Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Next They Came for the Submarines ...

Last week we covered over at USNIBlog, again, an issue that must be dragged out in to the light at every opportunity; our basic failure to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers' investment.

We have been shooting-up-the-horse so long we have lost the bubble on what it takes to properly maintain and support the fleet we have, much less one any larger. 

Maintenance and support are not sexy, but are absolutely critical to making sure we get the useful and effective life out of what we have, and your fleet is ready for war when it comes.

It takes a long view and a mature, professional mindset. It takes leaders to properly prioritize programs, and those who have the purse strings, the maturity to fund at appropriate levels.

Though the foundation of this problem goes back further, the last decade and a half have been specially horrible. Look at what happened to our shipyards, depots, and older ships (SPRUANCE & OHP) in their dotage. While we demand a longer life from ships in the outyears, we are not investing in their material condition today to make that a realistic option for an effective fleet. We want them deployed now, but do not respect the requirements for refit.

The latest example is from an area that information does not usually make it in to open source often; the submarine community;
From 2008 to 2018, most of the planned repairs for the Navy’s fleet of about 50 nuclear attack submarines have started late and run long resulting in a combined 10,363 days of maintenance delays and idle time.
“The Navy expects the maintenance backlogs at the public shipyards to continue. We estimate that, as a result of these backlogs, the Navy will incur approximately $266 million in operating and support costs in Fiscal year 2018 constant dollars for idle submarines from Fiscal year 2018 through Fiscal year 2023, as well as additional depot maintenance delays.”
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee,...“While demand for our undersea fleet and its unique capabilities continues to rise as reflected in the 2016 Force Structure Assessment, delays in maintaining our existing fleet are exacerbating the growing shortfall in our submarine force structure,”
“Although the Navy has shifted about 8 million man-hours in attack submarine maintenance to private shipyards over the past five years, it has done so sporadically, having decided to do so in some cases only after experiencing lengthy periods of idle time,” read the report. “According to private shipyard officials, the sporadic shifts in workload have resulted in repair workload gaps that have disrupted private shipyard workforce, performance, and capital investment—creating costs that are ultimately borne in part by the Navy.”
I know it is not a fun or sexy topic that will create a lot of clicks or panel invitations, but we need to accept a few things:

1. No one is going to fund our 355 ship navy unless you want to adopt PLAN SALAMANDER for our ground forces and NATO posture so that funding and be diverted to sea.
2. We need to be willing to not build X number of warships so we can properly re-capitalize our shipyard, drydock, and depot level support commands.

A smaller, better maintained and ready navy will defeat a larger gaggle of poorly trained and equipped rust buckets any day.

I know this is not a surprise to many, but at the end of the day it always ends up on the cutting room floor. For a long time, this problem has been pointed out ... yet pushed to the back of the room.


Simple; the fetish for short term PPT fodder supporting personal gain now, vice longer term best practices for proper stewardship of the fleet of the future benefit of others.

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Hospital Ship's Soft Powers Sharp Elbow

As we've discussed here through the years, hospital ships are one of the best "soft power" assets we have. The green eye-shade types, warheads-on-forehead silo-dwellers, and the medical OCD narrow-casters will throw spitballs, but in my book look at two things:

1. Are your competitors building them too? Yes, look at the Chinese catch-up efforts.

2. Do they upset the right people? Well ... lookie here;
A U.S. Navy hospital ship moored off Colombia has started giving free medical care to Venezuelan refugees, in a move likely to rile officials in Caracas who deny the existence of a humanitarian crisis in their own countr
The USNS Comfort, which is on a three-month mission that has already taken in Ecuador and Peru and will end next month in Honduras, arrived at Colombia’s northwestern port city Turbo on Wednesday.

Patients in Turbo and Riohacha, where the ship will dock next week, will receive medical assistance from the crew of more than 900 doctors, nurses, military technicians and volunteers, with medical facilities on board the hospital ship as well as on shore.
China -- one of Venezuela’s few allies -- hastily dispatching its own hospital ship to Venezuela in September ahead of the U.S. mission.

“This is how you undertake diplomacy in the world,” Venezuelan defense minister Vladimir Padrino said at the time. “With concrete actions of co-operation and not stoking the false voices of those who beat the drum of war.”
Even here in the USA, the deployment is making all the right kind of enemies;
“It’s pretty brilliant PR, isn’t it?” Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank, said in response to the deployment. “We could just as easily, at similar cost, send a huge contingent of civilian doctors, working on land where the people are, to help tend to the Venezuelan population. But sending a military ship -- even though it’s white with a big red cross on it -- sends more of a message about projecting U.S. power.”

