Friday, January 29, 2021

Competing in the Competition Phase

The last year, as most of the nation was focused on a highly contentious election and a global pandemic, the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard put on a the table multitude of documentation in to the conversation outlining our best minds' official view of where the Naval Services need to go; Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, CNO NAVPLAN, National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, and more from recent years. How can one try to weave them together?

Back for another run at CDRSalamander, regular guest Bryan McGrath offers the below for your consideration.

Over to you Bryan!

The Navy had a sudden burst of intellectual energy in the last few weeks, joining with the Marine Corps and Coast Guard in releasing a "Tri-Service Maritime Strategy "and then issuing a “CNO NAVPLAN” to provide additional implementation guidance thereto. This essay will not attempt a comprehensive review of these documents. Suffice it to say that both documents provide useful insight into selected elements of strategic and operational thinking within the Naval Service (a term introduced in the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy as a proper noun, hence the capitalization). The timing of their release was unfortunate, both from the perspective of an audience busy with holiday merry-making and from the fact that a new presidential administration would shortly be entering office. To some extent, there is never a perfect time to release these kinds of documents, but the choice here was particularly problematic. That said, there are important implications to explore, and one of them is the basis of this essay. 

In these documents, the Naval Service has elevated the importance of what is referred to as the “Continuum of Competition”, a continuum comprised of a long-term competition phase, a crisis phase, and a conflict phase. The prominence of and emphasis on the competition phase is an important feature of this thinking, with implications for the three maritime services. For example, one of the impossible-to-miss implications of this strategy is the centrality placed on U.S. Coast Guard activities in the Western Pacific, and the force structure and logistics impacts that necessarily follow. 

Where the strategic thinking goes astray—not fatally, but importantly—is in the failure to recognize the importance of the fleet architecture and force posture appropriate to the day-to-day competition as the basis for all that follows in crisis and conflict. Put another way, the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy both emphasize conventional deterrence by denial, an approach that for the Navy at least, suggests greater capability, capacity, lethality, and distribution during the day-to-day competition. Yet, the enabling concept for this approach (Distributed Maritime Operations or DMO) is fixed in the strategy as a creature of the “conflict” phase. The Navy is not alone in misplacing its most important conventional deterrence concept, as the Marine Corps’ “Expeditionary Advance Base Operations” concept is also treated essentially as a war plan enabler, rather than a deterrent. This is not just a category error; it is an intellectual flaw with significant implications for fleet architecture and force structure, a flaw that could impact both the Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (ISRT) posture, and the logistics force.

Part of the problem in discussing DMO is the fact that there is no unclassified version of the concept available, and so there is confusion as to what it is and is not. The Marines have released an unclassified EABO narrative, which is referred to often in leadership communications. For the purposes of this essay, DMO will be (simplistically, improperly, incompletely) considered the extension of the Surface Warfare community’s 2014/5 “Distributed Lethality” concept into what the Navy refers now to as “multi-domain” operations. 

At the heart of Distributed Lethality was the recognition that it was an approach to conventional deterrence. By increasing the offensive and defensive combat punch of surface ships and effectively networking them, greater lethality would be available during the long, day-to-day competition phase. This was believed to have two main impacts on adversary thinking. First, it raised the effort required to achieve even modest objectives in an adversary’s near abroad (denial). Second, it diluted the adversary’s available ISR effort by creating more numerous operational problems for them to monitor, in addition to spreading their available weapons stocks across a greater number of targets. The virtue of “distribution” was in “spreading the zone” and making the business of everyday life in the Western Pacific more difficult on China. Once the shooting starts, virtues of distribution decline, as opportunities for mutual support are more difficult under geographically dispersed conditions. 

In an essay in Proceedings, VADM Tom Rowden—then Commander of Naval Surface Forces—made the requirement for increased ISRT central to enabling surface operations and Distributed Lethality. It is axiomatic that U.S. Navy ship commanding officers sail within the First Island Chain with the strong suspicion that their location is known and that they are targeted. For a conventional deterrence posture to be effective, the same certainty needs to be imposed on PLAN CO’s in that battlespace, which means a considerably more robust U.S. ISRT posture in peacetime—the “competition” phase. 

When considering how to field such a posture, fleet architects can turn to manned and unmanned ISRT aircraft launched and recovered from Navy ships, aircraft carriers, and from land bases, in addition to satellite and undersea sensors. Here’s where things get interesting. If the Navy looks at DMO as a concept for the “conflict” phase, it will necessarily default to more “survivable” ISRT options—to include stealthy aircraft and satellites—as ISRT sensors would be natural targets for destruction by enemy forces. The expense of such a force—owing largely to the technology required to pull it off—would be considerable. If DMO were placed firmly in the competitive phase, less “survivable” (and therefore, less expensive) options would suggest themselves. 

Additionally, a conventional deterrence posture in the competitive phase in which the U.S. fields a considerable number of “risk-worthy” ISRT platforms is a posture in which adversary destruction of ISRT platforms serves as a strategic tripwire signaling wider aggressive intent. This does not mean that the U.S. Navy needs no stealthy/survivable ISRT platforms. It does. But it also needs the ability to create and maintain a targeting picture 24/7 inside the First Island Chain optimized to the available weapons inventory riding mostly in surface ships, one that creates in the minds of PLAN CO’s the same certainty that they are tracked and targeted in peacetime as exists in our CO’s minds.  

Interestingly, the same (or similar) conditions apply to the Navy’s effort to recapitalize its logistics force. If the Navy sizes and shapes its logistics force to the requirements of DMO in the conflict phase, it will likely undershoot the requirement, as forces are likely to be MORE distributed in the competition phase (though more numerous in the conflict phase), presenting a different (and potentially tougher) logistics problem than the one faced where there is some consolidation of naval forces for mutual support. 

