Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part XCV

We started doing the "Long Game" series about the rise of the People's Republic of China to challenge American's place in the world. At the end of that first post in the series in July of 2004, I wrote;

Say what you want about the Chinese, they are very focused on their long term strategic needs. They will continue to study the way we do business at sea, and they will make sure they are ready when the call comes. Are we?

A lot of folks hear rustling in the woods behind us.

There were a lot of us, but few were listening. 18.4 years later, they are now.

That is part of the reason it has been since May of this year since I did a Long Game post. I've written a fair bit about the PRC since then, but did not use the "Long Game" tag. Why? Simple, we are here. Over 18 years is a "long time." All but the most compromised see the threat from the PRC and the game is afoot.

It is military, economic, and academic - and it is in our face.

I still think the tag is helpful in that while the PRC is now ready to call our bluff west of Wake, they are the nation with thousands of years of history, and they have a plan ... we just need to keep an open eye and mind to see it.

If you want to get the view from the official organs of the US government towards the PRC, a good place to look would be the recently published review of military and security development in the PRC by the USA's Department of Defense

There is one paragraph early on that I think is the most important;

Sensitive, dual-use, or military-grade equipment that the PRC have attempted to acquire include radiation hardened integrated circuits, monolithic microwave integrated circuits, accelerometers, gyroscopes, naval and marine technologies, syntactic foam trade secrets, space communications, military communication jamming equipment, dynamic random access memory, aviation technologies, and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. 

How will they acquire all this dual use technology? If you are thinking it is Spy-vs-Spy old school espionage, you are only looking at a very small portion of what is going on.

You need to look at the very sober fact that they are getting that technology the most efficient way - they are convincing us to give it to them. It starts at our universities and pipelines right in to industry.

First of all, let's look at some charts from Statista

Even with the COVID effect, the numbers are staggering. Here's the number of college and university students from China in the United States from academic year 2010/11 to 2020/21 :

Note the decline to the USA is not the same as the decline globally. Here's the number of students from China going abroad for study from 2010 to 2020;

The numbers here are hard to come by and I would consider the above to be on the high side. SCMP puts the number at 290,086. A 2020 study from Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service have about half those numbers, but the commentary to the study is sound;

The results speak to ongoing policy conversations about the risks and benefits of Chinese students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs at U.S. universities. These conversations have been hampered by a lack of granular data on the number of enrolled Chinese students by field and degree level. For example, it is currently impossible to calculate the financial impact of Chinese students on the U.S. university system because we do not know how many Chinese graduate students are in master’s programs (and thus likely to pay full tuition) versus Ph.D. programs (for which they often receive university or federal funding). This paper seeks to provide such data and to identify remaining data gaps that should be filled.

Because there is no single database of domestic and international students in the United States that includes all the relevant information, analysts have had to produce estimates using several different data sources. These sources often count slightly different things over possibly different periods, complicating the analysis and increasing the risk of inadvertent errors. Our findings differ from widely-cited government estimates. Whereas those estimates suggested that 25 percent of U.S. STEM graduate students and 15 percent of STEM undergraduates are Chinese, we conclude with high confidence that the numbers are 16 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

That's right kiddies; one of the nation's top universities that happens to be in our nation's capital with incredible connections to our federal government finds, " single database of students in the United States..."

In case you were wondering, the number of Americans studying in China in 2020 was 2,481. I can't find out how many are completing a full program of study or just doing a semester ... or what their majors are ... but just look at that delta.

From that study, it is clear that they are not in the USA to get Gender Studies degrees.

Look at how close the numbers of undergrads and graduate students are. Note that they're all STEM.

You cannot classify math. You cannot classify dual-use research. You cannot remove knowledge gained. Just look at those numbers. Look at those fields. Look up-post what areas the PRC wants to advance in.

We are making our #1 competitor better, and taking away opportunities for the children of American taxpayers who especially with land grant universities, paid for these universities to exist to serve them.

I don't blame the PRC's citizens for wanting to come here to study, for both personal and professional reasons. However, they never really leave their dystopian nation behind;

On the bucolic campus of Purdue University in Indiana, deep in America’s heartland and 7,000 miles from his home in China, Zhihao Kong thought he could finally express himself.

In a rush of adrenaline last year, the graduate student posted an open letter on a dissident website praising the heroism of the students killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

The blowback, he said, was fast and frightening. His parents called from China, crying. Officers of the Ministry of State Security, the feared civilian spy agency, had warned them about his activism in the United States.

“They told us to make you stop or we are all in trouble,” his parents said.

Then other Chinese students at Purdue began hounding him, calling him a CIA agent and threatening to report him to the embassy and the MSS.

Kong, who goes by the nickname Moody, had already accepted an invitation from an international group of dissidents to speak at a coming online commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre anniversary. Uncertain if he should go through with it, he joined in rehearsals for the event on Zoom.

Within days, MSS officers were at his family’s door again. His parents implored him: No public speaking. No rallies. 

That powerful hook back home isn't just used to keep people under control - but to get them to do further things for the PRC.

In August 2015, an electrical engineering student in Chicago sent an email to a Chinese national titled “Midterm test questions.”

More than two years later, the email would turn up in an FBI probe in the Southern District of Ohio involving a suspected Chinese intelligence officer who authorities believed was trying to acquire technical information from a defense contractor.

Investigators took note.

They identified the email’s writer as Ji Chaoqun, a Chinese student who would go on to enlist in the US Army Reserve. His email, they say, had nothing to do with exams.

Instead, at the direction of a high-level Chinese intelligence official, Ji allegedly attached background reports on eight US-based individuals who Beijing could target for potential recruitment as spies, according to a federal criminal complaint.

The eight – naturalized US citizens originally from Taiwan or China – had worked in science and technology. Seven had worked for or recently retired from US defense contractors. The complaint says all of them were perceived as rich targets for a new form of espionage that China has been aggressively pursuing to win a silent war against the US for information and global influence.

It would be one thing if we took an active roll here in the US and other Western nations (like The Netherlands in the link below), but we allow not just PRC police and intelligence services to run free, we allow other students (many the same people) to act as enforcers

26-year old UG student Meng avoids interacting with Chinese government supporters altogether, if she can. ‘These Pinkies are way too sensitive’, she says, using the nickname for young Chinese Communist Party supporters. ‘They are always very aggressive and feel they represent the side of justice.’

I’m always careful about choosing people to talk to

She is also careful when talking to people she doesn’t know well. And when she participated in a protest in Amsterdam this summer, remembering the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square that cost hundreds of lives and left thousands wounded when the Chinese government opened fire on protesters, she wore a mask and disguised herself in cheap clothes. ‘There were Chinese people there who kept taking pictures of us with their mobile phones’, she remembers. ‘When the protest was over, my companion and I walked to a place where no one was around. We changed our clothes and threw the outfit we had on in a trash bin.’

The FBI is, in theory, on the hunt - but read this from NPR and tell me if you think they are getting all the help they need from universities.

"The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal — including state-owned businesses, students, researchers and ostensibly private companies — to systematically steal information and intellectual property," FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the Council on Foreign Relations in April.

Former FBI agents say the bureau's recent visits to universities are merely an extension of long-running efforts to collaborate with the private sector and academia on national security issues.

Speaking of dual use, not only are many of the finite number of PhD programs going to foreign nationals - and as this is a zero sum game - and not US citizens; so are the jobs.

Chinese and Indian students make up nearly half, and “most stay long after graduation”. “In February 2017, approximately 90% of Chinese nationals and 87% of Indian nationals who completed STEM PhD programmes in the US between 2000 and 2015 were still living in the country, compared to 66% of graduates from other countries,” the report states.

"Wait..." you say, "How can they help the PRC's military if they are working for American companies and universities?"

