Friday, February 28, 2020

Fullbore Friday

About half of this is from an email Sid sent me back in 2009 when I first posted this. I added a little bit - but what a catch.

An elderly leader with decades of experience at sea. Merchants without enough military ships to make the passage. Hostile waters. A mission.

What do you do against a superior military force, when you basically have next to nothin'..?

You have been put in command of really nothing of a military ability - but everything of an economic necessity. Your nation is one that is at war, and relies on sea born commerce to survive and prosper. Between you and your nation are thousands of miles of open ocean, and an enemy that wants to destroy you.

You know you do not have what you need to fight and win ... at least on paper.

So, what do you do? Well - if you are Commodore Sir Nathaniel Dance, you get to work. You go to war with the Fleet you have - not the Fleet you wish you had.

Let's set the stage.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the British economy depended on its ability to trade with the British Empire, particularly the valuable colonies in British India. The intercontinental trade was conducted by the governors of India, the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), using their fleet of large, well armed merchant vessels known as East Indiamen. These ships weighed between 500 long tons (508 t) and 1,200 long tons (1,219 t) and could carry up to 36 guns for defence against pirates, privateers and small warships. They were not, however, capable under normal circumstances of fighting off an enemy frigate or ship of the line. Their guns were usually of inferior design, and their crew smaller and less well trained than those on a naval ship.
The East Indiamen sought to ensure the safety of their cargo and passengers, not defeat enemy warships in battle. Despite these disadvantages, the size of East Indiamen meant that from a distance they appeared quite similar to a small ship of the line, a deception usually augmented by paintwork and dummy cannon. The East Indiamen would gather at ports in India and the Far East and from there set out for Britain in large convoys, often carrying millions of pounds worth of trade goods.
The journey would usually take six months and the ships would subsequently return carrying troops and passengers to augment the British forces stationed in India. "Country ships", smaller merchant vessels chartered for local trade, sometimes independently from the HEIC, would often join the convoys. To protect their ships from the depredations of pirates, the HEIC also operated its own private navy of small armed vessels. In combination, these ships were an effective deterrent against smaller raiders, but were no match for a professional warship.

Understanding the importance of the Indian Ocean trade and seeking to threaten it from the start of the inevitable war, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte ordered a squadron to sail for India in March 1803. This force was under the command of Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois and consisted of the ship of the line Marengo and three frigates.
What was Commodore Dance working with?
The China Fleet was a large annual British merchant convoy that gathered at Canton in the Pearl River during the winter before sailing for Britain, via India. As the convoy passed through the East Indies, it was joined by vessels sailing from other European ports in the region on the route to India, until it often numbered dozens of ships. The 1804 fleet departed in late January, and by the time it reached the approaches to the Strait of Malacca it had swelled to include 16 East Indiamen, 11 country ships, a Portuguese merchant ship from Macau and a vessel from Botany Bay in Australia.
Although the HEIC had provided the small, armed brig Ganges as an escort, this vessel could only dissuade pirates; it could not hope to compete with a French warship. There was no military escort: news of the outbreak of war had reached Canton before reinforcements had arrived from the squadron in India. Spies based in Canton had passed the composition and date of departure of the China Fleet to Linois in Batavia, and he set out to intercept it. However, Dutch informants at Canton had also passed on false reports that Royal Navy warships were accompanying the convoy, reports that may have been deliberately placed by British authorities.
The convoy was an immensely valuable prize, its cargo of tea, silk and porcelain valued at over £8 million in contemporary values (the equivalent of £541,000,000 as of 2009). Also on board were 80 Chinese plants ordered by Sir Joseph Banks for the royal gardens and carried in a specially designed plant room.
The HEIC Select Committee in Canton had been very concerned for the safety of the unescorted convoy, and had debated delaying its departure. The various captains had been consulted, including Henry Meriton, who in his ship Exeter had captured a frigate during the Action of 4 August 1800, a disastrous French attack on a convoy of East Indiamen off Brazil. Meriton advised that the convoy was powerful enough in both appearance and reality to dissuade any attack. He was opposed by John Farquharson of Alfred, who considered that the crews of East Indiamen were so badly trained that they would be unable to mutually defend one another if faced with a determined enemy.
Eventually the Committee decided that it could delay the convoy no longer and awarded command to the most experienced captain, Commodore Nathaniel Dance in the East Indiaman Earl Camden, an officer of over 45 years service at sea.
Not perfect - not even good; but what does a leader do? Improvise, adapt - overcome.
Dance had been taken seriously ill at Bombay during the outward voyage, but had recovered in time to sail with the convoy. The fleet did not have any naval escorts, and though the East Indiamen were heavily armed for merchants, carrying nominal batteries of between 30 and 36 guns, they were no match for disciplined and professional naval forces. Not all of their listed armament was always carried, but to give the illusion of greater strength, fake gunports were often painted on the hulls, in the hope of distant observers mistaking them for 64-gun ships of the Royal Navy
...maneuver and deceive...
At dawn on 15 February, both the British and French forces raised their colours. Dance hoped to persuade Linois that his ships included some fully armed warships and he therefore ordered the brig Ganges and the four lead ships to hoist blue ensigns, while the rest of the convoy raised red ensigns. By the system of national flags then in use in British ships, this implied that the ships with blue ensigns were warships attached to the squadron of Admiral Rainier, while the others were merchant ships under their protection. Dance was unknowingly assisted by the information that had reached Linois at Batavia, which claimed that there were 23 merchant ships and the brig in the convoy. Dance had collected six additional ships during his journey, and the identity of these were unknown to the French, who assumed that at least some of the unidentified vessels must be warships, particularly as several vessels had been recently painted at Canton to resemble ships of the line.
At 09:00 Linois was still only observing the convoy, reluctant to attack until he could be sure of the nature of his opponents. Dance responded to the reprieve by reforming the line of battle into sailing formation to increase his convoy’s speed with the intention of reaching the Straits ahead of Linois.
With the convoy a less intimidating target, Linois began to slowly approach the British ships. By 13:00 it was clear that Linois's faster ships were in danger of isolating the rear of the convoy, and Dance ordered his lead ships to tack and come about, so that they would cross in front of the French squadron. The British successfully executed the manoeuvre, and at 13:15 Linois opened fire on the lead ship, Royal George, under the command of John Fam Timmins.
The Royal George and the next four ships in line, the Indiaman Ganges, Dance's Earl Camden, the Warley and the Alfred, all returned the fire, Ganges initially attacking the Royal George in error. Captain James Prendergrass in Hope, the next in line, was so eager to join the battle that he misjudged his speed and collided with Warley, the ships falling back as their crews worked to separate their rigging. Shots were then exchanged at long range for 43 minutes, neither side inflicting severe damage.

