Thursday, October 21, 2021

Culture, Competition, and Conflict: three rants on the state of Surface Warfare, by Bryan McGrath

The BONHOMME RICHARD fire report has the Surface Force in the news again, and one of our favorite ex-SWOs Bryan McGrath gave a speech to the Surface Navy Association's Washington DC chapter earlier today. He had a few things to get off his chest, and the things he said are worth a broader audience. 

Bryan has been kind enough to send along the text of his remarks for publication here - well worth your time.

Bryan, over to you!

Speech to the DC Chapter of the Surface Navy Association
 21 October 2021
“Three Rants”
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for the introduction, Captain Bryans. It was an honor to be asked to be here, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

I hope the folks of this chapter know how lucky we are to have Bob Bryans leading us while he’s doing incredibly important and difficult work over at OPNAV. He’s the best of the best. 

When Bob asked me to do this talk, he requested a theme, and because this isn’t my first rodeo, I knew that the quicker I gave him one the quicker he’d get off my back about giving him one. So, I said, “Culture, Competition, and Conflict”, and we both went on with our lives. And while I have a feeling that I will hit each of those topics during my talk today, I ask that you give me some latitude to meander, and I’ll do so with the structure of three broad areas of concern that I call…the three rants. 

Also, I want to get something out of the way up front. I am a consultant. I happen to have business relationships with the Navy, specifically agreements with the Commander of Naval Surface Forces in San Diego and the Director of Surface Warfare Programs at OPNAV N96. In those jobs, the government pays me to tell Admirals Kitchener and Schlise exactly what I think. And that is what I do. Sometimes they agree with me. Sometimes they don’t. At no point has either one of them or their predecessors ever asked me to change or modify my opinion to suit the Navy line, nor have I ever taken a position publicly that isn’t my own. Nothing I say is carried water for anyone else. Period. Are we clear? 

Ok. Let’s get on with things.

Rant One: Good Competition

Let’s start with rant # 1, and that is, I want to talk about “Competition”. The previous administration centered its national security strategy and national defense strategy around the imperative of renewed great power competition. One doesn’t have to have a doctorate in international relations to see that we are elbow deep in great power competition again, and this was a rational response. Following this policy focus, the sea services promulgated a new maritime strategy, and the CNO updated his NAVPLAN, in BOTH CASES, raising the prominence of what has come to be known as the “competition phase” of the continuum of competition. The other phases of the continuum being “crisis” and “conflict”. 

I believe all four of these documents—NSS, NDS, maritime strategy, and NAVPLAN—were well-aligned to the security environment we face, and all pointed squarely at seapower as a primary tool of action and influence. The fact that all four placed considerable focus on the competition phase led me to several conclusions.

First, competition is different than crisis, or conflict. It is how the United States Navy spends the overwhelming balance of its time. It is where the United States Navy (and seapower more generally), has its greatest impact, acting as it does as the guarantor of America’s security and prosperity. 

The primary products of competition phase seapower are—as I said—security and prosperity, both of which owe their promotion primarily to one factor—the conventional deterrence of those who would disturb the peace.

Conventional deterrence is the ballgame, and as the Navy is the Service that promotes conventional deterrence where it matters and to a larger extent than any other element of American military power, one could and should have expected the Navy to receive more and more consistent resourcing. 

Additionally, and for the interests of this audience and the biases of this speaker, no part of America’s arsenal is as critical to providing conventional deterrence where it matters than the Surface Force. Forward, distributed, networked, lethal, visible, and sustained surface forces. 

Given the emphasis on competition, the focus on conventional deterrence, and the degree to which force structure discussions in 2020 seemed in no small part to be variations on the single theme of growing the Navy, it appeared as if an important point of consensus had been reached. The fact that it was reached after four years of TALKING ABOUT growing a Navy and with little or nothing DONE about it provided many of us with the nagging sense that the clock was running out on the consensus. 

It is now late 2021, and it appears that consensus is dead. The concept of military competition and its desired by-product conventional deterrence has been replaced by something called “integrated deterrence”, a term which strikes me as a means to de-emphasize the military contribution to deterrence while emphasizing other “whole-of-government” contributions, which invariably are less expensive than maintaining proper fleet.

We saw our first evidence of this in the 2022 budget and its approach to shipbuilding, and we continue to see more evidence of it as time goes on. No one at OSD is talking about competition anymore, as we’ve entered the stage of defense planning that goes something like “when there aren’t resources available for both the deterrence of war and the conduct of war, defer to the latter”. In the process, we—the Navy, DoD, the United States—will field a Navy that is marginally better at fighting war and LESS able to deter war. I think this is a troubling and dangerous path, and I urge the Secretary of the Navy and the CNO to take every opportunity they can to advise against it.

I know it is hard to for the numbers people at OSD CAPE and N81 to quantify the benefits of conventional deterrence. I know it is far easier to do force on force analysis and come up with exchange ratios and campaign results. But that whole system ignores what we know to be true—that persistent, powerful naval force forward—specifically, surface forces—is the backbone of our conventional deterrence posture, and if we continue to de-emphasize powerful forward presence that creates doubt in the minds of potential opponents, we will be left with terrible decisions about whether and how to intervene when opportunistic opponents realize we’ve given up on the day-to-day competition. Critics of naval forward presence sometimes suggest that it destabilizes the security situation. Do you want to know what is even more destabilizing? The other guy having the perception that the competition is over. 

A prominent voice in the national security world recently opined that we need to abandon this “cop on the beat” mentality, because we don’t have the forces required to carry it out. So, he’s telling me that instead, we should diminish the fleet while implementing more of an over-the horizon strategy that is an even less powerful deterrent? 

How about we build the Navy we need?

There is talk of yet another force structure assessment in the wind, and my fever dream is that the Navy produces an assessment that is pretty consistent with the work it did in 2020, and then take a new position on that work. Well, not a new position, per se. But the position that the US Marine Corps has taken for much of my life. And that is, do the analysis and state the requirement. If the requirement is affordable within given resources, pursue it. If it is not, let political leadership know what the risks are and then do your best with the resources allocated. But never, NEVER, let available resources be the thing you start with when you seek to derive the requirement. And never, NEVER, change the requirement to fit the available resources. 

Rant Two: Bad Competition

Ok—let’s move on to rant #2. And it is another rant about competition. But a different kind of competition. 

I want to talk a little about the acquisition system by using a couple of examples of where I think the Navy has made grave errors, and then suggest that the time is ripe to make sure we don’t make that same error a third time.

About 11 years ago, the Navy moved forward with the Air and Missile Defense Radar, or AMDR program. A huge and critical effort, AMDR replaces the SPY 1 series of radars in surface combatants going forward, and it represented a franchise win for the company that competed and won the business. 

I don’t know much about this competition, but the urban legend is that Raytheon put a ton of internal investment money into winning this contract. I can imagine the conversation between the business unit lead and the CFO, where the business unit lays out the opportunity, the costs, and upside potential once serial production began. Considerable resources were applied, Raytheon won, and we expect to see the first ship with a SPY 6 AMDR radar commissioned in 2024 or so. Or put another way, we will not see an operational SPY 6 for a couple of years on a ship that won’t deploy until later in the decade.

But that did not stop the visionaries of the Navy Acquisition system from conducting a competition recently to bring on a second source to produce SPY 6 radars?

If I am that Raytheon CFO, I gotta be coming out of my skull. “We invested all that money and before the first one is even fielded the Navy is trying to find someone to undercut our price?”  

I think he or she has a good point. 

Now, I am a political conservative. I am a capitalist. I believe in free and competitive markets.
But defense production is not a free and competitive market. It is skewed by externalities unknown to most businesses in America. It is a monopsony, or at least a near monopsony, with considerable constraints placed on doing business internationally. 

For industry to make the kind of internal investment necessary to create the advanced capabilities that the Navy requires, they need to know that they will be able to get their money out of serial production. I’m all for competing but starting the competition before the first arrays are even placed just makes no sense.

But it isn’t just SPY 6. The same, or a similar move was made on the Navy’s SEWIP Block III program recently, and from what I can discover, similar conditions prevailed. In this case Northrop Grumman won the contract after considerable internal investment. No ship afloat has a fielded SEWIP Block III. Yet Navy acquisition recently sought to compete for serial production.

