Tuesday, December 27, 2022

No Sense of Urgency to Act on What is Waiting West of Wake

The greatest threat to security in the Western Pacific is not the rise of China, certainly isn't the moribund Russians - or even a combination of the two. No, the greatest threat to security west of Wake is the American national security establishment.

The two pillars of its dysfunction are intellectual and institutional.

Intellectually we continue to allow The Smartest People in the Room™ to blissfully live in a world of happy talk to themselves, each other, and their nation. It is as if they live in a world of the military FITREP where you write your own review in the adult version of Lake Wobegone ... where all the children are above average.

Via Phelem Kine and Lara Seligman over at Politico this AM;

The U.S. has pledged to deploy so much firepower to the Indo-Pacific in 2023 that China won’t even consider invading Taiwan. Lawmakers and allies say it’s already too late.

The promise is a big one: “2023 is likely to stand as the most transformative year in U.S. force posture in the region in a generation,” Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said in early December.

Nothing personal here. I am sure Ely is a nice guy. A PhD in, ahem, Political Science from, ahem, UC Berkely, and a life spent in politics, academia, and the usual holding-pen think tanks ... but clearly a smart guy and a good staff weenie ... but seriously; he doesn't believe that. No one with any knowledge of the People's Republic of China believes that. No one with even a thumbnail understanding of the US military's readiness for sustained peer conflict believes that.

More importantly, no one in the PRC believes that.

Happy talk and spin is fine in domestic politics, fund raisers, and giving hope to the rubes, but it takes years to get a military ready for sustained combat on the other side of the globe. We barely held our own until early 1943 against Imperial Japan and we started getting serious seven years earlier in 1936.

While we struggle to maintain a steady state fleet, the PRC's navy grows.

I guess it is time to put up Claude Berube's graphs again.

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.

That is the truth. That is why when we try to force-mode domestic political happy talk to the international stage we are looked at as not just lying - but being quasi-delusional.

At least there are some people with access to levers of power who know what time it is.

“We have a rhetorical commitment to a force posture change in the Indo-Pacific, but that’s belied by the reality of what’s actually happening,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who will become chair of the new House Select Committee on China in the next Congress. He called Ratner’s assertions the military planning equivalent of “whistling past the graveyard.”

The gentleman from Wisconsin is too kind. 

We cannot afford more happy talk - more "transformational" bullsh1t from people who should know better. They need to be called out on every occasion they try to cropdust the intellectual space people are trying to cultivate towards meeting this decade's challenge. The Terrible 20s are going to be terrible, but we can mitigate the degree of that terribleness. Some progress is being made, but more pressure is needed.

Now let's loop back to the second part of today's post mentioned at the start; institutional dysfunction.

Notice the 1936 to 1943 timeline above? Seven years that didn't bring in just new systems, but generational development in everything from carrier air whose fighters went from the Brewster Buffalo to the Grumman Wildcat, to Hellcat; submarines advanced through six different classes from Salmon to Balao; land based heavy bombers went from the Martin B-10 through the Boeing B-17 to a year later the B-29 deploying. 

You get the idea.

Remember back in October?

The U.S Navy has tested out a new way of rearming its warships with a trial vertical launch system (VLS) reload in San Diego. 

In a test evolution, the crane-equipped OSV Ocean Valor conducted a VLS reload with guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance, an exercise intended to prove out a new way to reload guided missile destroyers in sheltered waters. Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer successfully lowered training ordnance into the ship’s forward VLS cells in a proof-of-concept evolution.


The exercise was aimed at proving that an OSV can reload the weapons system pierside, with the goal of expanding the capability of VLS reloading in expeditionary environments. The launch system reload has been tested previously in 2016 and 2019 using other MSC vessels but has never been tested using a relatively small OSV as the delivery platform. 

A VLS reload alongside the pier is substantially less challenging than a VLS reload in an open seas, underway replenishment scenario. Previous Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson signaled an interest in bringing back underway VLS replenishment in 2017, but the operation has rarely been performed in practice - even on Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which were designed with this evolution in mind. 

The TICOs were designed in the 1970s - pretty much half a century ago - roughly the same amount of time that the Spanish-American War was to 1943.

Let that soak in.

Now let's go back to July of 2017, just five and a half years years ago +/-. You know, roughly 1.5 WorldWars as we defined this program management period of time in 2015. For you pedants out there, it is 1.46 WordWars to be exact.

Here's what we discussed 1.46 WordWars ago;

The U.S. Navy is looking to restore its ability to reload its ships’ vertical launch systems at sea, which could be a dramatic logistical game changer in the planning and execution of high-intensity contingencies against peer competitors.


After discussing the means by which the Navy seeks to ensure its forward-deployed naval forces remain survivable and up-to-date with the latest tactical and technological innovation, Admiral Richardson said in reference to vertical launch system (VLS) underway replenishment, “we’re bringing that back.”

Since its operational debut in 1986 aboard the sixth Ticonderoga-class cruiser, USS Bunker Hill, the Mark 41 vertical launch system and its successor the Mark 57 have become the main battery of the preponderance of the Navy’s surface fleet, while the Mark 45 has become the principal means of deploying cruise missiles aboard submarines. Vertical launch systems are among the most adaptable weapon mounts that the Navy fields, allowing a ship to carry a variety of defensive and offensive missiles in the same shipboard infrastructure, and to fire them in rapid succession.

Well, we don't have this back.

But we are playing around 1.46 WorldWars later with this;

If it appears that the military acquisitions process and the bureaucracy that keeps it running is not quite what one needs to get ready for war, you're right.

It is nowhere near fit for purpose.

Reloading VLS is not a new concept - it is over a half century old. We got rid of it because the short-war uni-polar world would rather have those VLS cells with missiles to blow up parked clapped out Toyota Hilux with 23mm 1960s era manual guns mounted on the truck bed.

In our Lotus Eater stupor we allowed our land based facilities come under the range of our enemy's rocket artillery from Japan to Guam. That luxury is history. We cannot cruise back to the West Coast or Hawaii to reload. We need to do it at sea - now.

Here is where we need to start playing hardball. Our chattering classes are lost in a soup of onomastic happy talk that enables each other to avoid hard work, and our accretion hobbled acquisitions force is designed mostly to ensure funding lines and job protection in a peacetime uni-polar world.

That is long past. As useful as midnight basketball is to domestic politics - a reference someone with a PhD from UC Berkely should understand.

No comments: