sides aggressively created mining and MCM technology. Before and during the war, both sides developed influence mines and influence minesweeping technology. World War II saw the first widespread operational use of mines triggered by magnetic, acoustic, and/or pressure signals. Such mines proved far more dangerous than contact mines, for they could damage ships at a distance and were harder to counter. At Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo, the U.S. minesweeping force lost seven YMS minesweepers during clearance efforts in June 1945. Despite having wooden hulls, their engines were enough to detonate the American-laid magnetic mines. These and earlier incidences led to the expediting the use of full magnetic and acoustic silencing when constructing MCM ships.
Aerial mining was perhaps the most important innovation of World War II. In the Pacific the Allies used extensive mining into their island-hopping strategy. Airplanes could rapidly close Japanese-controlled ports throughout Southeast Asia at a relatively low cost in men and equipment. This allowed the Allies to neutralize the well-defended ports and concentrate on the lightly defended ports.
7. World War II: Operation Starvation
The mining campaign known as Operation Starvation is one of only two uses of true strategic mining in American history. Intended to end the war, Operation Starvation involved using aerial mining to shut down most or all shipping to and from the Japanese home waters.
Japan was and is dependent on imports to support its population and its industry. During WWII, most of its iron and oil arrived by sea. Almost all of the shipping destined for the nation’s east coast and its inland sea had to pass through the Shimonoseki Strait. The volume of Japan’s shipping, and its predictable route, made the country especially vulnerable to naval mines.
In April 1945, B-29 bombers began systematically mining Japan’s shipping routes. Beginning with the Shimonoseki Strait, they dropped 1,000- and 2,000-lb bottom influence mines at all of the major choke points in the inland sea and most of the southern and eastern ports. By July they had laid approximately 12,000 mines, completing a virtual blockade of Kyushu and Honshu and reducing shipping by 90%. Twenty-six years after the war, over 2,000 mines remained despite continuous Japanese sweeping efforts. After the war, many experts agreed that had this mining campaign commenced earlier, the war might have finished earlier, without atomic bombs.
Operation Starvation showed the value of strategic mining in helping to bring a war to an end. Almost as importantly, it highlighted just how much MCM effort is required after a major mining campaign.
8. Korean War – Wonsan Harbor
In October 1950, United Nations forces conducted an amphibious landing at Wonsan, North Korea. The UN assault force included American, South Korean, and Japanese minesweepers. Expecting limited mining at choke points, naval leaders planned for only 10 days to clear mines. As it turned out, the harbor was a nightmarish mixed minefield of both bottom and ground mines. By the time amphibious forces reached the shore a week past schedule, four minesweepers were sitting on the bottom as a result of mine strikes. When the amphibious force finally landed, they found comedian Bob Hope on hand to greet them with a USO show.
Wonsan was important because it revealed just how ill-prepared the America was for post-WWII mine clearance. Following WWII, America discharged it’s primarily reservist mine warfare forces and reduced its MCM force from 374 ships in the Pacific alone down to a mere 37 worldwide. At the same time Russia built a dedicated professional mine warfare force. North Korea benefited greatly from Russia’s mine program. North Korean forces had laid Wonsan’s minefields with the help of Russian mining experts and Russian magnetic and contact mines. Using primitive craft to lay mines, they built a minefield consisting of 3,000 mines crammed into a 400 square nautical mile area.
Following the Korean War, Congress poured money into mine warfare. By the end of the decade, the country had built 65 new oceangoing minesweepers, two MCM command ships (MCS), two pressure- and check-sweeping ships (MSS), an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) MCM squadron, and innumerable minesweeping boats (MSB) and minesweeping launches. While the size of this force did not last, its concepts led to today’s diverse MCM force composition.
9. Vietnam War
Rivers bisect Vietnam at dozens of different points. During the Vietnam War, these rivers were natural highways into the interior, allowing armed gunboats to attack North Vietnamese supply lines. Knowing this, Vietnamese fighters mined the rivers with a wide variety of mines. American gunboats traveling these rivers frequently encountered shallow water minefields protected by heavy shore-based gunfire. Using rapidly developed equipment, the U.S. forces had to counter these fields using armored, armed, nonmagnetic MSB’s supported by aircraft and gunboats.
