Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part XCIV

The People's Republic of China isn't hiding anything. Their plan is right there for all to see. If you can't quite understand what I mean at the end of May of 2022, the North American treasure who is Cleo Pascal will show you and tell you the story;

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, every island can get up to 200 nautical miles off its coast as an EEZ in which it controls resources, say, fisheries. That means, for example, Pacific Island Country (PIC) Kiribati may have a population of around 120,000, but, with its EEZ, it covers as much of the planet as India.

Now let’s colour in the EEZs of the countries being visited at the moment by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his large delegation. What we see is a large, contiguous band—Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa—off the northeast coast of Australia, backed against Kiribati. And off to the northwest of Australia, almost embedded into Indonesia, strategically located Timor-Leste.

 They're putting it in writing in case you think there's a lot open to interpretation: 

Wang is hoping the PICs who recognize China will sign on to two prewritten documents. We know what’s in them because they have been leaked by Pacific Islanders worried about the implications.

The first one is “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision”. The second is “China-Pacific Island Countries Five-Year Action Plan on Common Development (2022-2026)”. The “Action Plan” describes how China plans to achieve its “Vision”.

Make no mistake, this is exactly the correct strategic step if your goal is to displace the USA and her allies in the Pacific. 

If you want to get a firm grasp on the seriousness of this real estate, I would offer that you need to read up on the Pacific Campaign of WWII ... if you're running short of time, read my post from last year.  

Back to Cleo's article;

“Vision” talks about: law enforcement cooperation, including “immediate and high-level police training”; “cooperation on network governance and cyber security”, including a “shared future in cyberspace”; the “possibility of establishing China-Pacific Island Countries Free Trade Area”; “enhance cooperation in customs, inspections and quarantine”; “create a more friendly policy environment for cooperation between enterprises”; set up Confucius Institutes; train young diplomats; “establish China-Pacific Island Countries Disaster Management Cooperation Mechanism”, including prepositioned “China-Pacific Island Countries Reserve of Emergency Supplies”, and much more.

“Action Plan” includes: “a Chinese Government Special Envoy for Pacific Island Countries Affairs”; a “China-Pacific Island Countries Ministerial Dialogue on Law Enforcement Capacity and Police Cooperation”; “assistance in laboratory construction used for fingerprints testing, forensic autopsy, drugs, electronic and digital forensics”; “encourage and support airlines to operate air routes and flights between China and Pacific Island Countries”; “Send 200 medical personnel” in the next five years; “2500 government scholarships” from 2022 to 2025, and much more.

Even at peace, there is a lot to gain if you are looking to strip mine the last of the fish in the Pacific without complaint;

Look at the EEZs alone. If China gets its way, the fishing fleets will be sent in, with processing ports set up, including “prepositioning” of various sorts, and loose visa and customs restrictions. We’ve seen China use its fishing fleet for grey zone activity before, and it has an overt doctrine of civil-military fusion. Additionally, the PRC’s 2017 National Intelligence Law compels Chinese companies to assist in intelligence activities. Then add in the cyber integration, police and diplomatic training.

Those countries don’t have the ability to control Chinese activities in their waters. That arc has the potential to become a “First Island Chain”’ to hem in and/or interdict Australia and New Zealand.

That is just the opening bit, you need to read it all

If you don't get a flush of panic a couple of times, then you are missing one of the largest stories of the decade's opening chapters - the closing of the Pacific under the red banner of the People's Republic of China. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Fullbore Friday


I am, generally, not all that taken in by large memorials to the fallen. Perhaps it is just me, but I find them cold, a bit off-putting, and many - but not all by any measure - seem to be more about something else than the memory of fathers, mothers, daughter, sons, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and friends who answered the call of their nation and never came back.

Like the little neighborhood memorial back when I lived in Norfolk I've written about before, I find the smaller ones speak to me more - they have an intangible quality to them.

For this Memorial Day weekend I'm reaching out of the USA and in to a lost world that is still remembered.

Well off the beaten path is a small Moravian village in the southeast of the Czech Republic near the border with Slovakia called Louka. She has a population of 900 today, probably not that different than what it was a little over a century ago when she was simply another village in the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

When the Habsburg Emperor called, her citizens answered. Four years later, their Emperor was dead, their empire was dissolved, and 20 of her young men didn't come home. 

In 2020, Norfolk, VA had a population of 244,300 in the city proper. The Hampton Roads area (Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Virginia Beach, etc) will bring you to about 1.7 million souls.

If you upscale little Louka's sacrifice by population, that would be 5,429 dead in Norfolk, 37,778 for the Tidewater, and for the USA ~7,400,000 killed.

In the end, for what?

When nations go to war, their people will respond. They usually don't know why, they just know duty. They didn't make the decisions, they just fulfilled their obligations. 

Before a nation's leaders head in to war, they should know what the implications are. Did they do all they could to avoid the war? Did they do all they could in the years of peace to ensure that if war comes, their people have the leadership and tools needed to win?

War sometimes is unavoidable. Sometimes it is the best option. For many nations, it is the only option.

When we have a weekend to think about those who have fallen in our nation's wars, we should take a moment to remember that - even for our nation's enemies (as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was to us in WWI) - their families, villages, and towns are not that different than ours when the call comes.

War, sacrifice, death, and loss have a lasting impact on everything they touch. Even generations past living memory in wars for causes forgotten and empires dissolved, the grief remains. The flowers still are brought. The candles are still lit.

The charter to the living is to think what is worth the cost to give rise to the next village's memorial.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Navy Missiles for all my Friends

There are some smart decisions being made by the Army when it comes to what the cool kids call “long range fires” (I don't care if they call in medium) … and the products are blue and gold.

Via Sydney Freedberg at BreakingDefense;

Instead of picking a single missile to be its thousand-mile Mid-Range Capability, the Army has chosen to mix two very different Navy weapons together in its prototype MRC unit: the new, supersonic, high-altitude SM-6 and the venerable, subsonic, low-flying Tomahawk.


Lockheed Martin won the OTA contract, worth up to $339.4 million with all options, to integrate the two missiles – both built by Raytheon – into the Army fire control systems, vehicles, and support equipment required for a fully functioning artillery battery. Lockheed builds the current wheeled HIMARS and tracked MLRS launchers, which can handle a wide variety of current and future Army weapons, but neither the service nor the company would say whether they could fire either SM-6 or Tomahawk, citing security concerns.

They are set to enter service in 2023.

The most important factor in the Pacific remains what it has always been, range.

The subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile is the long-serving mainstay of long-range strike. It was first fielded in the Reagan era and has been much upgraded since, with more than 2,000 fired in combat since 1991. There used to be a whole family of different versions, but nuclear-tipped, land-based, air-launched, and anti-ship variants were retired after the Cold War. That left the Navy’s conventional-warhead Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), which can only be fired from ships and submarines, and only at stationary targets ashore.


The supersonic SM-6 is the latest and sexiest version of the Navy’s Standard Missile family, whose primary role is defensive, built to shoot incoming enemy aircraft and missiles out of the sky. But the new SM-6 is also capable of striking surface targets on land and sea.

Range, range, range. For reasons probably best discussed between them and their confessors, since the end of the Cold War our Navy has retreated from range. Our airwing forgot about it. Our surface force remembered it shortly, then forgot it again. I don’t think out submarine force ever did … but we don’t talk much about submarines because they seem to do a great job in most things (though that may change next week if I can get a post out of draft).

The SM-6 selection surprised me at first, because its reported ranges are well short of the 1,000 miles the Army wants for the Mid-Range Capability. While the real range is classified, estimates range up to 290 miles (250 nautical miles).

However, the Navy is now developing an extended-range model of the SM-6, the Block 1B. (It’ll use the rocket booster from another Standard Missile variant, the ICBM-killing SM-3, which is known to have a range greater than 1,000 miles). What’s more, while the current SM-6 maxes out at Mach 3.5, the SM-6 Block 1B will reportedly reach hypersonic speeds, i.e. above Mach 5. While the Navy plans for Block 1B to complete development only in 2024, it wouldn’t be a stretch to have a handful of missiles available early for the Army’s MRC roll-out in late 2023.

The maritime gods of the copybook headings are back, and they are pissed. All the non-transformational concepts such as range, affordability, production lines, and robustness are coming back to the front. Why? Simple.

We are running out of time to be unserious. From the Army's press release;

“The Army and joint service partners have conducted extensive mission thread analysis to solidify the kill chain and communications systems required to support MRC operations. Details are not publicly releasable due to OPSEC considerations,” Army officials wrote me in an email.

“The Tomahawk and SM-6 were chosen in order to accelerate a mature capability to address near-peer threats. They provide the required mix of capability to engage desired targets at mid-range distances. Working closely with the Navy, the Army will be able to integrate these missiles for the MRC prototype battery to meet the FY23 fielding date.

“The Army will not modify the Navy missiles. While working on materiel solutions, the Army is also consistently doing analysis to determine the best mix of weapons systems, how the enemy is going to fight against new capabilities, and how to address capability gaps.

“The MRC prototype battery is planned to include a mix of both SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles to provide the desired capability in FY23.”

The best way to keep the People’s Republic of China from being a danger to our interests is to keep her close to shore. To do that, you need to hit targets on the coast and inland. With her impressive S/M/IRBM forces, you need to do that at range at sea and ashore. 

The maladministration of our airwing over the three decades is almost criminal, but we have what we have. Working at the speed of smell, NAVAIR may have a F/A-XX (AKA NGAD or whatever we are calling it this week) shadow on the ramp before the crack of doom, and one hopes that one of the primary design priorities is … range … but for the near-term fight to come, we and our sister services will have to do with what we have to keep a proper distance from shore based weapons systems. We knew that in the Cold War, but then we got smart enough to be stupid. We will have to find range other ways – and in missiles, the Navy has a lot to be proud of.

This is where the Army’s decision to go Navy and buy the updated 1970s era TLAM (though that is just the shape and speed. The warhead and guidance is 21st Century smart) and the SM-6 is just smart as it can be. We have good (actually, very good) now as we wait for better later that may or may not come. We need to be ready to fight now, not a decade from now.

A final note to my fellow geeks and classics fans.

Do you know what "Typhon" is on slide above?

Based badassery and a superb name.

... the Giant-God whose power is to overturn oceans. ... the largest and most fearsome of all creatures, his prowess exceeded that of even the Titans and was enough to be regarded as the deadliest threat to Olympus, and was one of the few beings in existence whom Zeus openly feared. ... His true form is always accompanied by a massive and devastating storm, obscuring his body and making it difficult to see. However, it is said that his human upper half reached as high as the stars, and his hands reached east and west. Instead of a human head, a hundred dragon heads erupted from his neck and shoulders; some, however, depict him as having a human head, with the dragon heads replacing the fingers on his hands. His bottom half consisted of gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out and constantly made a hissing noise. His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes,

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How Do You Work With the Russians at the Negotiating Table and Post-Conflict?

While there is a lot more fighting left to be done in Ukraine, there is one safe assumption regardless of what happens; we will have to learn to live with Russia as she is.

Russian victory in Ukraine runs the spectrum from unconditional surrender of Ukraine to a negotiated settlement that lets Russia retain Crimea and the Donbas. 

One may define a Ukrainian victory on an extreme edge with Russia retaining only Crimea over to being expelled entirely back to pre-2014 boundaries. The longer the war goes on, the less the Ukrainians will find the Crimea option acceptable, and we may already be past that point.

If you think the war will be the end of the Russian desires in her near-abroad, then you have not studied enough Russian history.

Russia will always be Russia. All you can do is to realistically accept that and adjust accordingly. 

In the post-Cold War era there were well meaning but wrong people who thought Russia was just a Western nation with a rough childhood.

Do you remember 2003’s “Spinning Boris” loosely based on the American political consultants rescuing Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 election in Russia? You can watch, I believe, the whole movie here, but just get a little flavor of a shirtless Goldbloom;

We can call that the high/low-water mark of post-Cold War arrogance to Russia that carried on until the middle of the last decade when the balance of people realized with the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that the doves may not have it quite right. 

Up until the invasion of Ukraine this year, there was still hope that somehow Russia could be contained as a slightly dangerous but otherwise manageable hydrocarbon extraction territory.

A lot of those same people (Department of State and the Joint Staff, I’m looking at you) quickly moved as the invasion was on the way to, “Russia is unstoppable” and tried to convince the Ukrainian government that their best bet was to retreat to Lviv but probably best to leave the country while they had the chance. 

Of course, President Zelenskyy used that as an opportunity in February to deliver one of his best lines to President Biden and the world’s Smartest People in the Room™;

I need ammunition, not a ride!

So, my preference here is to not listen too much to what is coming out of DC and Brussels. They have been too wrong for too long. I prefer to listen to those who have generations deep understanding of the Russians; the Central Europeans and the Baltic Republics. They will best inform us of how we should position ourselves relative to Russia.

What is the informed opinion, as much as one can be found? 