Royal George had one man killed: a sailor named Hugh Watt, another man wounded, and suffered some damage to her hull. None of the other British ships or any of the French reported anything worse than superficial damage in the engagement.
At 14:00, Linois abandoned the action and ordered his squadron to haul away with the wind and sail eastwards, away from the convoy, under all sail. Determined to maintain the pretence of the presence of warships, Dance ordered the ships flying naval ensigns, including his flagship Earl Camden, to chase the French. None of the merchant ships could match the French speed, but an attempt at a chase would hopefully dissuade the French from returning.
For two hours, Dance's squadron followed Linois, Hope coming close to catching Aventurier but ultimately unable to overtake the brig. At 16:00, Dance decided to gather his scattered ships and return to his former heading rather than risk attack from other raiders or lose sight of his convoy in the darkness. By 20:00, the entire British convoy had anchored at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca. On 28 February the British ships of the line HMS Sceptre and HMS Albion joined them in the Strait and convoyed them safely to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, from where the convoy returned to Britain without further incident.
The attitude and conduct of the French Admiral is telling as an example of how not to fight war at sea.
The French admiral later attempted to explain his conduct during the engagement:
The ships which had tacked rejoined those which were engaging us, and three of the engaging ships manoeuvred to double our rear, while the remainder of the fleet, crowding sail and bearing up, evinced an intention to surround us. By this manoeuvre the enemy would have rendered my situation very dangerous. The superiority of his force was ascertained, and I had no longer to deliberate on the part I should take to avoid the consequence of an unequal engagement: profiting by the smoke, I hauled up to port, and steering east-north-east, I increased by distance from the enemy, who continued the pursuit of the squadron for three hours, discharging at it several broadsides.
—Linois, quoted in translation in William James' The Naval History of Great Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Volume 3, 1827,
That is pathetic.

To end this FbF on a positive note - let's go back to Commodore Dance. Good leaders always are humble and thankful.

Placed, by the adventitious circumstances of seniority of service and absence of convoy, in the chief command of the fleet intrusted to my care, it has been my good fortune to have been enabled, by the firmness of those by whom I was supported, to perform my trust not only with fidelity, but without loss to my employers. Public opinion and public rewards have already far outrun my deserts; and I cannot but be sensible that the liberal spirit of my generous countrymen has measured what they are pleased to term their grateful sense of my conduct, rather by the particular utility of the exploit, than by any individual merit I can claim.
Class act.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Change What You Can - COCOMS Are a Good Start

If the big stuff isn't structured correctly, none of the stuff downstream is going to work as it should.

Is part of our problems the warping from our Cold War era COCOM structure?

I'm pondering over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and give it a read.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Smart Power Doing Smart Things in Africa

As we've covered here and on Midrats through the years, the economic and demographic challenges of sub-Saharan Africa will be - and in many ways already is - one of the primary drivers of national security concerns as we approach mid-century.

Though this so far has failed to break through to the general discussion, where it counts evidence shows that many long-term focused professionals see it.

Of our friends, France sees it most clearly, and we are next in line. On the surface it may seem like wanting to help African nations join the 21st Century's promise - and in many areas it is - but the primary concern is to promote stability and growth to blunt the irresistible desire to migrate north to Europe and all the instability that has already brought with it.

European and North American nations will not be the ones that keep Africa from anarchy and collapse in the face of - what on paper at least - seem like unmanageable challenges, it will be the Africans themselves.

As African GenX and younger leaders start to get hold of levers of power, much of the stale and failed post-colonial, Marxist infused taint that infected so many of the late 20th Century leaders will fade even more. With that, modern ideas and relationships can develop.

That is what the West hopes. Of course, China and Russia are pushing in to Africa as well. Their drivers are more from the last century; power and resource extraction.

It isn't hidden, and it appears that the locals see it.

Good read in the Washington Examiner by Abraham Mahshie,
Forty-two African military chiefs joined U.S. Army officials in Ethiopia for the African Land Forces Summit that ended Friday, underscoring what generals say is the United States's edge over China and Russia in the war of influence playing out on the African continent.

“Partnerships are key to security and stability in Africa,” U.S. Africa Command chief Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, told military leaders at the event’s closing ceremony in Addis Ababa, underscoring that the terrorism fight in East Africa requires partnerships.
...according to AFRICOM leaders, the U.S. has a head start countering adversary influence on the continent and helping African nations put down terrorist groups trying to gain a foothold in ungoverned spaces of East Africa.
When U.S. and partner nations bring their expertise to the table to meet face-to-face, he (U.S. Army Africa commander Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier) explained, they build relationships and develop solutions together.

They also show America’s presence on the continent is about more than economics.

China has wooed African nations with an estimated $5 billion per year, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Cloutier said the influence of American efforts on the continent is working, telling journalists a story about a recent meeting with a ground commander in Africa who highlighted relations with Russia.

“The senior ground commander said to me, ‘You know what? We've had a longstanding relationship with the Russians,’” he said. "'We know what capability the United States military has. We know what you stand for, and we want to become closer partners with you.'"
Yes, skepticism is in order ... as it always is with such PAO cleared statements, and yes, African military senior leaders do not have the best track record - but this is important.

