Sunday, July 31, 2022

July Farewell Maritime Free For All - on Midrats


The Russian Navy HQ in Crimea had a Sunday visitor, China continues to be prickly about its neighbor's guest list, the Navy gets a new oiler (yes, that is sexy), Sal wrote a couple of things that got people's attention, and we are just a couple of months away until winter hits the slogfest in Ukraine.

Of course, that is just for starters because in a Midrats Free-For-All, you never know where the conversation will take us - and if you don't like where we're going, you can nudge us your way because the chat room and phones will be open when we are LIVE Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern.

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, July 29, 2022

Fullbore Friday

Warfare History Network has a great article outlining allied merchant marine sacrifice in WWII to support the Soviet Red Army. The whole thing is worth a read, but let me just pull the story of convoy PQ-17;

In late June 1942, the 37-ship convoy PQ-17, the largest and most valuable convoy to date, formed at Hvalfjord, Iceland, and began to make its run to Murmansk and Archangel. Crammed into the holds of the cargomen were tanks, trucks, aircraft, boxes of ammunition, and other vital supplies destined for the hard-pressed Red Army. The Germans were determined that PQ-17 would not pass and instituted Operation Rösselsprung that would add surface ships—the Tirpitz, Scheer, and Hipper—to the intercepting force.

On July 1, two U-boats attempted to attack the convoy but were chased off by British and American escorts; eight more U-boats began stalking PQ-17, waiting for the right moment to strike. That evening, Norway-based German aircraft swooped down on the ships but were driven away by a fierce storm of antiaircraft fire.

On July 4, with PQ-17 over 400 miles from the nearest Soviet landfall, the battle was again joined. The Luftwaffe pounced on the convoy, which somehow managed to maintain formation and discipline. Then submarines struck, and the brand new Liberty Ship USS Christopher Newport, crippled by aerial torpedoes, was sunk by the U-457.

Focke-Wulf 200 Condor long-range bombers torpedoed four more ships, sinking two. Next, 25 He-111 torpedo bombers pounded the Liberty ship William Hooper, which was abandoned by her crew without orders. In London, fearful that the three German battleships might arrive and sink the entire convoy, First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound ordered his armed escorts to withdraw. At 9:23 pm, he also ordered PQ-17 to disperse, without escort. A few minutes later, Pound told the convoy “to scatter” and to proceed to their destinations individually. This order would doom PQ-17.

The naval escort of four cruisers and six destroyers did as ordered, left the freighters, and headed south. The merchant ship captains watched in horrified astonishment as their escorts departed—the military equivalent of a man walking his date home through a dangerous neighborhood, only to abandon her when approached by muggers and rapists. The force was now on its own.

“We hate leaving PQ-17 behind,” wrote the film star Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was aboard the cruiser USS Wichita. “It looks so helpless now since the order to disperse has been circulated. The ships are now going around in circles, turning this way and that, like so many frightened chicks. Some can hardly go at all.”

A Soviet tanker sailing with the convoy, the Azerbaijan, was hit and set on fire but managed to maintain power and continue on. At 10:15 pm on the 4th, the convoy was hit again. But PQ-17 could not slip away into the darkness, because there was none at this time of year, and at this latitude, daylight lasts 24 hours day.

With no protection, Convoy PQ-17 was a sitting duck. The Luftwaffe caused the most damage, with the U-boats assisting. Tirpitz and the other German dreadnaughts left their Norwegian anchorage to join in the action, but it was determined they were not needed and they reversed course.

The German victory was nearly complete. Of the 37 PQ-17 ships that had sailed from Iceland, two had turned back earlier, eight were sunk by aerial bombs and torpedoes, nine were sunk by U-boats, and a further seven were sunk by U-boats after having been left dead in the water by air attack—a total of 24 ships lost. Going down with the dying freighters was a large portion of the $700 million worth of equipment—430 tanks, 210 crated aircraft, 3,350 vehicles, and 99,316 tons of general stores—along with 153 merchant seamen. Of the debacle, Churchill said, “PQ-17 was one of the most melancholy episodes of the war.”

Two weeks later, the German Army in Russia launched a successful summer offensive; could the Soviets have held out had those supplies, now lying at the bottom of the Barents Sea, reached them? One will never know. The abandonment of Convoy PQ-17 by its escorts was a disgrace that haunts the Royal Navy to this day.

In September, the Germans set their sights on the next convoy, PQ-18. Thirty-nine merchantmen, three minesweepers, one oiler, and one rescue ship sailed from Loch Ewe on September 2, 1942, under the protection of a huge escort fleet that numbered 57 warships and nine submarines. During a week-long battle, the Germans lost six U-boats and 41 aircraft. All but 13 of the escorted vessels got through to Kola Inlet.

Accurate figures are hard to come by but, by any analysis, 1942 was the U-boats’ most successful year. One source says that 1,664 Allied ships were sunk, 1,097 of them in the North Atlantic. Losses to German assets were minimal. Although Liberty ships were sliding down the ways in shipyards around the country at a rate of three per day, it still was not enough. In 1942, the Allies launched 11 million tons of new ships, eight million built in the United States, but had lost 12 million tons to the enemy. In November alone, the Allies lost more than 800,000 tons of shipping, more than half of which was in the North Atlantic.

It was not a short war.

A quick reminder, today our Navy has no plans to escort the ships we will rely on to resupply our forces to the east or west. John Konrad of gCaptain outlined this well on Midrats a few years ago.

Nothing has changed of substance.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The CNO Has a Plan...

The Chief of Naval Operation's 2022 Navigation Plan is out ... and besides a couple of expected errata points I'll cover at the end ... I like it. It answers the bell.