This is insane, and if this race to the bottom continues, it places the Navy’s Large Surface Combatant or DDG(X) program at serious risk. And here is why.

The Navy needs a sea-based, high-powered laser. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call it the BAL—or Big-Ass Laser. Why does it need a Big-Ass Laser? Well, it needs a Big-Ass Laser because in a war with a big, aggressive country, after the carnage of an initial series of exchanges, our fleet will have to—as my friend Paul Giarra says—fight its way to the fight, and then fight through to the fight. It will be doing this against a country with a considerable ability to build missiles, and so we need a way to counter them that doesn’t bankrupt the United States.

To my mind, the logical place to put the Big-Ass Laser is on the BAS—or Big-Ass Ship. That is the DDG(X). The folks deriving requirements for this ship and doing trade studies and analyzing hull forms and all that stuff need to understand that the purpose of the Big-Ass Ship is to carry the Big-Ass Laser. 

The case for the Big-Ass Laser is that we will not be able to operate within the contested area NEARLY confidently enough unless we can project power from protected sea space. The Big-Ass Laser will give us that confidence.

Now…back to the whole question of competition. Capable tier-1 defense firms are busy with all manner of research and engineering designed to position themselves to compete for the Big-Ass Laser. It is difficult to conceive of being competitive without spending a considerable amount of internal investment money. So here I am, the VP of Big-Ass Navy Lasers at Acme Big-Ass Laser company, and I am going to talk to my CFO about getting the money necessary to upscale our current efforts to be able to compete for this contract. I deliver my perfectly crafted pitch, and then she looks at me and says, “why would I give you a dime after what the Navy has done with SPY 6 and SEWIP? How can we go to our shareholders and say that this investment is wise, given that EVEN IF WE WIN, the Navy is going to create a competitor before the first unit is fielded?”

How do you answer that? 

The bottom line folks is that if conventional deterrence fails and we get into a shooting war, we’re going to need to project power in order to fight our way back in. The high-power laser is the thing that we need to help us do that, and the real estate, cooling, and power for it will be provided by the DDG(X). Screw up the acquisition of the Big Ass Laser and the Big Ass Ship becomes an expensive luxury. 

We must get this right.

Rant Three: Culture and Systems

Ok—my final rant. I want to talk about culture, or more to the point, the perception that there is something wrong with our culture in Surface Warfare. I’ve been on this rant for four and a half years now since the collisions of 2017.

Those two collisions created and enabled a chorus of critics to charge that the there were “systemic” problems in Surface Warfare, particularly in the Surface Warfare culture. I asserted then, and I continue to believe now, that what others want to attribute to culture or leadership or some other ill-defined systemic failure, can more properly be attributed to a lack of resources. Simply put, the fleet was on the ragged edge because there weren’t enough ships to do what was being asked of them. To the extent that the system contributed to the collisions, it was this. 

But make no mistake about it. Those two ships had collisions because people who knew better, who knew what the rules were, and who knew what the right thing to do was—chose to do otherwise. 

If you want to make the charge of systemic failure, it seems to me you have a responsibility to account for why that failure was confined to one theater and a small number of ships. ADM Davidson, former INDOPACOM Commander, got into some hot water when he suggested as much before Congress. And while that was neither the time nor the place to try and make that case, it is a case that needs to be made. 

We have problems in Surface Warfare. What we do isn’t properly understood by policy-makers, we don’t do a good job in educating them, as a result, we get insufficient funding that results in too few ships, manning problems, deferred maintenance, and sub-optimized training opportunities.  

My inherently testable hypothesis is that if we properly resourced Surface Warfare, you’d hear a hell of a lot less about systemic and cultural problems. We are maintaining nearly a similar number of ships deployed every day with 295 ships that we did thirty plus years ago with twice that number. You want a systemic problem, there it is.

The culture I know is one of mission accomplishment, and I have no desire to see this diluted. 

Every generation has had ridiculous administrative burdens. That’s part of the job. What has changed is that the fleet we own and operate is insufficient to the operational tasks asked of it. Some say we ought to cut back on those tasks, that all this stuff we do around the world should be restrained, that we ought to bring the fleet home and operate it as a surge force with a bit of a cruising mindset, rather than a forward deployed force. 

I’d be happy to go along with this, but only after I was convinced that the American people were content with no longer being top-dog. Because if you’re going to be the world’s dominant political, economic, military, and diplomatic power, you aren’t going to do it from Norfolk and San Diego. The nation that believes itself to be those things is reflected in a powerful, forward deployed Navy protecting and sustaining its security and prosperity, along with that of like-minded nations. At the center of that fleet is the surface force and the professionals who operate it. They are the nation’s primary conventional deterrent, they are the nation’s primary military diplomats, and they are the nation’s primary crisis response force forward. 

It is time to resource them accordingly. 

I only hope that people are listening.

Thank you, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group. These views are his and do not represent any client.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Burning of the Bonnie Dick

15-months later, we have a lot more information from the burning of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) ... and none of it is going to make you feel better.

I am of the "responsibility of command" school, but if you don't feel and smell a larger story here, you aren't paying attention.

More, along with links to the Command Investigation, are over at USNBlog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Ukraine: Tough Kid in a Tough Neighborhood

You must have some sympathy for the Ukrainian people. They have simply had a nightmarish century. 

In WWI and the following Russian Civil War, the slaughter on their soil was almost unimaginable. Once under the Soviet yoke, they then had a genocide via starvation. Then WWII came with the Germans and Soviets slaughtering each other on top of the Ukrainians in a manner that made WWI look like a skirmish. 

In the post-WWII era they had a few decades of peace, then decay, and the whole post-Soviet cultural apocalypse that comes with disaggregating empires.

The Russians – who see Ukraine as rightfully belonging under their sphere of influence – will not give them rest. The Ukrainians want to join the West … but the West hesitates out of fear of the Russians. Add to that corruption and other economic inefficiencies, the standard of living continues to lag;

This was nice for us to visit;

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Ukrainian leaders in the capital city of Kyiv to strengthen ties between the nations and look for ways to implement the Strategic Defense Framework that was signed at the end of August.

…but both they and we know there is only so much we can do. The Russians will not leave the Donbas or Crimea peacefully outside some black swan event, so this frozen conflict will remain … and it is that conflict that caught my eye in the story above;

Ukraine has lost 14,000 citizens in the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine. There are books of the dead in the memorial, and they list those killed each day.

For Americans, we should ponder that a bit. Adjusted for population, in American terms that would be 104,533 dead. 

Imagine if Mexico occupied Arizona and New Mexico, and the front has been stagnant for years, yet we had lost over 100,000 Americans in this conflict. How would that play on the American mind?

No, history never stops. It does not end. It takes a pause now and then – that is about it.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Zinni on Wargaming ... Value and Danger

Simply a superb interview with General Anthony Zinni, USA (Ret) by Mie Augier and Major Sean F. X. Barrett, USMC over at CIMSEC

What is so impressive about it is the the focus of the interview - wargaming. 

There are few things more misunderstood, abused, and poorly done than wargaming. Done incorrectly, either by incompetence or malice, it can lead to the death of millions and the destruction of nations. No, that isn't an exaggeration. 

Let's pull a few quotes that grabbed my attention; 
I think gaming was more valuable at the lower levels, at the tactical level, maybe lower operational level. ... As you go higher up, I found there was too much in the way of service politics and other things that were injected into the games.
Bingo. This is where elections and the system of incentives and disincentives in our promotion systems can bring disastrous effects.
...I watched how the games became more designed as proofs of capabilities—preordained proofs of capabilities—rather than—as much as they advertised it—open testing, having a real willingness to fail, and all that.
You will hear a lot of "X was wargamed and Y was the result" - be very suspicious of these claims, especially with systems and CONOPS that are vaporware.
If somebody talks about a game, I am usually highly suspicious about what the purpose is, who is designing it, and who is sponsoring it.

Question everything until you feel comfortable you know where people are coming from.