Well, its complicated - and made more so by the numbers being so large. It is hard for the FBI to keep track of what the threats are when the pool of candidates are so large and the connections so varied. Heck, the problem people don't even have to be from China;

The China Initiative’s most high-profile case has been that of Charles Lieber, the chair of the chemistry department at Harvard and a perennial Nobel Prize candidate, as well as the recipient of more than fifteen million dollars of federal funding, including from the Department of Defense. From 2012 to 2017, Lieber participated in China’s Thousand Talents, the most vaunted talent program; his contract paid him fifty thousand dollars per month, along with generous startup fees to establish a lab in Wuhan. He had, however, neglected to inform Harvard of his double-timing in China, and, when approached by federal investigators, he continued to conceal the arrangement—and the sacks of cash he had smuggled through customs. In December, he was convicted of lying to federal authorities, falsifying tax returns, and failing to report foreign earnings. Some felt that this was just another anti-Chinese expedition; a D.O.D. official testified that the investigation was prompted by the sheer number of Chinese students working in Lieber’s lab. But John Krige, the historian, has noted that Lieber’s contract stipulated that he work on the development of batteries for high-performance electric vehicles, an area of industrial competition. “The academic research community must ask itself if it is morally or politically acceptable to engage in international scientific collaboration with China in fields that can seriously harm the domestic economy,” he wrote.

This problem of our own creation is worthy of a few books and won't be solved here - but policy makers have to address:

- Too many of the finite numbers of US STEM graduate program seats are being taken up by citizens of the PRC.

- These STEM degrees feed the knowledge base for dual-use technology.

- PRC nationals working in cutting edge technology jobs received by having been given one of those limited positions make them the target for PRC exploitation.

- Even if PRC nationals take nothing material when they go home, they take their education and exposure with them.

- For a quarter century, us government and educational institutions have developed close and unequal relationships from entities controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

This should be a non-partisan issue - but an American issue.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

War, Humility, and Hubris

Peace is the ultimate goal and is a wonderful thing – but what makes it so special is that peace is not the natural state of things for our species. If you are lucky, you might get a couple of decades of peace before the next conflict of significance. More than that is a blessing few get to enjoy.

That is the human benefit of peace, but peace also has a heavy price. As eventually wars come, nations have to be ready for them. From the time the first band of men walked in to your valley, you heard the horses of the steppe archers in the distance, or the tank rumbled through your local gas station – war comes and demands you join it immediately. 

You go to war with the people, equipment, and concepts built when you were at peace. Good, smart nations make sure that their militaries do their best to ensure they know how the tools of war have advanced since the hard lessons of the last war, and the ideas and techniques that take advantage of those changes adjust with them. You hope smart people with the ability to effect change have a good, if not imperfect, understanding of what the next war will require. 

The longer the time of peace, the greater the error will be between what you have/think and what you will need/demand.

The wisest thing to do is to step away from anyone in the natsec arena who – like some late-night televangelist – tells you they have THE vision of the future or has the ONE thing that you will need to succeed.

No, the wise planner and strategist is one who is first humble and has that humility grounded in history. 

Why humility? Simple. The humble mind is a flexible mind, a mind that can change when facts present themselves. The humble mind is a harder working mind as well. Knowing it might be wrong, it will try harder to get it right and will continually look for indications that it was wrong and will correct accordingly.

These are some of the threads that tied together to construct the great fear I have for our Navy: we have been a peace for too long. The ground and to a lesser extent the air component have been tested firsthand in the last couple of decades, though at the low end of the conflict spectrum. Our naval forces at sea simply have not. We have placed large bets on theory and hope. From our airwing to our VLS cells, we have limited our flexibility to change simply by limiting our number of systems/platforms.

I think we have been getting better since the Age of Transformationalism at the turn of the century, but we still lack enough humility. That is clearly demonstrated in the haughty attitude of many towards the quality of the People’s Republic of China’s naval growth and the turning of a blind eye to the scale of their growth in units and industrial capacity.

Recall earlier that I mentioned that humility is grounded in an understanding of history? History is just a written record of experience. Mistakes should be expected, and in efforts to constantly modernize, new structures can come up that on paper and at peace – or in the face of a different level of war – looked right, but in the practice of war their shortcomings become manifest.

Can your military adjust? Can it do so in a timely manner?

This whole thread came top of mind today in this brief graph from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.

This is firmly in the Rumsfeldian “Known-Unknown” realm in that we really don’t know what we have wrong, or slightly wrong.

Just one datapoint of many coming out of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The future-perfect turned out not to be, and the neglected “old-think” of artillery, air-defense, logistics, shore-based anti-ship missiles, and armor were, in hindsight, unfairly shunted to the side for not being sexy enough.

As we try to get our Navy ready for the next war, what is important is that we don’t convince ourselves that we fully understand what future war will be. That uncertainty should shape our force such that it distributes future-risk such that we have a variety of flexible tools out there, not single points of failure. 

Single points of failure are a secondary indication of hubris, as we all know what the gods like to do with that.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The EU's Real Enemy - the United States?

If you are an American who lived on the European Continent, specifically Western Europe, you’re very familiar with an exceptionally sharp strain of anti-Americanism that resides in a significant percentage of their ruling elite – an adult version of the middle school mean girls. Though present in all nations to one degree to another, it is especially acute in Germany and France for slightly different reasons but are all working towards the same goal; degrade American influence in Europe.

The best way for this political and corporate anti-Americanism to find a lever of power is through the the trans-national and anti-democratic modern iteration of the European Union – made even more problematic with the departure of Great Britain who once played a balancing role between the Continental powers as she has for centuries.

Why primarily France and Germany? To start with, this is part of the sibling rivalry between the children of Charlemagne for primacy in Europe that has churned Europe over the last thousand years. The Anglo-Saxons on both sides of the Atlantic kept getting in the way of their return to the struggle.

Their armies under various blood-soaked leaders moved across Iberia to Moscow and back for centuries in order to be THE driver of power and influence on the continent. The European Union, once the “trade association” nose was in the tent, is now seen – fairly – as a mechanism to centralize power so The Smartest People in the Room™ no longer have pesky minor powers and – Buddha forgive – voters getting in their way. Without checks, power only seeks more power for itself. The morphing of the EU is just the latest example.

Not unlike their American counterparts who would like the USA to extract itself from foreign entanglements (NB: as I have written through the years, I am sympathetic/supportive of these efforts), many of the strongest proponents of the EU just want the USA to go home.

The Europeans, while benefiting from the WWII/Cold War leftover presence of the USA, want it to end and the influence that comes with it. If any opportunity to push back against the USA appears, they have their talking points ready to dirty up the reputation and standing of the USA. If that can be done while blaming Eurocrat failures on the USA as well, even better.

You know the Americans, citizens of that mongrel nation whose gene pool is full of religious zealots, failed revolutionaries, slaves, economic refugees, grasping second sons, criminals, and their descendants – spoiled with a continent overflowing with food, water, minerals, forests and open land they don’t even appreciate.

Loud. Fat. Pushy. Americans.

The usual snarled insults cobbled together by smug people who get much of their opinions of the USA by reading The Washington Post or The New York Times. “I know America, I read your newspapers.” That is right after, “I’ve been to America. I spent a week in DC/NYC/Boston/Chicago. I studied a semester at Brown.”

If you are used to countering America’s resident self-loathing Left, these are easy to deal with, and even entertaining. 

Don’t laugh too much though. Their externalized insecurity is a mortal danger to Western unity by constantly working to divide the West and undermine its cultural, economic, and military strength. When those snotty 20/30-somethings get in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in the Eurocracy, they start to get access to the levers of power and influence. That is when they can make trouble.

For my generation, we used to sneer and poke fun at the useful idiots of the 1980s anti-nuke/anti-war protest movements in Europe – clearly useful idiots for the Soviet Union – but we’re not laughing too much now, one of those fools is the Chancellor of Germany.

Knowing these people is as important as tracking what they say and do. With the East ablaze or rising to challenge the West, this is what the Eurocrats want to train their ire at – to the west across the Atlantic.

There is a lot to unpack in this ... whatever you would call it in Politico - but let's dive in;

Nine months after invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is beginning to fracture the West. 

Top European officials are furious with Joe Biden’s administration and now accuse the Americans of making a fortune from the war, while EU countries suffer. 

Funny opening, and telling. No, Putin is encouraging useful idiots in the West to do the fracturing for him.

As for the second part of the pull quote...just let that soak in. As if EU nations have nothing to benefit from keeping the Russians east of the Dnepr, and not threatening the Vistula. 