I'm not going to go paragraph by paragraph as I want you to read the whole thing. The document is important because the CNO is the boss, and this is the Ref. A everyone needs to align with. It will drive discussions, efforts, focus, and defines the four corners for any argument the Navy will make. As such, read it if you want to understand what everything for the next year or more is going to be built around.

It is just a couple of dozen and change pages. Lots of pictures and side-bars, so it is a quick read. Congrats to the chop chain as there is an economic use of jargon and acronyms with just a few exceptions - but as a whole digestible from E1-O10.

Full disclosure up front - because long-term readers and certified members of the Front Porch may think I had a role in at least the Introduction ... because it is - I will humbly submit - Salamanderesque ... sadly I did not ... but someone here did;

First, the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) clarified America’s national security objectives, emphasizing the need to address long-term competition with China and sustain military advantage against Russia. 

Did you catch that? "...competition with China..." and "sustain military advantage against Russia."  That is a clever way of saying the primary effort must be to counter to the People's Republic of China, and the USN's efforts and posture towards Russia will be an economy of force effort. 

Exactly correct. 

Anything we develop to address China will translate well if needed against what remains of the Russian Navy. As long as we keep and advance our ASW edge against the best the Russians can put to sea, the Army and Air Force can handle the rest of the worry with our NATO allies in primary position. That's the subtext.

Third, through a rigorous campaign of learning, we recognized that the Navy needs a more continuous, iterative Force Design process to focus our modernization efforts and accelerate the capabilities we need to maintain our edge in this critical decade and beyond.

The victory of the Anti-Transformationalists is complete. "Transformation" is mentioned nowhere, and "transforming" written only once in a different context. "Third" above is a return to the cornerstone of the great Rear Admiral Wayne Eugene Meyer, USN's "Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot." For 18-years we've wanted to see the turn towards this correct mindset be complete, and I think we are here. BZ Front Porch. 

Take the "W."

Our Navy team is the most capable in the world. However, we have identified unacceptable variability in our performance—the gap between our best and worst performers is too great. History shows that the navy which adapts, learns, and improves the fastest gains an enduring warfighting advantage. The essential element is fostering a healthy ecosystem—a culture—that assesses, corrects, and innovates better than the opposition. This is the essence of our Get Real, Get Better call to action, 

That is simply so damn good I don't really think I have much more to say than, yes. As for the "Get Real, Get Better," I first scrunched up my nose at it as it has a little of this vibe...

...but it has grown on me. I like it. It underlines a mindset of honesty, humility, and ... a call to action to improve from a sub-optimal position. 

Like I said, the Introduction is superb...but we are not even there yet ... as so far we've only go to the warm-up to the intro and we are already well in to Salamander-101.

The Introduction starts like this;

America has always been a maritime nation. The seas are the lifeblood of our economy, our national security, and our way of life. 


This progress and prosperity did not happen by accident. American sea power, combined with the dedication of our allies and partners, guaranteed freedom of navigation, maintained peace, and fostered a rules-based order grounded in fairness for all.

I'm not even going to be grumpy that I wasn't given a footnote.  

Today, for the first time in a generation, we face strategic competitors with the demonstrated intent to unravel the free and open order. 


This is a critical decade. As global challengers rise to threaten U.S. interests, America must maintain maritime dominance.

That is the "Long Game" series running 18-yrs in a nutshell.

The CNO could have stopped with the Introduction. That is the core, everything else is commentary ... but as Hillel might suggest, let's continue to read. 

The three trends in Security Environment are spot on;

Today, our Navy operates in a battlespace that is quickly growing in lethality and complexity. We face many challenges across the globe, but they largely stem from three significant trends:

• The erosion of credible military deterrence, particularly due to China’s rapidly increasing military capabilities.

• Increasingly aggressive Chinese and Russian behavior that undermines the international rules-based order.

• The accelerating pace of technological change and the expanding impact of the information environment.

It nicely boils down China's goal;

China designs its force for one purpose: to reshape the security environment to its advantage by denying the United States military access to the western Pacific and beyond. 

I wish this thread was pulled a little more, as the Russo-Ukraine War is giving a strong affirmation of this;

Artificial intelligence, ubiquitous sensors, unmanned systems, and long-range precision weapons are proliferating globally, making contested spaces more transparent and more lethal, and transforming how navies will fight in the future. 

The CNO ends the argument about if presence is a mission. Solid.

America cannot cede the competition for influence. This is a uniquely naval mission. A combat-credible U.S. Navy—forward-deployed and integrated with all elements of national power—remains our Nation’s most potent, flexible, and versatile instrument of military influence.

While not worthy of being included in the errata sheet, what looks like a last minute bone thrown to the SSBNs mafia is an awkward construct around the problematic and questionable concept of "Integrated Deterrence" ... but I think it looks forced because it was forced...maybe.

The ultimate backstop of integrated deterrence is a secure and reliable strategic nuclear deterrent. 

A little high and right methinks. We need to find a better way to hook in the strategic deterrence imperative as the SSBN force is the most effective of the triad.

Leaving that stumble behind, this is much better;

Every day, the Navy operates forward alongside allies and partners through combined operations, theater security cooperation, and capacity building initiatives. These activities strengthen our strategic partnerships, increasing interoperability, information sharing, and capacity for resilient, integrated logistics. Working together, we strengthen our ability to prevail in conflict and further bolster integrated deterrence by demonstrating a united front against potential adversaries. 

All allies and friends are one of our primary comparative advantages. That paragraph was solid...but the following one a little, "meh."