I loved the fact that over two decades later, Millennium Challenge keeps popping up. 

NB: we interviews Van Riper 9-years ago on Midrats if you'd like to give it a listen.

There is a lot of great stuff in the interview, especially about the timeframe from DESERT FOX to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yes, there are contradictory stories out there ... but Zinni is part of this and his view should be included in your consideration.

They started the game, and there was a lot of media attention. After the first two or three moves, Van Riper had sunk half of Fifth Fleet and destroyed a corps. They stopped the game because it was now turning into a disaster. They brought everybody in and said they were going to restart the game because some things didn’t go right or whatever. Van Riper didn’t do what they thought or assumed he would do. They thought they had him figured out, had the “enemy” figured out.

They started the game again—same result. Van Riper kicked their butts, and now they stopped again. People were coming down from the Pentagon, and this was becoming a problem. They then said they were going to start for a third time, but this time they told Van Riper what he had to do. He said if they wanted him to go by a script, they had to advertise that it was not free play—that it was scripted. You can’t advertise something as free play when it is really being scripted—that is dishonest. They told him they were not going to do that, but that Van Riper was going to be scripted in many of the things that he could do.

The next thing that happened was a bunch of the majors that were down there revolted and went to the media, and of course Van Riper then became a superstar for every young officer in the military. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote about it. This went all the way up to the Joint Chiefs, and the Joint Chiefs dissed Van Riper and didn’t defend him. Van Riper became the hero for everybody involved in Millennium Challenge below the rank of one-star.

I wonder where those majors wound up?

This part is superb; 1) a view on the present threat from Chinese ASMB/ASCM; 2) beats the assumptions drum I love to hear;

 Yes, it is in our nature to become overreliant on technology because we created this dependency on it, and in addition to that, in some ways, we don’t leverage it enough. Every time I get into a discussion with someone about facing a peer-level military threat, it always comes down to the same thing: Well, they’ve got missiles that are going to crush us. The answer is always that we must go after those missiles, we must find them, and shoot them down. What everybody is losing sight of is one of the first things I ask: How does the missile know where you are? Then there’s a fall back: Tell me how they target you. The missile is back there, and you are out here, and they can’t see you. Something is targeting you. Is it a satellite? Is it a recon unit? Instead of wasting all this effort and resources on new technology to kill the missiles, could we blind their missiles? Could we deceive the missile in some way? Maybe the focus of our technology should be on defeating targeting, and maybe the ways we defeat it is to give it a false image, to blind it, to deceive it. To address the threat through better tactics, using what we already have. No one ever talks about that. Everybody just pushes the technology to kill the missile. My point is that it is not just overrelying on technology. Sometimes it is not knowing how to use technology through tactics to build an advantage.

In Millennium Challenge, the blue force was totally dependent on monitoring the red team’s communications, so Van Riper did not use any digital technology. He used motorcycle couriers and all kinds of alternative, simple sources of communication. He did nothing that could be captured or intercepted, so they were totally blind. They put all their eggs—that they would have superior technology to intercept his communications—in one basket. They assumed he would never initiate the fight—that this enemy would be so overwhelmed he would not attack during the build-up phase. Of course, Van Riper immediately attacked. It was a beautiful thing to watch! When we make too many assumptions, it becomes a vulnerability.

Read it all, and keep an eye out for Part-2.  Yes, I've had some issues with Zinni a decade and a half ago, but time has show that many of his concerns were solid, and I was not fully correct on my own assumptions. As such, agree or not (no one is perfect), he is a person worth listening to. I should have had a more open ear to him in the past.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Navy in Afghanistan at Flood Tide: PRT Khost - on Midrats


Afghanistan is a land locked nation, but in the USA’s two-decade presence in that country, her Navy was there from the beginning to end serving along with her sister services.

Many are familiar with the untold number of Individual Augmentation (IA) assignments Navy active duty and reserve component personnel filled, Navy Corpsmen serving with USMC units, and even SeaBee deployments to Afghanistan, but there were other units with a large US Navy presence, a few of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT).

This Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern we’re going to take a snapshot of this part of the Afghanistan conflict from its high-water mark - 2010 and 2011 - with our guests Captain Steve Deal, USN (Ret.) and Command Sergeant Major Alexander “Beau” Barnett, USA (Ret.). They  served together as the Commanding Officer and Sergeant Major of Provincial Reconstruction Team Khost in 2010 through 2011.

Captain Deal had extensive experience in command. In addition to his tour as Commanding Officer, PRT Khost, he commanded Patrol Squadron 47 in Ali AB, Iraq (2007-2008) and Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing TEN in Whidbey Island, WA (2012-2013).

Command Sergeant Major Barnett impressive experience as senior enlisted leader in addition to his tour in Khost included Operations Sergeant Major and Command Sergeant Major at Battalion level and as a USASMA Instructor, Command Sergeant Major for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and concurrently the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His final assignment prior to retirement the 189th CATB CSM at JBLM Tacoma Washington.

Join us live if you can, but it not, you can get the show later by subscribing to the podcast. 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. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Fullbore Friday

Barely six-weeks old, our retreat and national humiliation in Afghanistan for many of us has been

I wrote the below almost exactly six years ago when we left a base that in my professional swan song, I had a lot invested in. 

Yep, that's my picture to here put as a reference point in time in late '08/early '09.

Intersting to read how my feelings were in 2014 almost a warm-up for the feelings I continue to have about what we did to the effort as a whole in AFG. I'm still not fully settled on the issue.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, join me in a quick return to OCT 2014.

I will be, uncharacteristically perhaps, brief for today's FbF.

I actually had a rather long post written, and then deleted it. Most of it really didn't need to be published, and the public consumption part most of the regulars here know; know my view of what was done to move the difficult but winnable Afghan war in one speech in DEC09 to a hopeless cause.

Don't try to fight it out either way in comments. I'm in no mood to play with tired arguments from people are at best are just temporally disjointed, ignorant, or at worst just petty trolls.

Instead of all that non-productive crap, I decided to think of the good memories of Camp Bastion/Leatherneck as I knew it here. That cross between the surface of Mars and Moon Base Alpha. 

Two visits stand out the most. The two days of heartburn when I had following my overly enthusiastic breakfast with the Brits after not sleeping for the better parts of two days. Beans, stewed tomatoes, butter soaked dry toast and some kind of sausage on a stomach like that only prepped with black coffee in a dehydration was ... well ... what it was.

In a little more than four months before I hung up the uniform for good, Bastion was the pivot point in my last, "Screw the USAF, I'll figure this out myself" adventure.

Being stuck in Qatar after a conference; needing to get back to Kabul yesterday; a "two week delay" to get a flight back; staying all night after most everyone else gave up, and convincing a C-17 loadmaster in the middle of the night to open just a few seats in their "cargo only" flight - in a few minutes he came back after checking with the aircraft commander with a thumbs up. Had 5-minutes to get on. It was one of those, "Yes, I need to get to Kabul, but for now I just need to get in to AFG. I'll find my way to Kabul from there." moments.  

On the way, with a smug, "I told you I could do this" grin on my face, I walked around the lost souls hanging on hope in the wee hours I had met that day, grabbed a SEABEE CO and CMDCM who needed to get to their command who I told to wait with me as I was "feeling lucky," another lost O-5 Navy type who, like me, refused to accept that we had to wait two weeks, and a female USAF E-4 who was just lost not knowing what to do. With my team of misfit toys in tow, we followed the loadmaster to the C-17 and, like the cat who ate the canary, just nodded at each other as wheels when up, and fell asleep. Only the SEABEEs actually needed to get to Bastion - the rest of us other places. 

Sure enough, we got to Bastion in that C-17, shook hands and went our separate ways. My plan was that I had no plan, but hey - at least I was in AFG. Thing is, when alone and needing help - always look to family. The USMC was there. I knew right where to go.

Walked over in what was in '09 just a tent next to the taxi way, to USMC flight ops to see what was going to Kabul or Baghran - and generally to hang out in a place I knew I would be welcome, even if I was just a USN terminal O5 staff weenie a log way from his desk. 

