Monday, January 31, 2022

Ukraine Exposes NATO’s Divisions

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2022; what is it actually for?

Before we address that question, we should remind everyone of the most well known quote from NATO’s first Secretary General, Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay;

The Soviet Union is dead three decades on, and besides a spot of bother inside the Iron Curtain when it existed and a bit in the Balkans, Georgia, and yes Ukraine … Europe has been at peace from major wars for a very long time.

This is a good thing we should want to keep going. To do that, you need to demonstrate strength and resolve, and it can’t always be from the USA. We are just one election, domestic squabble, or national disaster away from leaving Europe to her own devices. The free nations of Europe need to be ready. America many not always be there, and she can never value European peace more than Europeans themselves.

Today, only one nation is a direct threat to peace in Europe; Russia.

Russia, by its own admission and by her position on the UN Security Council is the successor nation of a rump Soviet Union … just as the Soviet Union was the Russian Empire under a different ruling class.

Though there were a few unrealistic optimists in the 1990s who thought the world – or at least Europe – woke up from history, it didn’t. With time the general consensus came over to the realist side that NATO’s job was not yet done. While Russia was Russia, there was an opportunity to advance the borders of the modern European and Western ideal; a free society.

While long-standing NATO ally Turkey in the last few decades continued its slide away from the Western governing ideal, the former Communist dictatorships of the Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Baltic Republics were brought into NATO’s club and on balance have advanced impressively with some minor exceptions.

As that took place, a weak and supine Russia suffered, stewed, and struggled. She took the advances to her west with a mix of humiliation, awe, disgust, and in places – envy. With the new century and with the West distracted with tilting at windmills in Central and Southwest Asia, Russia got her footing. She stabilized and on Russian terms, regained some of her strength and confidence.

Russia did what she always has done in her near abroad; looked with suspicion at distant powers and with lust at more advantageous geography.

She also tested for weakness. She found it.

A little gain here for a little risk. Let it settle, gain a bit more with more risk. A nibble at Georgia. A chomp at Crimea. A taste of the Trans-Dniester.

And so we find ourselves looking at a mobilization not see in Europe since the Warsaw Pact crushed the Prague Spring in 1968.

As in all systems, you won’t see where your weakness are until it is put under stress. NATO is no different. The weak spots can be seen in stark relief.

Anglo-America: when in doubt, send lawyers, guns, and money. GBR and USA have stepped up to the front to try to make any move against UKR riskier to the Russians and to bolster front-line NATO states’ resolve.

Need Encouragement: DNK, NOR, ITA, and NLD can usually be convinced to lean in firmly if the Anglo-Americans do. So far, they seem – to varying degrees – willing. 

Former Warsaw Pact: Except for HUN who seems to want to play some type of two-sides game with Russia, the other former Warsaw Pact nations know what Russia can be and are holding strong. Led by POL, the nations of CZE, SVK, ROU, and BGR are either outright providing aid or are helping to strengthen alliance presence at their eastern borders.

Baltic Republics: LTU, LVA, and EST. They are doing all they can and as a result deserve even more support from the alliance.

The Conflicted: Due to internal political disagreements or being just too poor to take risk, these NATO nations can be relied on to be at best passively neutral to help-me-if-you-can; HRV, ALB, SVN, MNE, and MKD. 

The Floaters: These nations will vary from “I’m-not-here-don’t-look-at-me” to “I’ll-pretend-like-nothing-new-is-happening-and-will-send-something-if-it-was-already-scheduled.” They will generally be open to do something if they have to, but would prefer to let someone else do the spending and bleeding. All friend groups have these guys; CAN, PRT, ICL, ESP, LUX, GRC, and BEL. 

The Ottomans: the Turks are in their own category, as usual. They are happy to sell weapons and support to the Ukrainians if for no other reasons than to twist the knife in the Russians for taking that territory from them in the 18th and 19th Century…but will do so on their terms to their gain on their schedule.

The Old Powers: “Free rider” might be too nice of a word here to describe what the Germans are doing. DEU is using 20th Century excuses – plus some 19th century mercantilist perfidies, to excuse herself from acting like a responsible power. I wish this was just some ham-fisted iteration of Ospolitik, but I don’t think we are that lucky. DEU has allowed her governing elite to enrich themselves by putting energy needs of their nation in the hands of the Russians. They continue to be the welfare queen of nations. Though the world's #4 arms exporter, she only spends 1.5% of GDP on her defense compared to POL’s 2.2%, FRA’s 2.1%, and GBR’s 2.3%. The USA spends 3.2%. DEU needs to be more like POL, and less like ITA (1.5%).

FRA … well, she is not being like DEU and isn’t being GBR either. She is being FRA. That means that she is mostly looking for ways to manipulate this event to better bolster the European Union (EU). With DEU under weaker leadership, this opens the door wider to more French EU power. With the EU now free of Anglo-Saxon influence post-BREXIT, the continental powers have an opening to get back to the old games – this time with more lawyers and fewer infantry.

And so, here we are. These fault lines existed pre-Ukraine22 but are now more clearly defined. If you push The Conflicted, The Ottomans, and The Floaters to the side you can see where NATO’s problem is - Germany.

DEU has the strongest economy and largest population in European NATO. She should have the largest military and the unquestioned land force … but she does not. She is willing to defend Europe to the last Pole, and DEU to the last American. She likes her Bismarckian largess to her people, and her graft to her retired politicians. If you object, they play victim-to-our-past to make you look the other way.

Her leaders need a psychologist more than anything else, but we must deal with the reality of her as an ally. She cannot, under her present leadership, be counted on to support weaker European nations from Russian intimidation. She cannot be reliably counted on to push back economically against Russia. As designed by Russia, she is too compromised by energy reliance long in the making that has been in the open for all to see.

