Sunday, October 04, 2015

What Russia is Doing in Syria

The number of strange opinion pieces, trial balloons and general ponderings about what Russia is doing in Syria and what we should do about it has gotten to a silly point.

If you are looking for the executive summary: first of all, we are way past the point we can really "do" anything about it. Second, the Russians are simply stepping in to put down a marker that they will defend an ally - as it is their desire to do so, it is their pleasure

I don't know what their chosen Course of Action is, how the define their Phases, what their Decisive Points are, etc. In their own Russian way they will follow good military fundamentals.

As such, let's go with what little we know. From the valuable work by ISW, let's look at the map.

Ignore what the Russians say - watch what they do.

With a very modest force and with their own goals - of course they are not reaching all the way to the Islamic State. They have some lines to clean up first.

Before they and most of the Syrian forces could engage IS proper, they need to get rid of the other rebel groups nearby and in their rear. Hey, sucks to be you - but you picked your hill to die on, not the Russians.

Like they have done in eastern Ukraine, the Russians are going to clean up their lines, take critical logistics hubs, and see how much they can get away with for as little effort as possible.

Here is what they also know.
- The USA will do nothing. The Americans will talk a lot and posture, but will do nothing. Their government has no stomach for any of this, and the American people are trying to find their Halloween decorations in the attic.
- The Europeans are too occupied with the hoards of Orcs at their gates and living in their garden. Even if they had the desire, they don't have the ability.
- Iran & China will be helpful, because Russia is humiliating the USA.
- Russia will secure Assad in power in a way that best suits Russia, then they will worry about other things.
- The sun is shining; Russia will make hay.

The Ship that Would Not Die at the Battle of the Coral Sea - on Midrats

Wars are full of accidental battles, unexpected horror, and the valor of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Often lost in the sweeping stories of the Pacific in WWII, there is a story that - if not for one man's inability to properly recognize one ship from another - should have never have happened. Because of that one man's mistake, and a leader's stubborn enthusiasm to double down on that mistake, the lived of hundreds of men were lost - and possibly the course of a pivotal early battle changed.

Our guest for the full hour live this Sunday from 5-6pm will be author Don Keith to discuss the tale of the USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Sims (DD-409) at the Battle of the Coral Sea in his latest book, The Ship That Wouldn't Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho- A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea.

Don is an award-winning and best-selling author of books on a wide range of topics. In addition to being a prolific writer, he also has a background in broadcast journalism from on-the-air personality to ownership.

Don’s web site is

Join us live if you can with the usual suspects in the chat room and offer up your questions for our guest, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Friday, October 02, 2015

Fullbore Friday

There is nothing that fits more the description of "unsexy but important" than the fleet oiler.

Hidden in the corners of WWII history is a story that is almost hard to believe is actually true. 

Today we will cover the second part of what we started last week with the story of her escort during the Battle of the Coral Seathe USS SIMS (DD-409)

We are talking about the story of the Pearl Harbor survivor, and in the immediate time following the attack, the only fleet oiler in the Pacfic, the CIMARRON class fleet oiler, U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23).

Sent along with her escort and its gimp engineering plant away from the coming battle - instead, through her distraction she became a critical part of it.

An enemy scout does a poor job and mistakes an oiler and a destroyer as a carrier and a cruiser ... and the full weight of the enemy falls upon them.

I just finished a great book, The Ship That Wouldn't Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho- A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea. The book tells this story in an outstanding way - and this Sunday we will have the author on Midrats to discuss.

Until then, let's go to the official report after the battle. Read it all - especially the officers put on report - but here is the start; 
1). On the evening of May 6, 1942, the Neosho, in accordance with instructions from Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN, proceeded on duty assigned with the U.S.S. Sims as escort, to conform with Commander Task Force SEVENTEEN Operation Order No. 2-42. The Neosho was required to pass through a given geographical point, at one hour after sunrise the following morning, which she proceeded to do. At 0811, May 7, 1942, being in the vicinity of this assigned point and not sighting any ships of the Task Force operating in that area, the Neosho proceeded to carry out instructions.