This effort must continue, European nations should continue to support France's efforts in the Sahel, as should we, even with setbacks and frustrations that always come with operations in Africa.

As long as we do it right and on African terms and timetables, we can mitigate what is coming this century.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Sir John, You Should Have Copywrited That Nuke COA

Either we are playing a clunky game of "build a little of something to entice the Russians to come to the negotiating table" or we are doing some highly questionable thinking about nuclear war.

If the later, then there is so much wrong here, I'm not sure where to start.
Russia fires a nuclear weapon at a U.S. installation overseas. The U.S. retaliates in kind. How does it all play out?

U.S. Strategic Command simulated that scenario for Defense Secretary Mark Esper during a visit this week to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The exercise is part of the Pentagon’s routine slate of wargames and other events that it uses to consider its steps if nuclear war erupts, and comes as the U.S. is pursuing so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons to counter similar assets in Russia’s stockpile.
Of all the possible uses of nuclear weapons that I can ponder, sure this is one of them, but it stands somewhere down around #45 in all likelihood.

Why did they pick this one? What it lacks in probability, it makes up for with illogic.

Does anyone really see the most pressing thing SECDEF needs to ponder when it comes to nuclear weapons something as stupid as the Russians dropping one - 1 - nuke on ... where exactly?

They are not going to drop (1) nuke on a place where we have nukes stored, as anyone with 5-minutes to think about it would know that would trigger a massive "use it or lose it" response.

Where, exactly, would the Russians send (1) nuke as a signaling device?

A google search will tell you which bases we have nukes at in Europe with a NATO stamp on them. Take those off your list. 

We also know they won't nuke the UK - they have their own nuclear weapons and attack there doubles the response-risk to the Russians.

Naples? That packed coastal town next to an active volcano? No.

Sigonella? Sure, nuking the side of another active volcano sounds like winner. No.

The heart of Bavaria? Really? Anyone review fallout patterns recently?

There is no such thing in the 21st Century as a "tactical" nuke. You don't nuke densely populated modern nations just once and expect it to end there. You will lose control of everything within 36-hrs.

Do we really have our best and brightest in the loop here?
A recent Slate article noted that, in a different scenario, Obama-era National Security Council members looked at how the U.S. might react if Russia invaded a Baltic state and fired a low-yield nuke at NATO troops or at a base in Germany.

“The principals decided we had to respond with nuclear weapons, to maintain credibility among our allies and adversaries,” according to Slate. “They decided to fire a few nuclear weapons at the former Soviet republic of Belarus, even though, in the game, it had no involvement in the Russian attacks—and then they ended the game, without playing the next few steps.”
I appears not. I hope they actually stopped the game because they realized their wargame is being played by idiots.

Belarus? Really? It isn't even Russia. Besides that, all they did was steal a plot twist from General Sir John Hackett's, 1982 novel, The Third World War: The Untold Story.

I'm sorry, but that is frankly bullsh1t, a waste of time, talent, & intellect.

Unless ... this is just a ploy to bluff the Russians to come to the negotiating table.
“We have no intention to field a new low-yield system in Europe,” the defense official added. “Our response to the Russian violation [of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] is a conventional response. We’ll respond with conventional cruise missiles and conventional ballistic missiles of the range that’s captured by the INF Treaty, but we have no intention to make it nuclear-capable, nor have we actually spoken to the allies about basing it on their territory at this time.”

DOD is developing other nuclear weapons to counter foreign stockpiles as well, including ground- and sea-launched cruise missiles. The INF Treaty banned deployment of ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, nuclear or conventional, built to strike targets between 500 and 5,500 kilometers away. The U.S. left the treaty last August in protest that Russia was flouting the pact.

Esper told reporters Feb. 19 he believes the Russians should count both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons under a renegotiated version of the New START Treaty, which dictates stockpile sizes and expires next year.
Let's hope that is the case. If so, then it is a clunckingly transparent one ... and will probably work.

Maybe if we were not being clever, we may stumble in to an opportunity.

Finally, I'm going to bring one of my hobby horses out of the bunker. Feast on this pic;

We have a Navy Admiral wearing camo utilities in a bunker in Nebraska while SECDEF is visiting while wearing a tie.

Your boss in your guest and you make him look overdressed.


I'm sorry, this habit - you see it in DC every day - is insulting and narcissistically unprofessional. On top of that ... you are a Navy Admiral. If you wanted to be a ground guy, you are a few decades too late in making that call. This isn't COSPLAY for the wannabe, this is the US Navy. Dress the part or go home.

That is the minor point, but I will tell you this; not matching the attire of a guest of honor, and especially if that guest is your boss, is the height of rudeness. 

Manners matter.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Russia's 2020, with Dr. Dmirty Gorenburg - on Midrats

As Russia's navy starts to transition away from the last of her legacy ships, to her approaching endgame in Syria, join us for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to investigate the latest developments with Russia's national security posture, including the domestic power politics and relationships with its near abroad that influences the same.

Our guest returning again to Midrats will be Dr. Dmirty Gorenburg.

Dmitry Gorenburg is an expert on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, and ethnic politics and identity. His recent research topics include decision-making processes in the senior Russian leadership, Russian naval strategy in the Pacific and the Black Sea, and Russian maritime defense doctrine.

Gorenburg is author of "Nationalism for the Masses: Minority Ethnic Mobilization in the Russian Federation" (Cambridge University Press, 2003), and has been published in journals such as World Politics and Post-Soviet Affairs. In addition to his role at CNA, he currently serves as editor of Problems of Post-Communism and is an Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. From 2009 to 2016, he edited the journal Russian Politics and Law.

Gorenburg previously served as Executive Director of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES). He received a B.A. in international relations from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University. He blogs on issues related to the Russian military at Russian Military Reform. He is a native Russian speaker.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

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, February 21, 2020

Fullbore Friday

The last few months of a brutal war in the Pacific, one that showed little mercy for military or civilians.

Another detail of this war in both the Pacific and European theaters, camps.

The camps.