The bottom line is that if the Navy continues to look at DMO as a “conflict phase” concept of operations, it will likely undersupply the key enablers of its conventional deterrence force it needs to effectively compete in the competition phase. What the Navy does in the day-to-day competition is of great value to how it will and can operate in the crisis and conflict phases. Set the conditions you desire in the competition phase, do not wait until crisis and conflict to constrain the adversary’s behavior and options. 

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a national security consultancy specializing in seapower, maritime concepts of operation, and fleet architecture. The views expressed here are his, and do not represent any client input, including the U.S. Navy. 

Crossposted on substack.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Is Sweden Going to Lap us Again?

Plucky Sweden, a nation 32 times smaller than the USA, produces some exceptional weapons - mostly on her own.

Looks like they are going to leverage Visby ... and I'm a bit jealous.

I'm seething over at USNIBlog.

Come on by, pull up an Ikea chair, and push some meatballs and herring around the plate with me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Musk vs. The US Navy

Have you watched the “build a little, test a little, learn a lot” progress of SpaceX over the last few years?  Like what Tesla has been able to do? Been impressed? Wondered why the USN hasn’t been able to bring a successful new warship online in two decades?

Well … via Blake Stilwell at we have a few rules from Elon Musk in a 2018 email that … well … I’ll let you read them; are a few productivity recommendations:

 – Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get (sic) of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

 – Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

 – Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

 – Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

 – Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere. 

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Know Capabilities, Not Names

Just as on the naval side of things, the Communist Chinese may call something a destroyer that is clearly a cruiser, the Europeans call something a frigate that is clearly a destroyer, and the Americans call a Littoral Combat Ship what is really a national disgrace, etc ... there are even more challenges figuring out capabilities on the land side.

A classic example, "How many divisions do they have?"

You might get a simple answer, but that may not be the answer you need in order to really understand what you are looking at.


When asked if, in 2025, a British war-fighting division will be capable of ‘overmatching the forces of a peer opponent such as Russia’, Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin replied ‘absolutely’. This assessment runs counter to the MoD’s own evidence. This is illustrated by the graphic below, which compares the anti-armour and artillery capabilities of the 3rd Division − as required by the 2015 SDSR − with an IISS assessment of the capabilities found in the Russian Army’s 4th tank division and the ‘reduced division’ that now represents the limited capability that the British Army could mobilise in 2025. It is highly likely that a Russian tank division would overmatch this much weaker British formation.

Details ... always ask for the details.

Crossposted to substack.


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Facing the 3rd Decade of the 21st Century, with James Holmes - on Midrats

New year, new decade, and a new President. Where should be be looking to have the right view on changes to strategy and maritime power? 

What existing trends are getting stronger, weakening - and what new things are starting to show up on the scope? 

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to cover the full natsec waterfront as we find it will be returning guest James R. Holmes, PhD. 

James holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.” 

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Communist China Updates Their Military Law

While we are saddled with the best thinking the early 1980s can muster, the Communist Chinese government just updated their military law to better align with their national security requirements.

What, exactly, are we doing?

I'm pondering a bit over at USNIBlog.

Come gnash your teeth with me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part LXXXVII

See that beautiful bird on the right? That was the late-great Pershing II of the Reagan Era that helped the Soviet Union fall apart.

It was exceptionally good for a nuclear weapon delivery vehicle with a very impressive accuracy. As it was nuclear only and we made agreements with an empire that eventually went away - we let that capability go.

The Chinese and others have not. They have hundreds of conventional short/intermediate/medium range ballistic missiles in their inventory ready to go. We have ... well ... pictures.

In the four decades since we decommissioned the Pershing II, a lot has happened. The Communist Chinese have - with our willing help - risen to challenge the USA. They have also had a great record of success stealing our civilian and military technology through a combination of old fashioned HUMINT, hacking, and flooding universities and research institutions with the money and grad students who get access to all sorts of records long filed and forgotten.

In most things there are distinct trends & "families" of designs. 

Pershing II has a distinct look, as do the CSS-5 (DF-17) & DS-26 - the two missiles that give the most bother to those in the USN looking at sustaining the fight west of Wake Island.

Form follows function et al, so this might just be good math doing its job, but the CCP's successful history if espionage shouldn't be dismissed. The Chinese desire to let others do their basic research for them is a hard habit to break.

Has anyone dug deeply in to the reasons that the CCP missiles we have grown to have such concern for ... have a familial resemblance to the Pershing II?

In a way, it doesn't matter. They have them by the hundreds while we are bragging that we can have a ship the size of a WWII destroyer toting around four foreign designed ASCM to ... tote them around.

Everyone needs to head over and read the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Thread report for 2020 by the  National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) in collaboration with the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee (DIBMAC).

Here's something to kick things off ... and then look at the children of Pershing II below;

China continues to deploy nuclear-armed MRBMs to maintain regional nuclear deterrence, and its long-term, comprehensive military modernization is improving the capability of its conventionally armed ballistic missile force to conduct high-intensity regional military operations, including “antiaccess and area denial” (A2/AD) operations. 
Currently, China deploys the CSS-5 Mod 2 for regional nuclear deterrence. China has the conventionally-armed CSS-5 Mod 4 and Mod 5 MRBMs to conduct precision strikes. The CSS-5 Mod 4 (DF-21C) is intended to hold at risk or strike logistics and communication nodes, regional military bases and airfields, or ports. China has also deployed the CSS-5 Mod 5 (DF-21D), an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) with a range exceeding 1,500 km and a maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) that gives the PLA the capability to attack aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean. 
According to a Chinese CCTV report, the DF-21D brigades are capable of quickly reloading in the field and launching multiple salvo strikes within a few hours. During the PLA’s 90th Anniversary Parade in July 2017, China displayed a new MRBM designated the DF-16G, which China claims features high accuracy, short preparation time, and an improved maneuverable terminal stage that can better infiltrate missile defense systems. 
As part of its National Day Parade in October 2019 celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Peoples’ Republic of China, China displayed its DF-17 medium-range hypersonic missile.

 h/t Ankit Panda.