The Navy is also uniquely equipped to contest gray-zone incrementalism and malign influence by our adversaries. Many gray-zone activities occur in the global commons—particularly in the maritime domain and cyberspace. Gray-zone aggression thrives on non-attribution. The best way to oppose these activities is to deny our adversaries anonymity with persistent domain awareness, the effective leveraging of intelligence, and the agile application of sea power. Together with whole-of-government partners, the Navy denies the obscurity that our rivals exploit. Contesting, exposing, and attributing malign behavior imposes reputational costs, diminishes the effectiveness of propaganda, and galvanizes international resistance.

That would not have survived my chop.

I like lists as they are easy to remember and frame arguments around. The six "Force Design Imperatives" get a Salamander endorsement letter in the affirmative;

  • Expand Distance
  • Leverage Deception
  • Harden Defense
  • Increase Distribution
  • Ensure Delivery
  • Generate Decision Advantage
I'm not a big fan of the "Force Design 2045" section, not so much from the substance but from the concept. 2045 is 23-yrs from now. The "out years" are an unknown country and too many people put too much credit to it. 

Imagine in 1927 what "Force Design 1950" would look like. Lots of dirigibles I think.  What about 1892's "Force Design 1915?" How about 1972's "Force Design 1995

Wait a minute. 1892's would have probably have a lot of big gun ships, and I believe Aegis started in 1969 and TLAM in 1972 ... so they might have been pretty close to being right. 

See, a useful process, just be careful expecting too much clear-eyed futurism. Some of it will be shockingly right, but a lot notsomuch.

Like the "Force Design Imperatives," I liked the "Navigation Plan Priorities." 
  • Prioritize readiness
  • Modernize capabilities
  • Generate cost-effective capacity
  • Invest in .... Sailors
Yes, yes, yes...these are fundamentals, but you have to repeat the fundamentals on a regular basis or things get sloppy.

Let's back up a bit to Force Design 2045 for a second. There is this nugget;

Retiring legacy platforms that cannot stay relevant in contested seas—and investing in the capabilities we need for the future—is essential for our national security.

Its companion is found in Priorities and together is a bit of a war warning for the Potomac Flotilla. Both are bolded in the original for a reason and you need to read them carefully. 

To simultaneously modernize and grow the capacity of our fleet, the Navy will require 3-5% sustained budget growth above actual inflation. Short of that, we will prioritize modernization over preserving force structure.
The prophecy of The Terrible 20s made flesh.

Look at the economy and inflation. Do you think the Navy is going to get 3-5% above inflation with how we do budgets now? Without finding some way to get Army money? I don't see a path there, so what does that lead to?

We've seen this movie before. Be careful.

Like I said earlier, the "Get Real, Get Better" section is good. It gives the impression that we officially and openly are self-aware that we need to do better than we have in the past - regardless of the happy talk of the past.

We can work with this.
Get Real requires Navy leaders to ruthlessly self-assess; be honest, humble, and transparent about their capabilities and limitations; challenge their beliefs using data, facts, and diverse input; and “embrace the red”—acknowledge shortcomings—by being curious and taking pride in finding and fixing problems.

Get Better requires Navy leaders to deliberately self-correct; find and fix small problems before they become larger, systemic issues; fix the root causes, not just symptoms; apply critical problem-solving tools and best practices to shift from more activity to better outcomes; set clear accountability; work collaboratively; and quickly identify and remove barriers to progress, elevating problems to higher leadership, if necessary.

The substance from there has a good workmanlike feel to it for its genre. 

Parts of the "Where we are Going" section hit some high points regulars here and over at Midrats will like. Here are my top-6 from the list;

- Ship/Submarine/Aviation Maintenance: Continue to drive maintenance delays down to zero. Work with naval shipyards and industry partners to improve performance. Accelerate gains made in aviation readiness to reinvest in other areas of the Naval Aviation Enterprise.

Terminal Defense: Pursue a fully-integrated combat capability that employs lethal and sustainable effects to defend naval forces against complex raid scenarios.

Contested Logistics: Recapitalize our logistics fleet through used sealift buys in 2022, achieving T-AO 205 Initial Operational Capability by 2023, delivering Next-Generation Logistics Ship by 2030, and recapitalizing C-130s by 2030. Continue war-gaming and experimentation to inform how a survivable Navy logistics construct supports the sustainment of military operations in a contested environment. 

- Long Range Fires: Develop and integrate joint, all domain capabilities to project power at increasing ranges through contested maritime environments. Pursue a mix of weapons with required enablers, including CPS development and all-up-round testing. 

Unmanned Systems: Accelerate innovation efforts by aligning the acquisition, requirements, financial management, and operational communities supporting unmanned technology. Strengthen a culture of accountability and measurable progress. Focus on adopting enabling technologies that both provide near-term capability and help lay the foundation for the future hybrid fleet.

- Affordable Force Structure: Improve budget, requirements, and acquisition processes with a cost estimating dashboard to better project risk in cost, schedule, and performance.

I was going to do a top-5, but that last bit was a nice nod to, "Yeah...we screwed the pooch on CG(X)" and as such needed to be folded in.

We are running out of time and have not yet won the battle for money, so this is where I would prioritize what push we have. Faster.

I think the most fair critique of the document is the section on "Sailors" that in part I will cover in the errata section. If Sailors are our greatest asset, then why are they tagged on as an afterthought at the end and only get less than 10% of the effort in the document? It signals again the very DC nature of our Navy where much of our leadership has spent too much time - and our naval nomenklatura never leave. 