2). At 0810, May 7, 1942, two planes were observed at a distance of approximately ten miles, bearing 020° T, but no positive identification could be made as they were too far away. It was believed at this time that they were planes from one of our carriers. At 0929, a bomb was seen to fall about one hundred yards on the starboard quarter of the Sims, having been dropped from an enemy plane operating singly. The Sims at that time was patrolling ahead of the Neosho, following a specified zig-zag plan. This plane disappeared heading in a northerly direction. General Quarters was immediately sounded. Battle stations were manned continuously until cessation of the engagement with the enemy at 1218. Speed was increased to eighteen knots. At 1005, sighted approximately fifteen enemy planes approaching from 025° T. These planes made no attempt to attack, but flew parallel to the course of this vessel on the port side at high altitude, well out of gun range and disappeared to the northeastward. The Sims opened fire but no bursts were observed. At 1023, seven more enemy planes approaching from 010° T were sighted. These planes flew parallel to this vessel on the port side, crossed the bow, and disappeared to the northeastward, having made no attempt to attack either the Sims or the Neosho. Sims opened fire shortly after sighting. This vessel commenced firing three inch guns when these planes were within range. At 1033, a group of about ten planes approached from 140° T, of which three planes (twin-engine bombers) commenced a horizontal bombing attack on this vessel, others proceeding to the northeastward. At 1035, these three bombers dropped three bombs simultaneously; the direction of the fall of the bombs was observed closely and the ship was swung hard right to avoid being hit; all bombs fell to starboard and were near misses. These three planes were the only planes observed throughout the entire engagement which were other than single engine.

3). At 1201, observed approximately twenty-four enemy planes at high altitude, apparently taking position for dive-bombing attacks on this vessel and the Sims. From 1201 to 1218, this vessel was subjected to continuous dive-bombing attacks from all directions. The 20 mm fire of the Neosho was very effective. At no time during the engagement did the machine gunners falter at their jobs, notwithstanding the fact that two men were killed instantly right in the midst of the forward group, one of them being decapitated by flying fragments. However, despite any courageous tenacity on the part of the gun crews, it was quite obvious that if a pilot desired to carry his bomb home, he could not be stopped. The greatest majority of the planes diving on the Neosho were forced to deliver their attacks at a high altitude; only three or four dove to within a few hundred feet of the masts. Although the three inch fifty caliber anti-aircraft guns fired throughout the attacks it is difficult to evaluate their effectiveness against the enemy.

4). The constant maneuvering of the ship so as to head crosswind, and the effective fire of the 20 mm guns, is considered responsible for the large number of near misses. Three enemy planes are definitely known to have been shot down by this ship, of which one made the suicidal run into Gun No. 4 enclosure. It is believed that at least four other planes received sufficient 20 mm hits to render their return to base questionable. Three planes were observed to swerve away without completing their attack, due to the effectiveness of the 20 mm gun fire.

5). Shortly after the last bomb dropped, the Commanding Officer ordered all hands to "Prepare to Abandon Ship but not to abandon until so ordered." A messenger sent by the Executive Officer from aft came to the Commanding Officer stating that he had been sent to find out what the orders were regarding abandoning ship. The Commanding Officer told him to tell the Executive Officer, "Make preparations for abandoning ship and stand-by." The Commanding Officer had no knowledge of the condition of the Executive Officer. At about 1230, the Commanding Officer ordered the two motor whale boats to be lowered to pick up personnel who had abandoned ship without orders, and to tow all life rafts back to the ship. All undamaged life rafts, seven in number, had been set adrift without orders from the bridge. The many attacks delivered by the dive-bombers were directed at the bridge, and at the after section of the ship containing the engineering installation. With the exception of the 3" gun crews in No. 1 and No. 2 gun enclosures and the forward ammunition and repair parties, all of the ship's personnel were concentrated in these two sections.

In the immediate vicinity of the bridge, three direct hits and a number of near misses occurred. In the after part of the ship, two direct hits, a suicidal dive of a plane, and the blowing up of at least two boilers, along with several near misses, occurred. It is believed that the destruction of the escort vessel with no other ships in sight, combined with the violent shocks from the several bomb hits and near misses, in many cases rendered personnel incapable of logical thought. It is known that many of the personnel aft, due to the flame resulting from the suicidal dive, smoke, and escaping steam, believing they were trapped with the ship sinking, jumped over the side. The number of men who were critically burned or injured in the after end of the ship, and who jumped over the side, is not known. The two motor whale boats placed men on the rafts and took as many in the boat as the boat officer in each case considered safe. They did not tow the life rafts back to the ship.