Monday, January 18, 2021

LCS Makes Bad Talking Points

There is a lot going on in Megan Eckstein and Mallory Shelborne’s article on the discussions last week at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, so I’m going to try to focus on two things; LCS talk and talk in general. 

I think we need a public speaking safety standdown for Flag Officers. Seriously. We continue to over promise and under deliver. We say things that simply do not survive the follow on question … but don’t take those kind of questions and get away with it. It degrades credibility and makes everyone look like a bad used car salesman. 

Why do we talk like we are spokesmen for the defense industry as opposed to a customer? Anyway, here we go. 
Surface warfare leaders throughout the Navy last week mused about how to employ new classes of ships such as the Littoral Combat Ship and Expeditionary Sea Base …
Again, for the 1,000th time, LCS is not a new ship. LCS-1 was commissioned over 12 years ago. 

Stop it.
Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener … “I talk a lot with [U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Bill Merz] out here, a big fan of LCS. If you look at the things we want to do in the 7th Fleet warfight, and you look at LOCE (Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment) and EABO and things like that, that’s what he wants to use them for,” Kitchener said.
Who here remembers when we had the most senior leaders discuss the need to keep LCS out of any kind of peer conflict? Now, we want them up close and personal? OK. 

For the last decade when it became clear we would never execute PLAN SALAMANDER, I said we would eventually have to find some way with lots of money and Sailor sweat to make something useful of these ships. 

Good people in hard jobs will have to grab all the welding torches, extension cords, and duct tape they can and kludge something together. We are … but don’t oversell what we have here. Don't get me wrong, we are making progress, but there is only so much marginal utility you can squeeze out of LCS. More the LCS-2 Class than the LCS-1 Class ... but not all that much.

In general, this CONOPS is sub-optimal, though I do like the neo-LSTs – but the LCS oversell here is comical;
The new Light Amphibious Warships will be the primary ships conducting EABO, carrying groups of about 75 Marines as they maneuver around island chains and shorelines, stopping to conduct missions ashore and then heading back out to sea to evade targeting by the adversary. Though the Marines will carry some land-based anti-ship missiles with them, integrating LCS into that mission set would provide a sea-based strike capability for the Marines as they move around and conduct their missions.
Who is giving you air and submarine protection? It ain’t LCS. 

Remember many moons ago I told you the LCS CONOPS was garbage because they will be asked to do things they were never designed to do because they would wind up being the only thing in the toolbox? Commanders would have to put Sailors in sub-optimal platforms with a greater risk of death and mission failure? People said all sorts of things in the comments section telling us how wrong we were. Well, kiss my grits.
In the coming years, the LCSs will only grow more lethal and survivable to take on whatever mission fleet commanders ask of them. … Kitchener said in his speech that the LCSs would be “on the front lines” in the Pacific and that the fleet would keep pushing to make them as lethal and as reliable as possible for any future fight.
All of it is coming to pass. All of it.
Moton added that the package included upgrading the Independence-variant ships to an Aegis-based common combat system, adding the Nulka decoy system and the SEWIP Lite electronic warfare package to all the LCSs in the fleet, along with other upgrades.
Note no mention of FREEDOM Class upgrades. 

In summary, they/we are trying to make LCS something like a light frigate … something like one. Close as you can given the limitations. Bookmark that. 

…and here we have our friend Rear Admiral Casey Morton, USN PEO for Unmanned and Small Combatants … I think he is trolling me here.
“I see it as a fairly youthful platform, and I think we’ve learned a lot with these deployments, and we’re figuring out how to make them more lethal, and we think we’ve figured out what missions we want them to do out there, and so I think it’s going to be kind of exciting,” he said.
It is 2021. Again, LCS-1 was commissioned 12 years ago with all the missions identified. All those mission modules … you know the drill. We are in the land Salamander promised you we would be in … and yet … and yet … we don’t learn.
“Talking to the Woody Williams skipper and the other ESB skippers, they are not at all fearful of mines because it’s highly survivable,” he said. “We’re going to get surprised – even though we want to keep the man out of the minefield, if you’re going to get close to a minefield, it’s probably best to be in an ESB because she can take a hit and keep on ticking.”
This quote has nothing to do with LCS per se, but it is unalloyed LCS mindset. Bullshit. 

We need to stop with the happy talk. “…not at all fearful of mines…”? Even if you hit one of the relatively small MN103 MANTA mines like Tripoli and Princeton did, you are at least mission killed. 

Something larger? 

I don’t want CO’s “…not at all fearful of mines…” You can call it “guarded respect” instead of fear if you wish, but I want someone in charge of such a high demand, low density asset as an ESB to have a healthy bit of it. We only have two commissioned, two under construction and one more ordered. 

How is that LCS mission module going anyway?

Crossposted to substack.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Fullbore Friday

It is 1944 near Cagny in northern France. You are leading a section of two 33-ton M4 Sherman tanks when, all of a sudden, you find yourself facing a Panther, a Tiger I, an old Mark IV — and one70-ton King Tiger.

