Tuesday, March 21, 2023

60-Minutes Does our Navy - and the Nation - a Solid. I'll take the "W."

A regular topic of conversation here and on Midrats (it came up quite a bit on Sunday’s podcast with Jerry Hendrix), is the lack of discussion in the public space about the importance of a strong Navy to our republic’s economic and military security. Sure, inside our salons, slack channels, and email threads we talk to each other a lot, but we seem to have a hard time getting our message out to the general public.

Sunday night’s 60-Minutes was an exception to the rule. There is a lot of credit to go around here. First of all, you have to give credit to the 60-Minutes team fronted by Norah O’Donnell and lead producers Keith Sharman and Roxanne Feitel. This two-segment effort was not just on a topic we all are interested in, it was just plain good journalism.

Sure, I have a nit to pic here and there, but that is just my nature. Perfect? No … but it is one of the best bits of solid, down the middle journalism about our Navy and its challenges I have seen from a major network for a long time. 

If you missed it, CBS has published the video and transcript that I’m going to pull some bits from below for conversation.

The second segment was more meatier than the first, but the first is important. It isn’t just where Big Navy got a chance to make a run at media capture with the "C-2 to the Big Deck at sea" show that we all love, but it will introduce many people to someone who is very good at his job and representing the Navy, Admiral Samuel Paparo, USN.

He gets your attention early by, even though clearly well prepared and sticking to scripted talking points and marketing pitches here and there of questionable utility, he also spoke in blunt terms in a way we don't hear enough in venues such as this;

Admiral Samuel Paparo commands the U.S. Pacific Fleet, whose 200 ships and 150,000 sailors and civilians make up 60% of the entire U.S. Navy.  We met him last month on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz deployed near the U.S. territory of Guam, southeast of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, or PRC.

Norah O'Donnell: You've been operating as a naval officer for 40 years. How has operating in the Western Pacific changed?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: In the early 2000s the PRC Navy mustered about 37 vessels. Today, they're mustering 350 vessels.


60 Minutes has spent months talking to current and former naval officers, military strategists and politicians about the state of the U.S. Navy. One common thread in our reporting is unease, both about the size of the U.S. fleet and its readiness to fight. The Navy's ships are being retired faster than they're getting replaced, while the navy of the People's Republic of China or PRC, grows larger and more lethal by the year. We asked the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Samuel Paparo, about this on our visit to the USS Nimitz, the oldest aircraft carrier in the Navy.

Admiral Samuel Paparo: We call it the Decade of Concern. We've seen a tenfold increase in the size of the PRC Navy. 

Norah O'Donnell: Technically speaking, the Chinese now have the largest navy in the world, in terms of number of ships, correct?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: Yes. Yes.

Norah O'Donnell: Do the numbers matter?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: Yes. As the saying goes, "Quantity has a quality all its own." 

This is exactly how the answer needs to be delivered. No squish, no excessive spin - acknowledge the reality of where we are. 

More of this from more senior leaders.

There was some subtlety as well. When he first said this, about 10-seconds later I decided to rewind to listen to it again. 

Norah O'Donnell: And if China invades Taiwan, what will the U.S. Navy do?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: It's a decision of the president of the United States and a decision of the Congress. It's our duty to be ready for that. But the bulk of the United States Navy will be deployed rapidly to the Western Pacific to come to the aid of Taiwan if the order comes to aid Taiwan in thwarting that invasion.

Norah O'Donnell: Is the U.S. Navy ready?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: We're ready, yes. I'll never admit to being ready enough.  

Did you catch that? He can't say, "We're not ready." as if the call comes, we can and will execute what we are tasked ... and initially will be ready to do what we can with the reduced numbers we have ... but everyone knows there is a huge asterisk next to "ready." 

We don't have enough escort ships. We don't have enough VLS tubes. We don't have a large enough airwing with long enough legs. We don't have enough reliable and robust tanking. We don't have much of a bench ... so, we are "ready" - but not even close to being "ready enough." A subtle distinction with not so subtle implications.

We also need to give a nod to our Navy for not having only the 4-stars talk to CBS. LCDR David Ash, USN got some good face time with the camera, and his fellow LCDR Matthew Carlton, USN blessed us with his superb deployment stash.

60-Minute's graphics department also gets credit for the video that the pic at the top of this post is a screen capture of. 

