Monday, March 20, 2023

Preliminary Notice to CDR Salamander OG Blog Readers

Great and wonderful members of the Front Porch, especially those regular readers since 2004.

As most of you may be aware of by now, I have been posting in parallel over at substack for the last few years.

I did that for a few reasons. Mostly because of the coding, NMCI, facebook and other location may block blogspot as it can seem as if it is SPAM. Bad on blogspot, irritating to readers. Because substack is a "cleaner" code, no one has that problem...yet.

Anyway, blogspot is owned by google and the last few weeks they have been pulling down some of my posts going back almost a decade for a variety of reasons. Many of them are because they contain pictures of ... military operations where "physical violence" is taking place. 

Well, that is that happens in a military. I am appealing the deletions, but this is not a satisfactory situation for a military related blog as I would have to pretty much stop posting any picture of video of ... combat. I can't stand the prospect of some bot or busy body running through and randomly deleting posts.

The last straw was them pulling down a post, text only, of our Declaration of Independence.

Just look at it.

It says "SPAM" but when you go to "/contentpolicy" you see the full range of things under SPAM that includes everything up to violent images.

So, and no this is not an April's Fool joke, but starting the 1st of April, no new content will be posted here

All new content will be over at substack. Just follow this link and update your bookmarks. 

You can also sign up to get an email notification whenever there is a new post.

I did not want to do this as we have a very well established community in comments here that means a lot to me. We've been at this together for the better part of two decades. 

Some members of the Front Porch have already migrated over to substack, so it just isn't the new kids. There's plenty of salt over there.

So, you have an 11-day warning.

I will not delete this blog. This will remain here as an archive of a time when blogspot was a freer place, as will all the older posts that google has not deleted for this arbitrary reason or another.

Come join  us ... its a cleaner look anyway.


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Episode 650: Keeping America's Dominance at Sea with Jerry Hendrix

Except for those over a 85, no one alive has ever existed at a time when the US Navy was not the premier naval power - and no one alive at all has known a world where the US Navy was not the premier naval power in the Pacific.

Though on paper it could be challenged in the first third of the 20th Century by the Royal Navy, and was challenged in a very real way by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific in the early mid-century, after the 1930s no industrial power could hope to compete with the United States in production and warships ready to fight at sea in a major conflict.

During the Cold War, there were a couple of decades where the Soviet Union could put a fleet to sea to give the US Navy regional concern, but never really on an ocean wide scale.

As we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st Century, a rising power is presenting a challenge in the Pacific the US Navy, and its political leaders, seem to have trouble accepting.

The People's Republic of China is clear that it wants the global power the USA presently has - including on the high seas. 

Returning to Midrats Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss his recent article in The Atlantic, "The Age of American Naval Dominance is Over" is Jerry Hendrix, PhD.

Jerry is a retired USN Captain, author, and a senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute, in Indianapolis. His most recent book is To Provide and Maintain a Navy (2020).

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, March 17, 2023

Fullbore Friday

While researching yesterday's post I came across a 2011 post of mine that, in a way, read like an OG FbF ... and figured, let's bring the story of HMS Liverpool (D92) a little more than a year before her decommissioning to the Front Porch so we can see the proper use of a main gun.

Often here we have comments about how, "nAvAl GunZ uR oBSolEt3" ... well, of course they are not.

Let's head off the coast of Libya ... and do so with a 2011 mindset;

Commander Colin Williams said: ‘It was a good old fashioned ding-dong. The enemy fire was coming in pretty close. It was fairly close-range stuff but we’ve trained for this and we were ready to win the fight.

Repeat after me: "There is no more important weapon on a warship than its main gun battery."

Translate that in to Latin and we'll put it in to Autotune for 'ya and make it a Gregorian Chant. Heck, we'll put it on t-shirts and sell them.

The Portsmouth-based destroyer was just six miles off the coast of Gaddafi-held territory when she came under a barrage of rockets and heavy calibre machine gunfire yesterday.

But the Libyan forces were no match for her 4.5in gun, which silenced the attack within half an hour with no casualties or damage to the ship.
Cdr Williams said: ‘We had a couple of contacts moving down the coast. The other two ships went in to investigate and we sent up our helicopter in support.

‘Then they started getting fired on by the vessels and from the shore and it all got a bit hairy from there.’

As her helicopter dodged gunfire, Liverpool fired an opening salvo and manoeuvred into position to take on the shore battalion.

The captain said: ‘It took us about 20 or 30 minutes to bring it to an end.
He revealed he was actually asleep when the attack began at 2am yesterday.

He said: ‘I was woken as we prepared and it was very humbling to see my ship’s company working so calmly and quietly.


Though the shore-duty theorists with their transformationalist fetish continue to ignore facts that interfere with their religion - history & reality - their worst enemy - 
continue to tell us what you need to get right in your warships.

This time it is Libya - and again - it is the Royal Navy (what is left of her) that tells us what we need to know.

Other things to go with our chant:
1. As Seaman Murphy gundecks PMS and his brother at the factory has quality control issues - it is best a-la SPRUANCE & TICO to have two main batteries.
2. Larger isn't better, it is essential. Beancounters, men insecure with their manhood, and the non-battleminded like small caliber weapons. Those who need to kill or be killed know that if a 3" will do - a 5" is needed. If a 5" will fit, an 
8" should be there instead. If you think I am nuts, just ask a Marine. If you think he is nuts - tell him to his face, please.

You will close the shore - you will be shot at - you will need to shoot back. Make sure those who have a comfortable commute and a comfortable home build you the ships you need - not the ones they think are neat.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

12 Years - Untold Misery - No Accountability

This Saturday will be the 12th anniversary of one of the worst American foreign policy decisions of this century. I rank it third after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2021 negotiated surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While time has mostly held to account those responsible for the 2003 Iraq invasion and perhaps things are too fresh and political for a true accountability for the Afghanistan disgrace, there is no excuse for the complete lack of accountability for what was done to Libya in 2011.