What does an army lieutenant do? Become a naval officer. From the excellent War History Online;

Gorman found himself at the top of a ridge, looking down at a field in which the German tanks were gathered. Only 900 feet (274 meters) of open ground stood between him and the feared Königstiger. He knew that if he didn’t act immediately, his two Sherman tanks would likely be taken out. This was when he decided to put a naval tactic to good use.

By then, the Germans had spotted the Shermans. The huge gun of the closest tank – the Königstiger – was swinging around to take them out. Gorman yelled out what must have sounded like an almost suicidal order: “Ram it!”

The Sherman (named “Ballyragget”) roared at full speed down the slope, propelled so fast by gravity and its own motor that it almost skidded out of control. But the maneuver worked. Before the Königstiger could take a shot at Ballyragget, the Sherman smashed into its rear at speed.

The collision incapacitated both tanks. The Germans, shocked by what had just happened, scrambled out of their tank with their hands up.

Although the Königstiger was knocked out of the fight, the three other German tanks were, unfortunately, still perfectly operational. They turned their guns on the other Sherman, commanded by Sergeant Harbinson.

Out in the open, without the element of surprise Gorman’s tank had exploited, the three German tanks pounded it with their main guns, killing three crew members and putting the Sherman out of action.

Gorman and his crew took the opportunity provided by this distraction to escape from their own disabled Sherman. They fled the field before they, too, could be shot.

However, Gorman was determined to destroy the remaining three German tanks. The wounded crew members of Harbinson’s tank had taken refuge in a nearby cornfield. After assuring them that he would return, Gorman struck out on his own.

At this point, the remaining German tanks fought back. Outnumbered, Gorman had no choice but to order a retreat.

He picked up Harbinson’s crew and returned to safety. Gorman was awarded the Military Cross for his action in taking out the tanks. Indeed, the Königstiger he incapacitated was still there a year later.

Sir John Reginald Gorman CVO, CBE, MC, DL, Captain, British Army (Ret.)


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Diversity Thursday

Are you ready for what is coming? I hope you are, because the diversity industry is tanned, rested, and ready - and in most places already well down their lines of operation.

They have the wind at their back. Have you researched the beliefs of the person set to take over the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice?

Those who, like me, believe that the most divisive thing you can do to a diverse republic is to set up a spoils system based on race, creed, color or national origin have not been fighting hard enough. Too many of those who should be our natural allies have surrendered high ground after high ground because they convinced themselves that, "it isn't worth fighting for." As a result, the commissariat holds most of the high ground, and those in our camp are surrounded. 

If we do not take each person as an individual, and instead drive people in to sectarian camps, all we will have is strife and division.

We need confidence. In 2021, the position of equality and fairness for all should be an easy sell. It is the right sell, but it needs advocates. It is worth fighting for 

We simply cannot rely on political, business, and institutional leaders to champion what is right. They are scared more than individual people.

We will have to fight each battle locally ... and more people are - even where you would least expect it.

The left has always been after your children. As they have had the educational system in their control for decades, this is expected. 

It appears that Cupertino, California has had enough.

It wasn't easy for these parents to stand up - but in many ways, they did not have a choice.

An elementary school in Cupertino, California—a Silicon Valley community with a median home price of $2.3 million—recently forced a class of third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” 

... a third-grade teacher at R.I. Meyerholz Elementary School began the lesson on “social identities” during a math class. The teacher asked all students to create an “identity map,” listing their race, class, gender, religion, family structure, and other characteristics. The teacher explained that the students live in a “dominant culture” of “white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian, English speaker[s],” who, according to the lesson, “created and maintained” this culture in order “to hold power and stay in power.”
An elementary school in Cupertino, California—a Silicon Valley community with a median home price of $2.3 million—recently forced a class of third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” 

Based on whistleblower documents and parents familiar with the session, a third-grade teacher at R.I. Meyerholz Elementary School began the lesson on “social identities” during a math class. The teacher asked all students to create an “identity map,” listing their race, class, gender, religion, family structure, and other characteristics. The teacher explained that the students live in a “dominant culture” of “white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian, English speaker[s],” who, according to the lesson, “created and maintained” this culture in order “to hold power and stay in power.”
3rd graders.
“We were shocked,” said one parent, who agreed to speak with me on condition of anonymity. “They were basically teaching racism to my eight-year-old.” 
Here's the kicker;
...despite being 94 percent nonwhite, Meyerholz Elementary is one of the most privileged schools in America. The median household income in Cupertino is $172,000, and nearly 80 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. At the school, where the majority of families are Asian-American, the students have exceptionally high rates of academic achievement and the school consistently ranks in the top 1 percent of all elementary schools statewide. 
They are teaching young kids that a small racial minority in their universe are inherently bad people.

We've seen this movie before. The nature of the minority doesn't matter, it never has, but the part of the brain stem the race obsessed diversity bullies are waking up is the source of much of human history's misery.
One parent told me that critical race theory was reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. “[It divides society between] the oppressor and the oppressed, and since these identities are inborn characteristics people cannot change, the only way to change it is via violent revolution,” the parent said. “Growing up in China, I had learned it many times. The outcome is the family will be ripped apart; husband hates wife, children hate parents. I think it is already happening here.”
This is not isolated. This is already probably in your kids' schools, your businesses, and your government. Until a few months ago, it was deep in your military ... but it will be back, soon.

Critical race theory or any effort to get Americans to identify not as American, but as self-selected sectarian groupings and then told that they are pitted against each other for finite resources ... is evil.

Fight it where you can. Slow roll it where you can't.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

How do You Say, "Cowabunga" in Mandarin?

You know about The Long Game, you know about comparative shipbuilding numbers between the USN and the PLAN ... but have you seen the pictures?