When the boats returned to the ship, without life rafts, and loaded in excess of capacity with survivors, many of whom were badly injured and severely burned, it was too near sunset to send them back to attempt to locate, and return with, the drifting life rafts. The sea was rough and it was the Commanding Officer's opinion, as well as that of several officers, that the Neosho probably would not stay afloat throughout the night. The rafts were then out of sight. It was the Commanding Officer's conviction at that time that one of the Task Forces with which this vessel was operating would find the Neosho on the following day, if still afloat, and the rafts would then be located and occupants thereof rescued. A muster upon return of the boats showed that of 21 officers and 267 men, including passengers, on board at quarters that morning, 16 officers and 94 men were accounted for, 1 officer and 19 men were known dead, and 4 officers and 154 men were missing. In addition to the above, there were 15 enlisted survivors of the Sims. During the afternoon the wind had increased to force 5-6 and the sea was moderately rough. In the early afternoon it was difficult to see the life rafts from the bridge with the aid of binoculars, and the boats were seen only intermittently, prior to their return.
You may try to hide from war, but war may not hide from you.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Diversity Thursday

With our military in general joining our Navy by joining the cancerous and sexist political fad of "Lean in Circles" and other assorted commissariat programs of the left - it is tempting to retreat from the previous statements made on DivThu that if you get a broad enough view of things, the trend is heading our way towards a more open, honest, discrimination free, meritocratic culture, and away from the forces of division and sectarianism.

Let not your hearts be troubled, a little buck'n up is due.

Over at the blog for The Chronicle on Higher Education, Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, fully embraces what "diversity" really means in 2015. We have another data point - from academia's ethnic study swamps in Yankeedom nonetheless - that smart and honest minds are willing to step forward and call what they see;
I have become allergic to the word diversity. It feels empty, or worse, like a chore. Words lose capital when they are overused or when the cultural climate that fostered their meaning changes. Diversity is a good example.
the fervor behind it belongs to past decades. Our cultural moment is an altogether different one. America is already deeply, irrevocably diverse. Where do we go from here?
Not long ago, I delivered a lecture to 500 students at a small liberal-arts college in the Northeast that uses the phrase “people of color” in its brochures, even though its student body is more than 95 percent white. (Believe me, it takes only seconds for visitors to a campus to recognize a collective lie). I talked about “fake diversity.” My comments received enthusiastic applause from the young audience, while administrators looked embarrassed in the back. Not that they were the guilty ones. In my experience, obstacles to diversity often come from a higher level, like an institution’s Board of Trustees, where outdated ideas may simmer.
It seems to me that when college administrators open a diversity center or appoint a chief diversity officer these days, they are showcasing an outmoded mentality. That center is likely to become a ghetto, reserved for those who aren’t like everyone else. The objective of diversity is no longer to make groups or projects more heterogeneous; instead, it is to find a new normal for a diverse ecosystem.

In short, diversity feels jingoistic, its message old-fashioned. It has lost cachet. Americans no longer strive to be pluralistic; we already are. Our present objective is to find out what kind of balance our pluralism can sustain, and whether such political, social, and cultural transformations will ever truly lead to e pluribus unum, “of the many, one.”

What we need is real leadership willing to stand up for the organization they lead, as opposed to meekly accepting the slander of the hate-filled, bitterness klatsches that assumes that the military is simply a gaggle of racists, sexists, homophobes and generally too full of the one group people are free to attack as unworthy, white (non-hispanic, natch) males.

The US Navy and the military in general used to be at the leading edge of the culture in race relations - yet since the tenure of Roughead as CNO, we have accelerated a backwards drift in to the direction of the most retrograde, patronizing, fraud encouraging, and divisive understanding of diversity as practiced in the bowels of the sociopolitical movement's breakout in the early 1970s.

Until then, we wait.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Dark Side of "Beat Army"

What cost football at USNA? 

We are looking at that question again from another angle over at USNIBlog. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Handmaiden to Your Rivals

How do you capture such a cascade of foreign policy failure in one, quick little post?

We have three main rivals in this world, all three represent in their own way the boot stamping on a human face forever; Russia, Iran, and China.

It is one thing when your rivals make progress on their own in the face of steady pressure - but to be the catalyst of your own relative decline and their advance? 

In just three short years, it is breathtaking.

Just three years ago, President Obama mocked anyone who tried to warn of Russia's negative potential. China was rarely seen west of Burma (I refuse to call it Myanmar), and Iran was kept under the stress of being isolated by sanctions.

Though there was no one bad decision on the USA's part to help them, one can point to the final push that gave them all a quick rush forward.

Working against the will of the American people, the Obama Administration handed Iran a huge victory in sanctions release. We lost face and they gained access to billions. With those billions of dollars, they are about to go on a buying spree of Russian weapons - effectively transferring that capital to Russia.