The North Vietnamese Army was not alone in mining the rivers. American planes dropped magnetic naval mines in the areas surrounding the river crossings used by northern troops. At these points, mines had the ability to target both supply boats and supply vehicles. Furthermore, some aerial mines could be laid virtually anywhere along the trails, creating a hazard for any vehicles moving south.
In May 1972, U.S. forces mined Haiphong harbor, the major port through which 85% of seaborne supplies reached North Vietnam. This resulted in a relatively quick peace agreement, with a major stipulation that the United States was required to clear this minefield. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, the United States had set their mines to allow for easy cleanup.
The Vietnam War showed the value of maintaining the technology to clear mines in shallow water. It also introduced destructor-type mines, the predominated style now used by the American military. Finally, it showed the world once more the value of strategic mining.
10. Middle-East Mining
There was no one, single mining campaign in the last few decades that has significantly shaped mine warfare. Instead, it is the collective mining efforts of a few despotic Middle-Eastern governments that together shaped today’s mine warfare forces.
During the 1980’s, state-sponsored terrorism became a dominant force in the world. In the summer of 1984, at least 16 ships passing through the Red Sea received damage from underwater explosions. Believed to be the work of Libya, the fact that these mines did not produce greater damage is mainly because of improper settings. An international coalition quickly came together to clear this vital waterway, a practice repeated in all following middle-eastern mine clearance efforts.
The Tanker War was a conflict between Iran and Iraq. Both sides repeatedly attacked each others’ merchant shipping in the Arabian Gulf. When one of Iran’s mines heavily damaged the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), the United States retaliated with attacks on Iranian naval vessels and oil platforms in Operation Praying Mantis.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. To protect against amphibious invasion, Iranian forces laid more than 1,200 mines in two belts off the Kuwaiti coast. Two ships, USS Princeton (CG-59) and USS Tripoli (LPH-10), took heavy damage from mines as the MCM task force moved in to commence clearance operations. Following the war, a coalition of 11 nations working long hours for six months cleared a total 1,288 mines – a number exceeding Iraqi reports of 1,157 mines laid.
Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF) ended far differently in part because strike forces destroyed or captured Iraqi mine laying vessels. Mining was mainly limited to Iraqi coastal waters and the port of Umm Qasr. This showed the potential benefit of the offensive MCM concept.
Navies worldwide equip and train based on the expectations formed by recent experience. Mine warfare is no different. The experiences gleaned from the Middle Eastern mining campaigns of the last few decades very much shaped today’s mine warfare forces.
What sort of lessons might the navies of the world glean from clearing the Middle Eastern minefields? Some may assume that future conflicts will be the same way: No ships destroyed, mining restricted to single areas, uncontested battlespace, uncomplicated environments and plenty of allies to help. With no mine strikes since 1991, it is easy to forget the danger of mines in the face of other perceived threats.
On the mining side, recent history gives an even more simplified story. Since World War II, naval mining has been limited to fairly shallow littoral waters, rivers, and land. The last major mining campaign by anybody was 25 years ago. If one compared weapons systems by usage, mines seem to have limited value, and would appear to only be required in small quantities and with limited depth requirements. With no competing naval powers at war in the last 70+ years, mines appear to be a weapon system of the past.
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. 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, 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.
Mines, according to history, can help a country to either gain – or lose – control of the sea.
Tamara Moser Melia, “Damn the Torpedoes”: A Short History of U.S. Naval Mine Countermeasures, 1777-1991, (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1991).
Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History, (New York: Picador, 2010).
Norman Youngblood, The Development of Mine Warfare: A Most Murderous and Barbarous Conduct, (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006).
Milton F. Perry, Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warfare, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1965).
Christopher Martin, The Russo-Japanese War, (New York: Abelard-Schuman Limited, 1967).
Robert Forczyk, Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship: Yellow Sea 1904-05, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009).
Geoffrey Jukes, The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002).
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003).
Dan Van Der Vat, The Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill’s Greatest Failure, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2009), pp. 1-5. H. M. Denham, Dardanelles: A Midshipman’s Diary, (London: John Murray Ltd., 1981).
Captain J. S. Cowie, Mines, Minelayers and Minelaying, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949).