“We are really at a historic juncture,” the senior EU official said, arguing that the double hit of trade disruption from U.S. subsidies and high energy prices risks turning public opinion against both the war effort and the transatlantic alliance. “America needs to realize that public opinion is shifting in many EU countries.”

Almost comically lacking in self-awareness. Which nation tried to warn, pre-war, against reliance on Russian energy? What was the European reaction?

Another top official, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, called on Washington to respond to European concerns. “Americans — our friends — take decisions which have an economic impact on us,” he said in an interview with POLITICO.

Why yes; the decision by the USA for over half a century to subsidize European defense with American taxpayer largess sure did have an impact on Europeans. It gave them the opportunity to spend not just on unsustainable welfare states, but in virtue signaling and corrupt green energy policies built on Russian gas, Chinese solar panels, and clear cut American forests

The U.S. rejected Europe's complaints. “The rise in gas prices in Europe is caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin's energy war against Europe, period," a spokesperson for Biden's National Security Council said. Exports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to Europe "increased dramatically and enabled Europe to diversify away from Russia," the NSC spokesperson said.

This is, of course, correct.

An American official stressed the price setting for European buyers of gas reflects private market decisions and is not the result of any U.S. government policy or action. "U.S. companies have been transparent and reliable suppliers of natural gas to Europe," the official said. Exporting capacity has also been limited by an accident in June that forced a key facility to shut down.

In most cases, the official added, the difference between the export and import prices doesn't go to U.S. LNG exporters, but to companies reselling the gas within the EU. The largest European holder of long-term U.S. gas contracts is France's TotalEnergies for example. 

I am shocked ... SHOCKED ... that the French would try to profit while shifting blame to the Anglo-Saxons. Next thing you know, the French might actually facilitate the migration of uninvited military aged males by the hundreds of thousands across the English channel to the Anglo-Saxon homeland. You never know ...

It’s not a new argument from the American side but it doesn’t seem to be convincing the Europeans. "The United States sells us its gas with a multiplier effect of four when it crosses the Atlantic," European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said on French TV on Wednesday. "Of course the Americans are our allies ... but when something goes wrong it is necessary also between allies to say it."

Amazing. Just read it again. It is almost high art.

Despite the energy disagreements, it wasn't until Washington announced a $369 billion industrial subsidy scheme to support green industries under the Inflation Reduction Act that Brussels went into full-blown panic mode.

“The Inflation Reduction Act has changed everything," one EU diplomat said. "Is Washington still our ally or not?”

Not content with meddling in the laws of their member states, the EU now wants to control the American legislative process? Hey, I didn't like the stupidly named Inflation Reduction Act either, but these are the people the Europeans like running America, so take it up at the next World Economic Forum discussion roundtable on ESG. 

...the EU sees that differently. An official from France’s foreign affairs ministry said the diagnosis is clear: These are "discriminatory subsidies that will distort competition.” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this week even accused the U.S. of going down China's path of economic isolationism, urging Brussels to replicate such an approach. “Europe must not be the last of the Mohicans,” he said.

I'm not even sure what that means.

The EU is preparing its responses, such as a big subsidy push to prevent European industry from being wiped out by American rivals. "We are experiencing a creeping crisis of trust on trade issues in this relationship," said German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer. 

"At some point, you have to assert yourself," said French MEP Marie-Pierre Vedrenne. "We are in a world of power struggles. When you arm-wrestle, if you are not muscular, if you are not prepared both physically and mentally, you lose.”

If the Europeans had that much of an attitude towards Russia, there probably wouldn't be a war in Ukraine right now.

Behind the scenes, there is also growing irritation about the money flowing into the American defense sector.

Well, this is were I stop laughing and my blood goes cold.

The U.S. has by far been the largest provider of military aid to Ukraine, supplying more than $15.2 billion in weapons and equipment since the start of the war. The EU has so far provided about €8 billion of military equipment to Ukraine, according to Borrell.

According to one senior official from a European capital, restocking of some sophisticated weapons may take “years” because of problems in the supply chain and the production of chips. This has fueled fears that the U.S. defense industry can profit even more from the war. 

For decades, USA based voices have pleaded with Europe to spend more on defense, to take the threats to our collective civilizations seriously, to maintain their sovereign defense industries, but from the loss of Dutch submarine building capability to the disappearance of the once spunky Belgian military - here we are in 2022. 

The diplomat argued that a discount on gas prices could help us to "keep united our public opinions” and to negotiate with third countries on gas supplies. “It’s not good, in terms of optics, to give the impression that your best ally is actually making huge profits out of your troubles,” the diplomat said.

No one benefits from this except for the enemies of the West from Russia to China. These are the same useful idiots from the 1980s are with us today ... just with more power.

Perhaps we expect too much from France, Germany, and their auxiliaries. There are equally strong friends of the USA in these countries that we should do more to encourage and raise their profile. While doing that, there are other emerging power centers in Europe who could use more support from the USA and may actually appreciate it.

The smaller European nations don’t trust France and Germany all that much, for good historical reasons. Most of the Europeans in the “new territories” in the east like the USA. They see the Americans as a more reliable guarantee of safety from hostile powers in the East, having a few centuries of experience of the Western European Frankish tribes carving them up for fun and profit – irrespective of local desires. Collectively these nations are not that large in GDP or population - not much more than Italy (for now), but that’s OK. They have the correct geography.

If we shape this relationship correctly, we don’t have to permanently garrison this part of Europe. Poland is already establishing a new paradigm of proper levels of security investment. Once NATO’s eastern front calms down a bit, we can rotate through forces for exercises and training. Perhaps even create some combined training and logistics bases ready to scale up in case of trouble in Mordor. A template we should have put in place in Western Europe decades ago.

Reward positive behavior and let the French and Germans continue their millennium-length struggle – peaceful this time – in the west; keep them frothing in Brussels and Strasbourg while the forward-looking nations try to set up the next thousand years of Western progress in a positive direction.


Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

 ...and a special thanks to everyone at sea who puts in that extra effort to bring a proper Thanksgiving meal to their Shipmates.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

What Does a Real Military Buildup Look Like?

We need more and more clear and direct talk like this from senior uniformed leaders throughout NATO;

In a remarkable speech in Prague today, the Czech Republic’s most senior army leader demanded, as an “absolute necessity.” that the service embarks on its “biggest rearmament” ever.

Major General Karel Řehka, chief of the General Staff of the Czech Republic Army, told delegates at the Command Assembly convened to announce the army’s strategic and procurement plans for 2023 that “serious challenges await us,” as he reflected on the “crisis” in Ukraine.

“The biggest rearmament of the army in the country’s history is no longer just a wish, but an absolute necessity,” Řehka said.

Russia’s actions have left the Czech Army with many urgent tasks that can no longer be postponed, he said, before unveiling a five point plan covering long-term priorities.

The Czechs are an interesting bunch. In my travels in Central Europe earlier this year, I spent a few days in Prague and most of the other capitals of the nations of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Nowhere were there more Ukrainian flags than in Prague. Since the start of the war they backed up this vibe with substantial and ongoing military support. 

As in most things, you have to look for steadfastness, follow through and ... follow the money.

With a population of only a little more than 10-million souls, less than Belgium, there is only so much the Czechs can do, but they can pull their fair share of the effort. Sadly, the last two decades of disinterest has left the once mighty Czech defense industry flat footed.

She has good company in the alliance, as we've discussed before.

She has a lot of work to do not just to support herself, much less have spare capacity to continue to support the Ukrainian defense against Russian aggression. 

Look at the quote above again and see the path the Czechs have to go just to get to the 2% floor.

All should applaud the effort, but also have an understanding of the limitations here and from other NATO members who coasted through the previous decade.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

When Will the West Call for the Wooden Badger?

One of the more difficult things for me to work through is a certain intolerance at my core that is easily triggered, and I have to make a conscious effort to not be petty, mean, and flinty towards people an institutions who put it in my face. 

To be more specific, I have a very short fuse when people act shocked today when something happens that they have been warned about - and even suffered from - in the past that they could have avoided repeating in the future if they took basic and clear steps to learn their lesson.

Let's go back to 2011, almost a dozen years ago;

Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.