"Nothing due today." Said the Marine looking at the ink board for today's flights, when all of a sudden we heard the distinct sound of a recently landed C-130 in beta. "Who is that?" I asked. "We have no idea."

Funny but longish story later; an ANG C-130 was dropping off one pallet and then flying empty to Baghran. I asked if I could have a ride, the nice Major said, "Sure." They said as long as I was willing to do a "combat dropoff" or whatever it is called when they keep all four burning and drop the ramp for people to run off; they'd stop in Kabul to drop me off. Just me.

And so, I found my way back to Kabul, not only two weeks earlier than the pogues in Qatar said I would - but 10-days earlier than the US Army Majors I traveled to Qatar with - but didn't think I could work the system, so headed off to the tent to snooze. They may have been SAMS graduates, but they didn't have that Navy, "I'll figure it out when I get there." sense of adventure. 

What a way to return to Kabul; a special flight in to Kabul all by myself, with a big sh1t-eating grin trotting off the back of a C-130 that didn't even bother to shut down - and before I was even past the tail of the aircraft, the ramp was coming up and the plane was taxiing. 

That was the last C-130 flight I would take, heck of a way to end that run. Still makes me smile.

A call to HQ ISAF, a USAF E-5, a Kiwi and a RAF guy pick me up in a Land Rover, and back to the HQ to finish up what was, in hindsight, thrown away by small, blinkered men. We tried.

Sigh. That was when we were in the middle of getting everything up to speed for the surge and we were all optimistic about the future. Few of us thought that Obama would quit later that year.

The days of SEABEEs, Red Horse, Rhino Snot, worldwide shortage of airport matting, and the Karzai family's cornering of the rock crushing market. Good times, good times.

That is my small, insignificant, staff weenie memory of Bastion/Leatherneck - but that isn't the story of that base. 

You could fill up years of FbF with the sacrifice of the US, UK, and allied servicemembers who served there. Doing their job as best as they were allowed - but largely untold by a bored nation, distracted leadership, and a largely indifferent culture.

Yes, the above is the short post. I'm just going to end it with the videos below. I frankly, just don't know what else to say. 

All that fighting, great fighting, that so few know about, and even fewer care. BZ to all - we did what we could and at least some of us, those who served with you and others who didn't but made the effort to find out, know. 

The rest can go pack sand.

Pause, ponder, and reflect.


Staff Sergeant Kenneth Oswood, of Romney, West Virginia, is one of the few members of the squadron who participated in both the Iraq withdrawal and Monday's Helmand airlift.

"It's a lot different this time .... Closing out Iraq, when we got there, we were told there hadn't been a shot fired in anger at us in years. And then you come here and they are still shooting at us," Oswood said.

"It's almost like it's not over here, and we're just kind of handing it over to someone else to fight."

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Diversity Thursday

After a summer where more and more people’s eyes have been opened to the divisive, sectarian, and even racist nature of Critical Race Theory and have risen in opposition to it and similar race-essentialist world view in to our schools, the next logical step is how people feel about it becoming an essential part of taxpayer supported public education.

As we’ve discussed it in detail here, we know there is a problem in the US Navy where the Chief of Naval Operations has enthusiastically supported the works of one of the most high-profile advocates of the most cancerous forms of Critical Race Theory, Ibram X. Kendi. With that top cover, it was only a matter of time until its advocates came out of the shadows to inject it elsewhere in our Navy.

As we covered last week, one of the fellow travelers of Kendi has become rather popular at the United States Naval Academy. Could it get worse? 

Of course it could get worse. With the Diversity Industry, that is their job. Remember, they have paychecks and world views to justify. No one wants to solve anything – indeed – the goal is to not only continue the crisis they describe, but to create it if it does not exist and to grow it if they can.

What would you think about USNA, 

“…integrating Claudia Rankine’s work into the USAN teaching and learning community?”

Oh yes … and there will be theater.


Sadly, we missed it and there doesn’t seem to have been a recording made of this glorious event. If any readers here saw it, drop me an email … I’d love to hear how it went.

I can’t seem to find a full reading, but I have something better. Here is the author discussing her play.

Is this really the mindset we want Midshipmen to bring to the fleet? Is this how we foster good order and discipline?


I'm not sure what is in her heart, but it isn't healthy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Economic Power is Global Power

Want to get a more wholistic view of what is and what is not worth the investment of strategic effort, sacrifice, and investment?

Follow the money.

Pondering a great graphic over at USNIBlog.

Come by and puzz'l your nogg'n with me for a bit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Drydocks Matter

We've spent a long time here and on Midrats discussing the almost criminal neglect of the "unsexy but important" parts of our maritime national security infrastructure by our uniformed and civilian leadership over the last three decades.

It goes beyond the wholesale destruction of our base, shipyard, and repair facilities. Over and above our under-resourced auxiliaries from ice breakers to command ships. We have a moribund merchant marine, almost non-existent war reserve, and our repair facilities are so incredibly delicate they cannot meet the well planned peace time repairs, much less any realistic wartime requirements.

And yet ... we continue to mindless drift in history's currents - making  no effort to look for shoals, obstructions, or even what direction we are going in - though we fully know we have a place to go and the path there is full of hazards. 

Over at Forbes, Craig Hooper has an incredibly important peace about the story the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is about to lay out over the coming weeks.

We may not get many more clear warnings than what CONNECTICUT is giving us. We should listen.

Perhaps this will be a clear call to those who still refuse to hear all the warnings about the fragility of our support infrastructure.


 In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, reflecting Department of Defense disinterest in basing ships in the Marianas Islands, ripped the heart out of the U.S. Navy’s shoreside establishment at Guam. Along with closure of Guam’s Ship Repair Facility, the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center and Naval Activities were shuttered in 1997—and in an ironic sense of timing, the repair yard the USS Connecticut desperately needs was closed 24 years ago, the very same month the powerful sub was launched. 

The Navy’s shore establishment on Guam has failed to keep pace with America’s focus on the Pacific. Naval ships are back. The Marinas Islands are now home to an Expeditionary Sea Base, two sub tenders, four nuclear submarines and a host of ten or so Military Sealift Command Vessels associated primarily with U.S. Marine Corps or Army prepositioning programs. 

Even as new ships arrived, the shore maintenance support has dwindled.

Once Guam’s Ship Repair Operations Facility was privatized, the Military Sealift Command—the yard’s primary customer back then—shifted a good amount of refit work to more cost-effective foreign yards. 

The green eye-shade cult of efficiency is, more than any other movement, damning our navy's ability to operate and setting the nation up for strategic failure.

From domestic supply chains, to selling finite STEM research positions to foreign nationals, to having a repair infrastructure needed to fight and win wars - the MBAs and CPAs - and the leaders who listen to them, are a greater threat than any foreign power.

Guam’s two aged dry docks are gone. The World War II-era floating dry dock Richland (YFD-64) was sold off in 2016 to a Philippine maritime service provider. The Machinist (AFDB-8), a large auxiliary floating dry dock known locally as the “Big Blue,” was a relatively young platform, delivered to the United States in 1980. Damaged after a 2011 hurricane, the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

Workers have drifted away, too. The original pool of 800 workers that supported the shipyard in the early 1990’s has shrunk down to a few hundred at most. 

In 2018, with naval activity at Guam at a post-Cold War high, the Navy inexplicably mothballed the repair facility, with no apparent plan to recapitalize it. 

Yes, let's pull that out again;

 ...the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

We can't fire everyone - but I understand the emotion to do so.

If the damage to the sub is severe, it will be a real struggle to patch up the USS Connecticut enough so it can make a safe transit to the Navy shipyards in either Hawaii or Puget Sound—over 6,500 miles away. 

It is almost criminal what has been done to what was at one time the world's greatest maritime power.

Read it all. Get angry. Ask hard questions. Demand action.

We can start by building some new floating dry docks. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sea Power is American Power - and we are Throwing it Away


“Divest to Invest” is the lie a declining power tells itself when temporary leaders decide to shrug the hard work today to enable a more secure tomorrow, in order to have a comfortable and pleasant tour for themselves today – forcing others to have to play catch up later. It is that, or it is just plain wrong.

We’ve seen this play before in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it failed so well last time, it is back again.