Behold the graphs I've put over at USNIBlog.

Regulars here will not be shocked ... but if anyone tells you all is well in WESTPAC, they are fools or think you are one.

Check it out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

CNO is Heading in the Right Direction

Gina Harkins over at Military Times yesterday has some great quotes from CNO Gilday. He is saying things most readers here will be happy with. 

It would have been ideal for a CNO 10-12 years ago to have said most of the following – because it was as true then as it is now – but we’ll take today over another decade’s wait. 

We need to look for action and follow through, but this is all very sound stuff;

"I don't mean to be dramatic, but I feel like, if the Navy loses its head, if we go off course and we take our eyes off those things we need to focus on ... I think we may not be able to recover in this century," Gilday told reporters Friday, ahead of the document's release. "Based on the trajectory that the Chinese are on right now -- and again, I don't mean to be dramatic -- I just sense that this is not a decade that we can afford to lose ground."
The Long Game is real and we are reaping what the Age of Transformationalism sowed. We cannot fix the errors of the past, but we can change the direction we are heading in now as we set up for the future. 
We have not just lost a decade, in a very real sense we lost the better part of two if you want to be picky. However, a decade ago it was clear what the errors were in the first decade of the 21st Century, it just took a decade for it to soak its way up to the top. 

More evidence that we “get it;”
"... I am more interested in getting it right in a deliberate fashion than I am getting it fast."
I take that to mean a greater respect for technology risk and throwing away the snake oil of “jumping generations” and all that crap. The above comment is especially good as it takes aim at those who, either ignorant of the past or arrogantly thinking it no longer applies, were heading full speed in a Transformationalist mindset that begat LCS and DDG-1000 with unmanned systems. The technology is just not mature enough, from engineering to weaponeering. 

We have a lot more testing to do.
Buying large numbers of unmanned vessels by the mid-2020s is "unrealistic," Gilday told reporters. Instead, by the end of the decade, sailors "must have a high degree of confidence and skill operating alongside proven unmanned platforms at sea," he said.
Exactly. We also seem to be taking a few bites of crow and returning to our core competencies;
"This includes divestment of experimental Littoral Combat Ship hulls, legacy Cruisers, and older Dock Landing Ships," he wrote. "It also includes divesting non-core Navy missions like Aegis-ashore. Transferring shore-based Ballistic Missile Defense sites to ground forces enables Sailors to focus on their core missions at sea and frees up resources to increase our lethality."
FREEDOM Class LCS should be mothballed as soon as practical. That and the other steps will allow us to re-capture Sailors towards higher value uses of their time and talents. No, it won’t be easy … and neither will the money;
"It may not be as smooth of transition as everybody wants," he said, "... [but] we need to divest from some of these capabilities that are becoming very expensive to maintain." The Navy is transforming at a time when military leaders are bracing for possible budget constraints. Gilday said he doesn't expect any sort of plus-up. President-elect Joe Biden has acknowledged that the military is facing threats it hasn't seen since the Cold War, but slammed President Donald Trump for abandoning fiscal discipline when it came to defense spending.
Will everyone please stop using the “T” word, except when used ironically or as an insult? Thanks. 

In addition to money, the last 10-20 years has seen a lot of wasted money, personal/professional capital, and warfighting ability because … our leaders decided other things were more important – or they just were well meaning people who had the wrong approach. Either way, we are … no kidding here … out of time.
…Gilday said there is no time to waste in pushing ahead with … investments in public shipyards, dry docks, maintenance facilities and aviation depots that he says are overdue for upgrades.
That last bit – the “unsexy but important” is something we can and should do immediately. It looks like that is the plan. 

Actions we must do now; stop double-pumping. Stop more than 6-month deployments. That wasn’t addressed in the article … but I thought I throw it in here for good measure. 

Good words; let’s see action.

Crossposted to substack.

Monday, January 11, 2021

A Habsburg plan for Europe

Though I blend in well with the populations of Europe who have ready access to the North Sea, my bloodline has been unconnected to Europe for four centuries.

I am an unalloyed North American, yet as our culture is an offshoot of Europe, I keep an eye on the goings on there. You have to as Europe continues to be a source of conflict. Their waring ethno-states generate more national security problems than can be consumed internally.

That manages to bring North America in to their scrimmages.

Beyond and more impactful today than military , Europe is a source for trends that impact cultural, social, economic, and military change throughout the globe. China is trying to change that, but there is a long way to go for them to get there, if ever.

For those in alignment with me, I encourage you to read, in full, the English translation of Karl von Habsburg (yes, that Habsburg, the head of Head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) New Years "Speech on the Future of Europe." 

His family has been at the heart of the European project for the better part of a thousand years and remains influential for a whole host of reasons.

Ideas matter, especially European ideas. I know that is an unfashionable thing to say in today's intellectually fetid and self-deceiving environment, but it is true. 

The 20th Century was dominated by two horrible European ideas that were rooted in the late 19th Century, Communism and Fascism. Both those blood soaked socio-political movements are still with us, but in a much degraded and less dangerous form as the 20th Century efforts of both showed their less than ideal reality.

We are in the third decade of the 21st Century, and we should keep an eye on where the European project is going. BREXIT caused, rightfully, an ongoing reassessment of what they are doing to promote trade, standards of living, and security in peace as opposed to fruitless cycles of internal wars. 

Good people can argue which form European integration should take, but neither extreme - full disaggregation on one end or United States of Europe on the other - are optimal. An aggressive pursuit of the later will bring about the former, so if one wants a closer Europe - how does one get there?

Few families have more of a history - and as a result have thought the most about how it has failed in the past - than the Habsburgs. 