The shortage of European munitions, along with the limited number of aircraft available, has raised doubts among some officials about whether the United States can continue to avoid returning to the air campaign if Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi hangs on to power for several more months.


The six countries conducting the air attacks, led by Britain and France, were unsuccessful at a meeting this week in Berlin in persuading more alliance members to join them.

NATO officials said that their operational tempo has not decreased since the United States relinquished command of the Libya operation and withdrew its strike aircraft at the beginning of April. More planes, they said, would not necessarily result immediately in more strike missions.

But, they said, the current bombing rate by the participating nations is not sustainable. “The reason we need more capability isn’t because we aren’t hitting what we see — it’s so that we can sustain the ability to do so. One problem is flight time, the other is munitions,” ...

Libya “has not been a very big war. If [the Europeans] would run out of these munitions this early in such a small operation, you have to wonder what kind of war they were planning on fighting,” said John Pike, director of, a defense think tank. “Maybe they were just planning on using their air force for air shows.”

Despite U.S. badgering, European allies have been slow in some cases to modify their planes and other weapons systems so they can accommodate U.S. bombs. Retooling these fighter jets so that they are compatible with U.S. systems requires money, and all European militaries have faced significant cuts in recent years.

And so here we are, at the end of 2022;

Top defense officials in Europe say arms shortages among Ukraine’s Western allies are forcing difficult conversations about how to balance support for Ukraine with concerns Russia may target them next.

NATO members that have sent billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment are discussing what stockpile levels they need to meet their obligations under the mutual defense treaty. Decisions facing them now could have consequences for their their own security and for Ukraine, in its fight to repel Russia’s nine-month-old invasion.

The strain on stockpiles is “across the board,” and particularly sharp for ammunition, he said. In the years before some countries donated to Ukraine, they maintained stockpiles at half capacity or less because they saw little risk or couldn’t afford more, and took a “just-in-time, just-enough,” approach to the defense industry.

“So the urgency now is seen and understood, I think in most of the nations,” Bauer said.

Really? Now they'll get it?

It’s an acute challenge for some of NATO’s smallest members, like the Netherlands, which even before its donation of more than $800 million’s worth of aid to Ukraine, was straining to meet its NATO obligations. Gen. Onno Eichelsheim, chief of defense of the Netherlands, said Dutch stocks were “not that high” when the Netherlands opted to send Ukraine 155mm howitzer ammunition and air defense missiles.

“We started with stocks that were not completely filled, that were not completely ready, did not have all the materiel to support what we needed for NATO,” Eichelsheim said. “It means that I immediately have to get stocks filled up by getting contracts with industry, which we started, luckily, a year ago.”

The Dutch government and other European allies have been having discussions with industry about their long-term procurement plans to incentivize production increases ― and how to prioritize deliveries based on which country needs a weapon most. One aim is to build Europe’s defense industry and not depend too much on the U.S.

This isn't an industry problem, this is a people problem.

In Europe and North America we continue to promote people, priorities, and budgets for the wrong reasons. We have incentives and disincentives that reward myopic behavior and promote people who don't really understand what their job actually is. 

This is not a new problem. It has existed throughout human written history. In peace, we like people and policies that seem easy (and inexpensive) and really hope that we don't have to be prepared for the worse, because that is sad to think about. No, we need to be comfortable and look peaceful so people (we for some reason value) will say nice things about us and our priorities. 

Of course, reality always regresses to the mean. War is a constant in our species. Always has been. Always will be. The question, as always, is which society will gain when the next war comes? Will it be a society that a Westerner would call "progressive," "liberal," or based on "individual liberty," or will it be some autocratic force who will bring another period of darkness - the boot smashing the face etc.

Those who know their history, and what is needed to keep the global order from regression in to barbarity, need to speak up more. They need to support each other more. They need not be cowed. Care not what names you are called. Be not bothered the invitations you do not receive. They need to be open in their argument - clear in their purpose.

Once again, we have a small war (in 2011) warning us about a critical vulnerability. We now have a medium war (in 2022) yelling a little louder about this critical vulnerability.

History is trying to warn us, again, about what can undermine the Western project when the next big war comes.

There is no honorable or logical argument for shallow magazines, but the argument for deeper magazines will not win on its own. It needs advocates, it needs argument, it needs funding.

There also needs for a fair bit of "calling out" those who ignored warnings for so long. Fear and shame are great motivators - we should not be shy about using them.

Monday, November 21, 2022

A Portuguese Man of ... Curiosity?

OK, not really sure what to call this ... and I don't think the Portuguese do either.

It is a scientific ship, which will be a kind of base on the high seas, equipped with scientific laboratories, accommodation for 90 people permanently and another 100 if necessary, for example in a situation of emergency evacuation, ramps for boarding and disembarking of vehicles, heliport, runways for aerial drones, a stall for submarine drones and speedboats, various cranes 

In its candidacy for the PRR, the Navy stressed that "this ship, idealized under a new concept of operation, has no military requirements and is not armed. Its main functions are environmental monitoring, in particular in the fight against maritime pollution, the supervision of fisheries, the preservation of resources, the development of knowledge and research in the hydrographic and scientific field".

According to this text, "all its drones do not have weapons and the sensors used serve to monitor, monitor and control maritime spaces under national jurisdiction".

The ship, it was stressed, "will also serve for the eventual transport and evacuation of citizens in case of need. With the concept of double use, and being a technologically innovative and disruptive ship, it will allow you to test technological solutions in the robotic area, contributing to the development of national technology".

The counter-admiral said that this project represents a "stimulus for the entire community linked to the sea, industry and academia", with "very interesting challenges and tremendous opportunities".

And he stressed that it is intended to "involve the national industry as much as possible", reinforcing that "we should not, as a country, waste this opportunity".

In relation to this, criticism emerged from some of those present, already in the question and answer phase.

"The Navy did not know how to promote this project to society, academia and industry," lamented one of the actors, who did not identify himself, presenting himself as someone with business links to the sector.

This seems like a bit of an Offshore Patrol Vessel, a little bit of an Expeditionary Support Base, a funky T-AGOS or ... if squint a bit, butch her up, and will allow myself to say such a thing - a reimagining of the Littoral Combat Ship?

Yes, yes, yes ... I see that she is not armed and there's not a lot of information available. Well, that can be fixed if so needed. I have ideas ... but I like to think you can weaponize anything ... but what I'd like to do is spend a few drinks with a marine architect and the ship's blueprints to see what "white space" there would be to play with in this design. 

Heck, I'll start ... MIW mothership? Pocket destroyer tender? Repair and salvage ship? Forward VLS re-arming ship?

Whatever she is, I have to give a nod to the Portuguese Navy. They have my interest...though...I wonder how that thing rides on a bad North Atlantic winter day...

Once again we have a very small nation - 10.3 million souls, about 3% of the US population and 6% of our defense budget - coming up with some rather innovative ideas.

Also note this timeline;

According to this official, the forecast is that, "by the end of the month" (November), "the proposal will be delivered" and that "by the end of the year the contract will be signed". According to the calendar shown at this meeting, the construction of this platform is expected to take place between 2023 and 2025, delivered at the end of 2025, with 2026 being the "year of guarantees".


h/t DPW.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Pre-Thanksgiving Maritime and Natsec Feast - on Midrats


What do you need tp know to make sure you have all the right talking points around the Thanksgiving table?

If someone brings up the Navy, China, Ukraine, inflation, or supply chain issues - well, we know Midrats regulars are already up to speed - but now's your opportunity to make sure all your talking points are up to date!

No guests, no set agenda, just open phones, open minds, and open chat room for those who are with us live Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern.

Don't be stuck talking about twitter or Taylor Swift this Thanksgiving!

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, November 18, 2022

Fullbore Friday

It can take awhile sometimes, but at last Master Chief Slabinski is recognized appropriately.
During the early morning on March 4, 2002, then-Senior Chief Slabinski led a SEAL reconnaissance team to the top of the 10,000-foot, snow-covered Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan. The team’s insertion helicopter was attacked by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade attack, causing Petty Officer Neil Roberts to fall out of the aircraft and onto the enemy-infested mountaintop, and the helicopter to crash-land in the valley below, according to the Navy.