Those useful idiots of the anti-American left/socialists/communists dating all the way back to the 1970s? GMAFB.

Boo on the author slumming for that quote ... but he is with The Guardian, so go figure.

Judge something by the enemies they make.

Conclusion: we need 4 new, modern hospital ships. Get cracking.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Audience, Approach, and Obstacles in Military Communications with Chris Servello - on Midrats

How can our navy and its leadership better communicate internally and externally? What are the ways an organization can effectively inform influencers and the public in a way that is accurate, transparent, and effective?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and more will be Commander Chris Servello, USN.

Chris has more more than 20 years of global experience in strategic communication, messaging, branding, digital strategy, government affairs, and senior leader coaching.

In preparing for his upcoming terminal leave and transition to the civilian sector, Chris is founding member of Provision Advisors that focuses on building relationships with media, key influencer agents and dynamic communication.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

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.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Last week was the story of the HMS JERVIS BAY and her crew during the Battle of Convoy HX84.

When we finished last week, HMS JERVIS BAY was out of the fight and the convoy was scattered - but she did her job.
By the time they realized that the Jervis Bay had been terribly alone, an hour had been lost. The convoy had been given time enough to break up and begin to flee.
...and so the pocket battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER, unopposed now, closed in.

However, there was a Canadian ship, the SS BEAVERFORD, armed with one 4 inch & one 3 inch gun who turned towards the SHEER and her six 11 inch, eight 5.9 inch guns and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes. What was the BEAVERFORD?
Beaverford was the first of five Beaver class cargo liners in service with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s fleet. The 10,042 ton twin screw, steam turbine merchant ship had her maiden voyage in 1928 ... designed to carry 10,000 tons of cargo and twelve passengers at 15 knots.
Although a Canadian Pacific ship, the company chose to register her in the UK, as was the practice at the time. She carried a crew of seventy-seven sailors and ably mastered by 60-year-old Captain Hugh Pettigrew from Coatbridge, Glasgow. He had been sailing with CP since 1910. Most of her crew came from the UK, except for two Canadians.
She was one of 18 ships that sailed in HX-1, the first convoy of the war from Halifax to the UK on 16 September 1939; just six days after Canada declared war on Germany. In early 1940, Beaverford had a 4 inch gun installed on her stern and a three inch gun on her bow, for defense against surfaced U-boats.

By the time HX-84 left Halifax on 28 October 1940, Beaverford had already crossed the Atlantic sixteen times in convoy.
JERVIS BAY was lost, and here is where we pick up the story, wonderfully told by Roger Litwiller;
SCHEER then steamed past the sinking JERVIS BAY, now free to engage the merchant ships of the convoy. With only 22 minutes the convoy was still a smorgasbord of targets for the pocket battleships 11 inch guns with a range of over 19 miles; she could pick and choose her targets unimpeded.

In quick succession she sank the freighter Maiden carrying a mixed cargo and military vehicles, all ninety-one sailors killed, then damaged and set on fire the tanker San Demetrio, followed by sinking the freighters Trewellard, carrying steel and 12 aircraft, killing 16 sailors and Kenbane Head, general cargo, with 23 killed.

Captain Pettigrew had heeded the order to disperse, bringing Beaverford to full speed and turning away from the mighty German warship, as he and his crew watched JERVIS BAY engage ADMIRAL SCHEER. Beaverford’s radio operator sent out a continuous update of the action on the ships wireless.

They watched as the ship closest to them, Kenbane Head, suddenly exploded and sink as the massive German rounds found their mark. Pittigrew gave the order to turn Beaverford about and he raced his ship through the smoke towards the mighty ADMIRAL SHEER.

Beaverford’s radio operator sent one last message on the wireless, “It is our turn now. So long. The captain and crew of SS Beaverford.”

Pettigrew ordered the stokers, manning the boilers to make smoke, laying a dense smoke screen to hide the fleeing ships of the convoy.

At 15 knots the Canadian Pacific ship suddenly broke through the smoke close enough for her 4 and 3 inch guns to register a near miss on SCHEER. The pocket battleship checked her fire and concentrated on the new threat, turning her full might on Beaverford.