All three disgraces, as it is with most military operations by the USA in the last 60 years, does not owe its disgrace to the military being tasked to execute an operation, but with the failure of the politicians and diplomats to understand what the ultimate goal was, the nature of the nation they were sending their military in to, and any type of long term plan for success.

I often make the snarky comment about grown adults trying to match the heights when they peaked the summer before their senior year in high school at the Model UN convention … and I do this for a reason. 

Two months in to what we called “Operation Odyssey Dawn”  just look at this quote from those how got us ear-deep in to the over throw of Gadhafi,

Top Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed Monday on a resolution backing limited U.S. involvement in the NATO-led military campaign against Libya, days after the expiration of the legal deadline for President Barack Obama to seek full-blown congressional authorization.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, introduced the non-binding resolution along with five other Republicans and Democrats.

The measure supports the limited use of military force and concurs with Obama that the stated goal of U.S. policy "is to achieve the departure from power of Moammar Gadhafi and his family, including through the use of non-military means, so that a peaceful transition can begin to an inclusive government that ensures freedom, opportunity and justice for the people of Libya."

If you recall, it was a US led operation starting on 19 MAR 11, but was handed over to NATO as part of President Obama’s “lead from behind” mindset;

"While we are no longer in the lead, U.S. support for the NATO-based coalition remains crucial to assuring the success of international efforts to protect civilians from the actions of the Gadhafi regime," Obama wrote. "Congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort. Such a resolution is also important in the context of our constitutional framework, as it would demonstrate a unity of purpose among the political branches on this important national security matter."

As I did then, I am still in alignment with former Sen. Lugar (R-IN) who saw the issue the same way I did;

Lugar argued that the administration's inability to engage with Congress "has left the American people without a clear understanding of the U.S. interests at stake in Libya and how they relate to the other important challenges we currently face as a country. Nor do the American people understand what costs they will be asked to bear in connection with our Libya operations, and what other priorities will have to be sacrificed to support these operations."

Let’s step back a bit to look at how it began. 

As with most things, the bad idea started at the UN with UNSCR 1973. On 18 MAR 11, President Obama made the following statement;

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.… Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action.

Our focus has been clear: protecting innocent civilians within Libya, and holding the Qaddafi regime accountable.

Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.

… the United States is prepared to act as part of an international coalition.… I have directed Secretary Gates and our military to coordinate their planning, and tomorrow Secretary Clinton will travel to Paris for a meeting with our European allies and Arab partners about the enforcement of Resolution 1973. We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European alliesand Arab partners to effectively enforce a no fly zone.

The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal—specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.

So, how did that work out for the “civilians in Libya”? It is hard – for reasons you should have figured out by now, if not you soon will – to get good casualty numbers, but here’s a snapshot from almost three years ago.

The impact of Libya’s nine-year war on civilians is “incalculable”, a UN official has said, with rising casualties and nearly 900,000 people now needing assistance.

Yacoub El Hillo said on Monday a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya – agreed to by 12 key leaders at a conference in Berlin on January 19 – has seen “serious violations” in the last 10 days with fighting in and around the capital, Tripoli.

The protracted conflict is “severely impacting civilians in all parts of the country on a scale never seen before”, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya said in a video briefing to journalists from Tripoli.

El Hillo said “the increasing use of explosive weapons has resulted in unnecessary loss of life”, pointing to attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly health facilities, that have doubled since 2019, resulting in at least 650 civilians killed or wounded.

He cited a UN mine expert in Libya who said last week the country has the world’s largest uncontrolled ammunition stockpile, with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of uncontrolled munitions across the country.

Libya “is also the largest theatre for drone technology”, El Hillo said, stressing “everyone has something flying in the Libyan sky, it seems”.

It is only worse now.

President Obama had only been in office for a little under two years when this kicked off, and he was not a foreign policy guy in any way – and his Vice President was notoriously wrong on almost every foreign policy issue of the previous three decades – so this was a project of his foreign policy advisors.

So, after President Obama and Vice President Biden next to him, who was driving this clown car? 

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
  • National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon .
  • …and don’t forget Samantha “Responsibility to Protect” Power as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council.

Some might add SECDEF Gates and those in Congress – but they were either performing their cabinet role as in Gates or were reacting as for those in Congress.

Why has there been no accountability? Who in then press is willing to charge at Obama, Clinton, Rice or Donilon over a few million souls dead, maimed, displaced, or missing in migration? Seriously, let me know in comments.

Good luck with that.

So, the rolling nightmare of military action driven by bad diplomatic theory, boosted by unmoored academic emotionalism, and enabled by political ass-covering continues.

The latest horror to show up as we look at the 12th anniversary? As reported by Francois Murphy at Reuters;

U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, the watchdog told member states in a statement on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

The finding is the result of an inspection originally planned for last year that "had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region" and was finally carried out on Tuesday, according to the confidential statement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi.

IAEA inspectors "found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of UOC (uranium ore concentrate) previously declared by (Libya) ... as being stored at that location were not present at the location," the one-page statement said.

The agency would carry out "further activities" to determine the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site, which it did not name, and where it is now, the statement added.

"The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns," it said, adding that reaching the site required "complex logistics".

Gaddafi – however you spell his name – was a nasty bit of work, but he decided to stay inside his cage after 2003,

In 2003 Libya under then-leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced its nuclear weapons programme, which had obtained centrifuges that can enrich uranium as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, though it made little progress towards a bomb.

Not good enough. We took sub-optimal and made it worse;

Libya has had little peace since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising ousted Gaddafi. Since 2014, political control has been split between rival eastern and western factions, with the last major bout of conflict ending in 2020.

Libya's interim government, put in place in early 2021 through a U.N.-backed peace plan, was only supposed to last until an election scheduled for December of that year that has still not been held, and its legitimacy is now also disputed.