“Fully aware of the risks, a numerically superior and well-entrenched enemy force, and approaching daylight, without hesitation Senior Chief Slabinski made the selfless and heroic decision to lead the remainder of his element on an immediate and daring rescue back to the mountaintop,” according to a Navy statement.

Slabinski’s team was able to successfully reach the top of Takur Ghar, where the Navy states that Slabinski, “without regard for his own life, charged directly toward the enemy strongpoint. He and a teammate fearlessly assaulted and cleared one enemy bunker at close range. The enemy then unleashed a murderous hail of machine gun fire from a second hardened position 20 meters away. Senior Chief Slabinski exposed himself to enemy fire on three sides, then moved forward to silence the second position. With bullets piercing his clothing, he repeatedly charged into deadly fire to personally engage the enemy bunker with direct rifle fire, hand grenades and a grenade launcher on the surrounding enemy positions.”

With mounting casualties and diminished ammunition, Slabinski led his team away from enemy fire to a more defensible position. He was able to direct close air support on the enemy positions, request reinforcements and direct medical care of his wounded teammates, according to the Navy.

For 14 hours, Slabinski led his team across tough terrain, called in fires on enemy positions on surrounding ridges and continued to engage the enemy. At one point, Slabinski even carried a seriously wounded teammate through waist-deep snow to reach a more defensible position until the team could be extracted.

Slabinski, who retired from the Navy in June 2014 after more than 25 years of service, will be only the 12th living service member awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery displayed in Afghanistan, according to a Navy statement. Slabinski’s Medal of Honor is an upgrade of the Navy Cross he previously was awarded for his actions. He is set to receive the medal during a White House ceremony scheduled for May 24.

To ensure service members were appropriately recognized for valor, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter directed all service branches to review all Service Cross and Silver Star recommendations for actions since September 11, 2001.

First posted May 2015.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Happy Talk and Arrogance to China Isn't Helpful

There are occasions where even the most rah-rah supporters of all things DOD need to pause and wonder, “Are we really getting our best where they need to be?”

At the very top of the list of dysfunctions in the American officer corps is the culture of happy-talk. From FITREPS to Decision Briefings, the layer on top of layer of not telling hard truths bleeds over into areas that are not just irritating, but dangerous.

Regulars here are familiar with our almost two-decades long series “The Long Game” but for the new folks lets pull out one of the defining reason the series even exists; for reasons of economic greed, political expediency, historical ignorance, and even national self-loathing, The Smartest People in the Room™ have for decades downplayed the challenge from the People’s Republic of China and have left the USA flatfooted as she reaches regional parity.

At its worst in the 1990s when we helped them with their aerospace, through the Bush malaise, to the Obama peaceful rise - it wasn’t until the Trump Administration that we saw any realistic appreciation of what the PRC was. With the Biden Administration there is a mixed bag towards the PRC, but surprisingly remains clear-eyed towards the threat than regressing to the Obama years, however … speaking of the Trump Administration; the man the Trump Administration placed as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, USA, continues to prove that he has spent too much time studying “White Rage” and not enough time … well … understanding the world.

This is the guy who oversaw the greatest national humiliation since the fall of Saigon with the negotiated retreat from Afghanistan and the disgraceful fall of Kabul. The advice coming from The Pentagon prior to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was equally worthy of resignation.

And yet, he persists in a job – one he remains serially unsuited for.

Here is another data-point you can put down as one of the most historically, statistically, and strategically inept statements by a head of a military in … well … pick a moment.

As reported by Lucas Tomlinson, BEHOLD!

One should not be shocked being that his Pentagon has insisted for years that the PRC was a “pacing threat” when they were a gaining or surpassing threat. Equally clear is a lack of humility or historical perspective. There is a bit of a whiff of MacArthur’s misreading of China back in 1950/1 and could bring equally bad consequences.

Such talk as Milley’s must be bluntly confronted. If the PRC is not a threat, then why spend money on more of a Navy? Why on more of an Air Force? Just do more of the same and we’ll be OK? See how this works?

It is a recipe for sleepwalking into strategic failure. 

“…but the Chairman does not see China as a threat as you do…” – you can hear it now.

At the inflection point at the start of greatest threat of a new conflict with China, our uniformed leadership seems hellbent to ensure that we are not prepared, and the PRC is emboldened. 

Pray for peace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Chaos is a Ladder: Opportunity in the High North

Before the Russo-Ukrainian War kicked off in February, on the Top-5 lists of any navalist worth their salt was the Arctic. If you are an Atlanticist/NATO type, it was in your Top-3.

Sea lanes/SLOC, resource access, resource protection, environmental protection and monitoring, and just good old sound military planning kept the Arctic on everyone’s mind. The fact that especially in the USA there was no small bit of “out of sight out of mind” neglect, specifically with our icebreaking capabilities, brought as much concern. The non-Arctic nation of China deciding she wanted to be a player only made it even more important that policy makers wake up.

When you look at the playing board in the Arctic, the nations who have square-footage in the game are the USA, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, and Russia. You can even throw in the island nation of the United Kingdom as she is the dominate North Atlantic power outside the USA and any problem north of her can get existential real fast.

Note the outlier in this list? Yes, Russia.

As we find ourselves in the fall of 2022, we have an opportunity here that may not come again for a long time. It is right in front of us. It won’t take much effort; we just need to step up and take advantage of it.

Yes, I said “advantage.” The NATO nations of USA/GBR/ICL/DNK/NOR/CAN have to tap into their opportunistic brain stem and make up for lost time. Russia is on her back foot in Ukraine. For the foreseeable future, her efforts, money and resources that may have been headed to the Arctic will be diverted towards the Black Sea instead.

We dropped the ball so far this century in the Arctic – now is the time, with just a little effort – to make up for that oversight

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine ends a post-Cold War era of low tension and cooperation, such events highlight how hard it is for states to monitor their own waters – particularly in the Arctic, an ocean one and a half times the size of the United States, where satellites are crucial to allow real-time detection and monitoring of activity.

Over recent years, NATO allies and Russia have scaled up military exercises in the region; Chinese and Russian warships conducted a joint exercise in the Bering Sea in September. Norway raised its military alert level in October.

But the West trails Russia in military presence.

Since 2005, Russia has reopened tens of Arctic Soviet-era military bases, modernised its navy, and developed new hypersonic missiles designed to evade U.S. sensors and defences.

Four Arctic experts say it would take the West at least 10 years to catch up with Russia's military in the region, if it chose to do so.

"The Arctic is currently a dark area on the map," said Ketil Olsen, formerly Norway's military representative in NATO and the European Union, who heads Andoeya Space, a Norwegian state-controlled company that tests new military and surveillance technologies and launches research rockets.

"It's so vast and with few civilian surveillance resources."

The chief of the U.S. Northern Command, General Glen VanHerck, told a Senate hearing in March the United States needed better Arctic "domain awareness" to detect and address Russian and Chinese capabilities to launch advanced missiles and destroy communications infrastructure. In a Pentagon strategy document released in October, the United States committed to improving early warning and surveillance systems in the Arctic, but the pace of the planned modernisation is unclear.


The waters between Greenland, Iceland and the UK - known as the GIUK Gap - are the only way Russia's northern-based ships can reach the Atlantic. The shortest path by air to North America for Russian missiles or bombers would be over the North Pole.

For the NATO allies, the GIUK Gap is crucial for links across the North Atlantic. There are oil and gas fields too: Norway is now Europe's largest gas supplier.

If Sweden and Finland join the Alliance, seven out of eight Arctic countries will be members.

Also at risk today are communications cables and satellite systems including the global positioning system (GPS) linking both civilian and military users, Andrew Lewis, former commander of NATO's Joint Task Force in Norfolk, Virginia, told Reuters.

In July, President Vladimir Putin launched a new naval strategy pledging to protect Arctic waters "by all means."


More answers may come in a stand-alone Arctic strategy document the Pentagon is expected to publish next March, a U.S. military official said, in what would be the first update since 2019. It would come as the Pentagon tries to better define what capabilities are needed for American warfighters at dangerously low temperatures.

"When it's dark all the time in the winter and it's 50- to 60-below-zero or even more, it is just brutal," the official told Reuters.