Regulars here know my affection for Estonia and the Estonian people. As such, let’s check in with their superb Prime Minister Kaja Kallas;

I warned about premature calls for a ceasefire and peace. We cannot give anything to the aggressor that it didn’t have before – or the aggression will sooner or later return. No sign Russia has changed its calculus. I don't believe in goodwill by an outright aggressor and a cold-blooded war criminal.

We must avoid a bad peace. A badly negotiated peace for Ukraine would mean a bad peace for us all. We need to focus on pushing back the aggressor and drying up his war machine. 

What Ukraine needs today are weapons to fight back the aggressor and liberate its territories. We need to help Ukraine win. And we need to make a leap forward in our own defence.

What is victory? This is solely up to Ukraine to define. But we must help them to reach the best position for any negotiations with the aggressor.

The Russian threat will not go away tomorrow. We mustn't get tired. After all, Ukrainians are not tired.

This is sound. I think I will adopt this as the Salamander Position.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Yes, Taiwan is an Island Worth Dying On

Sometimes at gaffe is just the truth spoken out of turn. Yesterday, President Biden said something that isn’t that surprising to those who have been pondering this for a while;

Of course, there are those who will come out to “clarify” etc., but we nearing the point where we need to pause a bit and talk clearly to each other as adults; we need to be ready for the war to come because if we don’t, come it surely will.

We need to move past the comfortable strategic ambiguity of the past and move forward based on the clear intent by the Commander in Chief. We should take the Commander in Chief at this word, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are going to. They will act accordingly and so should we.

The coming conflict with the PRC may not be unavoidable, but the need to prepare for one is. If we take the challenge seriously and prepare for it, then the challenge may never come. If we pretend the challenge is not growing, then the challenge will move on to action as the opportunity to change centuries of failure will be ripe for the taking.

We’ve run “The Long Game” series here since 2004. I picked up where smarter people started a decade earlier and more. In 2022 when you look around, there are a lot more of “us” now and it is time that we set those remaining on the fence on notice.

The utility of “Strategic Ambiguity” no longer serves its purpose in support of American national security requirements. If you look at the internal second and third order effects of it, we are past the point that it is counterproductive. It gives those charged with funding our military an excuse not to be ready while at the same time making the risk calculation for the PRC less with each passing year of inaction on our part.

Taiwan cannot be allowed to fall under the control of the Communist Party of China. There are a whole host of reasons. My top-5 I will outline below. 

1. The Map;

With Taiwan, you control Japanese access to half the planet, and you extend your military influence east through the Philippine Sea. The PRC would hold the north gate to the South China Sea and on to the Singapore Strait. She will have Taiwan as a shield for her coastal cities that drive her economy and build her navy. I know if I were in the PRC leadership, taking Taiwan would always be at the top of my list. The key is waiting for the moment to be ripe where risk is low and gain is high. That math is what will drive peace or war. We can drive that math to our direction if we have the will that matches our desire for peace.

2. Justice: If “The West” and her auxiliaries stand for anything, it should be for representative governance and individual liberty. There is a wide half-standard deviation from the mean in this regard, but one thing is clear; the PRC and the future she desires is outside that spectrum. Taiwan is well within that center. The Taiwanese people do not desire to be Hong Kong on a larger scale. Well meaning, freedom valuing nations should support her. As a species, what kind of future do we want to our planet? Do we want the messy chaos of an imperfect framework of freedom that the West hobbled together after the defeat of fascism and the Soviet Union last century – or the autocratic and Orwellian surveillance state the PRC is perfecting? 

3. Stand Against Aggressive War: the international community in Ukraine is setting a precedence that we will not stand by quietly and reward aggressive war by Russia. Yes, no one is committing forces, but especially since the first month of the war, the Ukrainians have shamed nations in to at least providing her the tools to defend herself. Talk is not enough. If you mean to prevent war, you must be prepared for it. Ukraine before the war made poor decisions with regards to her preparedness. Someone advised her that she was either unable to fight Russia or would never have to. The Smartest People in the Room™ were wrong on both counts. +/- these are the same people who have dulled our senses with comforting talk that “Strategic Ambiguity” should continue to be the way forward in Taiwan. They were wrong in Ukraine, and we should call them on their wrongness in Taiwan.

4. Economics: the world’s economy and Western militaries are mindlessly dependent on Taiwan. This country of just over 23 million souls – not much more than my home state of Florida - is the single point of failure for the microchips that power our modern world. Industry and governments in the West were greedy and stupid to let this be the case, but here we are. We should no more let the PRC control this – or destroy it in a war – than we should have her take over the oil fields of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. 

5. West of Wake: with the loss of Taiwan, the ability of Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other nations in the western Pacific – who are either auxiliaries to the West or trying to become such – will be in what position in face of a stronger and emboldened China? In their history – thousands of years older than the USA’s history – tells them. They’ve seen it before, they don’t want to see it again. Their future, and that of the entire hemisphere will drift away from the promise of individual liberty, rule of law, and optimism for the future.

There are my top-5 reasons why those with a clear head about the PRC should welcome the President’s comments. Accept and promote them.

Regular readers know I am not a fan of American as global hegemon or policeman. I’ve had no change in that regard … but I try to listen to history’s lessons and do my best to look a half dozen plays down the board – and Taiwan’s independence is one of those things where I’m willing to say, “Yes, here we make a stand.”

We either rise to PRC’s challenge at Taiwan’s shore, or shrug at what was the American Century. 

This is no time to shrug. Other nations closer to China are moving past their recent delusions and see that war is coming. I believe Japan is one, Australia another. Vietnam needs no convincing. 

So, what do we do? We wake everyone else up in the West who can think.

Internationally, we should speak clearly to our European allies that, yes, we are doing most of the heavy lifting in providing aid to Ukraine now, but this is it. You need to rebuild your defenses. We will always be your friend. We will always be by your side – but that is it – by your side. Even if Russia is soundly defeated in Ukraine, she will be back. You have a larger economy and population than the USA does. Build your armies up, we will not station ours there. We will come to exercise now and then. We will have combined logistics and training facilities there. We will contribute to NATO staff and even combined units … but we will not garrison your frontiers. Over to you.

Domestically we have hard conversations that need to take place. Personal and financial interests will be injured, habits disrupted, and egos bruised. The pushback will be hard.

Yes, we need to spend more, but more importantly we need to spend smartly. We need to break the ossified adhesions of decades of Beltway nomenklaturaesque habits and spend our money like we know what the challenge is and where our comparative advantage lies; we are a maritime and aerospace power. That point needs to be its own post later – perhaps a summary of a draft I’ve had since the summer of 2020 that I keep to myself. Enough of the Joint self-deluding posturing that hobbles clear speaking.