Until DEU takes her place as a fully participating member of the Western alliance, we will have to work around her. For a quarter century I have wanted less, not more of a US military presence in Europe. Keep combined logistics and training areas, but except for exercises or actual events, bring almost all our land forces home. We have mostly done that, but we are also in the “actual events” category right now. 

Who has “earned” a reassuring presence of US forces? The Baltic Republics and the former Warsaw Pact nations, clearly. The British – who don’t need our reassurances but should be given the nod in a variety of ways.

Though FRA is just being FRA, DEU is being something altogether. If anything, it needed to overcompensate in the UKR crisis due to their business dealings with the Russian government and oligarchs. No, they don’t need to do anything more than GBR, but the could have allowed the Estonians to send UKR the artillery instead of blocking it. They could have deployed more forces to the Baltic Republics or even POL. Heck, just announcing they will accelerate military spending in line with POL would make a point.

So, what to do? There is a core of responsible citizens in DEU who share my view of their place as a responsible power. They just need help enabling an environment that supports this view. Again, I offer a plan now as I have for the last decade. It will get the attention of the ruling class in DEU, because when it comes to NATO, it often seems to be the area of their greatest interest; “Flags to Post.”

In NATO, General and Flag Officer billets are distributed amongst nations in a rather complicate way, but this formula is controlled by NATO – and as such – can be changed.

Entering argument: take the present formula for “fair distribution” and multiply by .75 any nation that spends 1.5% to 1.99% GDP on defense. Multiply by .5 any nation that spends between 1.25% to 1.499%. Multiply by .25 1.0% to 1.240%. If you fall below 1%, you get nothing and your OF5 (Col./Capt) billets are halved. 

1.25x for 2.01%-2.25%. 1.5X for 2.26%-2.75%; 1.75x for 2.76% -3.0%. 2x for +3.01%.

That would be one step to take, besides constant and open berating lack of spending. 

Shame is a great motivator. Encourage those carrying their load or more. Shame the free riders. Here DEU is not alone.

The alliance would be stronger. Europe would be more secure in her peace. More USA land forces can come home.

Everyone wins. Even Russia.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Fullbore Friday

 ...and there she goes. Laid down when Eisenhower was CINC. Commissioned when Kennedy was CINC. Decommissioned 49 years later when Obama was CINC.

The Vietnam War, most of the Cold War and almost two decades after it ended, was in movies such a Seven Days in May and The Final Countdown, from A-1s to F/A-18s, all the way through to the conflicts in Africa, Southwest and Central Asia of this century.

Our last conventional carrier to be decommissioned, and now she's off to the breakers;

 The USS Kitty Hawk, the nation's last oil-fired aircraft carrier, departed Bremerton on Saturday for a 16,000-mile journey around South America for its ultimate fate: scrapping at a Texas shipyard.   

Onlookers, many of them former sailors aboard the "Battle Cat," watched as tugs pulled the rugged warship into Sinclair Inlet on a foggy Saturday morning. At more than 1,000 feet long, the Kitty Hawk won't fit in the Panama Canal, so the warship will be tugged through the Strait of Magellan en route to Brownsville, Texas.

Let's not leave you with that visual of the old girl, here she is with a bone in her teeth; 

Fullbore Battle Kitty ... Fullbore.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

What Did You do Your First 5-yrs After Commissioning?

Some ships are just cursed, snakebit, or ... well ... just a LCS.

Light a candle for the crew of USS Little Rock (LCS-9). 

Our friend Megan Eckstein doesn't mean to pick on the handicapped, but she's a professional and has a job to do;

Littoral combat ship Little Rock lost power while operating at sea and had to return to port on Jan. 22, according to a Navy spokesman.

The four-year-old LCS was conducting sea trials following a 19-month maintenance period in the dry dock at BAE Systems Shipyard in Jacksonville, Fla. The ship departed Naval Station Mayport on Jan. 21 for the contractor’s trials, LCS Squadron 2 spokesman Lt. Anthony Junco told Defense News.

During the operations at sea, the ship temporarily lost power.

“While conducting operations, engineering malfunctions were identified that resulted in a temporary loss of power, and the decision was made for the ship to return to Naval Station Mayport on Jan. 22, under its own power,” Junco said in a statement.

“The Navy is conducting a technical investigation on the root cause of the engineering malfunctions. While there is not currently any indication the casualty is related to the combining gear class issue, the investigation will examine all aspects of what occurred,” he continued.  

In February 2020, Little Rock departed Mayport for its maiden deployment, but had to return about six weeks later due to the combining gear failure. LCS Detroit suffered a similar failure in late October 2020 and also had to return home.

Big Navy has plans to put her out of her misery ... but still ... someone has to stay to the end

The future of Little Rock remains unclear. The Navy asked to decommission both it and five-year-old LCS Detroit in its fiscal 2022 budget in part because of the cost the service would incur in replacing the combining gear system and repairing damage incurred during that propulsion failure.

LCS; the gift that keeps on giving. 

Buy a round at Singleton's for the crew. Hey, at least they are stationed in Mayport and the sea and anchor detail is short.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

28-yr Crisis in the Making

Words work, until they don't.

The world finds itself where it is today because soft words were not backed up with very hard iron.

The crisis in Ukraine did not start in the last year ... it was only a matter of time.

Come take a trip down memory lane with me over at USNIBlog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

What Can Get a VADM Fired?

Well, if you are German, all it takes is this;
The head of the German navy resigned late Saturday after coming under fire at home and abroad for comments he made on Ukraine and Russia. Speaking at an event in India on Friday, vice admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach had said Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Schoenbach also said it was important to have Russia on the same side against China, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect."
At some point in my career spending 9 of my 21 years on GOFO staffs, I was told that it is best to make sure that the principal not be allowed too much "free swim" time if there is any kind of press or recording present. 