We need to act in our individual and collective interest. There is a rare opportunity here for our policy makers. Yes, they are busy, but they need to find the spare capacity to invest some effort that will accrue huge benefits. As mentioned in the article, with Sweden and Finland joining NATO, there will be even more reasons to get our act together in the high north.

We don't need to wait for a March 2023 document. Our NATO allies especially don't. No time is better than the present. 


As usual, our friend Jerry Hendrix was ahead of the curve. If you need a modern perspective on the importance of the GIUK Gap mentioned in the pull quote, Jerry co-authored a report five years ago that remains one of the best resources on the topic out there. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

German Clear Voices are There if You Look

"The German Problem" when it comes to their reliance on Russia over the last few decades for their energy needs - a huge strategic error of the first order - has been a regular topic since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

In fits and starts, each passing month makes it harder for the Germans to not change in at least the medium term and hopefully will have a lasting effect on the German view of Russia for at least a few generations. 

I am a believer that eventually things will regress to the mean, and for centuries Russia has not been anything but ... Russia - so humility in the face of history may help the Germans in this regard. How many times must the Germans be reminded that their fantasies in the East are just that; fantasies. This has been true since the The Ottonian Dynasty over a thousand years ago ... we have a dataset.

However, there remains a growing problem with Germany's desire to find some way to make some money off the main global threat to the West, the People's Republic of China.

One of Europe's largest ports, Hamburg has excelled at trade since the Middle Ages. Back then, the city clubbed together with other ports along and beyond the Baltic coast to form the Hanseatic League, which dominated commerce for centuries.

Now the city's port is joining forces with a Chinese shipping giant. The state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co., known as COSCO, is about to buy a stake in a container terminal.

China has been Germany's largest trading partner for much of the past decade. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed the COSCO deal through his cabinet last week, despite opposition from six key ministers. 

It does not matter that a plurality of the German political elite don't want to accept it - but Germany must be a strong advocate for strength and unity in the West. Her government cannot just act like a national Chamber of Commerce, she must value Western ideals and security needs more than her balance sheet.

Why invest so much in making nice with Moscow and Beijing while at the same time seeming to make extra efforts to slow-roll investment in NATO defense and irritate friends in London, Paris, Warsaw, and DC?

Not all of the German elite institutions and leaders feel that way.  I worked with many Germans in and out of uniform who were frustrated they could not do what they need to do as a 21st Century leading medium power - but they are not the dominate voice, at least not yet.

Some are coming out of the shadows and placing markers that are there for people to see. It gives hope. 

This time their security services seem to be signaling to Germany's frustrated friends that, regardless of what the politicians do or do not do - that they are not to blame and they know what time it is.

That is the optimist's take...and I try to be an optimist when it comes to the Germans. So much potential...but so frustrating. That is my bias, so keep that in mind. I'm self-aware, but ... oh, well.

As I always seem to want more from the Germans in the national security arena than the Germans who hold the levers to power want to provide, perhaps I am trying too hard to find an intellectual structure a 21st Century German leadership could build on to make what Germany should be - a full and responsible alliance partner and cornerstone to the foundation of Western society. The stronger the collective West and her auxiliaries are, they can help guide the larger international order in a positive and constructive direction.

It is a direction Germans - and all Westerners - should be proud of promoting. There are no better alternatives out there - even for those non-Western nations who don't want it. 

We in the West may disagree with 20% of what that order should be, but 80% we should be aligned with. We need to leverage that. We can't do it without a responsible Germany.

A large part of that is blunting and pushing back on the regressive vision from Moscow and Beijing.

Germany is not ready right now to be that cornerstone I would like her to be, but I know there is a core waiting for the time to be ripe. At such I enjoyed this article coming from ... well ... the Bundestag's press office;

The annual meeting with the presidents of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) and the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) took place on Monday for the sixth time.

BND President Bruno Kahl called the war of aggression against Ukraine a "watershed," which, however, "didn't really" come as a surprise. What happened was what his agency had warned about for years, that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains willing to use force to achieve his goals and that those goals have not changed. "Unfortunately" it has been common in public discourse over the past few decades to ignore threats and dismiss warnings from the security authorities as scaremongering. The BND's reporting on Putin's tendency to violence was always "rather unreserved", however: "The tendency of politicians and the public to trust in a positive turn is simply there."


For the time being, the Kremlin is not interested in a negotiated solution. The war will therefore certainly continue next year. Kahl acknowledged that if conventional warfare continued to fail, Putin might be tempted to use “sub-strategic” nuclear weapons to force Ukraine to the negotiating table and impose a dictated peace. However, there is currently no evidence of this: "We do not see any preparations for the use of strategic or sub-strategic weapons at the moment. There is no need to panic.”

In the long run, a significant threat is to be feared from an “autocratic China that is rising to become a global power,” Kahl warned. Business, society and politics in Germany have also been too trusting in this respect and have become “painfully dependent” on a power that “suddenly no longer seems well-disposed”. Together with the BfV, the BND has been trying for five years to raise awareness of the risks posed by China in business and science. A first success in 2019 was a skeptical statement by the Federation of German Industries (BDI) on economic ties with the Far Eastern superpower. But there is "a lot of trust and naivety in the scientific field" that is not appropriate.


Like the BND President, Haldenwang also made it clear that in the long run the far greater threat to German security and German interests would come from China: "Russia is the storm, China is climate change." 

Read it all. Yes, you will have to sift through some boilerplate German bureaucratic belly button picking ... but that is just pro-forma. I like what I pulled above - there is some sound thinking here that hopefully will grow in influence.

Monday, November 14, 2022

“Hoist the Flag and Sound the Trumpet”

Following is an address delivered by Claude Berube, PhD in which he was asked to address the issue of readiness for war at the Annual Congress of the Naval Order of the United States. I asked him to make it available here.

Claude, over to you!

Thank you, John, for your kind introduction and to my fellow companions of the Naval Order of the United States for having invited me to speak at this annual congress. The views I express today are my own and not those of the Navy or any other organization with which I am affiliated.

When John Shanahan and others invited to address you, they asked me to talk about the navy of yesterday and of today with regard to readiness and discuss themes in some of my recent articles. To be frank, I was stumped. How do you condense our two centuries of history and apply it to today in about 30 minutes? In the end, I realized that I needed to frame this as a former hockey player because where I grew up, there were two houses of worship – the Catholic churches and the hockey rinks.

You see, I had this hockey coach. In the early pre-dawn practices, he’d yell at us to skate faster, hit harder, and pass more accurately. He’d yell at us when we didn’t pass to the right person during a game. He’d yell at me because I was sent to the penalty box - again. He didn’t yell because he didn’t like us. He loved the team. He was there for us. He wanted to improve our game. He wanted us to win. I want the Navy to win. And so, in that vein, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will allow me to share a few thoughts on the question of readiness yesterday and today out of love – but without the yelling…

Our robust navy is comprised of aviation, submarine, cyber, supply, and other elements, and I fully recognize that any evaluation is incomplete without a quantifiable or qualitative assessment of those elements and their capabilities. Nevertheless, I would like to simply focus on one element – the surface navy – because it provides a unique historical thread. And in the interest of the limits of our time today I appreciate your understanding why I am truncating this to its most basic elements.

I would argue we’ve never been truly ready for war or other operations. We have done the job with what we have and what we would quickly build or assemble. To paraphrase a former secretary of defense, you go to war with the navy you have, not the navy you want.

The need for a navy has been recognized for thousands of years. The Athenian Themistocles said that “he who controls the sea controls everything.” And you cannot control the sea without a sufficient navy. By the American Revolution, we had our own naval advocate in John Paul Jones who said, “in time of peace, it is necessary to prepare, and always be prepared for war by sea…without a respectable navy, alas America.” But how do you do that?

We can go start at the American Revolution when an ad hoc navy was both constructed and procured, when merchant ships became privateers or, like the Bonhomme Richard converted to a warship. We had a continental navy, state navies, privateers, and an ally with the French navy, but coordination was always a challenge. Harassing British seaborne commerce largely fell to the privateers. During the war, 1,700 letters of marque were issued. In the last year of the war alone there were 450 privateers patrolling the Atlantic seeking British merchant ships as prizes. Privateers captured three times as many prizes as the Continental Navy. British shipping insurance, as a result, increased ten-fold to thirty percent of their cargo value. That made merchants take notice who shared their displeasure with their members of Parliament.