A dozen years and no accountability later we have an immeasurable number of dead, wounded and displaced well in to the millions – orders of magnitude more suffering than Gadaffi’s goons would have inflicted on Benghazi.

Russia’s Wagner PMC learned much of their skills now in use in Ukraine and Syria. The Turks and the French almost came to war at sea, Egypt’s western border is a mess, untold dislocation, chaos, death, and political instability from migration across the Mediterranean continues.  

Without accountability there can be no learning. Without learning, the habits and theories that led to this festering wound will be repeated elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Hendrix's View from an Island Nation

Regular readers know the importance of the United States being the world’s premier sea power, but that is inside the lifelines of our corner of the national conversation. 

For a whole host of reasons we have discussed here over the years and on Midrats – in spite of our nation surrounded by the fruits of the open seas – the larger American public does not see it. We suffer, in essence, from our success.

The time when the free flow of goods across the globe was not a given has slipped well out of living memory. Except for older cohort GenX and older, no one even remembers the regional threat the Soviet Red Banner Fleet aspired to be right before the empire she served collapsed and disaggregated.

Not just the United States, but the developed and developing nations throughout the globe who benefit from the post-WWII maritime environment suffer from seablindness. There are other powers - resentful, bitter, and grasping – who even though they benefit from the global agreement – wish to break it down and create something new. Not so much that they want something better – they just don’t like a system they had no role in creating – one defined by the assumed ever-presence of the United States Navy and her friends.

As fish are not aware of the water they swim in, so the global economy does not fully understand the world it exists in … and the fact that it is under threat of disappearing. 

Our friend Jerry Hendrix has been an integral and valuable part of the public conversation for well over two decades – longer inside the lifelines of the US military. 

This month he has an exceptional article over at The Atlantic titled, “America’s Future is at Sea” or in the more flashy online version, "The Age of American Naval Dominance is Over" that you need to take time to read. He weaves together not just the history, but the economic, diplomatic, and civilizational threads that all connect to American seapower. 

What adds additional importance to his article is the venue. 

As I mentioned in the opener to this post, “we” know this story – or at least most of it. The problem is too many others do not. 

The Atlantic has a certain readership segment which includes many people of influence and proximity to the levers of power, or a degree or two separated from someone who does. The vast majority of its readers who are not soaked in the details involving the maritime domain.

These people need to understand the issues as much as readers here do. You really need to read it in full, but here are a few pull quotes I’d like to share. He starts out strong;

Very few Americans—or, for that matter, very few people on the planet—can remember a time when freedom of the seas was in question. But for most of human history, there was no such guarantee. Pirates, predatory states, and the fleets of great powers did as they pleased. The current reality, which dates only to the end of World War II, makes possible the commercial shipping that handles more than 80 percent of all global trade by volume—oil and natural gas, grain and raw ores, manufactured goods of every kind. Because freedom of the seas, in our lifetime, has seemed like a default condition, it is easy to think of it—if we think of it at all—as akin to Earth’s rotation or the force of gravity: as just the way things are, rather than as a man-made construct that needs to be maintained and enforced.

But what if the safe transit of ships could no longer be assumed? What if the oceans were no longer free?

Nothing is guaranteed ... or as Papa Salamander would often tell me, "No one owes you a living."

Imagine, though, a more permanent breakdown. A humiliated Russia could declare a large portion of the Arctic Ocean to be its own territorial waters, twisting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to support its claim. Russia would then allow its allies access to this route while denying it to those who dared to oppose its wishes. Neither the U.S. Navy, which has not built an Arctic-rated surface warship since the 1950s, nor any other NATO nation is currently equipped to resist such a gambit.

Or maybe the first to move would be Xi Jinping, shoring up his domestic standing by attempting to seize Taiwan and using China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles and other weapons to keep Western navies at bay. An emboldened China might then seek to cement its claim over large portions of the East China Sea and the entirety of the South China Sea as territorial waters. It could impose large tariffs and transfer fees on the bulk carriers that transit the region. Local officials might demand bribes to speed their passage.

"Gentlemen's agreements" only work if both parties act as gentlemen and keep their word. What happens when one party decides not to be? What is the enforcement mechanism ... or is there one at all?

If oceanic trade declines, markets would turn inward, perhaps setting off a second Great Depression. Nations would be reduced to living off their own natural resources, or those they could buy—or take—from their immediate neighbors. The world’s oceans, for 70 years assumed to be a global commons, would become a no-man’s-land. This is the state of affairs that, without a moment’s thought, we have invited.

This is not alarmism. A discordant and ill-timed blending of demography, debt, economics, and politics are driving the global system of crisis - what we warned of starting 13-yrs ago as "The Terrible 20s."

—a “free sea”—first enunciated by the Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius in 1609. The United States and Great Britain, the two traditional proponents of a free sea, had emerged not only triumphant but also in a position of overwhelming naval dominance. Their navies were together larger than all of the other navies of the world combined. A free sea was no longer an idea. It was now a reality.

In this secure environment, trade flourished. The globalizing economy, which allowed easier and cheaper access to food, energy, labor, and commodities of every kind, grew from nearly $8 trillion in 1940 to more than $100 trillion 75 years later, adjusted for inflation. With prosperity, other improvements followed. During roughly this same period, from the war to the present, the share of the world’s population in extreme poverty, getting by on less than $1.90 a day, dropped from more than 60 percent to about 10 percent. Global literacy doubled, to more than 85 percent. Global life expectancy in 1950 was 46 years. By 2019, it had risen to 73 years. 

What happens if global trade retrogrades to a prior, less safe, less predictable (hurting insurance carriers ability to properly set rates) and vibrant time? Well, you look at the positive effects of growth in the past to see an inverse of what a return to the multipolar ocean might bring the future. That is what Jerry just did. Re-read the above and ponder even a fraction of that headwind;

It is important as we look at today's challenge to accept that we are not a passive victim of a changing world. No. We are here mostly as a result of our own actions. Decline is a choice.