In DC, it is all about money and the programs that move it around ... and that can focus the mind for leaders that soak too long in it. Sailors can become an abstract. If this is an external messaging document - which it is - with a secondary internal role, if you consider Sailors an "internal" challenge, then I can understand its placement at the end and underemphasized. 

The substance seems a bit copy and paste, which is OK, some of the rest of the document is to a lesser effect - as you would expect - is. That is OK. I'm a firm believer that you have to repeat the essentials until you are sick of doing it. Only then will you finally be heard.

However, the "Sailors" section just isn't written as well as the rest of the document. It even starts with this vein on the forehead throbbing line;

The Navy’s enduring asymmetric advantage is our workforce—both uniformed and civilian—across our active and reserve components. 

No. Just, no. There is nothing more symmetric than Sailors. Sailor performance is not "asymmetric" to anything at sea. It is the center of everything. What they are trying to say - and this would be in my chop - is; 
The Navy’s enduring comparative advantage is our workforce—both uniformed and civilian—across our active and reserve components. 
No, that is not a minor difference. Yes, words matter. 

Finally, what in the name of Poseidon's trident is this?
We holistically evaluated Navy efforts focused on building a stronger, tougher, and more resilient Navy. We found that we risk creating gaps in supporting the physical, psychological, spiritual, and social needs of our force without an integrated framework focusing on optimizing the performance of our Sailors. We will better align this constellation of programs so that Sailors, with the support of their commands, can reach their optimal potential.
Well. OK.

Now to my "Errata Section."

Review my comments above WRT DC and our leadership who spends too much time there. I get to DC a few times a year. As I've advertised a lot, I love the city. I wish it would return to pre-COVID levels of enjoyment, but perhaps soon. I still love the city and have a nearly perfect circle of acquaintances and friends there - but - it is a cultural terrarium. 

The people and their priorities of DC are not aligned with the rest of the nation, much less the fleet. If you are soaked in DC life, its media, its culture, and you live in base housing surrounded by the long dwell natsec nomenklatura who have spent 80%+ of their professional life inside a commute distance of DC for decades - if you don't make a sustained effort to remained grounded with the larger nation you serve, you will do and think some strange things as viewed from the provinces.

Like a fish that is not aware that it lives in water - what you assume is normal, isn't - at least to the land dwelling animals that surround you.

Of course, I am talking about something we've long gotten used to; the DC-centric domestic political posturing that leaks in to US Navy. Not just the Biden Administration either. This is a Potomac Flotilla problem, not a partisan problem ... though it gets worse in (D) administrations, but to be clear, Bush-43 was not much better, and until the last 6-months of his administration, Trump did nothing to counter any of it. 

Mike Mullen's back to back tenure from CNO to CJCS allowed him to shape a generation of domestic political agenda nomenklatura pushing senior leadership to carry their banner - and it shows. It has become normalized, I just don't think they know it sticks out in bold relief.

Errata A: Fealty to an Official Religion: This seems obviously spot-welded in to the "Security Environment" section;
Climate change threatens coastal nations with rising sea levels and more extreme weather. Melting sea ice opens the Arctic to growing maritime activity and increasing competition. COVID-19 demonstrates how rapidly some threats can become global in scope, generating worldwide political and economic instability. Competition over offshore resources, including protein, energy, and minerals, fuels international tensions. All these trends create vulnerabilities for adversaries to exploit and volatility that can erupt quickly into crisis.

Praise Buddha that this reads so clunky and out of place that most readers will see it was clearly included as a, "We have to address this..." to check the block.

I'm less irritated then humored. 

Errata B: The Least Important Aspects of our Sailors are What we Worry About the Most: Next to Gaia worship, the other secular religion of the senior leadership of the US Navy is to first judge Sailors by the color of their skin, to hell with the content of their character or performance. 

I did a quick wholesale word count of the document. It is 7,469 words. The "Sailor" section is just 694 words, 9.3%. Of those 694 words, 142 are dedicated to "Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity" discussion. 20.5%.

We only dedicate less than 10% of our "Navigation Plan" to our greatest comparative advantage, and of that we dedicate almost a fifth of that time on something that does not bring Sailors together, but drives them apart. Something that does not reward performance, but gives special treatment based on something so incredibly meaningless to winning our nation's wars - the self-identified race, creed, color or national origin of our Sailors (something they cannot do anything about).

Heck, I'll go ahead and quote that section - but first as a reminder - let's go back to basics; words mean things. "Equity" does not mean "equality."

Let's use Ellen Gutoskey's efficient definition from 2020;

Equality has to do with giving everyone the exact same resources.

Equity involves distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients.

Remember, the US Navy does not have a "needs" metric it tracks. No, it uses the brain-stem simplistic metrics of tribalism; race, creed, color, and just to divide us more, sex and probably soon sexual orientation. All, including sex, self-identified and subject to self-identification. When the Navy says "equity" it is talking about special treatment based on tribalistic markers. Don't forget that great shame.

So, now that you understand what "equity" means in your Navy;

Launched 48 Task Force One Navy initiatives, which remain on track for full implementation, with further Navy Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts underway.

What We Have Learned

• Progress toward a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and stronger Navy is difficult and requires sustained commitment. Given how diverse each community is within the Navy, tailored approaches are more successful than one-size-fits-all, prescriptive measures. We are developing a Navy methodology to measure diversity of representation and equity of opportunity to make progress toward essential Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals across the Total Force.


Inclusive and Diverse Force: Through the Navy Leader Development Framework, continue to measure the results of initiatives to ensure the Navy is becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable force, making stronger teams and stronger warfighters.