...and the story of the raid on the Los Baños internment camp;
...2,146 civilian internees — most of them American men, women and children — held captive since the Japanese invaded the Philippines more that three years earlier.

In 1944, with the war going badly for the Japanese, the guards at Los Baños had turned more brutal; prisoners were being starved on orders of the vicious, Western-hating camp commander who had promised the prisoners: “Before I’m done, you’ll be eating dirt.” Those caught escaping — even those returning with food for the starving — were shot. With medical supplies scarce, prisoners were dying of diseases like malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis. Then, in February 1945, the Japanese began digging deep trenches near the prisoners’ barracks. Many in camp feared preparations were being made for mass executions and burials.
Then there was an idea;
H-hour was also changed from 8 a.m. to 7 a.m. once the escapees reported that every morning at 6:45 a.m., the enemy garrison of some 200 soldiers assembled in a large field unarmed and wearing only loincloths for 30 minutes of ritualistic calisthenics. Only a handful of guards were on duty during the morning exercises.

The coordinated strike on the camp by 170 U.S. paratroopers and 75 Filipino guerrillas would use the element of surprise to overwhelm the few guards that remained at their posts. The challenge for the liberators was not only to keep the civilians safe during the assault but also to move them quickly — many were too weak to walk any distance — before a 10,000-man Japanese infantry division lurking nearby could arrive with reinforcements. Planners believed the enemy army could reach the prison camp in as little as three hours. Casualties in the raid were anticipated to be as high as 30 per cent.

A plan to load the prisoners into trucks and move them by armed convoy to U.S. lines was shelved when a reconnaissance flight found that the enemy had blown up bridges along the route to slow the U.S. advance into southern Luzon. There was only one way out: across the largest lake in the Philippines — 25-mile long Laguna de Bay — via amphibious tractors known as amtracs.
The 11th Airborne in a little known raid from a little known unit.

They whole story is almost too extreme to be true, but it is.

Read it all.

To the 11th Airborne and our Philippine allies; fullbore.

If you want more on the story, there's even a book on it, Bruce Henderson's, Rescue at Los Banos: The Most Daring Prison Camp Raid of World War II.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Spartans, Warriors, & Gladiators, Lend me Your Ears

There is a growing issue with American martial iconography, and it matters.

In all our military services, the last few decades have seen the adoption of the trappings of the military state of Sparta; the tribal raiders of stone age American Indians, the most morally corrupt of Nazi Germany’s fighting units, fictional vigilantes, and even man-slaughtering blood sports.

Why, and why does it matter?

It matters because it speaks to and reinforces our national character; are we a republic or empire?

What are we looking for that we reach to these symbols? What is missing from our own lexicon of iconography? If we constantly reach for the icons of empire, autocratic militarism, and the trappings of mercenaries, what does it say about who we are?

Icons, idols, ideals, and cultural references are important. They define a people, and by their use, can over time alter the character of institutions and nations.

We are a young nation, but we have a rich civil, cultural and military history to draw on; a history more than worthy of reference in a martial sense; minutemen, patriots, rangers, etc. It is all there, and yet, it does not seem to be enough.

As a people, we can often signify what we aspire to be via the symbols we wish to be known by.

What, by design, are Americans and the fighting force that defends us? 

At birth, we were designed to be, and for most of our history aspired to be, a mercantile republic resting on a foundation of individual liberty and an engaged civil society. A society always struggling to improve itself and to grow to meet the high standards it aspired to meet. 

We were a republic with a military as needed, to be drawn from the people to defend the people. Even as we rapidly expanded as the inevitable momentum of a growing, hungry industrial age people will against a shrinking, stone age people, we were never overly militarized. Our founding documents discouraged it, but when war called, we rose to the call against enemies foreign and domestic, and then quickly returned home to pre-war norms.

We were knocked off our habit when the Cold War would not let us demobilize after WWII and by default, we became a global empire with client states relying on our sword and shield to protect their commerce, with them serving as auxiliaries.

Generations of American leaders, festooned with the trappings of imperial power and bureaucratic bloat that all empires develop, knew no other world - and were too vested in it to want it to change.

As the government grew imperial in its habits, how could its military not feel the same pull?

We had about a decade without a justification for empire after the fall of the Soviet Union until September 2001. A lot changed at that decisive point in our history, in more ways than perhaps we fully appreciate.

We now have a military sprinkled with devotees of spartans, warriors, warfighters, and gladiators; we find ourselves in the third decade of the 21st Century adopting not just foreign iconography, but words that to previous generations would not have been seen in a positive context for our republic’s military.

Let’s just look at a few words that seem to fit the zeitgeist; warrior, warfighter and gladiator.

From, take a look at their change in usage. Something happened after 2001;

This goes well beyond the occasional pirate iconography that dates back to WWII, this is something else.

We should think about the words we are using, the icons we put in front of us, the references we think reflect how we see ourselves.

To pull from an exchange earlier today about the use of “gladiator” to describe senior NCO’s, why would we want to use that term to describe our military?

Gladiators were mostly slaves, former slaves or condemned prisoners who existed only to maim, kill or be killed for the economic benefit & entertainment of a detached public who derived pleasure from witnessing violence and bloodshed of and by other people.

Should senior leaders see themselves as slaves, suffering under oppression and serving a system that sees them as less than human?

Even worse, we’ve seen an easy slide in to using Spartacus in a positive connotation. Do we see as an example for our senior leaders to look towards insurrection to the political system they serve as a response to grievances they have?

Is it mal-education around history? I don’t think that can explain things when all of human knowledge is but a click away.

Is it a lack of knowledge and respect of our own traditions? Perhaps.

Is it a search for some martial characteristic we desire and feel is missing in ourselves?

Is it trying to find something that is more relatable to how they see ourselves?

If the later, how did the military of a free people decided that they were aligned not with the citizen soldier that gave them a free republic, but with the shock troops of a slavery-fueled monarchy, the Waffen SS, tribalistic raiders, vigilantes, mercenaries & slaves who fight for little but money or survival?