As a side note, if you are not already thinking of another article in The Atlantic from 16 year's ago, Robert D. Kaplan's "America's Elegant Decline," go ahead and read it now.

It is never to a nation’s advantage to depend on others for crucial links in its supply chain. But that is where we are. In 1977, American shipbuilders produced more than 1 million gross tons of merchant ships. By 2005, that number had fallen to 300,000.

Today, most commercial ships built in the United States are constructed for government customers such as the Maritime Administration or for private entities that are required to ship their goods between U.S. ports in U.S.-flagged vessels, under the provisions of the 1920 Jones Act.

The U.S. Navy, too, has been shrinking. After the Second World War, the Navy scrapped many of its ships and sent many more into a ready-reserve “mothball” fleet. For the next two decades, the active naval fleet hovered at about 1,000 ships. But beginning in 1969, the total began to fall. By 1971, the fleet had been reduced to 750 ships. Ten years later, it was down to 521. Reagan, who had campaigned in 1980 on a promise to rebuild the Navy to 600 ships, nearly did so under the able leadership of his secretary of the Navy, John Lehman. During Reagan’s eight years in office, the size of the Navy’s fleet climbed to just over 590 ships.

Then the Cold War ended. The administrations of Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton slashed troops, ships, aircraft, and shore-based infrastructure. During the Obama administration, the Navy’s battle force bottomed out at 271 ships. Meanwhile, both China and Russia, in different ways, began to develop systems that would challenge the U.S.-led regime of global free trade on the high seas. 

Read it all.

If this isn’t enough Hendrix, and there is never enough, Jerry will join us this upcoming Sunday for Midrats. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Three Wounds of our Amphibious Navy

To see where we are and where we need to go, it is always helpful to remind ourselves how we got here.

First let's look where we are; the Navy telling Congress to bugger-off;

Via Caitlin Kenny at DefenseOne;

The Navy is proposing to drop its amphibious fleet below 31 ships, despite an agreement with the Marine Corps and a potential violation of last year’s defense policy law. 

Sent to Congress on Monday, the Navy’s proposed $255.8 billion 2024 budget aims to retire eight warships before the end of their intended service life, including three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships, or LSDs, that it proposed to scrap last year but which were saved by the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act

There are a lot of people out there so far this week doing great work reading the entrails of the latest budget, so I won't try to replicate their fine work here

This did not happen by accident. This is not happening as a result only of a lack of funds. This did not happen because a black cat walked in front of the CNO.

No. This is the predictable result of three things Big Navy has control of, but by acts of commission and omission, consistently made the wrong decision.

Wound One: Material Condition:

(We) did a ship-by-ship review, to understand the material state of each of the ships. What we found on the LSDs is that they are challenged in terms of readiness.

As we have covered here for the better part of two decades, as have others, the Navy decided to take savings from maintenance, hide once UNCLAS INSURV behind a classified wall, and - like someone avoiding the dentist or a regular physical - more than willing make things easy by doing nothing now, knowing full well that it will only be worse later on. Unlike tooth pain or colon cancer though, the person making things easy now is not the same as the person who will take the pain later. Kind of like a programmatic/leadership "Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Sociopathic Tendencies." 

Leadership let their fleet rot, and then pretends as if it was something that happened to the Navy, not allowed by the Navy.

Wound Two: The Tiffany Amphib:

“What we are making sure that we are doing as we move forward with our budget plans, is making sure that we have the right capabilities at the right price aligned to not only meeting military requirements, but working with industry,” Raven said. “And for LPD, we're taking a look at the acquisition strategy moving forward, again, to make sure that we would have the right capabilities at the right price and working with industry partners to put together that plan moving forward.”

From the start of the LPD-17 program, our ongoing criticism was that this was way to expensive on a per-hull basis for the mission of a LPD. From the titanium firemain on, the entire design had no respect for budget challenges to buy the numbers needed so in a future conflict, we were not one or two ships sunk from being mission ineffective, but here we are. 

It took a lot of seabags full of money and Sailor sweat to fix the ship, but her cost remains a sea-anchor if you wanted more ships in 2024. If you need 10-ships, but price each unit such that you can only buy 7 ships - you own that 3 ship delta.

Would Three: Institutional Parochialism: 

Berger on Monday reiterated the reasoning behind the 31-ship requirement for amphibs.

“Anything less incurs risk to national defense by limiting the options for our combatant commanders,” he said in a statement to Defense One. “Per strategic guidance, the Marine Corps must be able to provide the nation with crisis response capabilities and build partnerships with allies and partners in support of integrated deterrence—difficult to achieve without the requisite number of amphibious warships.”


Buying amphibious ships tends to be the last priority for the Navy after spending shipbuilding funds on aircraft carriers, submarines, and destroyers, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Bryan Clark said March 9 during Defense One’s State of the Navy event.

“Whatever gets left over is what can go towards the amphibious ships and the support ships. And when you do all the numbers for that, you always end up with you know maybe not quite enough for the amphibious ships, because if you're building one LHA every four or five years that you can incrementally fund, that's a chunk of money that's on the scale of you know, $500 million a year. And then you've got maybe $500 million or a billion dollars leftover for one more amphibious ship, which isn't quite an LPD,” Clark said.

From promotion rates to "prestige" - the Gator Navy has always been like that really good offensive lineman. They do their job and no one ever hears about them. Though they are paid less and don't get endorsements, without them no quarterback would be able to shine - no team achieve victory - and yet, the bias remains.

How exactly are we supposed to take and hold territory across the vast Pacific littoral? Who will do that, with what, and in how many places?

There are a lot of emoting going on about problems now that are directly the predicable results of decisions we've made.