I've seen more than one Chief of Staff emphatically make that point to incoming Loops. Most GOFO are self-aware of this and don't need or want a COS or Loop staring laser beams at them or finding awkward excuses to bring a meeting to an end ... but Generals and Admirals are human too. You can get tired, you can get comfortable, and you can forget who you are, where you are, and what your job is.

I like the cut of VADM Schoenbach's jib, but with the incredibly fragile situation in Ukraine, I don't think the present SDP/Green/FDP government really had a choice.


You really should see the whole thing to get an understanding of how he got here. There full video is below. It starts when VADM Schoenbach starts speaking, but if you want to see him steer a course over his own minefield go to the 1:08 point.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Indispensable Nation: a Return of Forces to Europe

The words of former SECDEF Gates was on my mind all weekend;

Moscow has deployed some 100,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine. What now? Putin finds himself in a situation where Russian success is defined as either a change of government in Kyiv (with the successor aligned with Moscow) or conquest of the country. The 18th-century French diplomat Talleyrand is meant to have said: “You can do anything you like with bayonets except sit on them.” Putin must use those troops soon or face the humiliation of withdrawing them without achieving anything except pushing Ukraine closer to the west. In either case, he has placed himself in a difficult position at home and abroad. The US and its allies must do what they can to exacerbate his difficulties.

Regulars here on the Front Porch know I want none of this. How long have we begged continental Europe - especially the strong powers such as Germany - to spend enough to be a credible balance to Russia, to make the risk of conflict too great, to force her to look to other means besides violence and blackmail to learn to live with her neighbors? 

The Europeans are richer and larger - in aggregate - than Russia and in the 21st Century need to be able to hold their own without the USA, because as I have warned even before I started blogging 17 years ago, there is a good chance that the USA will either tire of doing all the heavy lifting, or we may find ourselves either internally or externally distracted by concerns greater than defending the welfare ethno-states of Europe.

That being said, we are still the irreplaceable nation for the West. We have our obligations. As a threat from the east rises again, we have a choice; we can reinforce our friends in the front line NATO states ... or we shrug.

We have betrayed those who trusted us once in the last year, we cannot do it again.

I've advocated for decades a decoupling of our ground forces in Europe, but we need to do that on our time, our schedule, in a way that is not destabilizing, and not when our friends are under immediate threat. We can address that decoupling some other time. This is not the time.

What is happening on the borders of Ukraine is different. Ukraine's neighbors are our allies. You don't show weakness at times like this. Bollocks to the Germans and French and their fecklessness in the face of this threat. Regardless of what they do, our response is on us.

How long have I warned of where weakness always leads, aggression? So, here we are. 

As it becomes clear that the Russians are not playing games, the Biden Administration seems to be slowly moving in the only responsible way

Ukraine is not our ally, but she borders many good allies. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

A strong and free Ukraine is in our interest, but not worth going to war over. That being said, you may want to avoid a war, but a war may not want to avoid you.

If the Russians invade Ukraine, there are innumerable places for error and mistakes at the wrong place at the wrong time - not to mention the wave of refugees that will flood west, further disrupting western Europe.

We cannot do anything about the unalloyed irresponsibility of the new German government. It is the 3rd decade of the 21st Century and the Germans are well passed their probationary period and need to step up as a responsible nation ... but as they are led by the useful idiots that protested NATO in the 1980s (look it up, ISNY), so what do you expect? We will deal with them later (yes, I have ideas - many I've outlined here before).  France is looking at an election coming and are being ... well ... French. The only other significant NATO power of any use (Turkey does not count), is the United Kingdom. In many ways, they are being more forward leaning than we are. At least the Brits get the moment. 

Of the medium NATO powers don't expect much that isn't laden with national caveats and tokenism. DNK, NLD and perhaps NOR will help the frontline states. That is about it.

So, it is up to the adults. So be it.

Make no mistake, if RUS makes UKR come to heel, exceptional pressure will come to our frontline NATO allies. Former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics, they know the Russians better than we do ... and I am sure the Russians have deeply penetrated their government and civil society enough to make trouble. If DEU and FRA won't help as per their strength, then we just need to ignore them and as stated above - note their behavior and deal with it later at our leisure.

The next three weeks will be critical. If we can make it to Valentine's Day and things have settled out, we may be through the window of greatest threat. If they are still escalating after the 20th of February when the Russian forces "exercising" in Belorussia are due to head home ... then ... well.

Regardless of how we are doing, think of the Ukrainians. Yes, their government leaves a lot to be desired, but for those of us who served with Ukrainians know, they are great professionals and patriots. 

Take some time today to see photographer Timothy Fadek latest from Ukraine;

"They have embraced the inevitability," Fadek said. "I was talking to one of the soldiers and he said: 'It's inevitable. We've accepted this inevitability of an attack.' And then there was a little bit of an argument between two soldiers. One said, 'The Russians will not come across the border, they will attack from the sea,' meaning the Sea of Azov. Another soldier disagreed with both those assessments and said, 'No, the attack will come from Belarus.' "

But while they might not agree with where an attack will come from, they are all 100% convinced it is going to happen.

"They've resigned themselves," Fadek said. "But they're extremely relaxed. There is not a hint of nervousness in their faces. They're ready to fight. They've been ready for many years now. They don't want to. I asked them, 'Do you want this war?' And they're like, 'Of course not.' "

Timeless. So it has been for countless for thousands of years. That is the one constant of human existence and always will be - war.

...and so, the Ukrainians wait;

One final note; it appears that if thing go pear shaped, we need to all get ready for more national humiliations. See Jennifer Griffin's note below. I feel the need to point out that the State Dept. may say, "will not be in a position to" but it really should be "won't."