Following the war, absent a navy, the young nation faced a new debate about a new Constitution. And in that debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, we find them just as passionate on whether to have a standing navy and the size of the navy as on any other subject. It is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 11 who argued for a standing navy – a navy of respectable weight including great ships of the line against maritime powers to place a check on them. In Federalist Paper 41, James Madison argued that the Atlantic states and towns would benefit from naval protection, “if they have hitherto been suffered to sleep quietly in their beds.”

And, so, was born a clause in Article 1 Section 8 of the new United States Constitution that Congress must “provide and maintain a navy.” What remained to be determined, however, is what size to make an eventual navy.

In the subsequent Quasi-War against France, we had our first frigates, but we needed more. Along came the subscription ships that were privately funded – the Essex, the Philadelphia, the George Washington, the Boston, and many others.  So too were those privateers, also authorized under the Constitution. The Quasi-War showed the value of a navy and that our frigates could challenge equivalent European ships, but it was supplemented by the private sector.

At the beginning of the War of 1812 the Navy only had some 17 ships. Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin argued America lay up the fleet in New York rather than risk them to the Royal Navy. There were no ships of the line even though naval officers a year before the war argued for a massive building program. Letters of marque were again issued to American privateers which captured approximately 1,200 British prizes.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles inherited a fleet of less than 100 ships, many of which were in disrepair or obsolete. By war’s end the US Navy had more than 600 ships, more than two-thirds of which had been merchant ships converted to wartime operations.

The U.S. had three years to prepare before joining the first world war and when it did, it did so overwhelmingly with its merchant ships, its latest warships, and the ability to transport one million soldiers and Marines without a single loss.

In 1941 the US Navy had 225 surface warships. By war’s end - only 1,370 days later - the arsenal of democracy had built another 600. On December 7, 1941, the navy had a fleet size of 790 ships. By the end of the war, we had a fleet size of 6,768.

We built 2,700 Liberty ships at 18 shipyards, we built 66 Gleaves-class destroyers at 8 shipyards, and 175 Fletcher-class destroyers at 11 shipyards. We build nearly one hundred aircraft carriers and escort carriers. The US lost more than 1,500 merchant ships during the war, but by war’s end had 4,500 ships.

What do these and other conflicts suggest?  No, we were not ready in the number of ships we would need for each conflict. However, the United States had a robust merchant service from which to draw ships and sailors, it had shipyards to quickly build or repair ships if needed, and it had time to recover and respond to the initial phases of military operations. It drew heavily from a private sector industrial base.

To our second question. Are we ready now?  We do have a tremendously capable Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. When we are at sea, we patrol, conduct humanitarian relief missions, etc. But are we ready? No, we are not ready materially or in the numbers needed to challenge the world’s largest navy in their backyard – that is China’s.

The navy has suffered from the diversion of attention and resources to two lengthy-land wars. It has suffered from costly unforced errors in lives, ships and cost. Gone is a major $750 million ship like the Bonhomme Richard in whose strike group I deployed 17 years ago.  Hundreds of millions in overhaul investment in the USS Miami, a submarine lost in a fire at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Hundreds of millions and two years in the shipyard for the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain. A mine warfighting ship lost on a reef. We have lost ships before in our history due to accidents and storms, but we don’t have ships to spare now. We need everything.

We have had three major shipbuilding programs in the past twenty years that have been a challenge.  Littoral Combat Ships decommissioning in just a few years. And while Zumwalt and Ford have finally deployed, the time from their commissioning to their first deployments is well beyond the length of US participation in the Second World War. The atomic bomb project went from program establishment to bombs on target in 1,376 days. 

Defense news recently reported that the us navy has “spent more than four years repairing one of its amphibious ships, already spending more than $100 million above what was planned. The ship is still not ready to deploy.”  The Navy, after $300 million just wants to decommission it. “Only 45% of the amphibious ship fleet is ready today compared to the navy’s 80 percent goal.”

Has the US Navy had programs that didn’t go according to plan? Of course. Although Robert Fulton built the first steam powered warship in 1815, it would be more than two decades when the technology was reliable enough from the private sector to build dual-powered ships. In 1835, Congress debated naval funding and whether to build the 120-gun ship of the line USS Pennsylvania with 1,000 sailors (that was ten percent of the size of the navy in one ship) or a dozen small sloops. In the end, Pennsylvania was built largely because the congressman who represented the shipyard in Philadelphia where it was to be built was Chair of the Naval Affairs Committee. There was the ram ship USS Katahdin, commissioned in 1896 and decommissioned only a year later.

To be ready and sufficiently sized is based on four elements: the executive branch, Congress, industry, and public support. 

All those elements feed into each other. When all come together, that’s when we see a rejuvenation of the maritime services. Diminish or remove any one of those out and the equation falls apart.

At every period we increased the size and platform diversity, we had an executive branch that provided the vision and support. Even Andrew Jackson whom I wrote about in my latest book, had a recognizable maritime strategy. Others like the two Adams’, the two Roosevelts, Wilson, and Reagan understood the role of a navy and were its supporters. 

How do you quantify administration interest in the Navy? We can start with a simple criterion. Under the current administration, it took more than 200 days for a Secretary of the Navy to be confirmed – that’s a longer period from inauguration to confirmation than any other presidency.

Second, every period has had a critical mass of supporters from the legislative branch which has the Constitutional authority and responsibility to provide and maintain a navy. Absent that critical mass of support, a Navy will not be built or built better.

While watching a House Armed Services Committee hearing this year, I was struck by how a member of congress advocating for the navy was interrupted by the Chairman with this statement about China’s navy. 

“How capable are their ships? How many ships does China have deployed all around the world in any given moment? That’s a very low number from what I understand. And the capability of those ships are not as great either. So, we can all like FREAK ourselves out about all the trillions of dollars a year apparently, we have to spend on our defense budget. I think it would be helpful if we had a realistic understanding of our adversaries and where they’re at.”

He dismissed the threat of China, and he dismissed the idea of building the navy up.

I certainly respect the chairman and his role, but fundamentally disagree with his off-the-cuff assessment. China may have a low deployment rate focusing only on two regions, but it is not dissimilar to the US Navy’s rate of 15 percent in the 1980s especially when you consider it isn’t committing itself – yet – to all the regions of the world. We could do so because we had the numbers. Today our deployment rate is about 35 percent. The pace of China’s shipbuilding has meant that their ships have rarely needed to deploy more than a couple of times. Its growing fleet has allowed China to do more without degrading the material readiness of the ships. Conversely, the has struggled to maintain its ships, which are deploying at a higher rate and for longer periods. 

Capability comes from both technology and experience and China’s navy is gaining experience very quickly. In the past decade they’ve been sending squadrons – 42 of them -to the Horn of Africa every three or four months.

They have gained experience close to their shores and ships from every one of their fleets is operating on the other side of the world in deploying to the Horn of Africa.

They have vastly outbuilt us in the past 10 years. Yes, that red line is China’s shipbuilding versus the blue of the us navy.

This graph represents all the major surface combatants in our fleet as of last year and their age from commissioning, so the top are the oldest ships in each fleet and the newest at the bottom. Eighty – that’s eight zero – of their surface fleet has been built in the past decade. By contrast only twenty percent of the US fleet is less than a decade old.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June, the Secretary of Defense said we “certainly have the most capable and dominant navy in the world and it will continue to be so going forward.” While the secretary’s sentiment is laudable, it is contrary to quantifiable trends. China isn’t a rising power – it has risen. I think we need to consider another historical example when we casually brush aside the threat of China’s navy. 

Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan in 1854. That caused Japan to think about a navy of its own, not dissimilar to how China reacted 1996 to the Nimitz battle group transiting the Taiwan strait. In 1874, Japan launched an expedition to Taiwan. That decade their midshipmen began to study at the US Naval Academy. By 1895 their navy defeated China’s fleet in a war. In 1905, they defeated the entire Russian Eastern and Baltic fleets.