Somewhere between the two extremes of the European project is a middle way. Karl Habsburg has ideas closer to full integration than not, but it represents a solid starting point for discussion. There is a lot here for an outsider to agree with on its logic and long-term soundness.

Below are a few pull-quotes for you to consider. Solid work;

Today, the focus is on the integration of the six countries in South-Eastern Europe that are not yet EU members. In its latest reports on enlargement, the EU Commission rightly states that the admission of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to the EU is a „geostrategic investment in peace, security and economic growth throughout Europe“. 

You have to respect a Habsburg going early to the Balkans. It is what it is for Europe, and at some point needs to be resolved to the advantage of all.

The geostrategic importance of the region is clear to anyone familiar with its history. And in politics there is no vacuum . If Europe withdraws from the region, there will be all the more room for other powers to advance their interests in Southeast Europe. 

In addition to actors like Russia and Turkey who have been connected to the region and its politics throughout history, today above all China but also Saudi Arabia for instance with its Wahabism exert massive influence. The interests of these actors do not coincide with European security policy interests.

Yes, he names names. Absolutely solid. I also greatly respect his acknowledgement of the historic and modern threat to Europe from fundamentalist Islamic forces.

Europe itself must formulate and defend its own security interests.

And when I mention Russia and China, it is clear that this is primarily a matter of geopolitical interests. This should also be borne in mind by those EU member states that keep blocking this enlargement out of mostly petty national or even nationalistic interests.

I have read a quote, and my googlefu is failing me to give proper credit, perhaps it was Bismarck, that says, "In a game of five, it is best to be one of the three." A united Europe can play economically and diplomatically in a world of China, India, USA, and Russia. Divided? Notsomuch.

But we must also look to the East, where a country like Ukraine with the Euromaidan or the so-called Revolution of Dignity has made it clear that its citizens see their future in Europe rather than under Russian dominance. Undoubtedly there still are major problems in all these countries regarding, for instance, the rule of law and corruption, but they are European countries nevertheless. Anyone who takes European unification seriously must make it possible for every European country to join the European Union. That is why I also advocate upgrading the current neighbourhood policy towards Ukraine into a concrete accession perspective policy.
Even though the European perspective is of no real relevance in the democracy movement in Belarus, it is our duty to support this democracy movement wherever possible. If Europe, if the EU emphasises the rule of law and democracy the way it does, these principles must also apply towards Belarus.

In the long to medium run, this is true. To get there, Europe - specifically Germany - must make sure it cannot be subject to Russian hydrocarbon blackmail. Right now it is going in the opposite direction.

The below is why Europe is, and will remain, a natural ally of North and South America. North America especially is a nation based on the European Enlightenment. South America less so, but is getting there.

We share these ideals on balance - China and Russia do not.

... the rule of law indeed was right there at the beginning of the European idea.


Another essential element of European identity is freedom. Let me quote Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi: „The European ideal is freedom – European history is one slow struggle for personal, spiritual, national and social freedom. Europe will exist for as long as it continues this fight; as soon as it abandons this ideal and becomes unfaithful to its mission, it loses its soul, its meaning, its existence. Then its historical role in history will have come to an end.“

European unification, however, European politics should not aim to bring an end to Europe’s historical role, but to make use of it!

Freedom is not a given. Freedom must be won again and again. Freedom is inseparably linked to responsibility. And we cannot delegate this responsibility for freedom to the state.

To define the concept of freedom, I have to resort to the English language for it has two terms for what we call freedom: Liberty and Freedom. Both terms refer to different things. A good definition comes from Murray Rothbard, a classic representative of the Austrian School of Economics. He said: „Living in Liberty allows each of us to fully enjoy our Freedom“. In other words, only when we live in an external system of freedom can we actually enjoy and live out our inner freedom. Liberty in  English means the external construct of freedom, that is what actually creates freedom for us, while Freedom means inner freedom. For example, the freedom to think what I want. The inner freedom that no one can actually take away from me. Enjoying this inner freedom requires an external construct. It is also quite clear that implementing this concept of external freedom, Liberty, is one of the most important tasks of politics.

What got me hooked on Habsburg's work - besides his quote from Murray Rothbard, was his willingness to speak what is in many political areas, unspeakable.

 And it will be necessary to master one of the biggest obstacles to unanimity – that obstacle is the indebtedness of public budgets.

That applies to the USA as well. 

Crossposted to substack.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Navy's Problems and a Plan to Fix Them, with Bryan McGrath - on Midrats


There is one area of agreement among navalists, the US Navy is beset with a whole series of hard, long building problems, ignored for too long. Many, including our highest ranking uniformed leadership, seem incapable of not only acknowledging them, but coming up with a plan to address them.

As we enter 2021 and the third decade of the 21st Century, what are our greatest challenges, and what are some steps we can take to start the process of meeting them?

Returning to Midrats this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and related issues he raised in this recent article, The Navy Has Problems and Must Be Bold to Fix Them, will be Bryan McGrath, CDR USN (Ret.), Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC defense consultancy.

Bryan grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84). During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.

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, January 08, 2021

Two Kind of Leaders

Since I started reading military history when I was ... well ... able to read ... there have been two types of leaders that I have always found interesting at moments when all is lost. One represents the worst example, and one is the best.

When I say, “all is lost,” I'm not talking about fighting retreats or "Horatius at the Bridge" situations when forces are engaged in holding actions to buy time, but those moments when defeat is a forgone conclusion. There is no real hope for victory but a leader has to make decisions as to what they are willing to do and sacrifice - not just themselves, but for those they lead.