It is a choice.

They won't do it. They could if they wished, but once again - they are planning on abandoning American citizens to their fate. 

We voted for this; we own it.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Big Navy vs. Reconnaissance & Strike-Capable Drones - on Midrats


We live in an era where in the blink of an eye we've gone from flip-phones to smart phones with the capabilities of both supercomputers a generation ago and entire movie studios in your back pocket. In that same time frame, what happened to the promised integration and operational utilization of aircraft carrier based drones - or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or whatever we are calling them this week?

This Sunday we are going to dive deep in to the topic and problem with our guests Trevor Phillips-Levine, Noah Spataro, and Andrew Tenbusch.

We will use as the starting point for our conversation their recent article in War on the Rocks, "Winged Luddites: Aviators are the Biggest Threat to Carrier Aviation."  

Col. Noah “Spool” Spataro currently serves on the Joint Staff tackling Joint All Domain Command and Control demonstration and assessment challenges. His 23 years of service includes remotely piloted aircraft systems squadron command, aviation command and control, and unmanned aircraft systems capability development.

Lt. Cmdr. Trevor “Mrs.” Phillips-Levine is an F/A-18 Super Hornet naval aviator and department head. He previously served in Naval Special Warfare as a fires support officer and joint terminal attack controller, working with various unmanned strike and reconnaissance platforms.

Lt. Cmdr. Andrew “Kramer” Tenbusch is an F/A-18 Super Hornet naval flight officer and student at the U.S. Naval War College’s College of Naval Command and Staff. He is a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School and previously served as a carrier air wing integration instructor at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center. Additionally, he was a mentor and advisor to the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group’s inaugural staff, focusing on collective training design and delivery across the remit of carrier strike group mission sets.

The positions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any part of the U.S. government.

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, January 21, 2022

Fullbore Friday

The war is only 10 months old and two months after the defeat at the Battle of Savo Island.

The night action of 10-11 OCT, sometimes know as the Second Battle of Savo Island - but usually as The Battle of Cape Esperance, is an excellent example of the critical importance of training, flexibility, initiative, and aggression - combined with a measure of luck. Luck is always essential, as even the most simple plans become complicated once the battle begins.

First background.
DIVISION 6 of the Imperial Japanese Navy was pretty pleased with itself following its engagement with the Americans off Savo the night of August 8-9, and perhaps with reason. The Japanese felt that they had won a victory, greater than their usual "victories," and although the loss of the KAKO outside the harbor of Kavieng following the battle had cut into their forces by a quarter, they felt themselves to be the backbone of Japan in the Solomons.

But the Americans still clung tenaciously to their ground in the Guadalcanal and Florida islands despite air raids and night bombardments from the "Tokyo Express. " And although their position was precarious, it wasn't enough so for the Jap.

If the Japanese headquarters on Rabaul was busy with plans for marshaling their strength for a knockdown battle for the Solomons, so were the Americans at Espiritu Santo. Something had to be done to stop the Japanese from reinforcing their troops, and from storming Marine positions from the sea, and obviously one way to do it was to reinforce our own land forces at Guadalcanal. For this, a large convoy with Army reinforcements for Guadalcanal was soon to depart from Noumea, in French New Caledonia, halfway between Fiji and Australia. By October 1 1 it would be about 250 miles west of Espiritu Santo, protected by two task forces: one built around the carrier HORNET, the other around the new battleship WASHINGTON.

In Espiritu was a newly organized task force. Its ships had engaged only in target practice together but they were good ships. It would do well, as protection for the left flank of the Army convoy approaching Guadalcanal, to station this task force off the southern shore of that island to intercept any enemy units moving in from the west.

Remember, this is still the "go to war with the Navy you have" part of the war, as the entire Solomon Islands Campaign was.

The post Midway march to Tokyo was on, but this was only the beginning of the beginning.

Let's look at the lineup.

TF 64

Rear-Admiral Norman C. Scott

Bombardment Group

Rear-Admiral Goto

And so, off they went.
Departing New Caledonia on October 8, ships carrying the US 164th Infantry moved north towards Guadalcanal. To screen this convoy, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley assigned Task Force 64 ... to operate near the island. ... Initially taking station off Rennell Island, Hall moved north on the 11th after receiving reports that Japanese ships had been sited in The Slot.
MicroWorks calls this "Stumbling into Victory." That is one way to look at it.

Me? I call it a lesson on the need for trusting your Commanding Officers with short, direct orders. As an editorial note for brevity, there are two IJN groups NW of Guadalcanal, Goto's Bombardment Group and RADM Jojima's landing force with 4,500 troops.

As he moved north, Hall, aware that the Americans had faired badly in previous night battles with the Japanese, crafted a simple battle plan. Ordering his ships to form a column with destroyers at the head and rear, he instructed them to illuminate any targets with their searchlights so that the cruisers could fire accurately. Hall also informed his captains that they were open fire when the enemy was sited rather than waiting for orders.
Approaching Cape Hunter on the northwest corner of Guadalcanal, Hall, flying his flag from San Francisco, ordered his cruisers to launch their float planes at 10:00 PM. An hour later, San Francisco's float plane sighted Jojima's force off of Guadalcanal. Expecting more Japanese ships to be sighted, Hall maintained his course northeast, passing to the west of Savo Island. Reversing course at 11:30, some confusion led to the three lead destroyers (Farenholt, Duncan, and Laffey) being out of position. About this time, Goto's ships began appearing on the American radars.