The Terrible 20s does not have to happen, but it is. Decline is a choice, and one we seem to be making … but it is reversible if a nation and its leaders have the will to stand athwart the declinist drive and yell, “Stop!”. 

While it is easy to become frustrated, now is not the time to become demoralized. We are not in a dark room surrounded by the unknown – no – we are on a well-worn path.

We should start this week by having a visit with two old friends: Claude Berube and Jerry Hendrix.

First, I’d like you to take a moment to look in detail at this essential graph from Claude. It speaks for itself.

Next, if you have not already, head over to Foreign Policy for Jerry’s superior ringing of the bell.

Now, with defense budgets flat or declining, leading Defense Department officials are pushing a “divest to invest” strategy – whereby the Navy must decommission a large number of older ships to free up funds to buy fewer, more sophisticated, and presumably more lethal platforms.

China, meanwhile, is aggressively expanding its naval footprint and is estimated to have the largest fleet in the world. Leading voices simultaneously recognize the rising China threat while also arguing that the United States must shrink its present fleet in order to modernize. Adm. Philip Davidson, who led U.S. Into-Pacific Command until he retired this spring, observed in March that China could invade Taiwan in the next six years – presumably setting the stage for a major military showdown with the United States – while Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, has argued that the Navy needs to accelerate the decommissioning of its older cruisers and littoral combat ships to free up money for vessels and weapons that will be critical in the future.

Taken together, these views add up to strategic confusion and an obliviousness to history.

Throughout history, large naval and merchant fleets represented not just a power multiplier but an exponential growth factor in terms of national influence. All historical sea powers recognized this – until they didn’t.

As I alluded to in the opening, we are not in uncharted waters. Other people and nations have been here before.

In October 1904, Adm. John “Jackie” Fisher was appointed first sea lord of the Royal Navy. He arrived in office certain who the enemy was – Germany – but also with clear direction from civilian leadership to tighten his belt and accept declining naval budgets. Fisher’s solution to this strategic dilemma was to dramatically shrink the fleet in order to pay for modernization while also concentrating the remaining ships closer to Great Britain. His investments in modernization were breathtaking – most notably the introduction of a steam-turbine, all-big-gun battleship, the HMS Dreadnought, which would lend its name to all subsequent battleships that followed, transforming global naval competition.

Today, Fisher’s strategy would be recognized as a divest-to-invest modernization plan. And the lesson is clear: Britain found that it was unable to preserve even the façade of being a global power; it was quickly reduced to being a regional maritime power on the periphery of Europe.

The ensuing conditions of international instability, shifting alliance structures, and the global arms race contributed to the outbreak of World War I and the end of empires, including Britain’s.

There is a comfortable delusion a navy at peace can fall in to; filter upon filter takes out the hard answers to difficult questions – giving favor to soft, comforting answers resting on a platform supported by delicately crafted, untested, and fragile assumptions.

…the overarching U.S. naval strategy, stated repeatedly by defense leaders during this spring’s round of congressional hearings, is to “divest” of older platforms in order to “invest” in newer platforms that, although fewer in number, would possess a qualitive edge over those fielded by competitors. As history reveals, this strategy will produce a fleet too small to protect the United States’ global interests or win its wars.

When soft answers gain too many advocates, it steers the nation into dangerous waters. That is when the hard answer advocates must raise their voices.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, Congress should follow its constitutional charge in Article 1 and allocate funds sufficient to both provide for a newer, more modern fleet in the long run and to maintain the Navy that it has today as a hedge against the real and proximate threat from China. Such an allocation requires a 3 to 5 percent annual increase in the Navy’s budget for the foreseeable future, as was recommended by the bipartisan 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission.

Both steps are crucial. Weapons like hypersonic missiles and directed energy mounts like the much-hyped railgun are changing the face of warfare, although not its nature, and the United States must invest to keep up with its competitors in China and Russia, which are already fielding some of these systems in large numbers. … Great powers possess large, robust, and resilient navies. Conversely, shrinking fleets historically suggest nations that are overstretched, overtasked, and in retreat. Such revelations invite expansion and challenge from would-be rivals. To meet the demands of the current strategic environment, the U.S. Navy must grow – and quickly

Now, in this third decade of the 21st century, the United States must not ignore the rhymes of history, repeating the mistakes of the sea power that came before it – Britain – by lulling itself into the false belief that it can divest to invest in a brighter future while China maneuvers to overtake it. It must have larger defense budgets that will allow for a sea power-focused national security strategy in the face of rising threats. The United States must recognize yet again – as other have before it – that on the world’s oceans, quantity has a quality all its own.

The United States is a maritime and aerospace power. A strong maritime strategy is a strong national strategy. Say it. Speak up. Repeat until you tire of the argument, then repeat it more. Support those who do likewise. This will take a while.

Like the next war, this is will be a long fight. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

October Natsec Free-For-All - on Midrats

From the fleet parked off Long Beach, to the already forgotten Afghanistan, to the particular aspirational desires of the latest 30-year Shipbuilding Plan - and whatever else comes across then quarterdeck - Eagle One and Sal are back LIVE for an October maritime and national security discussion.

As with all free for alls, the chat room will be open as will the studio phone lines … come join us this Sunday starting at 5pm Eastern. 

Join us live if you can and roll in with your preferred topic in the chat room or call the switchboard number right here on the showpage.

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, October 08, 2021

Fullbore Friday

You were born to immigrant parents.

At home you spoke a different language than outside the home. A language that in your adulthood would – by simply speaking it – be a source of hate.

You were part of a small religious minority.

You were smart though, and resourceful.

You excelled in academics and were an accomplished engineer. You did dearly love your country and while in college decided to help serve it by joining what we would call the Army National Guard.

By the end of three decades, people – peers, subordinates, historians and Field Marshalls alike - would say things like this about you;

"a great bullock of a man... though his manners were pleasant and his behaviour far from rough, I have seen few men who gave me such a sensation of force... a fit leader for the wild men he commanded” …  "…the best general on the western front in Europe" … "the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War."

Most Americans and others outside the Commonwealth may not know of General Sir John Monash, Australian Army. He passed away 90-yrs ago today.  Take a moment to read up on him via the links above. More than worthy of a FbF.

Embedded in his story is a great example of responding to mindless prejudice through superior performance … and to the great credit of leaders and people who notice it – pushing petty bigots to the side.

H/t Gray Connolly

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Diversity Thursday

If you think Critical Race Theory in high schools is of questionable utility, then you will love what has come to the United States Naval Academy Midshipmen.

With the CNO endorsing one of the most high-profile race essentialists, Kendi, to the Navy at large there are no guardrails to the most divisive, and in many ways racist ideas from being brought into all levels of our Navy.

You can call it “racial essentialism,” CRT, or just plain racism … but what we’ve tried to warn everyone about for over a decade and a half is here with bells on.

There is bad news, and there is good news.

First, the bad news; do you know who Claudia Rankine is? Neither did I until a little birdie dropped this jewel in my lap.

Before we go further, I want to have this bouncing around your head while we go into the details. A response we often see in such circumstances is that this is simply part of exposing people to “new ideas and perspectives.” That this is part of expanding the conversation and to challenge them with different view, etc … you know the drill.

Well, if the views of the author below are inside the Overton Window for discussions and the academic goal is to broaden the minds of MIDN on such issues … then when is USNA going to invite someone with an opposing view, and who would that be on the other side of the Overton Window? Who is defining the Overton Window? 

Something to ponder … so go get a pillow to put on your desk where you will be pounding your head shortly and … 


poet Claudia Rankine—author of 2014's award-winning Citizen, a meditation on everyday racism—received a MacArthur Fellowship and announced her plans for the $625,000 stipend: helping establish the Racial Imaginary Institute, a New York City space for art exhibits, lectures, and films that will investigate whiteness. 

Of course.

O: Does the term whiteness make white people defensive?

CR: They'll anxiously insist, "I'm not racist." Well, yes, you are. We all have biases—only I don't have power behind mine. If we can understand that racism is an active force, we can figure out how we got here. Think about sexism. Until some men could admit that it existed, men and women couldn't have a dialogue about it.