Gregory K. Hartmann, Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979).
Barrett Tillman, Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
LCDR Paul McElroy, USNR, The Mining of Wonsan Harbor, North Korea in 1950: Lessons for Today’s Navy, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps War College, 1999).
Edward J. Marolda & Robert J. Schneller Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998).
CDR David D. Bruhn, USN(Retired), Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006).
Gordon E. Hogg, “Minesweepers and Minehunters.” In S. C. Tucker (Ed.), U.S. Conflicts in the 21st Century: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, and the War on Terror, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015).
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Mr. Roggio had to postpone his visit with Midrats. He will appear at a later date. In lieu of his appearance, CDR Salamander and Eagle1 held a “free for all” discussion of current events.
You can find our “Spring Time Free-for-All” here.
We regret any inconvenience.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 3 April 2016 for Midrats Episode 326: Undersea Lawfare with RADM Johnson, USN (Ret) and CAPT Palmer, USN
Since its ascendency to the premier maritime power, the US Navy – especially in the area of undersea warfare – has been at the leading edge of using technology to get a military edge.
During the Cold War, significant and steady progress in the first two steps of the kill chain against submarines, location and tracking, made the prospect of engaging superior numbers of Soviet submarine forces manageable.
We continue that tradition today, but to keep ahead of growing challenges, we have test. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot will stop dead in its tracks without testing in the real world. Computer simulation is only so good.
When it comes to submarines especially, you have to get in the water with them.
Knowing our technological track record an operating a generation or two ahead of some potential adversaries – are there ways they can negate our edge – or at least buy time while they catch up?
Are we vulnerable to potential challengers using national and international law against us? Undersea Lawfare?
Our guests for the full hour to discuss will be Rear Admiral J. Michael “Carlos” Johnson, USN (Ret.) and Captain Michael T. Palmer, USN.
As a stepping off point, we will be using their article in the latest Naval War College Review: UNDERSEA LAWFARE – Can the US Navy Fall Victim to This Asymmetrical Warfare Threat?
RADM Johnson retired after 33 years of service as a naval aviator that included combat in Vietnam, Libya, the Balkans, and the Persian Gulf. He commanded the John F. Kennedy Battle Group, CVW-8, and VFA-86. Ashore he served on the staffs of the CNO as Director of Aviation Plans and Requirements) and the J3 of EUCOM.
Captain Palmer is an active-duty JAG and an adjunct assistant professor at ODU. Her has served as environmental counsel to the CNO; U.S. Fleet Forces Command; and Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.
In 2008, just before the official stand-up of the new Combatant Command in Stuttgart, Germany, I listened to General “Kip” Ward, AFRICOM’s first Commander, discuss his first trip around the continent to talk to key leaders of African nations, militaries, and government organizations like the African Union. He made an important observation during this presentation that I never forgot.
I’ll paraphrase his comments as follows: He said, you know, we in the military have a lot of acronyms and terms. We just throw them out in conversation and expect everyone to get it . . . But you have to be careful what you say and understand the full impact of your words. When I met people and told them I was the incoming Commander of AFRICOM and my “AOR” would include 53 African countries, the first question was, “What’s an AOR?” Well, it’s my Area of Responsibility he said, to which African leaders responded, “Who’s Area of Responsibility? Yours . . . or ours?” There’s a lot to think about here in the way we approach partnerships.
Likewise we have another favorite acronym in our military vernacular known as ASAP—As Soon As Possible! A versatile term . . . I’ve been using it all my life, and if you’ve served in the military I suspect you have too. On the other hand, ASAP means something different to our African partners. The African Union interprets the acronym ASAP to mean: “African Solutions for African Problems.” This is not to suggest that Africans want to solve their problems and challenges in isolation. Rather, I believe that African leaders would prefer to cultivate partnerships with the international community in order to explore solutions to African problems.
And so, under the leadership of AFRICOM, the Commander Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) has endeavored to assist our African partners through joint programs such as the Africa Partnership Station (APS), the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program (AMLEP), and our signature series of exercises around the four quadrants of the African continent known as the “Express” series.