With the skill of a master mariner and the courage of his crew, Captain Pittigrew battled ADMIRAL SCHEER, playing a deadly game of “cat and mouse” as she ducked in and out of the smoke screen, harassing the enemy warship.

Beaverford’s superior steam turbines allowed the merchant ship to utilize a burst of speed and with Pettigrew’s skill and exceptional seamanship he would wait for SCHEER’s 11 inch guns to fire and then order an increase in speed and change of course, making his ship a difficult target to hit.

Beaverford’s delaying action allowed the Swedish freighter Stureholm to return and pick up the sixty-five survivors from HMS JERVIS BAY.

The battle between Beaverford and ADMIRAL SCHEER continued into the dead of night. The fleeing ships of HX-84 could see the star shells and illumination rockets lighting the night sky, as SCHEER attempted to find her antagonizer. The merchant ship had many opportunities to turn away and escape in the darkness and the smoke, but she continued on with the fight.

Whenever SCHEER would turn towards the direction of the fleeing merchant ships, Beaverford would break through the smoke and darkness and engage the pocket battleship, then disappear again. Beaverford suffered for her actions, SCHEER fired 83 rounds from her 11 inch guns and 71 rounds from her 5.9 inch guns at the Canadian Pacific ship.

The battle had now lasted over five incredible hours, Beaverford was in trouble, and fires were raging in the ship, making her an easier target for the German gunners. She had by now been struck with twelve 11 inch shells and sixteen 5.9 inch shells. We can only imagine the hardship, destruction and carnage faced by her sailors as they attempted to continue the fight.

With her speed slowing as the steam turbines were damaged, SCHEER fired a torpedo. It found its target in Beaverford’s bow at 2245. With a sudden, fierce explosion, Beaverford disappeared in a mass of flames as the ammunition stowed in her bow detonated.

We do not know how many of Beaverford’s brave crew died during the battle or if anyone survived that final devastating moment as their ship erupted into a massive ball of fire. By the time Beaverford was lost, there were no allied ships in the area to search for survivors. All seventy-seven sailors sacrificed their lives so convoy HX-84 could escape.
What can you say of such men? Such leaders? Such Sailors?


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Revenge as a COA: Approved

Nice bit from France24 in an interview with French journalist and writer Matthieu Suc. It it, the author and interviewer discuss the elimination of the Islamic States terror organizing braintrust in Raqqa responsible for the bloody 2015 attacks in Paris and others.

France was not alone in the fight. This hints at the very international nature of the Long War we don't hear enough about.
The US understood that with the September 11, 2001, attacks, where there were engineers among the terrorists. The 2015 attacks made it clear to French intelligence that the enemy was in fact talented operationally.
The shock of the attacks of November 13, 2015, and July 14, 2016, [the Nice truck attack, which killed 86 people] sparked a collective awareness within the services of the need to work together.
The intelligence services of the different Western countries have overcome the culture of mistrust that prevailed before, and everyone has cooperated in the common mission against the IS group. The hunt for the jihadists was conducted both to avenge the November 2015 attacks as well as to get to the roots of the problem. From 2015, the paradigm shifted, the international community understood that the Islamic State could strike anywhere in the world. Even the Russians and the Chinese cooperated. The British have been very good at infiltrating the terrorist group and [Israel's] Mossad have been too.
Note the Russian play. As I am wont to say - stupid actions by the Russians aside and silly petty politics on our end in response - we have more reasons to work with the Russians than against them in many areas. This is one.
The United States is much less modest than France in speaking openly about the targeted killings of IS leaders. No official French news release announced the death of Oussama Atar on November 17, 2017. That would have meant acknowledging that there are assassinations outside the legal framework. Paris prefers to talk about strikes on geographic locations.

For example, on August 30, 2016, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the IS No. 2 and spokesman for the terrorist organisation, was killed by a US missile. The death notice released by the DGSI, the French spy agency, soberly declared that the death of Adnani marked the end of the terrorist who supervised the attacks of Paris and Brussels [in March 2016, which killed 32 civilians].