One of the most important things someone can do who is interested in understanding the western Pacific from the PRC's POV is to see it from their shores in an east-up orientation. Where only a small group of PRC focused navalists have shared the image or have that projection on their wall were blessed with that perspective, now it is in the minds of at least hundreds of thousands more people.

This is how the Chinese Communist Party sees the Western Pacific, including the South and East China Seas from Beijing. Taiwan is the fulcrum in what China's leaders call "the first island chain," a constellation of U.S. allies that stretches across its entire coast.  Control of Taiwan is the strategic key to unlocking direct access to the Pacific and the sea lanes where about 50% of the world's commerce gets transported.

Norah O'Donnell: China has accused the United States of trying to contain them. What do you say to China?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: I would say, "Do you need to be contained? Are you expanding? Are you an expansionist power?" To a very great extent, the United States was the champion for China's rise. And in no way are we seeking to contain China. But we are seeking for them to play by the rules.

...and that is where the friction lies. The PRC holds the "rules" in contempt because they had no role in making them. As they don't like the rules, they are bit by bit changing them. From creating no-go zones in the South China Sea that once were open seas, to putting their flag down on the island nations of the southwest Pacific, to bending policies in Latin American nations, to being an observer at the Arctic Council to match their Arctic strategy.

Rules can, and are, being changed.

There was another point where Admiral Paparo put a marker down that someone can pick up and run with ... hey, I think I'll do that now;

Norah O'Donnell: How much do you worry about the PLA Rocket Force?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: I worry. You know, I-- I'd be a fool to not worry about it. Of course I worry about the PLA Rocket Force. And of course I work every single day to develop the tactics and the techniques and the procedures to counter it, and to continue to develop the systems that can also defend-- against them.

Norah O'Donnell: About how far are we from mainland China?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: Fifteen hundred nautical miles.

Norah O'Donnell: They can hit us.

Admiral Samuel Paparo: Yes they can. If they've got the targeting in place, they could hit this aircraft carrier. If I don't want to be hit, there's something I can do about it.

Ahhhhh, yes. Time to bring back one of my favorite graphics.

Draw a 1,500nm circle from the PLARF launch sites and look at what land based airfields, bases, depots and facilities of all sorts are located under that threat. They cannot move. A navy and sea based facilities can.

Undersold point, but Paparo is leaving it there for you to run with.

As a recidivist staff weenie, I swelled with pride at this moment. Nothing happens by accident;

Norah O'Donnell: I just noticed out of the corner of my eye. 

Admiral Samuel Paparo: This is a 688 class, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine. This is the most capable submarine on the planet. You know, with the exception of the Virginia class, our newer class of submarines.

Someone on that staff needs a NCM. Having that SSN heave in to view at that time and that place is simply 5.0 staff work. BZ to everyone, and like most of this visit, just all around well done. 

We've all seen such opportunities not work out all that well, but the time on NIMITZ was simply our Navy at its best. Paparo's staff, the crew of NIMITZ, the Strike Group, and Airwing all just did a superb job. Yes, there were a few PAOisms and talking points, but the visit and interviews were honest and praiseworthy. Paparo will get most of the credit, but everyone underway on that visit just did a superb job.

However, the following comment gave me pause, and it serves to make a point...I think.

Norah O'Donnell: How much more advanced is U.S. submarine technology than Chinese capability?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: A generation.

Norah O'Donnell: A generation.

Admiral Samuel Paparo: And-- by generation, think 10 or 20 years. But broadly, I don't really talk in depth about submarine capabilities. It's the silent service.

OK, I left active duty 13 yrs ago or so, but ... ummm ... I recall the PLAN submarine force then, and I also know roughly what the state of the US SSN were in 2013 and 2003, 10 and 20 years ago. If the PRC is pushing out new construction on par with what we were building even in 2003, much less 2013 ... ummm ... eek. 

To avoid me having a drop, flop, and foam panic attack, we'll call it an overstatement mulligan.

Also, that SSN is an LA Class SSN. I'm not sure which one, but the last one was commissioned in 1996. That was 27 years ago.

So. Let's just leave that there to simmer.

Norah O'Donnell: One recent-- nonclassified war game had the U.S. prevailing but losing 20 ships, including two carriers. Does that sound about right?