Initially believing these contacts to be the out of position destroyers, Hall took no action. As Farenholt and Laffey accelerated to reassume their proper positions, Duncan moved to attack the approaching Japanese ships.
But ahhhh, one man's brevity code is another's order.
A mere 5000 yards distant Goto's ships were moving directly into the center of the American line, which Goto, deeply feeling that no American was present, considered to be Joshima's reinforcement group. It was up to Helena to teach him otherwise. Captain Hoover was certain he had the enemy before him and queried Scott to open fire. Scott replied, "Roger", which he intended as a confirmation of receipt, but if unqualified it meant open fire as well, and Hoover interpreted it as such. He switched on his searchlights, aiming them on Hatsuyuki, the left-wing destroyer, and opened fire with his fifteen 155mm guns at 2346.

That action caught Scott off-guard, but he did not prevent the rest of his line from opening fire on the enemy. Duncan, now only a few hundred yards from Kinugasa, joined in, but was quickly disabled.
Another account describes this classic thus;
At 11:45, Goto's ships were visible to the American lookouts and Helena radioed asking permission to open fire using the general procedure request, "Interrogatory Roger" (meaning "are we clear to act"). Hall responded in the affirmative, and his surprise the entire American line opened fire. Aboard his flagship, Aoba, Goto was taken by complete surprise.
Let's talk about VADM Goto for a second. In a battle that lasted only 30 minutes, the first few were an all-American show. Why? Well, confusion and an inability to realize that your plan was no longer going to happen and that all you were told was wrong. The enemy always gets a vote.
Gotō's force was taken almost completely by surprise. At 23:43 Aoba's lookouts sighted Scott's force, but Gotō assumed that they were Jojima's ships. Two minutes later, Aoba's lookouts identified the ships as American, but Gotō remained skeptical and directed his ships to flash identification signals. As Aoba's crew executed Gotō's order, the first American salvo smashed into Aoba's superstructure. Aoba was quickly hit by up to 40 shells from Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. The shell hits heavily damaged Aoba's communications systems and demolished two of her main gun turrets as well as her main gun director. Several large-caliber projectiles passed through Aoba's flag bridge without exploding, but the force of their passage killed many men and mortally wounded Gotō.
CAPT Kijuma, VADM Goto's Chief of Staff stated,
"At first we thought the fire was from our own supply ships. It was a surprise attack. All ships but the KINUGASA immediately reversed course to the right. Due to the shellfire and the congestion, the KINUGASA turned left. As a result of
this turn the KINUGASA only received minor damage from three hits. The AOBA was hit about forty times and was badly damaged. The FURUTAKA and FUBUKI were sunk. The FUBUKI sank before it completed the turn, although it only received four hits. Due to the smoke from the AOBA, the MURAKUMO was not hit. The KINUGASA did most of the fighting for our force.

"Soon after the action started Admiral Goto was mortally wounded. While he was dying, I told him that he could die with easy mind because we had sunk two of your heavy cruisers.

"Following this action we retired to the northwest. The MURAKUMO turned back and rescued about four hundred survivors. When your forces reappeared it departed the area trying to make you chase it within range of our aircraft."
Chaos, on both sides.
Over the next few minutes, Aoba was hit more than 40 times by Helena, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Farenholt, and Laffey. Burning, with many of its guns out of action and Goto dead, Aoba turned to disengage. At 11:47, concerned that he was firing on his own ships, Hall ordered a ceasefire and asked his destroyers to confirm their positions. This done, the American ships resumed firing at 11:51 and pummeled the cruiser Furutaka. Burning from a hit to its torpedo tubes, Furutaka lost power after taking a torpedo from Buchanan. While the cruiser was burning, the Americans shifted their fire to the destroyer Fubuki sinking it.
Two minutes of firing - four minutes of "where and the h311 is everyone" and then firing again. That 4 minutes must have seemed like an hour.
As the battle raged, the cruiser Kinugasa and destoryer Hatsuyuki turned away and missed the brunt of the American attack. Pursuing the fleeing Japanese ships, Boise was nearly hit by torpedoes from Kinugasa at 12:06 AM. Turning on their search lights to illuminate the Japanese cruiser, Boise and Salt Lake City immediately took fire, with the former taking a hit to its magazine. At 12:20, with the Japanese retreating and his ships disorganized, Hall broke off the action.

Later that night, Furutaka sank as result of battle damage, and Duncan was lost to raging fires. Learning of the bombardment force's crisis, Jojima detached four destroyers to its aid after disembarking his troops. The next day, two of these, Murakumo and Shirayuki, were sunk by aircraft from Henderson Field.
The end result of the battle was a complete smacking. Losses:

  • 1 destroyer sunk,
  • 1 cruiser,
  • 1 destroyer heavily damaged,
  • 163 killed
  • 1 cruiser,
  • 3 destroyers sunk,
  • 1 cruiser heavily damaged,
  • 341–454 killed,
  • 111 captured
This was unquestionably a great tactical victory for the USN, but an operational failure as Jojima was still able to get his troops ashore. It also did not supply the right lessons to take forward as we continued not to appreciate the true night fighting capabilities of the IJN and the exceptional danger posed by the Long Lance torpedo.

This battle was the happy middle between two sobering hammers - The Battle of Savo Island for one, and two months later 
Tassafaronga. In the end, I think this best catches the results,
A junior officer on Helena later wrote, "Cape Esperance was a three-sided battle in which chance was the major winner."
A great take-away would be this quote that could be heard after any sea battle for the last 2,500 years, I bet.
In the words of one petty officer who was overheard talking with another on the way back to Espiritu Santo, "I'll never complain of another drill, and I'll deck the man who does."
BTW, that quote and a few others come from Battle Report: Pacific War: Middle Phase by CDR Walter Purdon, USN and CAPT Eric Karig, USN which you can get here.

This will be crossposted at USNIBlog as part of the SJS led Solomon Islands Campaign thread.

First posted in AUG09.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Russians to the East, North ... and From the South?

The slow building crisis in Ukraine is reaching a point of critical mass. 