O: So white people need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

CR: Yes. 

Do you need to read more? You can read more at the link above if you so desire – or read her books or other writings. We have her book Just Us where, 

…Claudia Rankine invites us into a necessary conversation about Whiteness in America.  

or Citizen where she,

… recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. 

or Don’t Let me be Lonely where Midshipmen can ponder, 

I forget things too. It makes me sad. Or it makes

me the saddest. The sadness is not really about

George W. or our American optimism; the

sadness lives in the recognition that a life can

not matter.

 or the unifying “play” titled, of course, White Card,

…a play which illustrates how White people play “The White Card”. By so doing, she beautifully illustrates how Whites turn Blacks into “things” or “objects”, denying their real humanity. 

We could do more – but for the purposes of a blog I think we have enough to run with.

Yes, Claudia has some issues, and it appears the leaders at the USNA want MIDN to hear them.

Though not widely advertised outside the walls of Annapolis, it appears that Ms. Rankin was invited.

Once that joyful session was over, the conversation left the walls of Annapolis and in to the public space via social media where the birdie sent it to me.

I think this MIDN did a nice job thanking everyone.

However … it appears that “not the greatest” was carrying a lot of weight.

Now the good news. Let the unity begin!

There is a clear disconnect between the faculty – uniformed and civilian – at USNA and the MIDN.

I ask this simple question; after this visit, was there more unity or less? Was there a more cohesive body of MIDN, or less? Did it produce good order or bad? More sectarianism, or less?

Last month over on twitter, I put out a little note about what is going on at many of our war colleges. You can say the same thing about our service academies as well.

Will anyone ask the hard question who invited Rankine and why? What was their goal? Did they achieve their goal? Who will come to offer a different perspective?

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Ships Should Fail to Sail More Often


If a nation is at peace where do you draw the line from a risk management point of view if you should meet a scheduled underway period?

Where is a good example of when to decide it is just best to stay pierside?

I think we have a good example from an unexpected ally.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Japan Back in the Carrier Game ...

This really is an amazing video if you have a historically focused mind. 

Fresh from her modifications to fly F-35B, the Izumo is bringing the Japanese Navy back in the carrier business again … with some friends via United States Marine Corps F-35B.

The Japanese will be buying 42 F-35B and maybe more, so soon we will see the Izumo and her sister ships with the first Japanese fixed wing airwing at sea since the end of the Second World War.

I’d like more, faster – along with the South Koreans … and if we could get the Australians to play at some point that would be nice too … but this is all good news for navalists in the West.

Though not a “Western” nation, Japan is part of our network of allies and friends who stand for secure seas and the rule of law. The more of us who are strong and capable, the better we can contain other powers who see a darker future.

With USMC F-35B also underway for a full deployment with the HMS Queen Elizabeth – and even USAF CV-22B paying a visit – this is a good week for combined maritime operations that makes us all stronger and better.

Yes, this is a good week…but…more faster.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Fat Leonard II: Electric Boogaloo?

Two of the greatest self-inflicted institutional failures of the USN in the last half-century were Tailhook 91 and Fat Leonard. They decimated a generation of leaders and the hard-won service reputation with the American people and their elected representatives that we are still trying to climb out of.

While Tailhook 91’s failure was mostly in the response of senior uniformed and civilian leadership to the political pressure by feeding their young to Vaal hoping to save their own skins, Fat Leonard exposed a greater, more dangerous rot that tied in all the worst features of human nature; greed, lust, envy, and addiction. 

As much of Fat Leonard was avoidable if there were simply sufficiently ethical administrative oversight, one would think that after the still ongoing legal bloodbath, our Navy would take a fine-tooth comb to our husbanding partners and their relationships with the Navy. More importantly, a culture shift in oversight and accountability would be in place such that by 2021, we wouldn’t find ourselves here.

As reported by Craig Whitlock at WaPo yesterday; 

Federal agents are investigating a new U.S. Navy corruption case that has strong echoes of the Fat Leonard scandal, with a defense contractor facing accusations that he delivered cash bribes and bilked the Navy out of at least $50 million to service its ships in foreign ports, according to recently unsealed court records.


According to an arrest warrant unsealed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, Rafaraci and MLS defrauded the Navy of at least $50 million by inflating invoices for port services between 2011 and 2018.

In one instance, when the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson visited Manama, capital of the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, in January 2015, MLS billed the Navy for more than $231,000 in “port authority fees,” even though the Manama port authority charged only $12,686, the court documents show.

Here we go, again. Chump change corruption with institutional level damage.

Federal authorities are also seeking Rafaraci’s extradition on suspicion of money laundering and bribery. The arrest warrant alleges that he met with an unnamed U.S. Navy official at the Diplomat Hotel in Manama in August 2015, handed over an envelope stuffed with $20,000 in cash and told the official to “keep up the good work.”

Let us hope this is small an isolated occurrence and – trying to be optimistic here – we did have systems in place to hunt these issues down and … it worked?

Hillson said agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) uncovered the alleged wrongdoing and “have been actively coordinating with other law-enforcement authorities around the globe.”

As this story work its way out, a few things:

1. No mercy to the guilty. There are too many hard working people doing exceptional things unseen and unknown to allows a miniscule few to enrich themselves on their back – and when caught – bring shame on to the good people and their Navy.

2. Justice delayed is no justice at all. As important as giving the accused the right to a fair trial, also there is the importance of seeing justice served in a timely manner. Hopefully the legal process will not be as drawn-out as Fat Leonard.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Fullbore Friday

We should always have a USS SIMS.  

History shows that every warship must be able to defend itself. It must be able to fight hurt. It must be able to have sufficient people for damage control. There is no "safe area" at sea. You can make a mistake - and so can the enemy. There is not time out. There is no do over. 

Your nation has been at war for only a few months. You are part of a hobbled together, but powerful battlegroup set to blunt the spear of the enemy who has been marching forward without rest.

You have prepared yourself and your ship for this from day one. There is a problem however; your ship has engineering reliability issues.

Everything is ready for war ... but in the heart of your ship, going back to when she was built, your boiler tubes are iffy. Repaired, yet problems remain. The commander of the fleet as it prepares for battle is a detail man. Detail to the point of micro-managing each ships fuel load resulting in a non-stop UNREP cycle.

He knows your ship has problems. On the eve of battle, the Admiral decides he needs to move his non-fighting High Value Unit (HVU) out of harm's way. Over to a quiet part of the sea, so after the battle, his ships can UNREP again.

That ship, the USS NEOSHO (AO-23), will need an escort. No Admiral wants a snake-bit ship to break down in the middle of a battle, so your ship, the USS SIMS (DD-409) will steam off with the oiler to ride out the battle in peace.

As all the other ships ready for battle, you do as ordered - head off over the horizon to hide with pride.

Fate has her own plans, however. The crew of the SIMS and NEOSHO were about to face a trial that if it were not true, would be considered a fevered fantasy fiction. War is like that. It has its own reason.

There is 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. Inspired by that book, this Friday is the story of the trial of SIMS and in support of NEOSHO. 

One persons failure to properly recognize what they see. One bad report. Read it all ... but "it won't happen" happened;
One hour after dawn, Neosho and Sims were precisely where they were supposed to be – at 16°S, 158°E. At dawn, also Admiral Takagi had a suggestion from Admiral Hara, the carrier division commander. Let Hara send Zuikaku's planes out to search one area behind the carrier force, and Shokaku's planes to search another -- just to make sure that the Americans had not circled around and come up in the rear of the Japanese covering force. Takagi approved. The Zeros and the medium bombers revved up and took off from the Japanese carriers, circled and set out at 0600. 