Or could it just look cool, the meaning be damned?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hedging Billions to Keep Shareholders Happy

Where does the business side of the military industrial complex seen the Navy money going over the next decade?

If you were to diversify, where would you go?

I have one datapoint over at USNIBlog.

Come by and give it a read.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Terrible 20's Surface Force Gets its Just Reward

There are very few people left who will not agree that the problems we have in our surface force in 2020 are the direct result of the ill-fated Age of Transformationalism and the Tiffany Fleet it begat from LCS, DDG-1000, LPD-17, CG(X), and FORD.

LPD-17 was made functional with a lot of extra money and Sailor sweat, though still a gilded pony for plow work. LCS may follow the same path, ditto Ford. The rest speaks for themselves.

We've covered it all here the last decade and a half, so we shouldn't have to cover it all again. New folks can click the tabs to get a flavor if they so wish.

Well, like all ages, the Age of Transformationalism had its leader who set the tone and direction.

That leader was Vern Clark, Admiral, USN (Ret.).

My critique isn't personal, it is strictly business.

Though he meant well and is a great patriot, objective history tells the story. He has yet to accept responsibility for the primary and secondary effects of his decisions. If he has, please send a link, but he has not from what I have read.

I'm not sure there was a period where more money was wasted on bad programs and CONOPS. As we start to wade in to the Terrible 20s, so many of the weak spots in our surface force especially, can be traced to Clark's tenure as CNO.

So, what do we have now?
Retired Adm. Vern Clark, a former CNO and the new chairman of the Surface Navy Association board of directors. Defense Media Activity
Retired Adm. Vern Clark will assume the position of chairman of the board of directors of the Surface Navy Association (SNA) this week at the association’s annual banquet on Jan. 16.

Clark was approved by the board on Jan. 13 at the association’s annual board of directors meeting.
He became the 27th chief of naval Operations in 2000 and retired in 2005. He serves on boards or as a trustee of corporations, organizations and universities.
What message does this send? What does it portend?

I'll let you work that out in comments.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Naming Ships With Style, Verve ... and Sanity

Instead of being CDR Grumpypants about our rather silly and counterproductive ship naming habits, I thought I'd point to a country who, if nothing else, has something that that isn't embarrassing or hard to explain.

Without further comment, I give you the Royal Navy.

Hat tip UKDJ.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Japan Moves Out in Counter Air

I'm not really quite sure who is running the USAF, but this has been a hell of a year so far. 

Buy them a beer.

Because they decided to take a hit off the USN's transformationalist bong and overcomplicated tanking, they still don't have a tanker to replace Eisenhower era KC-135s.

In a world-class example of slow-rolling, they cancelled the light-attack platform we started asking for about 19-years ago.

...but that isn't all.

One thing we always counted on was being unquestioned in the air-superiority arena. We got so cocky, we stopped production of the F-22 for ... well ... stupid Beltway reasons.

History returned and we found ourselves relying on relic F-15 with nothing to follow. As such, the USAF announced that they will at last do what man of us knew they would have to do, buy new build F-15 to replace the F-15C.

Our friends cannot be looking at us with much confidence, and some are starting to hedge.

Japan is moving smartly with their own domestic modern air superiority fighter.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense has revealed that progress was gathering pace on the nation’s next-generation air dominance fighter program as Asia’s rising superpower, China, continues to enhance its own next-generation air dominance capabilities.
It is envisaged that Japan’s next-generation fighter, now named the F-X, will fill the role of the retiring F-15J air superiority fighter aircraft currently operated by the Japanese Air-Self Defense Force (JASDF), with the F-35A and B variants providing the low-end air-combat capabilities currently assigned to the F-16-based F-2 aircraft.
If you think that looks like the YF-23, you're on to something.
...recent changes within the US political establishment, notably the election of President Donald Trump, has triggered a major rethink in the policies that govern America’s arms exports, opening the door for Japan to engage with major US defence contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Both companies have a history of developing highly capable fighter systems; Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor is the world’s premier air superiority and air dominance fighter aircraft, Northrop Grumman, largely famous for its UFO-like B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and the new B-21 Raider bomber, competed with the Raptor design during the competition to replace the F-15 Eagle in the early ’90s with the YF-23 Black Widow.

The Black Widow, although unsuccessful in the competition, presented the US Air Force and now Japan with an incredibly stealthy, fast and manoeuvrable air frame.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Chinese Box

I don't know about you, but there is no way I would want to suffer under the Chinese navalist's set or woes compared to the American navalist's set of woes.


SLOCs matter.

I'm pondering over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and give it a read.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LCS: As We Always Have Known Her

As we stumble in to the Terrible 20s, with each passing quarter, the damage becomes clearer and clearer from the star-crossed poster child of the Age of Transformationalism, LCS.

The opportunity cost in reputations, institutional political capital, money, and combat capability is still not fully understood - we just know it is more than it appears.

Especially in the last five years, some smart, focused, well meaning professionals have invested their time, seabags full of cash, and barges full of Sailor sweat to attempt to salvage something of use from this exquisite Tiffany White Elephant.

By the end of this FY, we will have some good data on what their hard work yielded following deployments of the INDEPENDENCE Class to WESTPAC and FREEDOM Class to the Caribbean.

There are a lot of secondary indications that the operational side of the Navy has finally freed itself from having to defend the concept of LCS, and will just focus on doing what it can with what the Potomac Flotilla bought for them.

To underline this fact was the overdue announcement that the juice just wasn't worth the squeeze for the first four ships;
The Navy also plans to send several "less-capable" platforms into early retirement. That includes the first four littoral combat ships, which the Navy turned into non-deploying test ships in 2016, according to a Navy official familiar with the plan.
The first four ships are just too sub-optimal and different from follow on units to justify spending money and Sailors on.

Nice to see, and a smart move as the money starts to tighten.