I think a decision point in coming in mid-Feb.

I'm pondering in more detail over at USNIBlog.

Come by and give it a read.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

By the numbers: the Ukrainian Russian Buildup

With the growing tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border (and Belorussian while we are at it) when Midrats regular Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg writes something, you need to pay attention. 

He recently co-authored an article with Michael Kofman at the Washington Post titled, "Here’s what we know about Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine."

What is the nature of Russia’s military buildup? And how long can Russia keep its forces in these forward positions? Our research on Russia’s military capabilities offers some clues.

This is a solid snapshot and quick read of what the Ukrainians are facing.

Russian forces near Ukraine total at most 60 battalion tactical groups (BTGs), along with support elements. BTGs are task-organized combined-arms formations, each averaging 800 personnel in size. This translates into roughly 48,000 troops. Adding the supporting units, the total number of Russian troops is likely to be 85,000 — with more on the way. Aside from these regular Russian troops, there are about 15,000 separatist forces, or Russian-led formations in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Media outlets are reporting around 100,000 troops in total, but estimates vary widely.

This means approximately 35 percent of Russia’s total available BTG formations (60 out of 168) are stationed near the Ukrainian border, ...

As the authors mention at the end of the article, this many forces cannot remain there indefinitely. At some point, due to readiness, morale, and even conscription service issues - some units will have to go home. That is what we should look for. 

If we are lucky, as spring arrives we will see a plateau of force levels, and then a decrease.


Monday, January 17, 2022

DDG(X) Quicklook

At last week’s SNA, an initial concept for DDG(X) was put up on a slide for all to see;

Don’t get too excited though;

...the hull form shown in the concept image is not representative of the ship and that the service has not settled on a specific design yet.

The program office isn’t committed to a specific hull design but presented a swept, angular, bulbous bow design reminiscent of an Arleigh Burke rather than the tumblehome, wave-piercing design of the Zumwalts.

“We haven’t actually locked down the hull form, yet. That’s a concept,” Connelly said, referring to the concept drawing the office presented.

“It is one of the many options still in play. … We as the design team, are going through all the different options to see which one performs best for the long-term and the mission.”

Let me start out with saying what I do like. 

First of all, with a focus on fighting in Westpac you need range and dwell time. We seem to have it;

The Navy is also calling for a ship that can travel 50 percent farther ... (than an Arleigh Burke)

Second, after a couple of decades of serial debacles born from the Age of Transformationalism, we need minimal technology risk;

The combat system developed for the Flight III destroyers will be wrapped in a new hull that would be able to grow as weapon systems evolve, Connelly said.

“When we upgraded the Flight III … we took up all of the service life allowance on that platform. All of the space, weight and power has all been allocated. There is not enough room on that ship to put a new combat capability that takes more power or a larger footprint within the ship,” she said.

“The first ship will focus on a new hull form and a new integrated power system. We will use the proven combat system from the Flight III ship so we are designing the ship with the flexibility and the margins to accommodate the future of the Navy and the needs for where we’re going.”

In the spirit of the Spruance Class DD, we seem to be designing the platform with enough white-space so capabilities yet ripe can be included at a later date. The important thing is to displace water with the good now, and then make it better later. Very solid.

I do have some concerns, starting with weaponeering

Initially, the ship would feature a 32-cell Mk-41 Vertical Launch System forward of the superstructure that could be swapped for 12 larger missile cells capable of fielding the Pentagon’s emerging hypersonic weapons being developed for the Navy, Army and the Air Force.

The current DDG-51s field 96 MK-41 VLS cells and USNI News understands that Navy requirements keep the VLS cells for DDG(X) about the same.

I’m sorry, that simply is not enough VLS cells. Ripping out the 32 so you can put in a dozen hypersonics doesn’t seem all that wise either unless that is a mission swap out you can do from a (yet to be designed and built) destroyer tender. Looking at the slide, I get the aft end is helo country, but what is amidships? Where are the ASCM?

I don't think this part of the show was ready for prime time.

Let's take a look at Ronald O'Rourke's summary in the Congressional Research Service report;

The Navy’s DDG(X) program envisages procuring a class of next-generation guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) to replace the Navy’s Ticonderoga (CG-47) class Aegis cruisers and its older Arleigh Burke  DDG-51) class Aegis destroyers. The Navy wants to procure the first DDG(X) in FY2028. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget request $121.8 million in research and development funding for the program.

Non-concur here. We are repeating the mistake of trying to have a one-ship-fits-all false economy. Especially with long range hypersonics, we need to have a large surface combatant - yes a cruiser - at least the size of the ZUMWALTS that can carry dozens of hypersonics and still defend itself.

Navy’s General Concept for the Ship

Figure 1 shows a Navy rendering of a notional DDG(X) design concept. The Navy approved the DDG(X)’s top level requirements (i.e., its major required features) in December 2020. The Navy envisages the DDG(X) as having

- an integrated propulsion system (IPS) that incorporates lessons from the DDG-1000 IPS and the Navy’s new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine;

- initially, combat system equipment similar to that installed on the Flight III DDG-51; and 

- more weapon capacity than the Flight III DDG-51.

Navy officials envision the DDG(X) as being larger than the 9,700-ton Flight III DDG-51 design, but smaller than the 15,700-ton DDG-1000 design. A DDG(X) design midway in displacement between the DDG-51 and DDG1000 designs would displace about 12,700 tons, but the DDG(X)’s displacement could turn out to be less than or more than 12,700 tons. The Navy states that the DDG(X) would

integrate non-developmental systems into a new hull design that incorporates platform flexibility and the space, weight, power and cooling (SWAPC) to meet future combatant force capability/system requirements that are not achievable without the new hull design. The DDG(X) platform will have the flexibility to rapidly and affordably upgrade to future warfighting systems when they become available as well as have improved range and fuel efficiency for increased operational flexibility and decreased demand on the logistics force. DDG(X) will provide an Integrated Power System with flexibility to enable fielding of high demand electric weapons, sensor systems and computing resources.