If they decide to continue to fight or carry out their duties in spite of the inevitable, what do they do and how do they lead the forces under their command? Where do they place their desires/duty to themselves versus the responsibility for those who they lead, those who believe in them and trust them?

Tough situations, I believe, don't build character - they reveal character. In this extreme situation, the character of a leader is revealed in clear, stark contrast.

With that foundation, let's explore a small subset of leadership examples, with a focus on a war inside the edge of living memory; WWII.

Let's start with one example of the bad leader: Admiral Seiichi Itō, Imperial Japanese Navy.

Itō was the leader of Operation Ten-Go, the suicide run of the battleship Yamato with her escort of a light cruiser and eight destroyers. While one can take in to considerations his culture as an excuse, the record shows that he knew this was suicidal. He opposed the mission at first, but then agreed to lead it. This was about his honor, his duty and it appears, his death. Though Japanese, he was an educated, modern man of the mid-20th Century. It is fair to judge him by modern standards. As a senior leader, he knew what few of the people who served under him knew; the war was lost and there was no chance for success. Only a fool say success for the mission at even a tactical level, much less on operational or strategic one. As a result, over 4,000 Japanese Sailors died with him in a vain, inglorious display of false-military honor. Nothing could be gained. Only senior leaders' vanity fed. Itō in his last moment of power, in a radiant moment of sociopathic narcissism, got his "warrior's death" - but needlessly clawed over 4,000 lives down with him; lives dedicated to their duty to trust and follow their leader.

Now the good leader, Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff, Kriegsmarine.

Langsdorff fought the good fight in the South Atlantic alone as Captain of the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. In the Battle of the River Plate against the  Royal Navy cruisers HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles, he retired with his damaged ship to the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay. Damaged, far from home and trapped by the Royal Navy, he had limited options given the information he had at the time. He could try to fight his way out where, even if he succeeded, it was very unlikely his damaged ship would survive the trip back to friendly waters. He could also find some way to preserve life and honor. Of his roughly 1,100 Sailors under his command, he already had 96 killed, less than the British. In spite of what was coming from Berlin, he put all but a skeleton crew ashore and got underway to scuttle the Graff Spee in the estuary of the River Plate. Sadly and unnecessarily, he committed suicide alone, but he did not take those who trusted him, followed him, and believed in him, on some mindless death charge. He knew his cause was lost, had his own sense of duty, but he also had an understanding that part of being a leader is to look after your Sailors. Your Sailors will fight with you and die with you - willingly - but all they ask of a leader is to make sure it is not in vain.

Arrogance. Vanity. Honor. Duty. Morals. Ethics. Laws. 

Leadership is hard and there is nuance in difficult situations, but at least for me there is one foundational concept of a good leader - humility.

Humility requires self-reflection of your place, mindset, motivations, and responsibilities. All leaders have a bit of arrogance as well - we are humans - and optimistic confidence. If not leavened with humility, it drifts in to the darkest areas of the human condition. 

History should and usually does harshly judge leaders who by acts of commission or omission lead their followers in to vain, pointless, and destructive actions that are hopeless and provide no reasonable chance of gain, good, or value from sacrifice of life, liberty, or future prosperity.

One does not have to go to war for examples of good or bad leaders.  We can find them in our personal, professional, and even political worlds.

Finally, if you think this post is related to Trump, you're right. It is. In inciting the radical fringe of his supporters through his reckless behavior and words, he firmly put himself in the Itō category. He betrayed his followers. He betrayed his office. He will be judged harshly by history, and he has no one but himself to blame.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

On the Storming of The Hill

We are a nation of laws.  That is, at the core, what we are. What we saw today was what happens when the Chief Executive actively incites a mob against the government he leads. None of this is American, in the American tradition, or can be defended by well meaning people. Full stop.

There will be more to follow that will lay out what happened today, but we had an unprecedented attack on the Legislative Branch by a mob incited by the Chief Executive, The President of the United States.

I’m really not interested in shades of grey or whataboutisms here, there are no shades. Lucky for us, the balance of the American people are sound and the founders set a very solid set of checks and balances in place that will get us to through the next two weeks until we have a new President. 

I feel no need to do a play by play; I’ve been up since 4am and am about spent (apologies for grammar etc, I am bone tired). Everyone should know the details; Trump whipped up the fringe of his supporters who he lost control of - I actually don’t think he knew or cared the power of his words in the wrong ears could do - and then when it was clear what was going on, he spoke late, he spoke off topic, he spoke weakly, he spoke in a manner that only validated his worst critics.

A woman, Ashli Babbit, was shot and killed because of it. 

Trump betrayed his country, his followers, and the institution that he will soon leave. He also left absolutely no reason for any reasonable person to offer him any support in the future. I know some of you here are Trump people. This isn’t your fault ... but here on out, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.

As I have said here and elsewhere, mostly to people who were anti-Trump and checked out, if you are angry at what is happening at the federal level, focus on the local and state political action.

If you are not happy with how some states ran this election - and you live in one of those states - then fix your state. I live in Florida. After 2000, we fixed ourselves. We have not been an issue in any election since - and except for the perpetually conspiracy minded, citizens here have confidence in our system. Some of your states have garbage systems - fix them so no one can use it as a reason to incite people as was done in this election.

Bad people will take legitimate issues and use them as a way to get good people to follow them down a dark path.

That is enough of my tired mind, but I’ve been out of pocket this week and with this event felt I should drop my readers a note.

A better summary of what happened today is below; a statement by the 43rd President of the United States of America, George W. Bush.

I stand with him.

Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seat of our Nation's government in disbelief and dismay. It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight. This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic -- not our democratic republic. 