While we are on the topic, over a decade ago I offered up "PLAN SALAMANDER" as the last-minute reprieve from making the mistake of going in to full production of LCS. It was, in essence, to license build a couple of dozen multi-mission Eurofrigates until we could come up with a US design. Of course, it took a decade or so until Big Navy came to the same conclusion, roughly, and we got FFG(X).

Over at twitter, a reader asked for an update, and there really isn't one - but there is this reminder in the last 24-hrs by the irreplaceable David Larter;
The Navy is expected to buy its first next-generation frigate this year, so here’s what the next few years are going to look like in FFG(X)-land, according to budget documents released Monday.

The Navy plans to award the frigate design and construction award to one of the competitors in July, the documents say.
July is close. We'll know soon.

Here is my take again on the four options, in order of preference.

Fincantieri’s FREMM design
: A proven, scaleable, multi-mission frigate that the French and Italians have enjoyed much success with. Lowest risk and most capable (though I'm still pissed we're putting a 57mm on a design that can take a 5" main gun).

Huntington Ingalls Industries Upgunned NSC: This has moved up my list because it is a relatively low risk design and has a good price point. Yes, there are many limitations, but this will answer the call for the next decade.

GD/BIW/Navantia’s F-100 variant: this pocket BURKE used to be my #2, but reading the tea leaves about numbers and cost desires from OSD and The Hill, I think this may be a bit too much for what we want from FFG(X). Great design though. Like FREMM, proven and multi-mission.

Austal USA’s INDEPENDENCE-class LCS based FFG: No. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Just no. We've had enough of this vanity project and every time this stained class of ship pulls in to a foreign port our nation loses reputation. If this wins, everyone in OPNAV needs to be simply fired and replaced. Buddha knows we have enough people who can do the job better.

Monday, February 10, 2020

OSD's Budget: off phase, off course, off freq - off mission

The only consolation for navalists this Monday is knowing that one of the great bi-partisan traditions of Congress is to ignore budget proposals coming from the executive branch. Besides that, I don’t care how hard you try to spin it, this is horrible news.
Despite expected cuts to shipbuilding programs in the fiscal year 2021 budget request, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is committed to a bigger, but much lighter, naval force, he said in an exclusive interview with Defense News.

In the wake of reports that the Navy may cut shipbuilding in its upcoming budget request, Esper said he is “fully committed” to building a fleet of 355 ships or larger.
In addition to the reported cut of a Virginia-class submarine out of the FY21 budget, it is expected that other cuts may be coming in the short term for the Navy.
No. Not buying it. There isn't enough time to create more from less. This is about something, but building a fleet prepared to fight across the Pacific and stay in the fight once in WESTPAC? No, it isn't about that.

If you ever wanted a “breaking news” Midrats, yesterday we opened our show – and did most of it on – the early reports from Aaron & David from Defense News quoting the broad outlines of SECDEF Esper’s budget proposals. In spite of Congress doing what Congress wants to do anyway, these proposals have an impact and cannot be wished away.

After sleeping on it overnight, my take has changed a bit from yesterday’s Midrats and grown darker. Let me set things up a bit. This is rather simple, as is the solution.

Candidate Trump was a supporter of a larger Navy, a 355 (nee 350) ship Navy. To almost everyone’s surprise, mine included, he won in November 2016.

By December 2016, the Navy responded with a plan for 355 ships.

It is February 2020 and Trump’s SECDEF put forth a proposal to decrease the shipbuilding budget with a promise to have, inside a decade, a fleet of unicorn powered ships produced by Shangri-La shipyards to get to 355 by 2030.

I am willing to be sold otherwise, but what we appear to have is a SECDEF that is not aligned with the CINC’s priorites. Indeed, he is headed in the opposite direction.

The cynical might say that this is about what you would expect from a West Point graduate as SECDEF paired with an Army General as CJCS, backed up by OSD staff that has grown intellectually hidebound and entitled after two decades of ground wars in Asia, but there must be a more charitable explanation out there, I am sure.

As CINC, Trump has just a few options.

1. He can do and say nothing. By doing so, he signals that a desire for a larger Navy was simply election year babble – fried air for the rubes. It really isn’t a priority and he doesn’t really care.

2. He was serious, and thought he had a loyal team supporting his priorities. It appears, again, that perhaps he does not have his people where he needs them, still, in DOD. As such, he should simply go to an area of expertise he had prior to becoming CINC; fire people.

If he takes #1, then he deserves any election year blowback he may get.

If he takes #2, then he sends a clear signal that when you join Team Trump, then you support the President’s campaign promises and agenda.

Yes, this administration is full of unfilled and “acting” senior positions – and from Spencer to Bolton and others – when people not on your team leave they have a habit of shooting back at you over their shoulder, but if you are serious about growing the Navy, then this budget proposal should be taken for what it is; a rebuke from the standing OSD bureaucracy enabled by leaders who don’t support your priorities and/or are not in control of the bureaucracy they lead … in an election year.

This is a people, more than a process problem.

Regardless of where he goes, this is an unforced error, but it can be mitigated.

Where in the senior civilian leadership at DOD can Trump find someone who has a consistent record of trying to find a way to 355 and would clearly be receptive to the mandate to honestly work towards that goal – budget habits of the past be damned?

Acting SECNAV Modly.

He would be a bold choice for SECDEF – and more importantly – a clear choice that tells everyone that Trump is not frack’n around. He said 355, he meant 355, and he wants a budget to get us there.

I’m open to other options, but in such a short time frame and in an election year, I see no other choice in the ready locker.

For the record, I am rather saddened by this whole thing. I was and am impressed with Esper, and this was an opportunity for him to support his boss’s agenda and meet the WESTPAC challenge, but he failed on both counts.

Like “only Nixon could go to China,” in a way, only a West Point grad could tell Army it needed to adjust to future budget expectations.

A missed opportunity, but one that created a new opportunity if Trump wants to take it.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

A Midrats Pre-Valentine's Day Melee

Come join EagleOne and CDR Salamander for an hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern for all the things maritime and national security that broke above the ambient noise the last couple of weeks.