Supported Commander: Deputy CNO for Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education/Chief of Naval Personnel (OPNAV N1)

History will no look back kindly on this posturing ... and change is coming.

Again, on balance this is a good publication and especially the opening five pages - exactly what we need.

Don't rely on my pull-quotes above, read the whole thing and let me know your thoughts in comment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Failure of the Institutions

If you believe the threat from China is overblown, our Navy is well led, and that our fleet is big enough, then this is not the post for you. If you are concerned for all of it, grab a fresh drink and dive right in.

We are facing of something our nation has not had to seriously consider in well over three decades; we do not have free and unfettered access to the sea.

Even when Soviet submarines roamed the world’s oceans at will – though closely watched – and the Red Banner Fleet could send battle groups on cruises through the Gulf of Mexico, we had fair confidence in one thing – the Pacific was an American lake.

No more.

Even when the Soviet Union’s navy gave the US Navy and her allies pause to consider how to deal with her, we always had more and better combatants.

No more.

Depending on how you measure things – globally or regionally – we are on the cusp or just past the cusp of being the world’s second largest blue water navy.

As there is a lot of ruin in a nation, there is a long-dwell nature to apparent power – an inertia of power. In certain areas such as naval aviation and submarines, we maintain a substantial qualitative and capabilities edge, but that gap in narrowing. When you take into consideration sheer numbers, the gap is even narrower. When you take into consideration interior vs. exterior lines of operation and the required length and width of the logistics tail for the US Navy to sustain operations west of Wake … it’s OK to get a bit of flop sweat. You aren’t the only one to see it. You have good company.

Or do you?

At this moment in time when, for the first time in over two decades, the security environment and clear requirements to meet the most pressing national security challenge – the People’s Republic of China – are in bold relief, you would think the rising tide would lift the maritime argument and a nice following wind fill the sails of the navalist position … but it isn’t.


The answer is fairly straightforward, hard to correct, and multi-causal; our institutions have failed us.

In a nation as large as ours, individuals must combine their efforts and hopes in institutions to effect change for those things which are important to them. One person can only do so much. Organizations representing tens to hundreds of thousands get attention. 

With government entities, those organizations and institutions provide supporting fires for the uniformed and civilian leadership given a charter by the American people via the Constitution and the laws enacted by their elected representatives to take responsibility for a specific area.

In all times these organizations are expected to advocate – aggressively – for the position and interests they were founded to support and serve. We have an adversarial system where ambition checks ambition; agenda checks agenda; ideas check ideas. Argument, creative friction, and debate are essential for a healthy and effective system.

In rough times when the seas and wind are counter to your desired station, one suffers a holding action against others who are stronger. You struggle, compromise, give some ground, but you don’t stop. Others will take all you are willing to give. That is a feature, not a bug. It is how, when led and executed properly, weak ideas are worked out of the system regardless of the ebb and flow of the POM cycle.

When the environment demands more from your areas of interest and responsibility, and the table is set such that you have the easiest argument, it is expected that you will take advantage of the moment. Not just because it will make it easier for you to advance your argument – which it will – but in the big picture, the nation you support needs you to do this. “The moment” is a manifestation of a real-world problem,

Nothing is granted. You are not entitled to anything. As Papa Salamander told me all the time growing up, “No one owes you a living.”

You have to earn it. If you feel the Navy needs a larger share of the budget to meet the challenge of China, then you need to advocate for it. You need to fight for it…and when I say “you” I mean “we” and the most important and powerful parts of that “we” are our institutions; our maritime power institutions dedicated to seeing the USA remain the premier seapower.

Let’s start with the most obvious. Our uniformed Navy is itself an institution. It reports to its civilian leadership in the Executive Branch with oversight from the Legislative Branch. There are your big pixel maritime governmental institutions; the uniformed and civilian leaders in the Department of the Navy.

As reviewed yesterday, the CNO is engaged in a rather low-energy talking point about 500-ships, but in 2022 that is not even remotely achievable. He knows it, you know it, Congress knows it as well. A number is not an argument, and yet he is investing personal and institutional capital on this line that is almost immediately ignored if it is heard at all. Why?

In the last year one of his highest profile public appearances was when he shoveled heaping piles of personal and institutional capital in a fight defending a red in tooth and claw racial essentialist Ibram X. Kendi  against who would normally be the US Navy’s natural allies in Congress. Ultimately he lost that battle and removed Kendi’s racist book and others from his reading list, but in the face of everything else going on in the maritime world, why?

What about the Vice CNO, Admiral William K. Lescher, USN? Maybe he could throw some sharp elbows for the maritime cause? Sadly, not. Just look at his exchange with Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) back in March. He seems to be the “Vice Chief of Joint Force Operations” more than anything else. He is focused on something, but advocating for sea power is not it.

With the night orders from the CNO and VCNO as they are, if you expect any significant advocacy from the uniformed Navy leadership who report to them for --- checks notes --- the Navy, you are going to have to wait for a long time, time we don’t have. It isn’t going to happen.

What about the civilian leadership of the Navy, the SECNAV and the Under? Will they lead the charge? 

First of all, again I would refer you to yesterday’s post. If you have not read it yet, give it a read and come back. 

SECNAV Del Toro is first of all a political appointee who, though a former naval officer, is mostly known as a political fundraiser for the Democrats and as such you need to understand that is his reference point; he is a party man. A party man can do a lot at a certain moment in time where history calls, but I don’t think that is going to happen here with the SECNAV. He will follow the signal from above. Nothing more.