At 0736 the Japanese searchers in the eastern section of the zone spotted ships on the water. The observers radioed back to the carriers that they had come upon the American carrier force. Below, said the Japanese observer, were a carrier and a cruiser. Admiral Hara directed the bombers to the location and the Japanese began to close in. But the ships on which they were moving were not the American carriers, but destroyer Sims and oiler Neosho. 
Just after eight o'clock that morning, lookouts on the Neosho spotted two planes, but assumed they were American planes checking on the safety of the oiler and her escort. Shortly after nine o'clock in the morning, Chief Petty Officer Robert James Dicken of the USS Sims was sitting in the chiefs' quarters, when he heard a loud explosion. From Neosho's bridge, Captain John S. Phillips could see that a single plane moving over Sims dropped that bomb, which exploded about a hundred yards off the starboard quarter of the destroyer. 
From the bridge of the Sims, Lieutenant Commander Willford Milton Hyman, the captain of the little one-pipe destroyer, passed the order: General Quarters. The ship was under attack. At the moment, some aboard the destroyer thought it was all a dreadful mistake, that one of their own planes had failed to identify the ship and bombed them by mistake. Frantically, chief Signalman Dicken on the bridge began blinking his light, sending recognition signals. There was no response. The single medium bomber disappeared off to the north. 
Captain Hyman ordered full speed. The ship's guns opened up on the retreating bomber, but the plane quickly disappeared into the clouds. Neosho changed course to starboard, and Sims, the little bulldog, kept out ahead of her, Neosho traveling at 18 knots, and Sims racing back and forth in front, from port to starboard, the sea swirling in her excited wake. 

Fifteen minutes went by, and then twenty. The ships moved on, the lookouts craning around the horizon, squinting into the sun and waiting, sure now that it was no mistake and that there would be more bombs to come. On the bridge Captain Hyman's orders were quiet and terse; it was an eerie time, the whine of the engines driving the propellers, the swish of the sea alongside the ship, the clang of metal on metal -- and still it seemed very, very quiet. Sun and sky and sea had never been more peaceful.

The Attack Continues
Then, about half an hour after the first attack, little specks, ten of them, appeared in the sky in the north, before the noises of their engines could be heard. The lookouts on Sims saw them coming. Captain Hyman called up Captain Phillips to warn Neosho; the lookouts of the oiler had not seen the planes. The ships changed course, swung around in a wide arc to throw off the approaching enemy, for now every man on the destroyer and the oiler knew what he must face.

The Japanese pilots saw, and with no effort at all, it seemed, adjusted and came moving in. Still they were very high, paralleling the course of the American ships on their port side. The bombers were so high that although Sims began firing rapidly, they were hopelessly out of range.
Go back - and read it all.

I cannot do this justice without going to the complete report by DESTROYERS PACIFIC FLEET. Read it all and be humbled.
U.S.S. Sims - Description of Bombing Attack and Narrative of Events Following Attack by Japanese Bombers on May 7, 1942.

During the forenoon of May 7, 1942, while acting as anti-submarine escort for, and patrolling station ahead of the U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23), the U.S.S. Sims was attacked and sunk by Japanese bombers in the Coral Sea. The weather was clear, with alto-cumulus clouds at about 15,000 feet altitude; the sea was smooth, with a slight swell; wind was about three knots.

The ship had steam on all boilers and one 5-inch gun, as well as all four 20 mm. anti-aircraft guns, was manned. The SC radar was manned, and was searching; no FD radar had been installed.

At about 0910 a bomb landed in the water at some distance to port, abreast of the forward guns. One man at Number Two Mount was injured by a fragment, but no material damage was incurred. Gober states, however, that the hearing of all hands at Numbers One and Two Mounts was impaired by the explosion and that normal hearing did not return for about one hour. After the bomb had landed, a lone twin motored reconnaissance plane was sighted at about 15,000 yards range, flying high and crossing above the ship. General Quarters was sounded immediately; the 20 mm. guns began firing; and the 5 inch gun which was manned began firing in director control. The first three projectiles failed to burst, while the following shots appeared to be well off in deflection. Savage says that the plane apparently changed course every time he noted a flash of the gun. This plane then flew out of gun range and continued to shadow the Sims and Neosho. An enemy contact report was sent out by the Sims after this attack.

The Sims had numerous radar contacts following this first attack and about 0930 sixteen high level bombers in two groups attacked the Sims and Neosho. They dropped bombs which missed wide, causing no damage to either ship. Sims survivors stated that the bombers were apparently disturbed by the fire from the 5-inch guns, all of which were firing in director control. No information was obtained as to whether any of the planes were shot down. A total of 328 rounds of 5-inch ammunition was expended in these first two phases of the attack.

The horizontal bombers disappeared from sight but the Sims continued to pick up planes on her SC radar. None were sighted, however, until twenty-four dive bombers appeared at about 1130. As soon as these planes appeared, The Sims went to flank speed and turned left to take position on the port quarter of the tanker; fire was opened by the 5-inch battery in director control when the planes came within range. The attacks were directed primarily at the tanker and came in from various bearings astern in three waves. The planes approached at about 15,000 feet and dove close to the ship in shallow dives of about 30°. Bombs were released quite close aboard, because survivors state that some bombers were destroyed by the blast of their own bombs. The Sims made a direct hit on one bomber with a 5-inch shell and the plane was seen to explode in the air. The 20 mm. guns fired continuously at the dive bombers as they passed overhead and tracers were seen to pass through the planes, but the projectiles failed to burst and destroy the aircraft. One of the forward 20 mm. guns jammed early in the action and was not cleared during the remainder of the engagement.

Four planes broke off from one wave of Neosho attackers and directed their attack at the Sims, diving on her in succession from astern. All of these planes were single motored, had fixed landing gear, and had a silhouette similar to that of Japanese dive bombers. The first released a bomb which landed in the water about amidships to port; the second released a bomb which landed on Number Two Torpedo Mount and exploded in the forward engine room; the third released a bomb which apparently hit the after upper deck house and went down through diagonally forward, exploding in the after engine room; the fourth plane is believed to have made a direct hit on Number Four Gun, but this cannot be definitely established. Numbers Three and Four Mounts and the after 20 mm. guns were put out of commission by the bomb hits, but the forward mounts in local control and one 20 mm. gun continued firing at the planes until all of them were out of gun range. The total number of rounds fired by the Sims cannot be ascertained, but one survivor states that over 200 rounds were fired from Number Two Mount alone. During this last attack, the paint on the barrel of Number One Mount blistered and caught fire; the crew, however, continued to fire with the complete length of the barrel in flames. Several planes were brought down by gun fire during this attack. Neosho survivors told Sims survivors that the planes which attacked the Sims were never seen to emerge from the blast of their bomb explosions. It is believed that the bombs dropped were about 500 pound size.

Though there are only thirteen known survivors of the Sims, these men are from widely separated battle stations and it is possible to reconstruct a fairly accurate account of the damage.

As previously stated, the first bomb released at the Sims during the dive bombing attack was a near miss to port. There appears to have been no material or personnel casualties as the result of this hit. The fireroom survivors say that missiles were heard hitting the shell of the ship but none penetrated.

Because the three direct hits on the Sims came in fairly close succession, it is not possible for the survivors to recall accurately the events connected with each hit. Therefore, the damage can probably be best described by recounting the stories of each individual survivor interviewed.

The immediate effect of the first hit was a complete loss of power. The ship stopped dead in the water and all lights went out. The auxiliary diesel generator started and picked up the electrical load on those units whose power supply cables had not been damaged. When this bomb exploded, flames shot about 150 feet in the air, the forward section of the ship vibrated violently, knocking people down, a lookout stationed on top of the director shield was blown overboard, and Savage, who was stationed at the director, was knocked down by the blast. The radar antennae fell from the mast and landed in the port motor whaleboat; all signal halyards dropped from the yard but the mast stays did not part. Dicken reports that the pilot house "was a shambles"; the chart desk in the chart house was torn loose from its fastenings and the quick acting doors leading from the inside passage to the deck below were jammed shut, leaving the vertical ladder at the after end the only access to and from the bridge. The general alarm sounded with a continuous hum, which is the customary signal for gas attack. This gave several men the impression that they were being subjected to such an attack. This sounding of the alarm, however, was remedied quickly by pulling the switch on the circuit.

No real material damage was noted in the plotting room. The first bomb explosion caused several instrument glasses to break, but all equipment appeared to continue functioning until all power was lost after the second bomb hit, at which time the diesel generator stopped. Ernst then attempted to get onto the main deck by going up through the main deck hatch and out through the galley passageway but he found all quick acting doors in this area jammed shut. He went back down and forward along the first platform deck through C.P.O. quarters and finally succeeded in getting out onto the forecastle deck through the scuttles in the hatches leading to the C.P.O. mess room.