Again, look at the map;

In a war west of Wake, we can accept risk at peace keeping a smaller standing Army. Efficiencies can be gained by having most of our ground forces in National Guard and Reserve formations that can be activated as needed. We need the surge capability in sealift and airlift there as well. All three things need to be done in conjunction while we expand the forces that tare hardest to generate in number: maritime and aerospace power. These must be a priority and front loaded. 

We can take that risk ashore; we cannot take it at sea or in the air. We are not going to deploy hundreds of thousands of ground forces on the Asian mainland on a hair trigger. If we do, we are fools. What will need to do it to ensure we control the seas and air for the nations we are supporting in Asia so their ground forces can defend their land. If we do not dominate the air and seas, then I don’t care how large our standing army is, it isn’t getting there.

That is the reality. That reality is what must drive requirements for both the USA and Taiwan.

Time is late. Taiwan needs to spend a lot more on defense. Right now she is spending 2.1%. We need to have a come to Jesus meeting with her to let her know that, really, she is going to quickly spend 4% on defense and this is what she is going to buy with it. We will back her play in the open now, but we will not be more concerned with her freedom than she is. The Taiwanese porcupine must have more and longer quills. We should also start having American forces train with Taiwan in Taiwan a lot more. Underline our point. No one calls a bluff if a bluff does not exist.

The “Long Game” is now the short game inside our POM cycle. Navalists in Congress and other places with access to levers of power need to have a polite conversation with airpower advocates that they need to join us on this path or suffer with the army in the budget battles to come.

The argument for maritime and aerospace spending is the easiest sell due to the reality of the situation – we just need leaders to make the argument.

No more “Joint Force” talking points. Navalists need to keep their list of Navy leaders who keep going back to this verbal tic and work to keep them out of positions of power. They don’t know what time it is and they are too senior to retrain. 

Make enemies as our friend Blake Herzinger has. Speak the truth and tell those who can’t take it to simply cope-and-seethe. 

Hard fact – Taiwan is our fight to have. Our Nationalist Chinese allies in WWII would not have been able to hold Taiwan without the cover of our imperfect umbrella over more than seven decades. Over that time, Taiwan has developed in fits and starts in to a prosperous, free, and uniquely different society than that on the mainland. 

To abandon her now, knowing her fate, will not just do immeasurable damage to our national security, it would be an amoral act of cowardice by a decayed and intellectually bankrupt empire.

We are not alone. If we show strength, others will too.

Australia is holding firmer against the PRC than they have in decades. This is good.

India is looking for friends to counter the PRC to her north. This is a growing fertile field at a tender inflection point but trending the West’s way.

New Zealand is problematic. Sad, but true. I’m not sure what to do with her compromised elite. We’ll call them a wash until they wake up and rediscover what they stand for.

As we started covering a year ago, we have problems from the Pacific island nations from the Philippines to the Solomons to Kiribati etc. We are behind the 8-ball in our own back yard, and we did this to ourselves through our own sense of entitlement and arrogance. It is also not too little a portion of our Department of State being distracted away from their core job by an equally distracted bureaucracy who often act as if they really wish they picked a different career field.

There is nothing new that needs to be done here. Nothing “transformational” requiring “new” ideas, concepts, or approaches. This is all Vince Lombardi fundamental great power competition – something humans have been practicing since the Stone Age.

Embrace Biden’s gaffe as Commander’s Intent and move forward. It is a blessing, really.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Coming Burkopolypse

On yesterday's Midrats David Larter mentioned something in passing that I really had not pondered since he was still on the journalism gig in 2020

In a move with sweeping consequences for the U.S. Navy’s battle force, the service is canceling plans to add 10 years to the expected service lives of its stalwart destroyer fleet, a cost-savings measure that would almost certainly hamper plans to grow the size of the fleet.

In written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Navy’s Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts said performing service life extensions on Burkes designed to bring them up from 35-year hull lives to 45 years was not cost-effective.

This little extra flavor to The Terrible 20s needs to be fleshed out a bit, as in 2022 we are close to coming to the Arleigh Burke cliff.

DDG-51 herself was commissioned in 1991. She will be 35 in 2026. That is just 4.5-yrs from now.

If we assume that +/- the Burkes do fall off at 35, and the below is roughly correct, what does that look like?

2026: 1

2027: 1

2028: 1

2029: 4

Then it really takes off;

2030: 6

2031: 5

We took a 5-year break from 2012-2017 as the DDG-1000 fever dream caused a Flight-IIA restart, and have been building 2-3 a year on average since.

I'm not sure - LCS aside - if we have ever been decommissioning a class of ships at the same time we are building them, but we soon will with Arleigh Burke. 

As discussed often here, the end of the 20s and the start of the 30s is when many consider there to be the greatest threat-window with China. That happens to overlap with our primary surface combatant decommissioning faster than they are being replaced.

It also points out that, indeed, where is DDG(X)? When is hull-1 expected to displace water?

As our LCS fleet is either decommissioned early or are speed limited due to this design flaw or another - where is FFG-62 and her sisters?

Pray for peace.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Larter, Returning ... You Never Get the Sea out of Your Blood - on Midrats


If you've missed having David Larter on the Navy beat, well you're in for a treat.

Though everyone's favorite former OS2 is no longer a defense journalist, like most Sailors, he doesn't leave his love of the sea or affection for his Navy behind. 

Returning to Midrats, but this time with a little California sunshine kissing his cheeks, David will be with us for the full hour Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern. We will cover the waterfront from Ukraine, fleet size, how we treat our Sailors, global food security, China, and the things navalists should be thinking about, but aren't.

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, May 20, 2022

Fullbore Friday

A little over a decade ago, we lost the last half of one of the great teams of WWII; a local boy and father of USAF Special Operations. If what they did took place in Europe, they would have had a movie made out of it. As it took place in the Burma theater - well - at least we can cover it here.
John R. Alison, a World War II fighter pilot who helped lead a daring and unprecedented Allied air invasion of Burma, has died, a son said Wednesday.

The retired Air Force major general and former Northrop Corp. executive died of natural causes Monday at his home in Washington, John R. Alison III said.