From the national security implications of the latest disease out break in China to our Navy's ongoing challenge of finding out what she wants to be, and how she wants to get there.

Open topic, open phones - so if there is a topic you would like us to address, join the chatroom, give us a call, or drop us an email or DM on twitter.

You can listen to the show at this link or below, but remember, if you don't already, subscribe to the podcast at Spreaker or any of the other podcast aggregators.

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.

UPDATE: Here is the article we referenced on the show.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Fullbore Friday

Funny how things fold in to each other.

I was pondering one of the pivotal scenes of Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, where in a general retreat, he is pulled to the side by the Carabinieri, as all officers were. They were being briefly interviewed - and then shot. Shot by the very Army that ordered them to retreat in the face of the advancing Germans and Austo-Hungarians.

I decided to dig a bit into the background of the real battle that was the backdrop, and came across this piece of work; Field Marshall Luigi Cadorna.

Historians describe Cadorna as a martinet, excessively ruthless with his troops and dismissive of his country's political authorities. During the course of war he fired 217 officers; during the Battle of Caporetto he would order the summary execution of officers whose units retreated. His harsh approach to discipline has been described as follows by one historian:
One in every seventeen Italian soldiers faced a disciplinary charge in the war, and 61 per cent were found guilty. About 750 were executed, the highest number of any army in the war, and Cadorna reintroduced the Roman practice of decimation - the killing of every tenth man - for units which failed to perform in battle.
Battle Caporetto. That rang a bell. Part of that campaign was the Battle of Longarone.

Why is that of significance? Well ... one of my favorite military minds is Field Marshall Rommel. I got along real well with a German Army 1-star who, much to my shock, had a portrait of him in his office. From him I learned that there are very few WWII officers who are acceptable to have pictures of in your office in the 21st Century German Army - in uniform nontheless. Rommel was one.

One thing that broke Rommel apart from many of his peers was that in WWI he won the "Pour le Merite" - the Blue Max. It is hard to find out how though. Such an award should not be an afterthought.

Well - let's give the good JO his moment. Above you have a horrible battlefield leader - and below let's review the moment that helped bring one of the best battlefield leaders, of any army.

Let's spend a moment to review Rommel at the Tactical level as a JO.

David Irving, in his paper The Trail of the Fox, gives the best account.

General von Below’s aim was to penetrate the main defense line south of the Isonzo River. The high points of the line were the towering Monte Mataiur, Monte Kuk, Kolovrat Ridge and Hill1114. Tens of thousands of Italian troops and well-constructed gun sites commanded each of these high points, and the German unit commanders scrambled to take them, knowing that honors would be the reward. The rivalry among these young officers leading proud units from the German provinces of Bavaria, Silesia and Rommel’s Swabia was ferocious.

Lieutenant Ferdinand Schoerner, a Bavarian commander, set the pace, driving his coughing, staggering volunteers so ruthlessly forward despite their heavy loads of machine guns and ammunition that one of his men dropped dead from exhaustion before the unit reached the objective: Hill 1114, key to the whole Kolovrat Ridge. For taking Hill 1114, Schoerner was awarded Prussia’s highest medal, the Pour le Mérite. That out- raged Rommel. He considered that the credit was due him.

Rommel’s part in breaching the Kolovrat position was in- deed great. As night fell on that first day of the offensive, Scho- erner’s promising position had seemed thwarted by Italian fortifi- cations. Rommel’s superior, Major Theodor Sproesser, commander of the Swabians, wrote a battle report, a faded copy of which still survives, which describes the emplacements. “Like fortresses,” he wrote, “the strongly built concrete gun positions . . . look out over us. They are manned by hard-bitten machine gunners, and bar our further advance to south and west.” During the night Rommel reconnoitered the enemy defenses and found a gap, and shortly after dawn his Abteilung penetrated the Italian lines. Three hours later he stormed Monte Kuk itself. Finding Rommel in their rear, the Italians panicked, their line began to crumble and German infantry poured through the breach.

But Schoerner, the Bavarian, got the Pour le Mérite! Rommel was stung by this injustice, and after the war he asked the official army historian to make petty corrections to the re- cord; he even arranged for future editions to read “Leutnant,” not “Oberleutnant,” in referring to Schoerner, and he persuaded the Reich government to print a fourteen-page supplement which in part set out his own role in more vivid detail describing how forty Italian officers and 1,500 men had surrendered to Oberleutnant Rommel, how he had pressed on ahead of his unit with only two officers and a few riflemen, how the Italians had surrounded and embraced him and chaired him on their shoulders and rejoiced that the war was over for them. This sort of prideful revisionism would become part of the Rommel style.

But Rommel still had a chance for a Pour le Mérite. General von Below had specifically promised one to the first officer to stand atop the loftiest Italian high point, the 5,400-foot Monte Mataiur. Rommel intended to be that officer. His own fourteen- page supplement to the official army history tells the story: “Before the prisoners from the Hill 1114 engagement were removed, some German-speaking Italians betrayed to Lieutenant Rommel that there was another regiment of the Salerno brigade on Monte Mataiur that definitely would put up a fight. . . . Heavy machine gun fire did indeed open up as the [Swabians] reached the western slopes.” By nightfall, after hours of hard fighting, Rommel was at the base of the last rise of Mataiur. He and his men were dog-tired, but he drove them on. The report of his superior, Major Sproesser, takes up the account: “There is an Italian with a machine gun sitting behind virtually every rock, and all the appearances are that the enemy has no intention of giving up Monte Mataiur so easily. Although their strength is almost at an end after fifty-three hours of continual full-pack march and battle, Rommel’s Abteilung crawls in to close quarters. After a hail of machine gun fire, which has a murderous splinter effect among the rocks, the enemy tries to escape into a ravine.”