Reilly states that the first bomb caused no damage other than the breaking of gage glasses in the forward fireroom. All lights went out immediately and by the time Reilly was able to light a battle lantern to look at the steam pressure on the boilers it had already dropped to 200 pounds per square inch and was falling rapidly. On feeling a second shock, which was probably the second bomb hit, he secured the boilers, closed the master oil valve and all of the crew left the fireroom. No steam or feed lines in the fireroom carried away as a result of these two explosions.

In the after fireroom no extensive damage resulted from the first hit. The after bulkhead of the fireroom appeared to hold and no water entered the space. The fireroom gratings were knocked out of place, lights went out, and the steam pressure dropped to zero. Apparently, Canole and Vessia left the fireroom after the first bomb hit, because the latter states that on coming up onto deck he met the Chief Engineer who ordered him to go back down to insure that the boilers had been secured. (One other survivor states that immediately following the first hit he saw the Chief Engineer, Lieut. W. Silverstein, USN, who was in charge of the Repair Party stationed in the machine shop, lying on deck unconscious. He apparently recovered quickly and directed damage control work in a commendable manner, as will be brought out later in this report). Vessia went down again into the fireroom and secured the boiler. While he was doing this work, the second explosion occurred. The blast from this bomb split the deck open overhead and forced the after fireroom bulkhead forward almost to the boiler casing. The fuel oil heater, which was mounted on the bulkhead, dropped down into the bilges. There was no immediate flooding, nor was any steam or feed water released, because Vessia states that he was directly under the lines and would most certainly have been burned had this been the case. Other survivors state that the lathe in the machine shop was knocked loose and was hanging suspended down through the hole in the main deck, and that a small fire, which was easily extinguished, was burning in the machine shop. It is believed that all hands were killed at their battle stations in the engine rooms.

Only one man stationed in the after section of the ship during the attack was rescued. This man, E.F. Munch, MM2c, was stationed in the steering engine room. He states that the two other men at this station with him survived the explosions but were probably lost in the water later. When the first bomb hit the ship, Munch states that all power was lost and all communication except with the I.C. Room was severed. Power was restored when the diesel generator started and was maintained for about two minutes. In the berthing compartment immediately forward of the steering engine room all bunks dropped onto the deck and some water entered. Flooding did not appear to progress, however. After the second hit, Munch and the other men stationed in the steering engine room went up to the main deck. What became of the other two men is not known, but Dicken states that Munch remained on the fantail as the ship was sinking and secured a loose depth charge which was rolling about. Munch was later picked up out of the water by Dicken after the Sims had sunk.

An accurate description of the damage to the after end of the ship cannot be pieced together. It appears that the first bomb hit the after torpedo mount and exploded in the engine room below. The torpedo mount was blown overboard and some of the warheads, which must have been sheared off, were seen on deck. The forward torpedo mount was canted upward and the spoons were driven into the stack. The second bomb hit apparently wrecked the after upper deck house, setting it on fire, and probably exploded in the after engine room. Six of the eight life rafts aboard the ship were in the vicinity of these explosions and they were blown to bits. Number Four Gun had apparently received a direct hit, because every one in the gun crew had been killed and the gun was wrecked. A gaping hole was blown in the main deck above the engine rooms. Dicken states that the deck was ruptured from starboard to port. He further states that, from the bridge, the damage did not appear as extensive as it really was, and that the Commanding Officer had every intention of saving the ship and directed his every effort to do so until the last.

After the attack was over the Commanding Officer ordered everyone off the bridge except himself and the Chief Quartermaster. He ordered all hands to assist the repair party in charge of the Chief Engineer in jettisoning topside weights. All loose material was thrown overboard; Lieutenant Silverstein, with several machinist's mates, attempted to free the forward torpedo mount to permit firing the torpedoes. The port boat was lowered over the side and it sank immediately. The two remaining life rafts, located at about frame 76, were launched and the starboard motor whaleboat was lowered. Although this boat had been holed by a large splinter, it was kept afloat by stuffing life jackets in the hole and by continuous bailing; the motor operated satisfactorily. Gober, Cannole, Chmielewski, Scott, Reilly, and Vessia manned this boat. The Commanding Officer then ordered Dicken to take charge of the boat and to go aft in it to put out the fire in the after upper deck house and to flood the after magazines. Dicken had to swim out to the boat from the ship and he noted that there was no oil on the water at this time. On taking charge of the boat Dicken proceeded around the bow to the lee side of the ship aft. As the motor whaleboat approached, the ship seemed to break amidships and start to sink slowly. The stern went under first and appeared to draw the bow aft, pulling it down stern first. All hands began abandoning ship in life jackets, swimming for the rafts. Just as the water level reached the top of the stack and began running down into it, a terrific explosion occurred. What remained of the ship was lifted ten to fifteen feet out of the water, and the surface of the water around the ship was covered with oil. This great explosion was followed by another smaller one, which survivors definitely identified as a depth charge explosion. The remaining forward section then settled slowly, sinking in about five minutes. One man who couldn't swim was seen hanging onto the anchor until the stem disappeared into the water. Survivors estimate that the ship sank in about fifteen to twenty minutes after receiving the first direct hit. Under conditions of stress such as existed at the time, minutes would seem like hours and it is quite possible that the ship sank much more rapidly than these men estimate.

The survivors are of the opinion that the terrific explosion was a boiler explosion. This seems hardly plausible, though, because both fireroom survivors state that the steam pressure had dropped to zero. A depth charge or warhead explosion appears to be more likely. No survivor knows definitely whether or not the depth charges were set on "SAFE", but Dicken states that the usual practice on the Sims was to keep them set on "SAFE" until a submarine contact was made.

Following this explosion, Dicken, in the whaleboat, proceeded to pick up all men in the water whom he could find, and who appeared to be still alive. He succeeded in saving a total of fifteen men, including himself, and then began looking for the life rafts in order to take them in tow. His search was fruitless, so he headed toward the U.S.S. Neosho, which was dead in the water, listed about 25° and burning. He approached to within 250 yards and awaited instructions. After about thirty minutes he was called alongside and several of the Neosho wounded were put in the boat. During the night of May 7th Dicken and the survivors of the Sims, along with the several Neosho men, stayed in the boat, keeping in the vicinity of the Neosho. On May 8th they again went alongside and transferred the wounded back aboard, where mattresses had been laid out on deck. The Sims crew attempted to patch the hole in their boat and succeeded in stopping it somewhat, but continuous bailing was still necessary. They tried to repair the engine, which had stopped, but could not start it again. On the evening of May 8th the captain of the Neosho gave all hands the choice of remaining aboard through the night or taking to the boats. Dicken and his men (one had died during the night), along with ten from the Neosho, spent the night of May 8th in the boat. The sea was quite rough that night and the Sims whaleboat drifted about three miles away from the Neosho. Dicken realized that the best course was to stay near the Neosho, but without a motor he had no way of getting back. He ingeniously rigged a sail, using blankets and boat staffs, and sailed back to the tanker on May 9th. Meanwhile, the men who had stayed aboard the Neosho had succeeded in launching a 40-foot motor launch and had rigged hoisting gear by which they were able to lift the Sims whaleboat clear of the water to permit patching of the hole. The punctured buoyancy tanks were replaced with 5-gallon cans, a sail rigged, and the boat was stocked with provisions and water. However, since it appeared that the Neosho hulk would remain afloat, all hands remained aboard until they were rescued by the U.S.S. Henley (DD-391) on May 11th.
Of 237 men on board the morning of the attack, only 15 made it in to a whaleboat that made it to the NEOSHO. Of those, only 13 survived the attack.

13 of 237. 94.5% killed in the attack.

A note about the SIMS Class of destroyers.  Of her Class, 12 were commissioned between 1938 and 1940. By the end of the war, five were sunk in action against the enemy. 42%.

Beautiful ships in peace. 

First posted SEP15.