Alison's wartime achievements included seven victories, six in the air, qualifying him as an ace, according to the Air Force Association, an independent organization in Arlington, Va., that promotes public understanding of aerospace power.
What did he do?
Operation THURSDAY began on March 5, 1944, when the first C-47 launched from India towing two overloaded gliders filled with Wingate's troops, equipment, and supplies. A total of 26 transports towing gliders comprised the first wave. The gliders, carrying from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of excess weight, strained the C-47 tow planes and ropes and caused significant problems. With eight of the first wave of C-47s each losing a glider, Colonel Cochran decided to limit one glider to each remaining transport. This decision allowed the air commandos to successfully deliver Wingate's initial and succeeding forces to the jungle clearings over 200 miles behind Japanese lines in Burma.

During the first day the strip, designated "Broadway," was improved so transport, glider, and liaison aircraft could land safely. They brought supplies, equipment and reinforcements, and evacuated the injured. A second strip, opened by glider assault, relieved congestion at Broadway. Airlift inserted almost 10,000 men, well over 1,000 mules, and approximately 250 tons of supplies. Casualties from the high-risk, untested concept, including missing, were less than 150, and for the first time in military history aircraft evacuated all killed, wounded, and sick from behind enemy lines.

The air commandos also protected the British ground forces by harassing the Japanese. This harassment, conducted by P-51s and B-25s equipped with a 75mm cannon in the nose and 12 .50 caliber machine guns, included bombing bridges, strafing and bombing parked aircraft, air-to-air combat, and destroying the communications, transportation, and military infrastructure.
Wait, who is that Cochran character? Funny you should ask.

See that guy to the left - that was then Lt. Col. Philip Cochran, USAAC. He passed away in 1979. He was - wrap this around your head PCO pipeline guys and gals - 1st USAAF Air Commando Group Co-Commander with Alison. Co-Commander. I guess if Hap Arnold tells you, you work it out.

See him and his men in action below. Remember - he was only 34 in 1944. Alison was 32.

Remember that next time you dismiss the capabilities and opinion of your senior LTs and junior LCDR.

Ponder a lot.

One more bit about Cochran - talk about character.
Cochran was the inspiration behind characters in the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff.
Cochran dated actress Betty White in the early 1960s after being introduced by Jack Paar. White declined his marriage proposal; later dating Cochran and her future husband Allen Ludden simultaneously, until her romance with Ludden became serious.
Hat tip GOH. First posted June 2011.

UPDATE: If you are interested in this, you need to read William Y'Blood's Air Commandos Against Japan by USNI Press. Our friend B.J. Armstrong reviewed it a few years ago at The Journal of Military History.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Turkey Skunks the NATO Party

Especially for Finland, but less so for Sweden, their neutrality in Europe is in a large measure a Cold War relic.

For old NATO hands like your humble blogg'r, this is a great moment. Though they were not NATO, you could find in most NATO HQs and operations, including Afghanistan, Finns and Swedes. Superb professionals and friends. To see them come fully in to the fold is just plain right - not just from a security perspective, but on a baseline of NATO's common values and shared baseline respect for the rule of law and liberty. They are great nations for those who value Western civilization.
We should be so lucky.

Like the rude uncle that keeps showing up to holiday dinners, Turkey would like a word;
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its NATO bid without returning "terrorists", and Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Turkey to convince it to back their membership in the alliance.

Earlier, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance, a decision spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with the accession process expected to take only a few weeks despite Turkey's objections.
Erdogan said NATO allies had never supported Turkey in its fight against Kurdish militant groups, including the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Ankara also views as a terrorist group closely tied to the PKK.

"NATO expansion is only meaningful for us in proportion to the respect that will be shown to our sensitivities," he said.

Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Monday Sweden and Finland had not granted approval for the repatriation of 33 people that Turkey requested.
The diplomats have some time here, but Turkey is far outside a half standard deviation from the center of the NATO alliance. Most of us who served remember our Turkish colleges who "disappeared" or were forced in to exile by Erdogan. How does that mesh with "NATO values?"

No modern nation is going to turn people over to Turkey who have taken refuge there from torture or death. Erdogan has undermined basic freedoms as the rest of NATO members define them to the point it would be a crime to turn people over to a fate we all know is one best discussed at The Hague than Brussels.

As we've discussed here in the past, it is time to reassess Turkey's position in NATO.  Like Finland and Sweden's neutrality, is Turkey's membership in NATO also a Cold War relic worthy of reconsideration?

A step that should have been taken years ago (and maybe it has...), any "special weapons" assigned to NATO need to be removed from Turkish soil.

When push comes to shove in that part of the world, access to Turkish bases has always been unreliable. They are unreliable. They bully and threaten their friends. Who needs to be in an abusive relationship for that? Has her membership in the alliance brought her closer to Western values, or is she degrading in to Ottomanism?

Turkey is buying relatively advanced weapons systems from Russia.

She has used the refugee crisis to extort money and other concessions from her allies.

Turkey's turn to neo-Ottoman moves from off Cypress to Libya - including threatening the French navy - calls further in to question what she brings to the larger goals of the alliance besides inertia.

We should let this play out - but if Turkey decides to play the spoiler, then serious people need to start making some serious decisions about what NATO needs to focus on in the 3rd decade of the 21st Century. Yes, I know "kicking them out" is exceptionally unlikely for a whole host of reasons - but the rest of the alliance, if they can stand firm, has other motivational tools at their disposal.

Alliances, like friendships, have obligations as well as benefits. Actions have consequences. Turkey needs to know she can't be a bully with her friends ... or that friendship might not last.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Force Design 2030: Futurism, Imbroglio, or Creative Friction?

We haven’t really discussed the imbroglio presently roiling USMC-world around General Berger, USMC and “USMC Force Design 2030.” Well, today we’re going to step in – second hand.

The document itself isn’t as interesting to me per se as the reaction to it.

Berger is trying to look at where we are today, what challenges the nation faces, what the USMC’s role in addressing those challenges are, what resources provided to do it, and has come up with a path he and his staff believes best addresses the challenges.

No plan or vision is perfect. There are always weaknesses and imperfections, but decisions do need to be made.

The old guard, or as Bob Work - Former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary, and Col., USMC (Ret.) well known to readers here - calls them in the article we’ll discuss below calls them, the “grandparents,” is not all that happy with the proposals … nor are some people from age 20 on up … and that is the spectator sport we’ve been watching.

You can read Force Design 2030 at the link if you have not already, but if you want to get in to the discussion on today's post, over at 19fortyfive.com take a moment to read Work’s article USMC Force Design 2030: Threat or Opportunity

Be warned, it is a substantial article. It is not a short read, but take the time to read it all anyway.

Work is clearly on Berger’s side (and that's OK) and is a little snarky toward the grandparents – but his article is on balance fair.

I’m not fully aligned with Berger, nor am I with the grandparents. I think both sides have good arguments … and this hesitation on my part is a signal to me that what we have going on here is healthy and good for the Marines and the nation they serve.