Take a moment and ponder – when was the last time you heard the SECNAV or Under out front on The Hill or to the greater public about our maritime requirements? Yes, I fully understand what goes on behind closed doors, but that slow roll in an ever-slower bureaucracy infested with scoliotic nomenklatura is well past being of use. The American people must be provided the information and motivation to understand how their entire standard of living – and to a great extent their freedoms – is guaranteed by our mastery of the seas. Is even a rudimentary effort being made in this regard? 

Just look at the USN’s YouTube feed – a primary communication device for the American people. What has the SECNAV talked about there this year?  LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Juneteenth, Army birthday, Asian-Pacific Islander Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Women’s History Month, carrier air birthday, and Black History Month. 

There you go. There’s your communication. Dig harder if you want … but if you read CDRSalamander and you are not readily aware, then imagine the general population’s situational awareness of the dragon just over the horizon.

To raise the profile of what our nation needs to get the maritime services ready for the fight in WESTPAC,  the civilian leadership will be less help than the uniformed leadership.

They both are both smart people in hard jobs doing their best – but they are not acting like they know what time it is. 

What about the Naval War College? Good question, what about it? Love the place, has some great people there, but it is mostly internally focused … and talking amongst ourselves is not going to impact all that much – especially when in recent years a lot of institutional capital has been going towards things not all that related to sea power.

That leaves concerned navalists to look outside government.

If you are looking for influence operations inside the beltway, then you have to address think tanks. Quick, without going to google, tell me what DC think tanks have been pounding the drum about sea power?  

Not that easy, is it? In 2020 Craig Hooper looked at this challenge and the situation has not improved all that much. There are good places with good people, but outside of a commute of DC, who is hearing and reading? How many people in Congress know them outside a usual-suspects handful?

They are there, but they are not upping their game, have the ability to reach outside their bubble, or influence people already sold.

Outside government, who do navalists rely on or defer to in order to pursue their goals? There are two old stalwarts that at first blush seem to be natural fits.

First the Navy League of the Unites States. Here you see a budding of what may help in the Center for Maritime Strategy … but boy-howdy it is having trouble getting in gear. It isn’t easy to find on NLUS’s website and its Dean, Admiral Foggo, USN (Ret.) recent comment signals that sadly it does not know what time it is. 

The Navy is not broken, and the acknowledged challenges it faces won’t be helped by yet another layer of bureaucracy. What the Navy needs is more support and more focused missions.

There is still an opportunity for a mindset change and to find its footing, but time is short. The CMS is not there to “support” the official Navy position, but to promote sea power. Not to reinforce what the Executive Branch puts out, but to encourage the nation’s leaders and people to support the navy it needs. Those two items, as is in stark relief this year, may not be the same thing.

Then you have the United States Naval Institute. On its homepage it says it is, “The home of influential debate since 1873.” – but is it still? What have they done so far this year outside their publishing house?

They started off the year with the regular “Maritime Security Dialogue” where usually someone on USNI’s staff sits down and chats with a guest. In essence, a closely controlled, inhouse podcast co-produced with the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies and sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the USA's largest shipbuilder. 

In January it was with the 4-star commander of USCENTCOM. In April, the 4-star CNO. In May, a 3-star Marine. In July a gaggle of USN 2-stars from the aviation side of the house, and then with a 4-star Marine. In essence, General and Flag Officers talking about themselves and their jobs underwritten by a primary player in the naval side of the military industrial complex our guest on Midrats Sunday is concerned about.

Again, internally focused.

Of course there was the annual “West” events in San Diego which is effectively a trade show for the military industrial complex with nice little side events sponsored this year by L3Harris and USAA. 

There was a discussion about cyber with an Army 4-star at the USCG Academy in New London, CT, sponsored by the William M. Wood Foundation – the same foundation who sponsored the annual meeting at the Jack C. Taylor Conference Center in Annapolis that you read about in almost every mailing you receive from USNI or the USNI Foundation.

DC. Annapolis. New London. San Diego.

Again, internally focused.

Are we really “getting the message out” or are we simply talking to each other about what we put on our FITREP and CV?

We are not selling sea power. We are not telling out story. We are not evangelizing to the heathen masses. We are selling each other to each other. Telling personal stories about each other. Evangelizing ourselves to each other’s institutions.

Does this promote sea power at the national level, or just the people responsible for it?

None of our institutions – outside a few people hidden in corners and speaking out of turn – are acting like they understand where we are in time and place.

Inertia. Entitlement … and in some cases base self-interest.

The institutions are not turning in to the coming storm. They are not even running away. They are just staying on PIM set out years ago and hoping if something does happen, it will blow up on some else’s watch.

Where does a nation turn? Good question. I don’t have a good answer. 

These times do not come up very often, but we are in one. Where is today’s OP-23, Admiral Denfield and Vice Admiral Brogan of Revolt of the Admirals fame? Where is Vice Admiral Tom Connolly of F-111B renown? I don’t know who they are or even if we have such people in the shadows. So far, silence.

We need to tell a story, but all the higher institutions we would rely on are failing their moment. It isn’t that they won’t tell our story, they are actively avoiding it in favor of other priorities while hoping for the best.

Our institutions are failing the nation at a critical juncture. From both the uniformed and civilian side of the house, the established, comfortable, well-funded, and large navalist institutions are letting our nation down.

As a result, it isn’t jobs, income, sponsorship, or friendships that are at stake – but the strategic position of the United States and the international order we underwrote since the end of WWII. 

Those are the stakes of the battle over providing and maintaining a navy to meet the challenge of China’s rise.

Our present leadership and institutions are failing us. They either need to change – and change quickly – or we need to promote and support new leaders and new institutions to do the job that must be done.