Admiral Samuel Paparo: That is a plausible outcome. I can imagine a more pessimistic outcome. And I can imagine a more optimistic outcome. We should be clear-eyed about the costs that we're potentially incurring 

There are about 5,000 Americans on board the Nimitz.  The ship is nearly half a century old. Given the Navy's current needs in the Pacific and because there's fuel left in its nuclear reactors, the carrier's life at sea is going to be extended.

Again, Paparo does a superior job here, but I want to take the last bit to remind everyone what war at sea looks like. Does everyone here fully understand what a loss of two CVN and 18 other ships would mean? 

Let's go back to March 10th's FbF about the loss in combat of the USS Laffey (DD-459),

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

We have 5,000 Sailors on each CVN. That is 10,000 Sailors. Let's uses a round number from a Flight II Arleigh Burke DDG manning of 300 as we don't know in that wargame what the other 18 ships were lost. That gives you another 5,400 Sailors for 15,400 total. 

With a 82% casualty rate, that is 12,628 Sailors; 4,158 killed and 8,470 wounded. That is almost as many killed in the last two decades fighting in Iraq (4,431). 

Killed not in 20 years, but a few weeks to months - maybe days.

That is what it is all about, which leads us to a great point brought up by two of the best people who served in the last Congress, Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA). 

Again, the right people to talk to.

Norah O'Donnell: What is it about the U.S. Navy that has allowed the two of you to find common cause?

Rep. Mike Gallagher: I think we-- share a sense of the urgency of the moment. We see increasing threats from China in particular in the Indo-Pacific. We feel like we're not moving fast enough to build a bigger Navy.


Norah O'Donnell: What would you say the state of the U.S. Navy is today?

Rep. Elaine Luria: I think the Navy has not received the attention and resources that it needs over two decades. I mean, I served on six different ships. Every single one of those ships was either built during or a product of the fleet that was built-- in the Cold War. 

Both Mike Gallagher and Elaine Luria have lobbied for government money for the shipyards in or near their districts, but they say this is less about jobs and more about national security. 

Rep. Elaine Luria: If we don't get this right, all of these other things we're doing in Congress ultimately-- might not matter.

She is exactly right - it might not matter. That is a deep comment we should all stop and ponder a bit.

There were a few Easter Eggs here for the Front Porch. You should all take a moment to savor. We've been at this together for almost two decades. Our arguments have soaked in. Enjoy:

Over the last two decades, the Navy spent $55 billion on two investments that did not pan out. The first was a class of Destroyers known as the Zumwalt. The futuristic fighting ships were supposed to revolutionize naval warfare. Thirty-two were ordered, but only three were ever launched. The cost of each ship, by one estimate, was upwards of $8 billion, making them the three most expensive Destroyers ever put to sea.

Another example is the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS, designed to be a fast all-purpose warship for shallow waters. Thirty billion dollars later the program ran aground after structural defects and engine trouble. Within the Navy, the LCS earned the unfortunate nickname, little crappy ship.

Norah O'Donnell: The Navy's last few decades have been described as a lost generation of shipbuilding. Is that overly dramatic? 

Don't get too full of yourselves folks, but take a bow. It wouldn't be there without you.

Next we had the CNO. He was a bit more off then on here. He looked if not unwell, at least very tired. Where Paparo gets an A- for his appearance - well prepared but not over scripted - I think the CNO got at best a B- as he was over-prepared and ready with talking point phrases that were just not appropriate for the moment. 

There were some things that just clunked;

Norah O'Donnell: Is the Navy in crisis?

Admiral Mike Gilday: No, the Navy's not in crisis. The Navy is out on point every single day.

Norah O'Donnell: Is it being outpaced by China? 

Admiral Mike Gilday: No. Our Navy's still in a position to prevail. But that's not blind confidence. We are concerned with the trajectory that China's on, with China's behavior. But we are in a good position right now-- if we did ever get into a fight against them. 

Ummm, CNO; no one thinks our Navy is doing great right now. This was not a rah-rah moment, this was an opportunity to ask for help to get our maintenance, stores, and fleet numbers aligned with requirements. A lost opportunity. His comments are simply not aligned with an objective review of the facts on the ground.

We should be less concerned with the trajectory the PRC is on - which we can't control - but with the trajectory we are on - that we can.