Here’s why. There are a few foundation stones to how I look at changes in military postures, CONOPS, and structure.

1. Creative Friction: no one has the right answer. If someone says they do either they are a fool or they think you are one. On both sides of contentious issues, only by the two sides having a good back-and-forth can you get closer to the optimal solution or truth. They won’t get there – you never do – but you can get close. Well meaning people with good intentions – even when in stark opposition – can together create great things through their disagreements. On balance, that is what I see.

2. War is Not New: there is a seductive draw to either signaling or joining in with the idea that you or your group has a unique ability to see a change, a pivot, or dare I say – a transformation. Some advocates and critics of FD2030 are getting a bit over their skis thinking Berger is some prophet on one hand or a starry eyed fool on the other. Neither criticism is valid. In the commentary on FD2030, there is some hedging, self-reflection, and doubt concerning the way forward, but also an acknowledgment that forward one must go. I disagree on a few points here and there, but that is to be expected. I may hedge too much, they may not hedge enough … time will tell. Unlike the Age of Transformationalism we spent the better part of two decades discussing here – while there may be a little of that flavoring in FD2030, not enough to be of concern. I think they avoid that trap … though some of its advocates are a bit too enthusiastic … but people are people and that is to be expected.

3. The Future is Not as Clear as You Think it is: though there is some acknowledgement of uncertainty and our spotty track record on correctly identifying the next conflict, I do worry that FD2030 is too biased towards the expected (but perhaps not the actual) challenge west of Wake and may warp too much the outcome of FD2030. Much of the intellectual effort here was before the Russo-Ukrainian War of 2022, and while I appreciate the case for experimentation, exercises, wargaming, and modeling … there is one hell of a real war going on right now. It might be worth pausing a bit and have some clear-eyed review of the lessons coming out of it. This is especially true when it comes to armor. Regardless of all the T-72 turrets you see flying through the air, remember that Ukraine is taking all the tanks they can get hold of. Ditto tube artillery.

4. You are Wrong More Than You are Right: I think Work brings out the fact that here as well, self-awareness is in the thinking around FD2030. I don’t share his enthusiasm for it as written – though I’m closer to him than to the grandparents – but I do not get the impression Berger and his staff think they have everything perfect. There is humility here. That means there is flexibility. 

Those are my top-4, and I picked that number because Work picked his top-4 areas in FD2030 he wanted to touch on. I’ll pull those out in the below.

Let me grab a few pull quotes and we’ll dive in;

(Berger) is convinced the organization, training, equipment and posture of the service–its overall force design–is not keeping up with the evolving character of war and needs to be changed as a matter of some urgency.

After two decades in a rather bespoke series of low-boil imperial policing actions in Central and Southwest Asia that existed alongside what to some looked as a Cold War concept frozen in intellectual aspic, that is fair. As his job requires, Berger has to make sure the USMC is ready for what is coming, whatever that may be. He owns it;

I am convinced that the defining attributes of our current force design are no longer what the nation requires of the Marine Corps.

So he needed to take action. As Work outlines; 

He made it his top priority to bring the Marine Corps more into alignment with both the changing character of war and international security environment, and he announced a plan called Force Design 2030 to accomplish this aim.

I'm going to take an extended pull quote after this as I know many of you have not "read the syllabus" and may not be fully up to speed on the imbroglio ... so here's the issue;

But today, a group composed primarily of disaffected retired generals vehemently disagree with the General Berger’s overall vision of a future Marine Corps–so much so, that they are mounting a sweeping public relations campaign to stop him from getting it off the drawing board.[iii]  While the Commandant is in no way obligated to listen to their complaints, the thoughts and inputs of retired Marines, particularly general officers, have long been valued by serving Commandants (the same can be said of all service chiefs).  But this campaign takes “input” to an unsettling degree.  The retired generals have made their objections known to General Berger and are expecting him to heed their preferences to preserve the status quo.  Up to this point, Berger has not done so–or at least not enough for their liking. They therefore decided to “seek legislation that would halt the [Commandant’s] ongoing efforts until a more thorough requirements-based future is reviewed.”

There is a term for this approach: a shake down.  There is nothing remotely like this behavior in Marine Corps history. Those who wage the campaign feel their attempts to engage Commandant Berger have either been ignored or rebuffed.  Having failed to force a reversal of the Commandant’s direction that has been carefully designed and tested over the past two years, they feel the only way forward is to relentlessly and publicly denigrate his plans.  Toward this aim, they have published a spate of attacks in numerous fora.  They have gone so far as to engage a lobbying firm to help persuade Congress Berger is on the wrong path.  As a Marine veteran myself, I am stunned, saddened, and embarrassed these respected gentlemen would pursue such drastic, unseemly tactics.

That second paragraph is where Work shows his cards. That is fair, these are big boys playing serious games, they can take some elbows and clear words. I actually wish we had more of this on the Navy side ... but I'll try not to get distracted from the subject at hand.

As promised at the top of the post, Work boiled down the four top judgments from FD2030 that stood out.

Judgment 1: The future Marine Corps must be organized, trained, equipped and postured to conduct distributed operations.

Berger argued that the “character of war in the future will be much different than that of the recent past,”[xi] dominated by what he would later refer to as the “mature precision strike regime.”[xii] At its core, then, his force design effort was a deliberate reaction to the widespread development and fielding of deadly accurate guided munitions fire–directed and controlled by increasingly capable command, control, communications, computer and cyber intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks. 


Achieving this end state requires a force that can create the virtues of mass without the vulnerabilities of concentration, thanks to mobile and low-signature sensors and weapons.

That is a good reading, though I shake my head a bit at the transformationalist "character of war" comment. I'm sorry, but that is an exaggeration to make a point. Tools, methods, and procedures, yes - "character" no. That is a semantic critique - as is my curling up my nose every time "pacing" is used, but it isn't minor. Assuming you live in a unique time is a dangerous idea that can get you in all sorts of trouble. This isn't a unique time. Our species has seen this pattern countless times in our history.

Judgment 2: The Chinese anti-access/area denial threat in the Western Pacific is the “pacing threat” for a future naval expeditionary force in the precision strike regime and calls for a different set of amphibious capabilities.


the appearance of land based anti-access/area-denial networks in the Western Pacific and beyond made “closer naval integration an imperative.”[xxi]  Large-scale amphibious assaults in the Western Pacific would be far too vulnerable and risky to mount.  As a result, perhaps the biggest bombshell in Berger’s planning guidance was that the Marine Corps would no longer use the longstanding “requirement” (quotation marks in the original) to conduct a 2.0 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) amphibious assault to help size and shape the force.  In truth, since 9-11, the Marine Corps had been sized and shaped primarily to service the wartime demands in the Central Command area of responsibility.  But the 2.0 MEB requirement provided the foundation for the size of the amphibious fleet (38 ships), the “requisite capacity” for vehicles and ship-to-shore connectors and the Maritime Prepositioning Force.