But Paris has regularly given detailed information to the Americans on the presence of high-ranking IS figures in the Syria-Iraq zone to be tracked and eliminated. Cooperation between France and the United States has been successful, to the point that France did not target the planners of the November 13, 2015, attacks – they were eliminated by American bombs. Washington sees France as its "external border" – if the attacks were not happening in France, it would probably be in the United States.
Mossad believes that with the 2017 elimination of the head of the caliphate’s "CIA", Oussama Atar, the branch within IS responsible for the Europe attacks has been beheaded. But the Islamic State group is not defeated – it has been pushed back geographically. The amniyat may no longer exist – the means of a state apparatus are no longer available to their terrorist projects – but one shouldn't underestimate its heritage.
This is good as it buys time for the West between attacks as IS rebuilds their ability and has to re-capitalize ... but as we have learned the hard way, they will not be deterred. They will find new people. They will attack again.

Yes, I know, we never seem to "finish" the job - but let's be adults here. The American public would not allow us to "finish" the job, much less the international community, so we do what we can when and where we can.

Mowing the grass? Perhaps, but life is better with a well tended lawn than an overgrown mess.

Hat tip Craig Whiteside.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Arab Lessons of the Arab Spring

I wish it were different, but I think this is the only smart take right now, and the one most in-line with American interests.

Until education, secularism, demographics, and culture in the Arab world return to a sustainable path, I don't think the world wants anything to do with a fully democratic Arab world.

Hasan Hasan has a great read over at The Atlantic;
If the autocrats lost control over the masses in 2011, the thinking goes, that was because they did not go far enough in their repression. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak gave some space to the Muslim Brotherhood, political activists, and critical media. Look what happened to him.

As unrest generated by the Arab Spring shifted power away from Arab republics to richer, more stable Gulf monarchies, leaders throughout the region dropped the pretense that they would ever bow, or bend, to the popular will—whether in the direction of more democracy or more extreme religiosity.

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for example, declared in 2017: “We will not waste 30 years trying to deal with extremist ideas; we will eradicate them here and now.” In defense of moderation, he proposed simply stomping out religious radicals. (In American terms: Shock and awe rather than hearts and minds.) And MbS was probably using the term “extremist” conveniently; the Saudis have since designated as terrorist organizations certain religious groups, such as the International Union of Muslim Scholars, broadly perceived as mainstream.

Generally speaking, authoritarian countries seem more willing than ever before to disregard the desires of the Arab street. It is now an open secret that Gulf states have developed ties with Israel, in the absence of formal relations, including trade partnerships and security deals. Just last week, an Israeli minister toured Abu Dhabi, the national Israeli anthem was reportedly sung in Doha, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to Muscat. Such reports along with continued support for President Trump’s “deal of the century,” despite his administration’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, have enraged Arab populations.
"Enraged Arab populations." We know what that is, we see what that will do.

Would you rather deal with those gaggles, or these?
Of course there is a constituency for such high-handedness. Elites, secular nationalists, and ordinary people exhausted by or fearful of wars were euphoric following the rise of leaders such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and MbS. They are now banking on their success, convinced that any compromise will undo the “gains” made so far.
Speaking of Egypt;
In Egypt, the campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and any form of dissent is the fieriest in nearly 50 years. Most Islamists and critics are either languishing in jail or living in exile. ... To Sisi and his supporters, harsh measures are acceptable because they have stabilized the country. Even Muslim Brotherhood leaders acknowledge that the campaign against it has been effective in the sense that it has been devastating, breaking the organization into multiple pieces. Precisely because crackdowns have worked, the regime and its supporters also back their continuation. Now that a final victory against the Muslim Brotherhood is within reach, why let up?
I wonder who helped give the Muslim Brotherhood a boost in Egypt about a decade ago...
A sign that the Obama administration is willing to publicly challenge Egypt's commitment to parliamentary democracy: various Middle Eastern news sources report that the administration insisted that at least 10 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's chief opposition party, be allowed to attend his speech in Cairo on Thursday.
The West should be humble in its efforts in that part of the world. Help those modernizing and secularizing leaders who emerge organically. Starve, ignore, and hobble retrograde leaders who promote externalizing their radicalism. Sometimes those can be the same people, but such is a culture that goes back to the dawn of human existence.

Whatever we do, we need to be quiet about it - and not the major player. Young, short-term players - as we are - do not usually come out on top vs. the old long-term players - as they are.

Young, long-term players - such as the Israelis - they are the exception, but you could argue they are only "young" players in the modern context. One could argue they are the oldest playing the longest long-term game of anyone.