For those reasons, I think the chairman’s remarks were either insufficiently informed or intentionally dismissive.

We have incredible advocates in Congress like Elaine Luria [note: this speech was delivered before the 2022 election] and Mike Gallagher. But we need a legislative branch with advocates beyond that and beyond the shipbuilding districts. We are mired in petty partisan politics while China has a distinct advantage – they are forcibly unified and that has enabled them to build the world’s largest fleet. While we need to defend our democratic republic ideals, we need to find a way to unify.

The third element - in nearly every one of our previous conflicts, we relied heavily on the capacity of our industrial base especially shipyards. How many do we have today? To give you the scope of what we face, one shipyard in China has more capacity than all of our shipyards combined. Our shipyard capacity is limited. A 2021 Congressional Budget Office report pointed out that the four submarine shipyards were facing significant delays in completing maintenance because of the amount of work necessary has increased and they are having trouble finding workers. This has affected operational readiness.

Part of that industrial base is the size of the us merchant fleet because it was America’s maritime economy….  China has some 4,500 merchant ships; there are fewer than 80 in the US fleet. Why is this important? Because the maritime economy that built the nation in the 19th century meant shipyard jobs. It meant jobs across the nation which built systems on those ships. It meant that many families had someone who relied on the sea for it or on it. And that merchant fleet needed protection by the US Navy. That is why the public could understand the need for a navy – because it was self-interested in it. Self-interest and passion drives politics and public policy, not reason and data. But the American public has become estranged from the maritime economy that would have been familiar to our forebears.  

Earlier, I mentioned several wars but I saved one for the end. That is the war that really put the United States Navy on a global footing because it demonstrated the power of our industrial base, our ability to build modern ships, the vision of presidents, the support of congress, and an emotional support from the media and general public. That, of course, is the Spanish-American war. It is why I think it a particularly relevant war to discuss today because less than a decade before, the naval order of the United States was established by people who recognized we had a problem, who had a vision, and made the vision of a navy a reality.

The year before the Naval Order was established, the US Navy was not among the world powers.

The Spanish navy during the 1890s was a traditional power investing in traditional surface combatants. The young American navy was more diverse in its platforms, understanding the need for logistics ships, etc.

The Spanish Minister of Marine, Segismundo Bermejo had assessed the situation like this: the Spanish navy was experienced and a global power; the US Navy was young and inexperienced. On February 15, 1898 – the day the Maine exploded - he wrote to Admiral Cervera that it was his intent to blockade the American coast. The day after Cervera wrote back that the ships of the Havana station were badly worn out and that the Spanish naval force compared to the United States was approximately one to three, therefore a blockade wasn’t possible.

On April 22, three days after the declaration of war, Cervera wrote to Bermejo that “nothing can be expected of this expedition except the total destruction of the fleet or its hasty and demoralized return.” The Colon didn’t have its big guns. The 5.5 inch ammunition, with the exception of about 300 rounds, was bad. Two other ships had defective guns. They didn’t have a single torpedo. The Vizcaya could no longer steam. There was no plan, which he had much desired and suggested in vain. In short, he wrote, “it is a disaster already, and it is to be feared that it will be a more frightful one before long.” Privately, Cervera had been critical of the state of the Spanish navy before this because of its lack of money and frantically inefficient bureaucracy.”

Regardless, Cervera did his duty and in July would face the American fleet off Santiago. In his last address to his squadron, Cervera said “the solemn moment of fighting has come. The sacred name of Spain and the glorious honor of her flag so demands…the enemy covets our old and glorious hulls. They have sent the whole power of their young navy against us so as to achieve this goal. Hoist the flag and surrender no ship. Sound the trumpet for the combat. May God receive our souls.”

Every ship under his command was lost to the Americans. He and 39 of his officers were then held as prisoners of war at the US Naval Academy and treated as heroes by the American public.

What of Spain’s Asiatic fleet that was defeated at Manila Bay? Admiral George Dewey would write in his autobiography, “the Spanish government attempted to make a scape-goat of poor Admiral Montojo, the victim of their own shortcomings and maladministration.”

We would hope to rely on our allies in war and access to distant waters, but I think there’s another lesson from the Spanish-American war, a concern Admiral Dewey wrote about himself in his autobiography. His biggest concern after his victory at Manila Bay was that he’d face more Spanish. Specifically, a third squadron – a relief squadron – had gotten underway from Spain under Admiral Camara. He expected to resupply in Egypt. If Camara had that coal, Dewey wrote, there would be nothing that stopped him. But the coal was denied and Camara was forced to return to Spain. This isn’t unusual. Think about the start of the Iraq war when an entire infantry division was denied access through Turkey. Can we always rely on other nations great and small especially in a potential conflict with China when nations must act in their self-interest?

A final point. Some may argue that China’s navy is only slightly larger than ours. But if war comes and it is anywhere near the South China Sea they will be able to bring to bear their entire fleet in a matter of days – by the end of the decade, the Congressional Research Service estimates they will have 425 ships.  

How many of our ships could we get in theater in days or weeks?  100? 150?  That would be a one to three advantage, the same concern Cervera voiced about his proportion to the Americans. We have an incredibly capable force and equally impressive sailors. But we have to assess how unique, innovative technology in small numbers will do against a larger force. When I was a defense contractor in the 1990s, one of my senior colleagues was Bud Rundell, a B-17 bomber pilot shot down over Merzberg on his 13th mission. He told me of seeing a Me-262 during one mission, but there were too many bombers to counter that one innovative jet. What of German advances in tanks, submarines, or V-1 and V-2 rockets during the Second World War? How much did unique, advanced technology impact the result against an overwhelming Soviet and Allied force?

To close out, I mentioned at the beginning of my talk that my town had two houses of worship – the hockey arenas and the Catholic churches.

Fifteen years ago, I was in Ottawa sitting in a chapel - the Rideau Street Chapel. Coincidentally it belonged to the same religious order that founded a hospital in my town and where my family worked. As I sat in a pew, I observed the artistry of the fan-vaulted ceilings and listened to a chorus of forty voices. But the chapel was no longer on Rideau Street. It had been deconstructed and moved to the interior of the National Gallery of Canada where speakers played a recording of the chorus. That morning I read in the paper an article about communion hosts – the center piece of the Catholic mass – had found a resurgent popularity in Quebec as a common, secular snack. Unlike my childhood, the churches in Quebec that had a Catholic faith for three centuries was in steep decline, its churches empty, and its foundations were now viewed as artifacts. 

A similar feeling struck me a few years ago when I was in England visiting the Portsmouth naval museums, recognizing the glory years of the Royal Navy that ruled the seas, and yet the Royal Navy today had less than two dozen destroyers and frigates. It reminded me of an old Rudyard Kipling poem which lamented that “far called, our navies melt away.”

Certainly, in my current professional capacity, I understand the value of museums like those mentioned and teaching our history to the public, but they can too easily be reminders of yesteryear rather than what is needed now and tomorrow. Our country may have grown beyond a symbiotic life with the sea to one of simple indifference, relegated to galleries and exhibits and artifacts.

We as a nation and a navy are not ready because we have chosen not to be. What do we need to prepare for a potential conflict with China?

We need executive vision and action. 

We need congressional interest, oversight and funding. 

We need a navy to build operational platforms. 

We need a much larger industrial base. 

We need a public that has a direct relationship to our maritime services that understands they have skin in this Great Game.

We must become ready. But whether or not we are when the time comes, like Cervera, we will do our duty and go with courage regardless of the fate that awaits us.

Is there hope? Certainly.  

I see it in an incredibly capable Secretary of the Navy. 

I see it with some outstanding admirals.

I see it in the commitment and resiliency of our officers and sailors.

And I see it every day in the creative and energetic midshipmen I teach at the Academy, the future of our naval services. 

Thank you.

Claude Berube, PhD, is the author of “On Wide Seas: The US Navy in the Jacksonian Era” and several other books including his third novel, “The Philippine Pact” (2023). He has worked on Capitol Hill, in the defense industry, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. A Commander in the US Navy Reserve, he is currently assigned to a unit with Navy Warfare Development Center. Since 2005 he has taught in the Political Science and History Departments at the US Naval Academy.