Hesitantly, one Italian after another came out into the open and surrendered. At 11:30am. the last 120 men on the actual summit surrendered to Rommel. Ten minutes later he stood there himself. He ordered one white and three green flares fired to announce his triumph. Rommel had reached the top first and victory was his all the sweeter, too, for having cost the life of only one of his men.
The victory soon turned sour. Next day General Erich von Ludendorff, chief of the General Staff, announced the capture of Monte Mataiur by the gallant Lieutenant Walther Schnieber, a Silesian company commander. Schnieber accordingly carried off the prize promised by General von Below for the feat, the coveted Pour le Mérite.
It was obvious to Rommel that Schnieber had captured the wrong summit. Choking with anger, he complained to his battal- ion commander, Major Sproesser. Sproesser advised him to forget the matter, but Sproesser did mention in his dispatch of November that during the hour that Rommel’s Abteilung had rested on the Mataiur’s summit they never saw any signs of the Silesian regiment. Rommel was not satisfied, and according to his own account many years later he sent a formal complaint all the way up to the commander of the Alpine Corps, claiming that the medal belonged by rights to him. Silence was the only reply.

This disappointment did not affect Rommel’s fighting zeal. He stayed hard on the heels of the retreating Italians. His Abteilung was at the head of Sproesser’s battalion of Swabians, and that battalion was the spearhead of the whole Fourteenth Army. On November the river Tagliamento was reached. Now Rommel began a relentless pursuit of the demoralized Italians, using the same tactics of bluff, bravado, surprise attack and rapid pursuit that were to distinguish him later as a tank commander.
He had found his métier. He had learned how to exploit sudden situations even when it meant disobeying orders from superiors. He led his troops to the limits of human endurance so as to take the enemy by surprise climbing through fresh snowfalls that were murder to the heavily laden men, scaling sheer rock faces that would give pause even to skilled mountaineers, risking everything to work his handful of intrepid riflemen and machine gunners around behind the unsuspecting Italian defenders. He suddenly attacked the enemy however greatly he was himself outnumbered from the rear with devastating ma- chine gun fire on the assumption that this was bound to shatter the morale of even the finest troops.

His little force’s victories were remarkable. On November 7, Rommel’s companies stormed a 4,700-foot mountain and captured a pass. Two days later he launched a frontal attack on some seemingly invincible Italian defenses and captured another pass.

Then followed an action of the purest Wild West, one that wonderfully illustrates Rommel’s physical courage and endurance.
He was following an extremely narrow and deep ravine to- ward the town of Longarone the kingpin of the entire Italian mountain defensive system. What Rommel found ahead of him was a road blasted into the vertical rock face soaring 600 feet above. The road first clung to one side of the ravine, then crossed to the other side by a long bridge precariously suspended some 500 feet above the ravine floor.

“Relentlessly the pursuit goes on toward Longarone,” Major Sproesser wrote. “Now the big bridge spanning the Vajont ravine lies ahead. Not a moment to lose! . . . Lieutenant Rommel and his men dash across, tearing out every demolition fuse they can see.”
The Swabians took the next stretch of road at a trot. But when they emerged from the valley, they came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the direction of Longarone, about a half mile away. Between them and the town lay the river Piave. Almost at once a loud explosion signaled the demolition of the only bridge across the river. Through field glasses Rommel could see endless columns of Italians fleeing south on the far side of the river. The town itself was jam-packed with troops and war paraphernalia. He ordered one of his companies and a machine gun platoon to advance downstream. He himself went with them, then watched as eighteen of his men successfully braved the Piave’s fast-flowing waters under violent enemy machine gun fire. More men followed, and by 4:00 pm they had established a posi- tion on the other shore, a short distance south of Longarone. From there they could block the road and railway line leading out of town. Over the next two hours this small force disarmed 800 Italian soldiers who ran into their trap.

As dusk fell, Rommel himself forded the river, followed by five companies of troops. Taking a small party, he began to advance on Longarone. Stumbling into a street barricade manned by Italian machine gunners, Rommel ordered a temporary retreat, and now the Italians began running after him. It was a tricky situation: there were some 10,000 Italian troops in Longarone, so Rommel was vastly outnumbered. In fact, he had only twenty-five men with him at that moment, and when the Italian officers saw how puny Rommel’s force was, they confidently or- dered their men to open fire. All Rommel’s force here was wounded or captured, but he himself managed to slip away into the shadows.

He reassembled his Abteilung just south of Longarone in the darkness. Six more times the Italian mob tried to overrun him, but six times Rommel’s machine gunners sent them running for cover back into the town. To prevent the enemy from outflanking him in the darkness, Rommel set fire to the houses along the road, illuminating the battlefield. By midnight, reinforcements began arriving from Major Sproesser and from an Austrian division.

Rommel decided to renew the attack at dawn. His official account concludes: “There is, however, no more fighting to be done. South of Rivalta, Rommel’s Abteilung meets Lieutenant Schoeffel, who was taken prisoner during the night’s skirmish, coming toward them. Behind him follow hundreds of Italians, waving all manner of flags. Lieutenant Schoeffel brings the glad tidings of the surrender of all enemy forces around Longarone, written by the Italian commander. An entire enemy division has been captured! . . . Exhausted and soaking wet, the warriors . . . fall into well-earned beds in fine billets and sleep the sleep of dead men.”

In his later published account of the battle of Longarone, Rommel romanticized. There he described how he himself had swum the icy Piave at the head of his Abteilung. Yet there can be no doubt of his own physical courage in battle, even if these 1917 victories over the Italians were purchased relatively cheaply. In the ten-day battle ending in the Italians’ humiliating defeat at Longarone, Sproesser’s entire battalion lost only thirteen enlisted men and one officer (he fell off a mountain). At Longarone, Rommel captured 8,000 Italians in one day. Not for another quarter century would Rommel really meet his match.

One month later, the Kaiser gave him the tribute he ached for, the matchless Pour le Mérite. The citation said it was for breaching the Kolovrat line, storming Mataiur and capturing Longarone. Rommel preferred to attribute it to Mataiur alone unless he was in Italian company; then he took a certain sly pleas- ure in saying he won it at Longarone. Rommel was never diplomatic.
Fame never found anyone who was waiting to be found.

First posted September 2011.