Another morale booster for the Front Porch, the CNO did repeat something he states on a regular basis and good for him that he does. Spot on.

Admiral Mike Gilday: I think one of the things that we learned-- was that we need to-- have a design well in place before we begin bending metal. And so we are going back-- to the past, to what we did in the '80s and the '90s, the Navy has the lead.

In the first and second decades of this century, how many people rolled in to comments here to tell us our critique represented "old think," that we didn't get the "new Navy" or were disconnected from "new methods?" 

Well, ha! He who laughs last laughs best. We were right, and in 2023, the CNO is with us circa 2004.

Especially for those who are subscribers to the Midrats podcast (going in to its 14th year) and readers here through the years, one of our regular and favorite guests made and appearance, Toshi Yoshihara; 

Toshi Yoshihara: China will have about 440 ships by 2030. And that's according to the Pentagon.

Norah O'Donnell: Why is China able to build more warships more quickly than the U.S.?

Toshi Yoshihara: China has clearly invested in this defense industrial infrastructure to produce these ships, which allows them to produce multiple ships simultaneously, essentially outbuilding many of the western navies combined.

They then went on to discuss issues with industry that in addition to what we linked to at the top of the post, we also discussed with Jerry Hendrix on last Sunday's Midrats.

If you want more Toshi, you can listen to his January visit to Midrats, or read his latest book we talked about; Mao's Army Goes to Sea: The Island Campaigns and the Founding of China's Navy.

Again, the CNO lost another opportunity by refusing to state hard truths.

Norah O'Donnell: What do you see when you see China's shipbuilding program?

Admiral Mike Gilday: It's very robust.

Norah O'Donnell: Do we have enough shipyards?

Admiral Mike Gilday: No. I wish that we had more commercial shipyards. And-- over my career, we've gone from more than 30 shipyards, down to about seven that we rely upon on a day-to-day basis to build ships. 

Going back to his "no crisis" comments earlier - I'm sorry, but the above is a crisis and needs to be spoken of and acted on as such. We have allies in Congress ... we can make this push ... but we need out senior uniformed leaders to ... well ... lead on this fight.

If, as Paparo says, we have a "decade of concern" then we need to focus on what we can get to displace water and make shadows on the ramp in the next decade that we know can project power at range. It is time to push the pie-in-the-sky, perpetually oversold, transformationalist, bullshit Tomorrowland stuff to the back burner both in the budget ... and unquestionably on the public stage.

Admiral Gilday says the U.S. Navy's main advantage over China is America's sailors.  His goal is to modernize the U.S. fleet and have those sailors serving alongside hundreds of unmanned vessels by 2045.

Admiral Mike Gilday: I think unmanned is the future. And so I think that-- some 40% of our fleet in the future, I believe, is gonna be unmanned. 

Own goal. Complete distraction and off topic to the challenge at hand. On top of that, he's poorly briefed and wrong.

2045 is to today what today is to 2001. Look at what we deployed with in 2001 and what we have today. That is your slope.

There will not be that big of a shift to unmanned due to legal, technological, and C2 challenges as well as and simple logic and experience. 

What an incredibly irresponsible stance to say such thing at this in this venue. It hobbles future leaders and managers who have to put credible platforms at sea that our Sailor will need to go to war in well before some vapor-ware 2045 fever dream.

40% my ass. Whoever briefed him that this was a good place to bring this up should be fired...or he tripped himself on one of his preplanned talking points. 

We did have a recovery at the end. The show, and the CNO, ended strong. It was a great close that sells well and gets attention. We needed more of this, and maybe there was on the cutting room floor. Usually there is what, 5-hrs of interviews for a 5-minute segment?

So, nice end.

Norah O'Donnell: The U.S. defense posture is viewed as aggressive by the Chinese. The foreign minister just said, "Look, stop the containment. This may lead to conflict." 

Admiral Mike Gilday: Perhaps the Chinese minister doesn't like the fact that the U.S. Navy is operating in collaboration with dozens of navies around the world to ensure that the mar-- maritime commons remains free and open for all nations. The Chinese wanna dictate those terms. And so they don't like our presence. But our presence is not intended to be provocative. It's intended to assure and to assure-- to reassure allies and partners around the world that those sea lanes do remain open. The global economy literally floats on seawater.

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