Partial non-concur here. Over the next 30-years, the challenge west of Wake vignette is not the only vignette we need to be able to respond to. In those cases, our amphibious fleet - as it proves over and over - provides capabilities unmatched by anything else. We cannot be focused on just one vignette more than any other. As you will see below, Berger isn't ... but the conversation needs to be careful here as the usual suspects are making that argument. 

Work mentioned the Korean War in his article. One of the problem we had was the the post-WWII Army was too stuck on the nuclear vignette and let other capabilities fade. That is the big lesson to take away that should inform our hedging - and I would offer that we need to lead with the hedge as nuance is being lost in the headline. 

The Commandant made clear that he did not think amphibious assaults were “irrelevant or an operational anachronism.”[xxiii]  However, the appearance of powerful anti-access-area-denial networks called for different types of amphibious capabilities in support of an integrated naval campaign in the Western Pacific.  Accordingly, Force Design 2030 called for III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), forward based in the Pacific, to be transformed into a new “fight tonight, stand in force capability to persist inside an adversary’s weapon system threat range, create a mutually contested space, and facilitate the larger naval campaign.”[xxiv]

I take that as a helpful hedge. We live in a big world with a diverse set of challenges that require an equally diverse set of tools to address them. Be careful, or some accountant will only give you a set of pliers and a roll of duct tape and expect you to carry on.

Judgment 3: Given expected budgets, pursuing any new force design would require the Marine Corps to divest some legacy programs and force structure to invest in needed future capabilities.

Another style note: I am not sure enough people realize how loaded, poisoned, and unhelpful the use of "legacy" and the construct of "invest/divest" has become. It is almost to the level of "do more with less" from the 1990s. Stop using it. You are unnecessarily weakening any argument you are making by using them.

It is relevant to understand that General Berger formulated Force Design 2030 just as the sequestration years were ending.  Demand for resources among the four services and within the Marine Corps itself was still intense. His philosophy was therefore to “seek the affordable and plentiful at the expense of the exquisite and few.”[xxvii]  

Good. Very good. For the stresses of the Terrible 20s, this mindset will serve everyone well.  

Beyond announcing the elimination of the 2.0 MEB amphibious “requirement,” the Commandant did not explicitly list capability divestments in his planning guidance, instead opting to provide general guidance for how future divestment decisions would be made.[xxix] In contrast, he was quite specific about the general investments he was confident 2030 Marine Corps would need.  These included ground-based long-range precision fires;  unmanned systems; command and control capabilities suitable for a degraded environment; air and missile defense; and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.[xxx]

Solid list. These have all been validated the last few months in Ukraine. 

Judgment 4: The urgent requirement to adopt Marine Corps force design for the future operating environment meant change must start immediately; “essential to charting our course in an era of strategic fluidity and rapid change will be the effective integration of professional wargaming in force design…”[xxxi]


“While others may wait for a clearer picture of the future operating environment, we will focus our efforts on driving change and influencing future operation environment outcomes” (emphasis mine).[xxxiii]

This is one of the better quotes. I would offer that no one has a clear picture, but you cannot wait or freeze in time as the world advances around you.

General Berger was fully aware he was navigating primarily by dead reckoning through a fog of uncertainty. To mitigate strategic risk, he therefore announced a major focus during his tenure as Commandant would be a “campaign of learning” involving his “direct, personal [and] regular engagement…to drive an integrated process of wargaming and experimentation” that will rapidly produce solutions for further development.”.[xxxv] 

That is the correct mindset. We are also at a great time to learn from Ukraine. As mentioned before, a pause is needed to digest the lessons of Ukraine, especially here. Don't tell me to stop repeating myself, I'll bring it up again a few times before we're done;

Among the document’s more consequential decisions, Berger announced the divestment of one of eight infantry regimental headquarters; the divestment of three of 24 active component infantry battalions, two of six reserve battalions, as well as the redesign of all remaining battalions; a dramatic restructuring of Marine Corps cannon and rocket artillery capabilities; the divestment of all organic tank units;


Berger believed he had sufficient evidence to conclude that despite their usefulness in past wars, tanks were “operationally unsuitable for our highest-priority challenges in the future.”[xlvii] Accordingly, all seven companies of active and reserve tanks would be divested. In addition, two of six companies of tracked assault amphibian vehicles and all three bridging companies needed to support sustained armor operations ashore would go. 

Well, we have new evidence this spring. People have been trying to write off expensive and bulky tanks for decades, but when actual war comes, no one wants to divest them or send them to other units. There is a reason for that which cannot be readily dismissed.

Time to return to the one thing that is better than anything else when testing concepts; reality;

(Berger) cautioned that while it was important to remember that “’answers’ are elusive when the task is preparation for an unknowable future,” the three developments he outlined demanded that he not wait for perfect answers before pursuing change in response.  Berger therefore said “the next great challenge” would be analyzing his initial force design decisions “through integrated Naval wargaming and analysis but most importantly in real-world, live experimentation,” and adjusting plans based on their findings.[lvi]

I keep repeating it because it is the 800-lb gorilla. Better than wargaming and experimentation - the actual war going on right now. We cannot pretend it isn't happening. 

Hidden in Work's article is something that really should be a stand-alone article. I'd love to hear him spend an hour on the topic. I know it would be torture to most, but I have been told I am a strange person, so maybe it is just me. As we don't have an hour, we will have to be happy with a two paragraph reality check on the POM cycle.

You've heard me talk about "process" before. This is reality ... and something everyone needs to remember. Work provides on of the most concise executive summaries I've read on it;

Let’s apply some facts to the first part of this premise. Each year, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, like all service chiefs, creates what is called a Program Objective Memorandum (POM). This describes how a service chief wants to allot current and future year funding for a force design that meets both service and defense planning guidance. If a Commandant wants to make significant changes to Marine Corps force structure, they need to prepare a POM that reflects the desired changes. Once developed, the Commandant then briefs and seeks approval of their plans from both the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense. If approved, the memorandum becomes a part of an overall defense program assembled by the Secretary of Defense.  The program is then sent to the Office of Management and Budget, to be incorporated in the President’s budget estimate submission to Congress. In essence, OMB’s delivery of the administration’s submission to Congress signals the President’s endorsement of anything included therein. Once delivered, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees unpack Department of Defense plans, study them, and decide whether to authorize and fund them. The former Commandants among the opponents know this process well. They followed it when they held the office.

Force Design 2030 was included in the Marine Corps’ Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) Program Objective Memorandum.  It was approved by then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and briefed directly to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist at the Deputy’s Management Action Group (the organ that reviews service POMs for the Secretary of Defense). Per standard practice, it was then considered by the Director of Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation and endorsed. Based on supportive recommendations from both that director and the Deputy Secretary, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved Force Design 2030 and transferred approximately $500 million to the Marine Corps budget to help pay for aspects of it.[lxiii] It was incorporated into the overall defense program and president’s budget request, which was considered and approved by Congress. What Senator Webb described–a wily Commandant sneaking a force structure plan through the Department of Defense and by Congress–literally could never happen.

That will sober you up real fast, won't it?

At the end of this I hope you take a moment to ponder a couple of final thoughts:

1. Don't you wish we had this kind of argument going on right now in the Navy? 

2. 2014 is to 2022 what 2022 is to 2030. It isn't that far way. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Who is Helping Ukraine Build the Riverine Force They Need?

Time to raise a topic we first brought up the first year of this blog over 17-years ago; riverine.

As we discussed at the time, we invaded a nation, Iraq, dominated by major river systems, yet because of the stupidity of the 1990s defense policies, we divested of our riverine forces. The last units left the reserves just a few years before we would need them again.

As a result, we not only did not have the ability to take advantage of the unique mobility riverine environments can provide for our own military operations, we surrendered the waters to the enemy's use unopposed. 

The requirement was still there, we just ignored it in DC while the US Army did what it could with locally sourced fishing boats.

As we have over the years discussing this under-loved topic, let's dig in to it in the context of the Russo-Ukraine War.

As always, let's first go the the map room.

The Dniester, Bug, Dnieper, and the now famous for the failed river crossing, Donets rivers. Heck, throw in the small part of the Danube in the southwest on the Romanian border. This Texas sized nation is full of large, economically and militarily significant, deep, navigable river systems.

I've been thinking even more about this since the video came out last month of the riverine raiding party of Ukrainians and their remarkable fleet of ...

Yes, they used a collection of fishing, ski, and pleasure boats. Remind you of the images linked above from 2005's Iraq? Read the related article about the raid - it was successful. 

Before the war, the Ukrainian Navy knew riverine was important, and they had a small fleet, but there wasn't enough time and money - a common pre-war Ukrainian situation. 

It was on their mind. 

Just not enough.

The Russians are making better use of the riverine environment;
Russian patrol boats are racing up the Dnieper River to conduct covert operations deep behind enemy lines, a Ukrainian think tank has said.

Boats that can reach Kyiv have been seen speeding upstream from the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, the Centre for Defence Studies (CDS) said.

The Dnieper is the fourth longest river in Europe, measuring 13 miles wide at points, and potentially allowing Russian boats to travel deep into Ukrainian-held territory undetected. Defence experts said Russian special forces could be using the missions to mark out targets for air strikes and artillery fire in cities such as Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro and the Ukrainian capital itself.

The CDS said that Mangust patrol boats had been deployed from Kherson to conduct operations upstream. “The Dnieper River may be the fastest way for them to covertly reach many of the river’s cities, including Kyiv,” the think tank warned.

The Mangust patrol boat, which means “Mongoose” in Russian, can travel at speeds of up to 50 knots or about 58 miles per hour. It is armed with a 12.7mm machinegun, two Igla surface-to-air missile launchers and two 30mm grenade launchers. The Russian Black Sea fleet has 26 Mangust boats in its arsenal.

This makes sense. There is a shared history of such operations for Russians and Ukrainians.

Have you ever heard of the Danube Flotilla?  

As the Red Army cleared Crimea and the Dniester River of German troops, the Danube Flotilla was re-constituted on the Dniester in April 1944 to assist further offensives.

The flotilla assisted the Red Army in operations including the clearing of the Dniester Estuary and the clearing of the Danube Delta, including both troop-carrying and gunfire support for landings at Prymorske and Vylkove on August 23–24, 1944, and at Kiliya on August 25.

As the Red Army moved upriver, the Danube Flotilla followed and participated in the Belgrade Offensive, the Budapest Offensive, and the Vienna Offensive.[4] Flotilla operations included assisting in landings at Raduevats and Prahovo on September 29–30, 1944 (even well into the 21st century, the wrecks of about 200 vessels sunk by the Germans to block the landings remain in the Danube at Prahovo), at Smederevo on October 16, at Vukovar on December 8–10, at Gerjen on November 30–December 1, at Esztergom on March 19–23, 1945, and at Radwanska on March 28–30.

On April 13, 1945, as the Battle of Vienna was ending, the Flotilla landed troops in a surprise stroke at both ends of the Imperial Bridge in Vienna. This enabled the Red Army to cut the demolition cables and seize the bridge intact.

It is almost criminal malpractice not to take full advantage of such river systems. 

Looking at this note from Jane's in January ... has this been sped up?

Time. Never enough and what you need is always late.

Plans to rebuild Ukraine's naval capability have taken a further step forward after US company SAFE Boats International received an USD84.2 million contract to deliver six MK VI patrol boats.

The award, confirmed by the US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) on 30 September, combines Building Partner Capacity (BPC) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds. The contract includes an option for a further two MK VI craft.

The US State Department in June 2020 approved a Foreign Military Sales case for the supply of up to 16 MK VI patrol boats and associated equipment to Ukraine. “The proposed sale will improve Ukraine's capability to meet current and future threats by providing a modern, fast, short-range vessel ... to better defend its territorial waters and protect other maritime interests,” said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a statement issued at the time.

SAFE Boats International was awarded a USD20 million contract by NAVSEA in December 2020 for long lead time material and associated pre-production and planning support for an initial two MK VI patrol boats for Ukraine. The new award announced at the end of September funds detail design, construction, outfitting, reactivation, and training for six MK VI craft, plus the option for two more units.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 BPC funds using Ukraine Security Assistance Funding to the amount of USD43.7 million and FY 2021 FMF (Ukraine) funds to the amount of USD40.5 million have been obligated at the time of award. Work is expected to complete in March 2025; the completion date will be extended to March 2026 if the contract options are exercised.

There must be more that we can do. 

Fun note. Guess where the memorial for the Danube Flotilla's Sailors is?

Izmail, Ukraine.