As we review our budget, perhaps we also need to review our institutional system of incentives and disincentives that drive such decisions; the rewards and punishments that result in the selection of the leaders who make them.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Money Talks: the UK Edition

The long post-Cold War period of low defense spending - for serious nations - is coming to an end ... at least those are the words and the vibe ... but what are the actions?

It is one thing to say you want to do more, the United Kingdom is actually talking about putting its money where their theory is;

The UK will spend an extra £5bn on its military and aim to lift defence spending to 2.5% of GDP as part of an updated strategy to counter intensifying threats from China and Russia.

Aspirations are good ... and so are statements of reality. Did you note the "C" word?

The revised defence, security and foreign policy review will describe the Chinese Communist Party as an "epoch-defining challenge" in a toughening of language.

The top priority will be to tackle the "fundamental risk" to European security posed by Moscow and to deny President Vladimir Putin from benefitting from his invasion of Ukraine. 

It is easy at this point to, like I did, get a little too must towards singing "Rule Britannia," as we will have to watch for a followthrough. That is always the hard part. Applied optimism leavened with the cynicism of experience;

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking before his updated review is published on Monday, said the new money for defence over the next two years would replenish and grow ammunition stockpiles and top-up funding for the nuclear deterrent.

This is a wise first move. No one can deny that the last 30-yrs of wargaming, theory, and funding of magazine depth and industrial capacity was an exercise in self-delusion. This would be my recommendation.

Of course, like we are doing with the new SSBN, an expensive bit of kit, the British have to recapitalize that as well. If you want to have a credible strategic deterrence, you have to make it happen. Not the best timing, but such is the flow of history.

Investing in her nuclear deterrent will have a nice knock-on effect of beefing up their submarine construction capabilities in preparation for AUKUS builds in the 2030s,

To synch back to one of my favorite phrases as it relates to the Mother Country, like her children she is a maritime and aerospace power. That is where her comparative advantage is. Yes, a strong army is needed, but if funding is not exactly as great as you would like - if you have to place risk somewhere - for a maritime and aerospace power, the land component is where that risk must be;

But the amount - while welcomed by the Ministry of Defence - is much less than what military chiefs are thought to require. Sources have told Sky News that the British Army alone needs an extra £3bn a year to avoid further cuts.

Then they need to find more money ... and this is when Lucy walks up to Charlie Brown with a football;

Mr Sunak, on a trip to the United States, also failed to commit to a timeframe on when his ambition for defence expenditure to reach 2.5% of national income, up from just over 2%, would be achieved other than in the "longer term".

That is ... unfortunate. The ever famous "out years," but I'll take it. 

At least the British are stretching to reach 2.5% - many of the rest of our allies aspire to get near 2%.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Spring Back to the Front of the NATSEC World on Midrats


As we ended last week's show with a whole list of topics we wanted to discuss, this Sunday we're going to pick up right where we left off with a Midrats Maritime Melee!

From submarines to Australia to the opening of mud season in Ukraine, we'll cover the latest - or at least the more interesting - topics in the national security arena.

As with all our free-for-all formats, we have open topic and the switchboard phone line is open. If you have a topic you would like to discussed or want to call in with a question for the hosts ... join us live from 5-6pm Eastern.

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.

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, March 10, 2023

Fullbore Friday

Many know about the second USS LAFFEY (DD-724), the "ship that would not die," but what about the first?

Put yourself in the shoes of its first, and only, Captain.

Your ship is only been commissioned seven months. Heck, she still smells of shipyard.

You don't care though.  

Sure, it took you 15-years after you graduated from Annapolis to make LCDR, but that's OK. Promotions were slow from 1925 to the buildup before the war. Two years later you get command of brand new destroyer, the USS LAFFEY (DD-459) just five months after Pearl Harbor.

You get through your shakedown cruise and five months in to command you bring your crew of 208 Sailors in to combat.

Less than a month after arriving in the southwest pacific, your crew had their first test at Battle of Cape Esperance. 

The action would not stop ... but the night of 13 November 1942 would make your ship legend;

LAFFEY sighted both Japanese battleships shortly after CUSHING came under fire. LAFFEY passed under the bow of HIEI at a range of 20 yards, blasting the battleship at point-blank range with 5” shells and 20mm fire (officers on the bridge of LAFFEY also fired their side-arms at the battleship.) RADM Abe and the captain of HIEI were both wounded and Abe’s Chief of Staff killed by fire from LAFFEY. Abe did not remember the rest of the battle after being wounded. The early hits from LAFFEY and CUSHING, set HIEI’s massive superstructure aflame (described by some as a like a burning high rise apartment building) with the result that HIEI drew fire and numerous hits (over 85) from almost every U.S. ship engaged in the battle, resulting in massive topside damage, but none which penetrated to her vitals. In the confusion HIEI also fired on several Japanese destroyers. LAFFEY escaped from HIEI only to run into the large anti-aircraft destroyer TERUZUKI, which scored repeated hits on LAFFEY and blew off her stern with a torpedo before a salvo of 14” shells from the battleship KIRISHIMA hit LAFFEY. TERUZUKI avoided using her searchlight and as a result avoided drawing fire. As fires raged out of control from more hits by three other Japanese destroyers, LCDR Hank gave the order to abandon ship, just before a massive explosion tore LAFFEY apart, killing Hank and many men.

Presidential Unit Citation. LCDR Hank awarded posthumous Navy Cross.

Out of that crew of 208?  57 KIA/114 WIA. That is an 82% casualty rate.


Thursday, March 09, 2023

Diversity Thursday

No well meaning, honest person can say that it is bad to desire a color blind society, to want everyone to be treated equally relative to immutable characteristics, or to be judged by the content of their character - and then tell you they oppose racism. 

No one who desire a free nation should want to compel speech to squash debate ... but here we are.

The absolute worst people in public discourse cannot argue their position, cannot stand for their policies to see the light of day ... so they will instead strive to destroy any voice that runs counter to their own. 