(Source: Department of Defense Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Budget Estimates, Navy, Justification Book, Volume 2 of 5, Research, Development, Test & Evaluation, Navy, May 2021, p. 479.)

Here's my $.02 … they needed to put something out, so they put something out. Fine. However, we need to be building something. I fear we are stuck in analysis paralysis as we have not even selected a hull form yet? 

I’m not running anything, but if I were, I’d simply tell the team, “Pick one by 21 Jan 21 and let’s get moving with the most viable hull form. If the losing hull form in a couple of years looks like a player, then we can build it too as another class. Yes, we can build more than one class of DDG. Other generations did, it worked well for them, we can do it too … but we need to be building now.

If they are not ready to do that, then fire the entire team and bring in a new one.

Faster please.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Afghanistan Papers, with Craig Whitlock - on Midrats


Five presidents from both political parties oversaw the two decade debacle in Afghanistan that ended in the national humiliation at the end of August 2021 at the airport in Kabul where we retreated under fire following a negotiated surrender - leaving up to a thousand Americans behind and untold thousands of Afghan nationals who fought with us to their fate as the Taliban returned to the power we took from them in 2001.

People in the executive branch, Department of Defense, Department of State, Congress, media, and the well credentialed chatterati said they were "shocked," "surprised," and otherwise unprepared for what unfolded. Should they have been, or was this the inevitable outcome warned of in official government lessons learned and historical interviews dating from the beginning of the conflict?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern will be Craig Whitlock, and we will be using his book “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War” (Simon & Schuster, 2021) as a starting point for our conversation.

Craig has been a staff writer for The Washington Post since 1998. He is assigned to the Investigative Desk, where he specializes in national security.

At The Post, he's covered the Pentagon beat for the National Desk from 2010 until 2016. Before that, he was a foreign correspondent and served as the Berlin bureau chief for six years. While overseas, his primary assignment was investigative reporting into terrorism networks and counterterrorism policy in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. He has reported from more than 60 countries.

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, January 14, 2022

Fullbore Friday

What is duty, duty to yourself, those who work for you, your mission, those who gave you your mission, and the purpose the mission was created?

How do you rack and stack these priorities?

Once again, my mind went to the story of T.E. Lawrence;

The next morning, 23 May, the party left Khabra` Abu Ajaj and rode northeast by north to a group of wells of `Arfajah, whereby they aimed at entering the lower Wadi Sirhan, passing over a vast, flat, empty, no-man’s land which was called Bisayt [Biseita] meaning a carpet. In the evening they came to the top of a sand ridge named Ja`ala [Jaala] and slept there peacefully. According to the maps to be mentioned later, this is exactly a midway point between Fajr and `Arfajah.

The next day, 24 May, was to become memorable for the rescue of Qasim [Gasim] by TEL when he was lost in the scorching Bisayt. He was one of TEL’s bodyguards though he was no Agayl but from Ma`an, ‹a fanged and yellow-faced outlaw, who fled into the desert and joined the Howeitat after killing a Turkish official in a dispute over cattle-tax. Crimes against tax-gatherers had a sympathetic side to all of us, and this gave Gasim a specious rumour of geniality which, we discovered later, was actually far from the truth (p.242).›

TEL, solely out of a sense of duty and not from humanity, had turned his unwilling camel round, and forced her back into the emptiness behind.

When TEL finally caught up the party with Qasim who had gone nearly insane from horror and heat and thirst sat on his camel’s rump, no one praised his deed. Auda said he would not have let TEL go back had he been present, and struck Qasim sharply. Nasib went so far as to blame TEL for such a whim to Nasir, saying it was clear to him that TEL must have reckoned they would come back.

That evening, they decided not to go farther and camped at Qusaym `Arfajah, contentedly even without a mouthful of water, because they were already at the south bank of Wadi Sirhan and `Arfajah was within their sight.

On 25 May, at 8 o’clock in the morning, TEL’s party reached the wells of `Arfajah. This ended the first leg of his journey for the `Aqaba raid.

Qasim. If you know the story ... you know the story. What makes you feel like you did the right thing in your context, may not be in the larger context ... and can end in ways you wouldn't expect.

Leadership is hard. Duty seems simple, but it is not. Many times there are no correct answers or actions, only the less imperfect - you hope. 

Time travel is not possible. Not all effects are known ... they just are.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

On the Navy, China, and Taiwan Words Matter - and This Week is a Good Week

A few quick items of good news where we have some strong messaging coming out.

China’s increasingly muscular efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally have paid off in Washington after a foreign naval association caved in to Chinese pressure and reversed course on letting Taiwanese officers join the group.

Several people familiar with the dispute said the Washington-based Naval Attachés Association rescinded an invitation for Taiwan to join the group, which includes officers from American allies, after China strongly objected.
What did SECNAV Del Toro do?
The US navy has banned officers from attending NAA events. Carlos Del Toro, navy secretary, last month said it did not support China’s “coercive tactics” and opposed efforts to “manipulate independent organisations”.

China often leans on governments, NGOs, companies, and the media to deny Taiwan’s sovereignty. But the NAA case is a rare example of it forcing a group in the US to sever ties with the island.

It highlights the difficulty Washington faces in trying to expand exchanges with Taiwan and normalise contacts with Taiwanese officials while the US and most powerful nations deny Taipei diplomatic recognition.
BZ SECNAV. People and organization either get it, or don't get it. Sometimes they need to pick a team and publicly put their cards out. If that is where NAA stands, then so be it. We don't have to stand with them if they show such NBA-like cowardice in the face of the PRC.