Having had the benefit of hindsight during my time as the Deputy Commander U.S. 6th Fleet from 2010 to 2012, I can tell you that my observations of the progress made from 2010 until my arrival as Commander 6th Fleet and Deputy Commander NAVAF in 2014 has been like night and day.
Africa is a continent that includes about 35 percent of the world’s land mass and during my previous assignment, the African Partnership Station was frequently frustrated by the phenomenon of “sea blindness,” or an underappreciation for the importance of the maritime domain. Africa, after all is a big island surrounded by water and although we still have much work to do, I don’t hear that term as much anymore. Instead, I hear the term “sea vision” as applied to our work with African navies and coast guards.
The most recent example of our work together culminated just last week in the opening ceremony of Obangame/Saharan Express (OE/SE) 2016. This is the first year the two exercises were combined into one larger exercise. Previously, Saharan Express focused on the waters from Senegal to Guinea, and Obangame Express was from the coast of Côte d’Ivoire to Angola.
Creating a multi-national exercise with 32 participating nations allowed us to challenge ourselves to practice the zone framework outlined by the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. The Senegalese Navy hosted the main OE/SE opening ceremony in Dakar, with local ceremonies held in other participating countries. For OE/SE 2016, service members from Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States joined 21 West African nations for the 10 day exercise.
This was my first trip to Senegal, and I was reminded of the incredible land mass of Africa as I flew from Naples to Dakar for hours over the vast, red sands of the Sahara Desert. The historic nature of the ceremony was palpable as senior leaders addressed the audience, U.S. Navy Band members played alongside Senegalese musicians, and national media asked questions about the nature of our relationship.
In fielding the reporters’ questions, Admiral Cissoko and I both underscored the fact that it takes teamwork to counter piracy, stop illicit trafficking, and combat illegal fishing, and teamwork is a huge part of OE/SE. The word “Obangame” actually means “togetherness” in the Central African Fang language. Like any good team, the earlier we start working together, and the more we practice together, the more proficient we become.
Africa Partnership Station and Obangame/Saharan Express are nothing more than an extension of the Global Network of Navies. Our work is made easier by relationships established in our Coalition Force Maritime Commander’s Conference (CFMCC) run by the Naval War College and the Gulf of Guinea Conference recently held by the Secretary of the Navy in Annapolis Maryland for senior African naval leaders. Other relationships were revealed and reinforced during this opening ceremony. In Dakar, I met a Senegalese Officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1992, and now serves as the Chief of Logistics for the Senegalese Navy. He was a classmate of my Chief Engineer when I was in command and the two men had served in the same company in Annapolis. Both had maintained a deep and abiding friendship.
The Senegalese recommended that we visit Gorée Island before our departure. President Obama and his family had visited this place, which was the last stop in Africa for men, women and children forcibly taken from their homes and sent to America during the slave trade. It was a sobering experience, but just before departure, the head of the port authority approached me and wished me well. He was a retired Senegalese naval officer, who had also attended the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. We found common ground in our shared experience as well as our common interest in security and stability.
Indeed, with 52 ships, 13 aircraft and more than 1,000 people participating in Obangame/Saharan Express 2016, we were determined to improve interoperability in order to enhance African maritime security and regional economic stability. OE/SE 2016 is the largest maritime exercise ever held Africa.
We’ve come a long way since the Express series exercises began in 2011 and we’ll continue this commitment to our African partners for years to come. While my time in Senegal was short, Commodore Heidi Agle, Commander Task Force 63, positioned herself in Cameroon to supervise the operational and tactical aspects of the exercise from the Maritime Operations Center in Douala and onboard the Expeditionary Patrol Vessel, USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1). I asked Commodore Agle to share her perspective with you as well.
From Commodore Heidi Agle, Officer-in-Charge of Exercise:
I came to U.S. Naval Forces Africa after serving four and a half years in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations where I worked frequently with island nations that had unilateral control of their borders. The area still had territorial disputes, but individual nations exercised great autonomy within their territorial waters and economic exclusion zones. When I first started working with West African countries, I quickly realized how close the Gulf of Guinea nations are to each other, both geographically and economically. Their proximity makes regional cooperation essential as they work toward greater economic viability.