I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol -- and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress -- was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes. 

Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law. To those who are disappointed in the results of the election: Our country is more important than the politics of the moment. Let the officials elected by the people fulfill their duties and represent our voices in peace and safety. 

 May God continue to bless the United States of America.

Crossposted on substack

Monday, January 04, 2021


 Just a little note that at least for the first half of this week, I will have limited access to internet to properly blog on what I’d like to, so things will be thin for a bit ... all is well ... thanks for you patience.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Fullbore Friday

When people think of the freed slaves and freemen who fought for the Union in the formations then known as United States Colored Troops (USCT), they often think of July 18, 1863, when the 54th Massachusetts stormed Fort Wagner.

Sadly, that more well known event - a Union defeat - overshadows an event six weeks earlier - a Union victory - that, at the time, probably had a greater impact on the growing support in the very racist by modern standards Northern Army to arming large formations of African-Americans than anything else.

The attack on Ft. Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts were both in the Eastern theater of operations. As such, they naturally get more attention. There is so much more to learn in the often overlooked Western campaign, just you need to try harder to find it. 

This FbF, I want to draw your attention to the Western theater and a battle on June 7th, 1863 known as the Battle of Milliken's Bend upriver from Vicksburg. 

Let me set the scene. 

You just immigrated from Switzerland to the USA seven years ago. Five years ago you were a private in this new army, and two years later you find yourself a Colonel. 

You are commanding a supply depot as a side show of a side show of Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. You have a little over a 1,000 forces at your command. You are senior officer present, and with your command, the curiously named "African Brigade" by some, but to you are the 9th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent). They are almost all former slaves that you are told everyone knows will not make good soldiers. 

The rest of your forces include the 23rd Iowa Infantry and 10th Illinois Cavalry.

Facing you, with 50% more forces than you have - a brigade in Walker's Texas Division.

On the morning of June 6, Union Colonel Hermann Lieb with the African Brigade and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry made a reconnaissance toward Richmond. About three miles from Richmond, Lieb encountered enemy troops at the Tallulah railroad depot and drove them back but then retired, fearing that many more Confederates might be near. While retiring, a squad of Union cavalry appeared, fleeing from a force of Rebels. Lieb got his men into battle line and helped disperse the pursuing enemy. He retired to Milliken's Bend and informed his superior by courier of his actions. The 23rd Iowa Infantry and two gunboats came to his assistance.

Walker proceeded east from Richmond at 7 p.m. June 6. At midnight, he reached Oaklawn Plantation, which was situated about 7 miles from Milliken's Bend to the north and an equal distance from Young's Point to the south. Here, he split his command. Leaving one brigade in reserve at Oaklawn, he sent one brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry E. McCulloch north to Milliken's Bend, and a second brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. James M. Hawes south to Young's Point.

Around 3:00 a.m. on June 7, Confederates appeared in force and drove in the pickets. They continued their movement towards the Union left flank. The Federal forces fired some volleys that caused the Rebel line to pause momentarily, but the Texans soon pushed on to the levee where they received orders to charge. In spite of receiving more volleys, the Rebels came on, and hand-to-hand combat ensued. In this intense fighting, the Confederates succeeded in flanking the Union force and caused tremendous casualties with enfilade fire. The Union force fell back to the river’s bank. About that time Union gunboats Choctaw and Lexington appeared and fired on the Rebels. The Confederates continued firing and began extending to their right to envelop the Federals but failed in their objective. Fighting continued until noon when the Confederates withdrew. The Union pursued, firing many volleys, and the gunboats pounded the Confederates as they retreated to Walnut Bayou.

A small battle, with huge implications. It got the attention of the right people; 

Grant praised the performance of black U.S. soldiers at the battle, observing that "This was the first important engagement of the war in which colored troops were under fire," and despite their inexperience, the black troops had "behaved well." 
Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote, "the sentiment of this army with regard to the employment of negro troops has been revolutionized by the bravery of the blacks in the recent battle of Milliken's Bend." Having seen how they could fight, many officers were won over to arming them for the Union. Even Confederate commander Henry McCulloch said the former slaves fought with "considerably obstinacy."

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also praised the performance of black U.S. soldiers in the battle. He stated that their competent performance in the battle proved wrong those who had opposed their service:

Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidently asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers; they would lack courage, and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions. The slave has proved his manhood, and his capacity as an infantry soldier, at Milliken's Bend, at the assault upon Port Hudson, and the storming of Fort Wagner.

— Edwin M. Stanton, letter to Abraham Lincoln, (December 5, 1863)

While researching this I came across one story that bears mention.

One early recruit to join the regiment was named Jack Jackson. Jackson was said to be very large and strong-willed and quickly became a Sergeant in Company B. At some point Jackson joined the regimental recruiting parties; the officers were having trouble with convincing local field hands to join. Jackson's recruiting method was described as very forceful but ultimately successful. 
At the Battle of Milliken's Bend one of Jackson's superior officers, Lieutenant David Cornwell, described the attack; saying that the 23rd Iowa was not behaving courageously but the three black infantry regiments offered great resistance. He said that Jackson, "Laid into a group of Texans... smashing in every head he could reach", and that, "Big Jack Jackson passed me like a rocket. With the fury of a tiger he sprang into that gang and crushed everything before him. There was nothing left of Jack's gun except the barrel and he was smashing everything he could reach. On the other side of the levee, they were yelling 'Shoot that big [_______]!' while Jack was daring the whole gang to come up and fight him. Then a bullet reached his head and he fell full on the levee."

It would be a great think if Jack and the rest of the forces that fought under Lieb could see the nation they brought in to the modern era. 

It would be great to talk to them.