Weak people with weak ideas are always the most vicious. 

Congrats, you are a Canada.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has redefined being racist as anybody who believes in “equality but not equity” or those who “refuse to engage in self-reflection and education to address their own” supposedly racist beliefs. 

This is an amazing bit of Maoist positioning by Canada. Everyone get your self-criticism written and dunce hat fitted.

This Cultural Marxist Kendism is what, without a pause, the CNO thought everyone should think about, 

Note how it weaves in the very defendable with socio-political sectarianism. Simply destructive, and will lead to more conflict, not less ... but that is the point of this whole grift. It was too close to going away ... and there is too much money to make - they can't let unity and equality be the standard.

What an evil ... what is it ... a religion, political philosophy, cult? Don't know ... but there is no place where things get better in their world. Crisis and strife is their oxygen. 

Admiral Gilday would still be pointing our Navy towards this nasty bit of sectarianism if Congress did not put as much pressure on him as it did. Don't forget that.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Nord Stream's Tap on the Shoulder

Outside everyone's interest in knowing "who'dun'it" in the blowing up on the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea, there has yet to be an full appreciation of the larger meaning of its destruction.

1937's bombing of Guernica gave a preview of what would befall Europe's cities just a few years later. The Russo-Ukrainian War is giving hints of what has changed over the last few decades that should give everyone pause to review their assumptions and critical vulnerabilities. Small and medium wars are good for that - they give hints to issues that will arise in future large wars.

While it is easier to understand, even in the face of "sea blindness," the importance of the trade that arrives by ship, food and fuel at the top of the list, from the man on the street to policy makers in nations' capitals, the importance of what lies on the sea bed is lost to most.

Though focused on the UK, our friend Alessio Patalano today has an article up at the Council on Geostrategy,  Unseen but Vital: Britain and Undersea Security, that is worth an investment in your time for a quick read;

The first and third aspects of today’s maritime century have direct relevance to undersea security. Maritime connectivity is both a function of, and a key driver behind, contemporary prosperity. It is a well-known fact that some 90% of global trade is carried by sea, yet it is a less well-known fact that some 99% of the world’s communications are delivered by 1.4 million kilometres of submarine cables. Of no less significance, a substantial part of gas and electricity resources is delivered through a series of undersea connectors.

...between 2010 and 2021, the capacity of energy interconnectors has increased to unprecedented levels. According to official data, electricity imports to the UK increased almost tenfold, with HM Government planning to expand the country’s capacity from 7,440 megawatts to 18 gigawatts by 2030.

Within this context, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and the Republic of Ireland are primary energy trade partners for the UK, with new interconnectors set to link the UK to Germany and Denmark in the near future. The undersea security of Northern Europe is indivisible from the security of the UK.

By a similar token, much of the UK economy and social services rest upon the continuous and uninterrupted use of undersea cables delivering data connectivity. As one informed observer recently noted, a disruption to the network of the approximately 60 British undersea cables would have potentially devastating consequences. Incredibly diverse aspects of life in the UK, from multimillion international bank transactions to medical activities resting on access to cloud-based access to data, would be at risk if a sufficient number of cables were severed or sabotaged.

As we covered in a FbF back in 2009, attacking undersea cables dates back to the 19th Century - but the modern reliance on what is on the sea bed is orders of magnitude greater than just telegraphs were back then.

Getting to them is not easy ... but life once they are cut is even less easy. 

Time to think about what is needed to keep them secure, especially in any time of heightened tensions...but in an era of international terrorism, is there really a time of peace for vulnerable targets?

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part XCVII

As important as it is to count the number and type of warships the People's Republic of China (PRC) is building for their navy is, how productive their shipyards are, and even the negative impact of their crashing demographics - there are other things that are arguably more important to track in order to see what the challenge will be before it comes over the horizon. 

That is what we have been doing for the last 18-years of the "Long Game" series on the PRC - looking further than the threat of the next few POM cycles. The PRC is playing a long game, we should do our best to understand it.

Where a warship has an effective life of 30-yrs or a bit more, there are assets that last much longer, continually modernize themselves, and when combined together, are much more powerful in aggregate than the sum of the individuals - that is human capital, specifically intellectual capital.

In 2023, the American taxpayer and their elected representatives would not stand by and accept if our defense contractors were building warships, aircraft, and armored vehicles for the PRC's military (one hopes). No arguments from industry about profits or the number of jobs these contracts would bring to communities in the USA would gain traction (one hopes). If anything, it would bring a popular revolt (one hopes).   

If that is true, then why would the American higher education system be any different? Specifically I am referencing the top research universities - which almost all American taxpayers pay for - STEM undergraduate, and especially the very few masters and PhD programs? 

I don't care if they are paying full price - why are we helping the PRC develop their future technology?

Anyone who, like your humble blogg'r, has kids and relatives of college age whose graduation ceremonies you attend can tell, PRC passport holders are taking up a HUGE portion of available slots. In a highly competitive environment, the difference between getting a spot or not in highly competitive programs at our top universities is a matter of small degrees. For each PRC national getting a PhD in chemical engineering at a top tier university, that is an American citizen - or the citizen of an allied nation - who is not.

This has been going on for decades. What is the result? 

Over at Breaking Defense there is a nice wakeup call to what we have helped create;

In a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the US comes second to China in the majority of critical technology research areas examined, like artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology and quantum technology and specifically in defense and space-related technologies. The report uses ASPI’s new Critical Technology Tracker, a tool that lets users track 44 technologies considered “foundational” for national security, economies and more areas.


China is outpacing the US and other democratic nations in 37 out of 44 technology research areas considered advanced and critical, setting the stage for potentially devastating immediate and long-term consequences if western nations don’t “wake up,” according to a think tank’s latest findings. 