There is too much shared space among too many countries for conversations not to occur on a daily basis. In the main OE/SE 2016 exercise hub, Douala, Cameroon, I observed these necessary country-to-country conversations during the exercise and am encouraged by the commitment of their leadership to continue this interaction long after the exercise ends.
My Cameroonian counterpart, navy Capt. Sylvestre Fonkoua, gave me a tour of his Douala-based maritime operations facility. I was most impressed by the progress they had made in reducing the zone’s illicit maritime activity in just a few years. In 2009, Zone D recorded 40 incidents of piracy attacks. The Zone D navies of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé/Príncipe then set up a maritime operations center in Douala and committed ships to provide maritime security in their combined waters 24/7, 365 days a year, with communications readily available among all participating militaries and government agencies. In 2015, they recorded only two incidents, proving the effectiveness of their information sharing and teamwork.
“It is obvious that asymmetric threats such as piracy are likely to move from one maritime border to another, and the seas are so wide that this kind of dynamic threat can’t be addressed by only one country,” said Fonkoua. “That means that we cannot overcome these scourges alone.”
The Gulf of Guinea has almost reached a positive tipping point; they are poised to exponentially grow and progress. In support of their vision, executing OE/SE helps the region toward its goal of effectively policing its own waters.
A recent regional success is the rescue of the pirated fuel vessel, M/T Maximus in February. Ghanaians and Americans were patrolling Ghanaian waters aboard expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) as part of a real-world Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership Operation, when they were tasked to locate a suspected pirated vessel. The Ghanaian-American team found M/T Maximus and relayed the location to the maritime operations center in Ghana.
Eight nations helped track the suspect vessel as it transited southwest through the Gulf of Guinea. When the ship entered the waters of São Tomé/Príncipe, São Tomé coordinated with the Nigerian Navy, who conducted the first ever opposed boarding by a West African Navy. Nigeria and São Tomé have a maritime agreement giving Nigeria the authority to conduct law enforcement activities in São Tomé waters.
The Nigerian Navy re-captured the vessel, rescued the hostages, in the process killing one pirate and taking the remaining pirates into custody. This joint operation, morphed into a successful, multi-national, real-world counterpiracy mission, and clearly demonstrates how working together across cultural lines, defending the sea-lanes leads to maritime security. This is the application of African Solutions to African Problems in its truest form.
Arleigh Burke was a hard-charger by nature, never content to rest on his laurels.
Thus at the Battle of Blackett Strait–a victory for the United States–Burke was unhappy. Commanding a Destroyer Squadron, he was on the bridge of his flagship, looking out for the Japanese destroyers Murasame and Minegumo. When his radar operator picked up a ship close to shore, Burke hesitated to fire at first.
Sure enough, the contact had been one of the Japanese ships, and Burke’s hesitation allowed them to get within weapons range. A battle ensued, thankfully resulting in the sinking of both enemy destroyers.
Burke, frustrated with himself, asked one of the Ensigns standing watch what the difference was between a good officer and a poor one. After listening to the young man’s response, Burke offered his own:
“The difference between a good officer and a poor one,” he said, “is about ten seconds.”
The Pacific Theatre of World War II tested the United States Navy’s resolve like no other conflict before or since. We look back on the battles memorialized as part of our culture and hold them as the gold standard for naval operations today.
But luminaries like Arleigh Burke knew those engagements could have been better. The same bug that struck him at Blackett Strait–hesitation–cost the United States many other opportunities throughout the theater.
If he were alive today, pacing the bridge wing, Burke might regard the culture of hesitation we seem to have built in our Navy with a more acute displeasure than he did 83 years ago. And he would demand we improve.
Burke and his crews were successful, in part, due to their understanding of the strategic calculus of World War II: kill or be killed. In a war of attrition, the goal is to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible while staying afloat, or, in the immortal words of General George Patton, “to make the other bastard die for his” country.
Though the tasks of major war at sea, on land, and in the air were gargantuan, the strategic environment may have been a bit easier. It was the ability of every Sailor to understand this paradigm–down to the mess halls and deck plates–and their commitment to see it through that would catalyze American victory in the 1940s.
Today, the United States still maintains the most capable naval force in the world. We still operate at sea, on land, and in the air, in addition to the realms of space and the broader electromagnetic spectrum. Capitalizing on the ingenuity of our people, we have incorporated technological advances into our platforms that enhance our tactics, techniques, and procedures.