The only entity that seems to be rising to the challenge happens to be the one with the lowest national approval rate; Congress.

The Legislative Branch’s House of Representatives and Senate, from both parties and independents, are starting to produce Members who desire to dust off their oversight responsibilities and are growing more comfortable being confrontational with underperforming uniformed and civilian leaders from the Executive Branch.

Unless something changes soon, there is the navalists' best friend; Congress.

Monday, July 25, 2022

A Ship Adrift is Never an Accident

Yesterday’s article by Seligman, Hudson, & McLeary over at Politico created a nice buzz in the navalist chatterati over the weekend and for good reason – it is a solid summary of a core dysfunction in our nation’s inability to properly provide and maintain a navy.

When you see such dysfunction, it is easy to blame individuals or this political party or that, but this dog’s breakfast stewardship of our nation’s maritime legacy is a symptom, not a cause of failures such as this;

The Navy of the future needs 316 ships. Actually, make that 327. No, more like 367. You know what? Let’s make it 373, or maybe even 500.

At different points this year, the Pentagon and Navy leaders have floated all five numbers as the desired size of the Navy, the result of a high-stakes — and still raging — internal battle among top Navy, Marine Corps and Pentagon leaders.

And the discord at the top has real-world consequences for America’s sea service, denying lawmakers a number to shoot for as they figure out how many ships to buy in the fiscal year that starts in October, and beyond.

That, along with what follows down-post, are red and amber lights on our maritime security dashboard. The structure, machinery, bureaucracy, habits, and procedures are stuttering, smoking, pinging, and swaying under the Rube Goldberg accretions that have grown around the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols/Joint framework that everyone is trying to work around. Good people are producing bad product because they are using worn out and antiquated tools.

It does not work, and everyone trying to force-mode all of DOD around it continues to ill-serve the nation. It works even less well when parts of it are simply mothballed while others are left distracted and dithering in irrelevance;

On one end is Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who is spearheading an effort to cut the number of traditional, large-deck amphibs and invest in uncrewed ships and other lighter vessels, the people said. But Hicks’ vision is at odds with plans put forth by Navy and Marine Corps leaders, who want to keep dozens of the ships they say are a key component to moving Marines and aircraft around the Indo-Pacific as the U.S. seeks to deter an aggressive China.

DEPSECDEF Hicks is not a bad person, she is just wrong. A smart DC player, she not only is fully leveraging her assigned position, but she also quickly saw the weaknesses and capability gaps of the SECDEF and in the case our Navy the SECNAV, to step in and gain additional power and influence for her priorities through sheer force of will, drive, and relative competence.

This has left those with alternative views relatively helpless;

But Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, a Biden appointee and retired naval officer, has been a proponent of keeping the number of amphibs around its current strength of 31, a vision shared by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger who won support in Congress this year to block Pentagon plans to have the fleet shrink to 25 ships in the coming years.

Yet Marine and Navy leaders are at odds with each other over another issue: Berger also wants to add 35 new light amphibious warships to allow his Marines to move through island chains more quickly while presenting less of a target. That’s a vision Navy leadership has never fully supported.

Differing opinions at the top of the Pentagon and Navy leadership chains is nothing new. Given the huge costs involved in designing and building new ships, the overall size and shape of the fleet has always been a politically fraught issue. And the constantly shifting global security dynamic often leads to clashes between the admirals and civilians at the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.

That last part falls right in the lap of the SECDEF and his staff. The Navy cannot even hope to mitigate the power of Hicks divided and squabbling as it is. It needs a firm, united, and confrontational stance as opposed to what appears to be; trying to stay within 80% of a self-imposed red-line to not get in trouble.

We are well past the time where we need leaders willing to get in trouble. This is serious business, and as I asked years ago, where is today’s VADM Connelly when you need him?

During the Trump administration, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Defense Secretary Mark Esper seized on the 355 figure — as Trump did in his presidential campaign — but then oversaw successive budgets that actually cut shipbuilding funding by billions of dollars. At one point in early 2020, Esper rejected the Navy’s annual shipbuilding plan, taking control over the process and holding up its release for almost a year, only to release it in December 2020 — a month before Joe Biden moved into the White House, all but ensuring they would be scrapped immediately by the new team.

The plan was also likely impossible to implement, calling for a fleet of over 500 ships by 2045, a dramatic increase from the 298 ships in service today. To get there, it proposed building 82 new ships by 2026, doubling the Navy’s previous plan to manufacture 44 new ships by 2025, a pace of building that would likely be unachievable for the U.S. shipbuilding industry.

I remember the day Trump surprisingly won in 2016. I dropped a note to a few equally-surprised navalists saying something to the effect, “Hey, he called for a big Navy, here’s an opportunity…” … and that didn’t quite work out all that well. 

Again, it is easy to say, “wrong people” and that has something to do with it, but they were trying to move inside an ossified, accretion hobbled machine that is hard to move, fully of rent seeking obstacles, and is mostly focused on one thing; self-preservation. Delay in forming your team only makes it worse.

In April of this year, the Navy released its latest 30-year shipbuilding plan that contained three options: 316 ships, 327 ships, and 367 ships, all with different assumptions over budget and what kinds of ships were purchased. Then in June, the Navy sent Congress a classified report saying its plans called for 373 ships, USNI News reported. But a Navy official told POLITICO that the new report focused only on operational needs, and ignored budgets and shipyard capacity, giving it no real connection to the realities of budgets or the industrial base. The Navy plans to send an update of that report to the Hill this year.


“The mismatch on where the Biden Pentagon team and the Navy-Marine Corps [stand], that’s the source of that tension,” said one person with knowledge of the internal discussions, who, like others, asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the debate. “[Hicks’] thesis and where she thinks the department needs to go does not necessarily involve a Navy with larger numbers.”

The effort in Congress for a more intrusive oversight is way overdue. The uniformed leadership is down to cringe pleading, the civilian leadership is generally hobbled by conflicting incentives … and as I will flesh out in tomorrow’s post, everything else is letting maritime security requirements of our nation down.

If you were conspiracy minded, you might think that the Executive Branch wants to make the Navy as dysfunctional and rudderless as possible;

Instead, Ross was relocated to the acquisition job where he does not have authority to sign off on major deals, the two people said.

Ross is more aligned with Hicks’ vision for the fleet, the people said.

“There is tension between Carlos and Tommy Ross and by extension between Del Toro and Kath Hicks,” said one former Pentagon official familiar with the discussions. “Del Toro wants to go a different direction and he feels like he’s being constrained by Kath Hicks.”

…but wait, how does the phrase go, “You’re not being paranoid if someone is actually trying to get you.”

I refer you back to the top of the article; Hicks wants the Navy’s money for her priorities. The wrong priorities.

We have a system for checks and balances for a reason, now is the time. We cannot wait for a new Executive Branch national security team. Congress – regardless of party – has its prerogatives and responsibilities. It is time for navalists of all persuasions to reach for the oversight banner and wave it high.

If we do that right, I know one byproduct will come out clear as day – we cannot continue to provide for our nation’s defense requirements using a structure built in the mid-1980s. That can only be fixed by Congress.

We are running out of time.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Making a Great Maritime Partnership Better, with Emma Salisbury on Midrats


The Royal Navy and the United States Navy share a common heritage, and in the last century built one of the greatest maritime security partnerships over a longer period than any other pair of nations.

In more recent years, they also shared common challenges in keeping their once unchallenged sea power relevant, capable, and funded.

What are the lessons from both nations' recent stumbles in naval planning, program management, and managing the military industrial base that enables both? What have we done right that should be replicated, and where should we take the hard won lessons of failure to heart and move on? 

We have a great guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss these and related subjects, Emma Salisbury.

Emma is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck College, University of London, researching the history and theory of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

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, July 22, 2022

Fullbore Friday

If you look around in certain corners of the world, you can find little things that make you give a double-take. 

For instance, why is there a statue of an American General in a WWI uniform in the same park as a monument to the Soviet Red Army?

Have you ever heard of Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz, USA?

Probably not. What did he do that would warrant such a statue in such a location?

On August 11, 1919, General Bandholtz arrived in Budapest as one of four generals (English, French, Italian, American) to become the Inter-Allied Control Commission for Hungary, primarily to supervise the disengagement of Romanian troops from Hungary.

He became famous when, on the night of October 5, 1919, as President of the Day of the Commission, mainly through bluff, armed only with a riding crop, he prevented a group of Romanian soldiers from removing Transylvanian treasures from the National Museum.

The statue was erected in 1936, and stood throughout World War II with the inscription, in English,

“I simply carried out the instructions of my Government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.

In the late 1940s the statue was removed “for repair.” It lay in a statue boneyard until the 1980s, at which time it was placed in the garden of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, at the request of then-Ambassador Salgo. It was re-placed in Szabadság tér at its original location in July 1989, just a few days before the visit of President Bush.

Is there any better quote for an officer to be remembered by?

For you history buffs of the labor troubles of the 1920s or pre-WWI counterinsurgency efforts in The Philippines, he had a noteworthy record with interesting peers...but for the Hungarians ... fullbore.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Diversity Thursday

We've been doing "Diversity Thursday" on a regular basis since 2008 or so. Not my favorite topic, not a popular topic among some segments ... but we persist.

We covered the military's drift towards racial essentialism earlier, but the "Diversity Thursday" segment really only became a regular thing about 15-yrs ago.

We tried to warn everyone ... and here we find ourselves in the thick of it ... but now we are getting real and substantial advocates kicking back against the diversity cadre including out in the open in the Senate and House of Representatives and in the larger culture. 

You love to see it.

One thing the left has always been better at than most is organizing. The next thing they have been good at is providing supporting fires to like minded entities who, if not in full alignment, are at least 80%.

In the battle to push against racial essentialism in our military, it appears the right people decided to organize;

the Biden administration is distracting military leaders with a new, woke policy agenda that they appear far too eager to embrace. Today military officials talk so much about climate change, domestic extremism and systemic racism that you’d think our enemies are at home, not abroad. Green Berets are forced to sit through trainings about transgenderism.

Official military reading lists include the anti-American ravings of Ibram X. Kendi. Army recruitment ads seem aimed more at attracting social-justice warriors than actual warriors. The Navy is producing instructional videos on gender pronouns while its poorly maintained ships crash at sea.

Officers are led astray by our service academies, whose curricula are growing indistinguishable from that of woke Ivy League schools. Physical fitness standards have been lowered significantly for the sake of “inclusivity.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs says he seeks to understand “white rage.” The Secretary of Defense released an official statement about the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.


It’s time to confront this problem. Veterans have given too much to allow the service to become another victim of the left’s culture war.  We have lost limbs and carried unseen scars. We have buried friends and family members.

That’s why I joined with like-minded vets to launch Veterans on Duty, a new national membership organization. Our goal: To compel the military to get back to basics by exposing how the woke revolution in the services works and how policymakers can defeat it. And we’ll support candidates and elected officials who’ll take on those corroding our military.

Great to have more people in the fight. We need it.