In a large part building off the first generation of people educated in the USA and other Western nations' best universities, the PRC has some good universities ... but they cannot hold a candle to the culture of innovation and research at ours. In dual use technology areas ... we are not just helping them get a technological edge, we are helping them bring their military closer to a qualitive equality - eating away at our hedge against the quantity a nation 4x the size of ours will bring to any fight.

In many of these areas, the PRC is not a "pacing" or "rising" threat - they've already lapped us;

“To close, and surpass, the technological gap China is creating, the US not only needs to invest more, but also harness the power of commercial data to inform strategic investments to expel foreign influence and adversarial capital from our industrial base,” she added. “Only then can we begin to find America’s edge in the fight against China.”
People matter.

We cannot change the mistakes of the past. The PRC has what they have.

“In the long term, China’s leading research position means that it has set itself up to excel not just in current technological development in almost all sectors, but in future technologies that don’t yet exist…,” the report says.

What we can do is control our decisions for the future. If someone from the PRC wants to come to the USA to get a PhD in Gender Studies; knock yourself out. Comparative French Literature? Sure.

Other things ... naw ... 

ASPI made a total of 23 recommendations in its report, calling for increased investments in areas like research and development, talent development and the production of intelligence strategies, while also advocating for governments to come up with more creative policy ideas and more collaboration between partners and allies. 
This is the point of the article that I started to get frustrated. You can almost feel the author trying NOT to propose what is the most logical first step; stop training your adversaries.

Until we stop underwriting the development and ongoing modernization of the PRC's intellectual capital, their strength and dominance in existing and emerging strategic dual use technology will only grow.

Universities will not do it. At the State level, citizens need to tell their governors and state legislatures they don't want their universities sending citizens away in order to take PRC money. At the federal level, Congress must act where appropriate.

Graph credit Eric Rosenblum.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Retention: the Little Big Things

You can't grow a Navy if you can't find a place for the people you have today to work.

You won't even be able to recruit them.

People decide to join the military or a whole raft of reasons from the honorable to the random to the undefinable. A significant number of those reasons are word of mouth from friends or family who are already serving. 

Once in, keeping a productive climate where the demanding nature of the military adds enough stress and frustration is a hard balance. It is often based on the degree servicemembers feel their command/service "has their back" and is trying to provide the most basic support so the servicemember can do the job they joined to do.

Every time the military screws up pay, makes Sailors wait 3-hrs for a 5-minute evolution, forces them to use a website interface that is slow, dysfunctional, or has impossible software/hardware requirements - the people we try so hard to get to join and stay have one more thing to add to their list of reasons to go.

As we talked about towards the end of yesterday's Midrats - something as simple and straight forward as parking should be one of the most fixable things we do - and is something we stubbornly insist that we won't fix.

We know how many Sailors we have. We know where they work, etc...

However ... we seem to have lost the bubble - and have for decades - on the fact that there is a gap in our understanding that these people - who we like to say are our most valuable asset - have to drive to work, park, and then get to where they are assigned.

Basic stuff.

The notice below from the commander of Naval Base San Diego below came across the transom last week and triggered me into one of those vicarious frustration/anger moods for a bit. 

This is not a new or unidentified problem. I remember well the nightmare of 1990s NB Norfolk - and that experience set in stone my dislike of these mega-master bases. I've been stationed at big, medium, and as a baby JO a small naval base. The larger the base, the lower the quality of work, quality of life, and negative impact on work-life balance. 

From pass-tag, PSD, to the traffic jams at peak times - mega bases are a dystopian horror in a Soviet like cultural way. 

Because of the massive nature of bases like NB San Diego, NB Norfolk, NAS Jacksonville etc - especially for servicemembers who have families and can't afford to pay for private schooling - a 45-minute or more commute to affordable housing and good schools is not uncommon. Then you get on base, you have to park a long way away unless you get there REAL early. 

San Diego is nice, but in the heat and rain of summer in Virginia or Florida - every time you have to hike in 95F to the car you parked half a mile away after an hour commute that AM with a walk in that soaked you to the bone in rain before dawn, worked 10-hrs, and now it will take you 20-min to get off of base and another 45-min to drive home ... you might be a little cynical - especially when the people telling you that parking is part of the job have assigned parking space 10-yards from the quarterdeck.

In the civilian sector, any company that forced its employees to have such a difficult situation would soon find itself losing their best employees and those remaining were disgruntled until you went out of business.

This is a decades old problem because for some reasons we have an institutional mindset set in the middle decades of the 20th Century when most Sailors lived on ship, on base, or near base and reliable public transportation was an actual thing.

We are approaching the mid-21st Century and we refuse to do what other organizations adjusted to decades ago.

One of the first things a competent organization does it make sure their people have convenient parking to get to work. There is nothing magic here. Parking garages with multiple floors are not exotic, are poured concrete.

How many trillions of dollars have we spent in the US military in the last decade? I checked in with a few folks who work on Naval Base San Diego and asked them exactly what Sailors who live off base have to deal with each day. How much time do they spend each day just getting from their car to the quarterdeck? 

How about an hour.

How much "free time" does your standard issue sea duty Sailor have per day?

So, Sailors will find ways to get better parking. Is asking someone who averages 5-hrs of sleep a day to "come in earlier" a good response? No. 

If it looks like a parking spot, people will treat it like one. That creates problems. Those responsible for the safety and appearance of bases get a bit grumpy when people do that ... and yet, there is a cost-benefit analysis going on here. 

Choices: a Sailor can park in a place that doesn't have lines but isn't a hazard and will make muster in 10-minutes (there was a wreck on the way in eating up 30-min of the 15-min buffer he gives himself each day), or he can park a half-mile away, maybe, and make muster.

People will do what they have to do. Then Big Navy has to respond. 

To start with, I don't blame the Commander of NB San Diego. He has a problem that isn't fixing itself regardless of previous efforts. He isn't the one who for decades did not build adequate parking. He isn't the one who decided to make a large base larger in one of the most densely populated parts of the nation. He just has to find a way to make it work with what he has in his PCS cycle.

That is where I found my triggered self not directing my ire towards beautiful San Diego and its leaders, but once again to the permanent class that is the Potomac Flotilla. 

How many times have the issues with parking in San Diego, Norfolk and other soul-sucking mega-bases been raised to the Regional Commanders and then on to OPNAV in that dysfunctional imperial city?

This isn't the base commander's fault - this is the fault of over a quarter century's worth of Chiefs of Naval Operations.

At the end of the day, that is where the buck stops and forces a base commander - in desperation - to draconian actions against Sailors who are not lazy or disobedient, no, they are just exhausted and trying to get to work on time.

This isn't just unnecessary - it is an abusive relationship between 4-star leadership and their Sailors.

No other large organization would be able to treat employees like this in the 21st Century. 

Oh, and what a hell of a Valentine's Day love letter.


Sunday, March 05, 2023

March Maritime Melee on Midrats!


The news does not stop on the national security front, and as we approach the end of 1QCY23, a couple of weeks without a Midrats can only add to everyone's confusion.

For the full hour we're going to cover the waterfront from the Sea of Azov to the parking lots of San Diego's waterfront.

As with all our free-for-all formats, we have open topic and the switchboard phone line is open. If you have a topic you would like to discussed or want to call in with a question for the hosts ... join us live from 5-6pm Eastern.

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.

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, March 03, 2023

Fullbore Friday


Though the Americans are now in the fight, still on every front; desperation.

At every morning brief, more ships sunk.

The enemy surrounds you as you starve.

Your ships and aircraft sit idle for lack of fuel and parts.

Through waves of attacks, a relief convoy comes ... and you wait.

Do they know your desperation? Will they make it? What can be done?

Well, in comes the US merchant marine professional, Captain Dudley Mason - the master of the tanker SS OHIO - and his crew and convoy.

For the details, let's look at the citation for his George Cross and the award to two of his crew, Frederick August Larsen, Jr., Junior Third Officer and Francis A. Dales, Deck Cadet-Midshipman on SS Santa Elisa/SS Ohio. 

A little note about those two men, they were not originally part of the crew of the OHIO. They had been rescued from the SS SANTA ELISA when it was sunk. Then they volunteered to man the guns on the Ohio. Via WWIIToday:

During the passage to Malta of an important convoy Captain Mason’s ship suffered most violent onslaught. She was a focus of attack throughout and was torpedoed early one night. Although gravely damaged, her engines were kept going and the Master made a magnificent passage by hand-steering and without a compass.

The ship’s gunners helped to bring down one of the attacking aircraft. The vessel was hit again before morning, but though she did not sink, her engine room was wrecked. She was then towed. The unwieldy condition of the vessel and persistent enemy attacks made progress slow, and it was uncertain whether she would remain afloat.

All next day progress somehow continued and the ship reached Malta after a further night at sea. The violence of the enemy could not deter the Master from his purpose. Throughout he showed skill and courage of the highest order and it was due to his determination that, in spite of the most persistent enemy opposition, the vessel, with her valuable cargo, eventually reached Malta and was safely berthed.
The George Cross citation is very brief, as is the British custom. More detail is available with Larsen and Dales' Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal citation;
His ship was a freighter carrying drums of high-octane gasoline, one of two American ships, in a small British convoy to Malta. Orders were to “get through at all costs.” Heavily escorted, the convoy moved into the Mediterranean, and before noon of that day the enemy’s attack began. From then on the entire convoy was under constant attack from Axis planes and submarines. Assigned the command of an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bridge, Dales contributed to the successful defense of his ship for three days.

At 4:00 A.M. on the morning of the fourth day, torpedo boats succeeded in breaking through and two attacked from opposite sides. Sneaking in close under cover of the darkness one opened point-blank fire on Dales’s position with four .50 caliber machine guns, sweeping the bridge and killing three of his gun crew in the first bursts. The other sent its deadly torpedo into the opposite side of the freighter. Neither the heavy fire from the first torpedo boat nor the torpedo from the second drove Dales and his crew from their gun. With only flashes to fire at in the darkness, he found the target and the first boat burst into flames and sank. But the torpedo launched by the other had done its deadly work. The high-test gasoline cargo ignited and the American ship was engulfed in flames. Reluctantly, orders were given to abandon her.

Two hours later, the survivors were picked up by a British destroyer, which then proceeded to take in tow a tanker [SS Ohio] that had been bombed and could not maneuver. After five hours constant dive-bombing, the tanker was hit again–her crew abandoned her–and the destroyer was forced to cut her loose. But the cargo she carried was most important to the defense of Malta, and it had to get through. The rescue destroyer and another destroyer steamed in– lashed themselves on either side of the stricken tanker–and dragged her along in a determined attempt to get her to port.

Dales and four others volunteered to go aboard the tanker and man her guns in order to bring more fire power to their defense. The shackled ships, inching along and making a perfect target, were assailed by concentrated enemy airpower. All that day wave after wave of German and Italian bombers dived at them and were beaten off by a heavy barrage. Bombs straddled them, scoring near misses, but no direct hits were made until noon the next day, when the tanker finally received a bomb down her stack which blew out the bottom of her engine room. Though she continued to settle until her decks were awash, they fought her through until dusk that day brought them under the protection of the hard fighting air force out of Malta.
Here's the twist. How did they get the OHIO back to port with this much damage?
Because of the vital importance of her cargo (10,000 tons of fuel which would enable the aircraft and submarines based at Malta to return to the offensive), she could not be abandoned. In a highly unusual manoeuvre, the two destroyers (HMS PENN and HMS LEDBURY) supported her to provide buoyancy and power for the remainder of the voyage.

Mission focused; mission first.


First posted AUG2018.