These accelerations in technology have led to a commensurate quickening of decision-making in the battlespace. Colonel John Boyd’s “Observe-Orient-Decide-Act,” or “OODA Loop” describes the process that each individual or unit must go through to learn and succeed. As Colonel Boyd famously proved, the ability to operate inside an adversary’s OODA Loop is often the difference between victory and defeat.
Yet, as we increase the pace of our tactics and decisions, we are doing so at the expense of the strategic proficiency of our junior sailors and officers. Worse, senior officers often exhort to subordinates to “focus on your tactics,” implying that the understanding of strategy and policy should be left to those with “experience.”
This growing lethargy in learning and understanding brings with it a creeping risk–a hesitation–that should be untenable to us as warfighters. We are doing a disservice to our service when we develop aviators who can “center the dot,” but cannot describe the geopolitical diversity surrounding their Carrier Operating Area (CVOA); when we develop submariners who can maintain a reactor within checklist specifications, but cannot debate the merits of improving personnel policy in the service; when we develop surface warfare officers who can stand on their feet for hours on the bridge, but cannot fathom how the position of their ship in the ocean impacts the global economy. We develop this risk across both our Restricted and Unrestricted Line communities.
Sometimes, this risk manifests itself in mistake: the bombing of a hospital instead of a legitimate military target, or confrontation with a tenuous regional actor. Often, however, the risk is in unmeasured opportunity cost: the option or consideration no one in the room brought to attention; the detail that goes unchecked because it wasn’t part of our rigid formula; the stakeholder we do not consider but whose reaction will impact our long-term success or failure. We build in a culture of hesitation to our systems when we make such a clear distinction between tactical execution and strategic understanding. Just as in Burke’s time, it is costing us opportunities.
In his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal describes the concept of “shared consciousness” by saying, “our entire force needed to share a fundamental, holistic understanding of the operating environment and of our own organization, and we also needed to preserve each team’s distinct skill sets.” Rather than developing bland generalists, McChrystal remarks that the goal for his organization was “to fuse generalized awareness with specialized expertise.”
We are a Navy full of essential skills and experts; we need these to fight. But in order to win, shared consciousness among all ranks and at all levels is required.
Above all, this is a leadership issue. Our service has no place for those who tell their subordinates to “focus on tactics” at the expense of strategy. We may win the battle, but we will surely lose the war. To increase the pace of our various OODA Loops–and mitigate a culture of hesitation– we must develop sailors who are both tactically lethal and strategically aware.
Discussion of strategy and policy should be encouraged at all levels. Many good commanding officers, both past and present, have fostered an atmosphere of questioning and discussion in wardrooms and ready rooms. This should not be mere serendipity; we should select officers for these positions who are capable of engendering this environment, and continue to promote those who have proven they can do so in a respectful, constructive manner.
These discussions should lead to action and writing–to white papers, articles, blog posts–that are read and in turn debated, rebutted, and written about. Moreover, we should not limit this activity to individual ships and units; this environment should exist at the Pentagon, at our Fleet Replacement Squadrons and Afloat Training Groups, with our peers on the Joint Staff and in classroom settings, and with our multinational partners around the world.
Separately, we must not allow our reliance on technology to institutionalize a culture of hesitation. With more information being consumed and analyzed at a much quicker pace than ever before, it is easy to simply complete the blocks in our checklist and make a voice or chat report, rather than developing a system of communication and execution that capitalizes on shared consciousness. We must return to our uniquely naval roots of the Composite Warfare Commander Concept and command by negation in order to build a better system, or else we will be doomed to repeat the kind of hesitation that Arleigh Burke so desperately wanted to avoid.
In the final analysis, we are not compartmentalized into separate tactical officers and strategic officers. We are naval officers and warfighters; there should be no difference.
Admiral Burke’s experience at Blackett Strait played out between ten and twenty knots. Our experiences today demand that, while our ships may still travel at that speed, our decision-making and understanding scales exponentially faster.
For this generation of naval warfighters and decision-makers, the difference between a good officer and a poor one may be ten microseconds. And we must make every one count.
Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War
The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.
What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?
This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.