Next over to the uniformed side of the house. As you would expect with this week's Surface Navy Association’s 34th Annual National Symposium in Washington, D.C., we have an opportunity to set the tone for the new year and Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Admiral Daryl Caudle, USN did not disappoint. Dare I say ... he decided to go full Salamander;
“We need to be angry at not having the right manning. We need to be angry at not having the ships out at the right time,” Admiral Daryl Caudle said at the Surface Navy Association annual convention on January 12. can kick.”

Caudle, who said in his opening remarks that he wanted more ships and a bigger budget, said the Navy does not have the “luxury of doing more with less”.

“We can’t just build a bunch of ships and fill them with the right equipment, the right number of people,” Caudle said.
Keep it up. Call it out. Be the squeaky wheel. Yes, I know there was some rah, rah fluff in his speech, but this bit of direct talk gives me hope.  More of this Admiral. More of this, please. I'll take the "W."

What about the Legislative Branch of government? Also from SNA-22 we have strong - and correct - thinking from of another leader on The Hill on naval and national security issues who will speak clearly, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI).
The only short war for Taiwan would be a quick Chinese victory. If we’re going to win, we’ll have to buy time to amass assets in the region while denying the Chinese invasion. I’m concerned that our planning has not caught up to this reality, and our wargames don’t even integrate financial and economic warfare into their scenarios. However many munitions, logistics nodes, and fleet enablers we think we will need, we will need more. This goes for Taiwan itself, which needs enormous quantities of not only anti-ship and anti-air missiles and mines, but also enough food, water, and other essential supplies to enable the island’s defenders to weather a blockade that could last months or even years.

Some of these defenders on the ground should be American. We should expand training missions in Taiwan, particularly when it comes to pairing National Guard units with Taiwan’s reserve forces, and regularly send senior military leaders to Taiwan to engage with counterparts and see the relevant wartime terrain with their own eyes. CyberCom should send Defend Forward cyber teams to Taiwan. We also need to be building the operational planning structures we will need ahead of time while incorporating allies like Japan and Australia. This includes re-establishing Joint Task Force Five One Nine under INDO-PACOM to run point on contingency planning in the region and re-establishing the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Command to fully integrate wartime planning with Taiwan.
Keeping with the SNA-22 wins and from the other side of the aisle, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) is thinking 3-4 steps down the road and has clearly done some wargaming of her own.

You want something actionable now for the porcupine? Here you go;
The vice chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday said new legislation is needed to allow the U.S. to respond faster should China invade Taiwan.

President Joe Biden “doesn’t have the authority [under the law] to actually respond” should China attack the island, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said, noting a U.S. response would be needed to maintain stability in the region.

“If China were to invade Taiwan today, the president would have to come to Congress for authorization to respond,” the 20-year Navy veteran said while speaking at the Surface Navy Association symposium in Arlington, Va. “We can’t lose [the] months that it would take in order for us to provide a response.”
Let not your heart be troubled. There are smart people out there who are thinking right and - if given the opportunity - will speak and hopefully act in line with their thinking.

We have good people ... we just need to get them closer to the levers of power to get us where we need to be. 

Time is short. Faster please.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Things to Learn from the Winter War?

Any nation facing the Russians and are facing great odds usually look at two modern wars - the Polish-Soviet War of 1918-1921 and the Winter War of 1939 when plucky Finland held their own against the Soviet Union.

Are there things Ukraine can learn from the Winter War? Over at USNIBlog, I think there is ... but it isn't tactical.

Come on by and give it a read.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Making LCS Work the Only Way the Critics Said it Could be

Both the Freedom and Independence Class LCS have been - if we are to be polite - suboptimal in both utility and performance. We've documented that for the better part of 17-years and that record is all available at the LCS tag, so no need to rehash the whole sordid thing again.

Well ... maybe just a little bit.

Of course we should have adopted Plan Salamander as outlined over 11-yrs ago, but we have what we have. Smart people with hard jobs given enough Sailor sweat and seabags of cash have managed to get the Independence Class to contribute to the presence mission in WESTPAC, but as outlined in Megan Eckstein's latest at Defense News, Freedom remains the more troublesome of the sisters.

There is a nice graphic in her article that I know the folks on The Front Porch would get a little schadenfreudesque pleasure in seeing because it reflects what many of us predicted when The Smartest People in the Room™ told us that the mission-module concept would be all that and a box of chocolates. Of course, as led by our friend Chapomatic and others, even before this blog started in 2004, people were warning that it was - like the phantasmagoric manning CONOPS - simply not realistic with the humans we have. 

In the end, these would be single mission ships. That was clear, but those warning were dismissed. And so, BEHOLD!

The LCS program originally promised three mission packages, each interchangeable with any of the ship hulls and able to be swapped on demand. The Navy changed its operational model in 2016, assigning each ship to a division within the LCS squadrons based on a single warfare area, allowing the ship crews’ composition and training to be tailored to that warfare mission.

LCSRON 2 set up a mine countermeasures division in October 2020; the division and its ships will finally get their mission package early this year.

Hopefully one of the lessons Big Navy will take away from the Age of Transformationalism is that if your programs are moving forward through threats and silencing people to the point that everyone in the room agrees with you that - yes - we can ignore centuries of best practices because we are smarter and better than previous generations who did great things ... then perhaps you're not in a good place.

Good to see that the Freedom Class is starting to get its footing and BZ to the good people in hard jobs for making it happen. It isn't what was promised or even what we need, but it is what we have; our legacy from the Age of Transformationalism we will simply have to make the best of. 

0.5 >0.0. Yes, we were promised 4.0 and only received 0.5 ... but I will go to war with 0.5 over 0.0 any day.