The Chinese have used the opening to secure access to more affordable oil and to cement a foothold in the region that will play out in ways we do not know.

Iran and Russia's influence in Iraq has grown. Even Israel is working closer with the Russians now.

Already encouraged by American weakness and fecklessness, the Russians moved in to Syria in force.

I do not subscribe to the Obama Administration malice, I simply acknowledge its incompetence.

We elected a community organizer with contempt for the nation he leads. His foreign policy shop is a horror show of bad ideas from R2P to the present SECSTATE - a man who in a time of war, executed a blood libel against his own Shipmates.

Joe Biden in the CINC's ears the last 7 yrs or so? As former SECDEF Bob Gates said;
I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,”
From leader of the free world, to leading from behind, to sucking our collective thumb on the sidelines.

There is a fundamental transformation for you. Bask in it America, you voted for it twice. Own it, as we will be living with the consequences for decades.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part LXVI

Nothing is written.

There is a certain train of thought that war between the USA and China is only a matter of time. Some believe that history is quite clear about this. That is a misreading of history, as history is suggests patterns, but does not provide a formula. Like the difference between a James Brown Funky Drummer and any Sousa march.

In both prose and picture, Graham Allison over at The Atlantic puts the Thucydides Trap in perspective;
The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged.
Based on the current trajectory, war between the United States and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than recognized at the moment. Indeed, judging by the historical record, war is more likely than not. Moreover, current underestimations and misapprehensions of the hazards inherent in the U.S.-China relationship contribute greatly to those hazards. A risk associated with Thucydides’s Trap is that business as usual—not just an unexpected, extraordinary event—can trigger large-scale conflict. When a rising power is threatening to displace a ruling power, standard crises that would otherwise be contained, like the assassination of an archduke in 1914, can initiate a cascade of reactions that, in turn, produce outcomes none of the parties would otherwise have chosen.

War, however, is not inevitable. Four of the 16 cases in our review did not end in bloodshed. Those successes, as well as the failures, offer pertinent lessons for today’s world leaders. Escaping the Trap requires tremendous effort. As Xi Jinping himself said during a visit to Seattle on Tuesday, “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”
Read it all. Good stuff for Monday pondering.

As you look at the graphic, you should also catch this; since we have had nuclear weapons - hot heads have been forced to think harder about the wisdom of war. That has a lot to do with it.

What happens when unreasonable people get nukes? Well ... that changes things - rising power or not.

But let's look at the challenge at hand.

At this point, the established script for discussion of policy challenges calls for a pivot to a new strategy (or at least slogan), with a short to-do list that promises peaceful and prosperous relations with China. Shoehorning this challenge into that template would demonstrate only one thing: a failure to understand the central point I’m trying to make. What strategists need most at the moment is not a new strategy, but a long pause for reflection. If the tectonic shift caused by China’s rise poses a challenge of genuinely Thucydidean proportions, declarations about “rebalancing,” or revitalizing “engage and hedge,” or presidential hopefuls’ calls for more “muscular” or “robust” variants of the same, amount to little more than aspirin treating cancer. Future historians will compare such assertions to the reveries of British, German, and Russian leaders as they sleepwalked into 1914.

The rise of a 5,000-year-old civilization with 1.3 billion people is not a problem to be fixed. It is a condition—a chronic condition that will have to be managed over a generation. Success will require not just a new slogan, more frequent summits of presidents, and additional meetings of departmental working groups. Managing this relationship without war will demand sustained attention, week by week, at the highest level in both countries. It will entail a depth of mutual understanding not seen since the Henry Kissinger-Zhou Enlai conversations in the 1970s. Most significantly, it will mean more radical changes in attitudes and actions, by leaders and publics alike, than anyone has yet imagined.
I don't think it is as hard as the author says - but it will take new leaders with a long view, and open mind ... and less in need of a buzzword to make their point.
(For summaries of these 16 cases and the methodology for selecting them, and for a forum to register additions, subtractions, revisions, and disagreements with the cases, please visit the Harvard Belfer Center’s Thucydides Trap Case File. For this first phase of the project, we at the Belfer Center identified “ruling” and “rising” powers by following the judgments of leading historical accounts, resisting the temptation to offer original or idiosyncratic interpretations of events. These histories use “rise” and “rule” according to their conventional definitions, generally emphasizing rapid shifts in relative GDP and military strength. Most of the cases in this initial round of analysis come from post-Westphalian Europe.)