U.S. Navy in Review

By Scott C. Truver

But that caveat, "at least as a whole," hinted at a challenge for the U.S. Navy. According to the Chief of Naval Information's Playbook 2007, when asked to rate the most prestigious service in terms of confidence and admiration, inexplicably most Americans hung the Navy—and even more so the Coast Guard—out to dry:

  • Army 25 percent
  • Marine Corps 23 percent
  • Air Force 23 percent
  • Navy 9 percent
  • Coast Guard 4 percent
     

"Clearly," the Navy concluded, "these results are not favorable to the Navy [and the] American people are not aware of what our Navy is doing or why we are doing it. . . . There are many contributing factors," the Playbook suggested. "Fewer people are serving. The mission is also at sea and with a sparse distribution of facilities in the heartland compared to the hundreds of operational facilities of our sister services nationwide."

 

Perhaps. But the Marines are also concentrated along the nation's littoral, not the heartland, and yet the Corps challenged the Air Force and Army for top ranking, notwithstanding those services' "hundreds of operational facilities." And the fact that the Coast Guard—with all of its numerous facilities and activities large and small distributed throughout the United States, along the coastlines, inland waterways and rivers, and the Great Lakes, ranked lowest, also undermined that analysis. Clearly, something else had to be at work.

 

A Framework for Tomorrow's Fleet

What transpired in 2007 and into 2008 might help make the difference for the Navy and a focused, comprehensive strategic communications campaign for a broader understanding of and support for the service's most-needed programs, capabilities, and operations in the decades to come.

 

An 18-month effort that included numerous town-hall-style meetings throughout the country culminated in the announcement in October of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower , an unprecedented tri-service strategic collaboration to safeguard maritime security at home and abroad. The image of all three naval and maritime service chiefs at a December hearing before the House Armed Services Committee spawned calls for the Coast Guard to be integrated more explicitly in a revamped and expanded tri-service Naval Operational Concept and directly participate in the 2009 round of the Quadrennial Defense Review as an equal player with the other Sea Services.

In September, Congress confirmed then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking uniformed military officer in the country—and the first Navy Chairman (discounting the three-week acting chairmanship of Admiral David Jeremiah in October 1993) since Admiral William Crowe, who retired in September 1989. Admiral Crowe died on 18 October 2007, with one obituary calling him "arguably the most significant chairman of the past 60 years, and certainly the most influential peacetime one"—a tall order for Admiral Mullen and his successors.

 

The new CNO, Admiral Gary Roughead, almost immediately redefined the 313-ship force structure objective outlined by his predecessor to be the Navy's "floor" and not its "ceiling," even as Congress became increasingly uncertain about the service's ability to carry out the programs undergirding its 30-year shipbuilding plan. The Navy last year cancelled the contract for the fourth littoral combat ship (having done the same for LCS-3 in 2006), raising the possibility of a complete restructuring of the 55-ship program. Cost caps were put in place for the seven-ship Zumwalt (DDG-1000) program, amid conjecture that only one or at most two DDG-1000s would be built before transitioning, quickly, to a next-generation CG(X) guided-missile cruiser.

 

Even as many on the Hill questioned the costs and schedules of Navy programs, other members offered up alternatives to the program of record—including a nuclear-powered version of the CG(X), certain to increase design, engineering, construction and lifetime-support costs—and suggested increasing annual ship-buys to reach the "floor" more quickly. Although there were other successes to highlight, the Navy's program to convert the first four Ohio (SSBN-726)-class ballistic-missile submarines to the special operations/guided-missile (SSGN) configuration wrapped up on schedule and only 1.2 percent above cost compared to the original four-sub budget estimate. Writing in the June 2007 Proceedings, the SSGN manager urged the Navy to "take full advantage of lessons learned from the success" of the program.

 

In addition to the Navy's routine deployments and surge support to humanitarian-assistance/disaster-relief (HADR) crisis-response and combat operations world wide, the service supported homeland HADR needs, generating a greater appreciation of all that the Navy brings to U.S. safety and security. The I-35/Mississippi River bridge tragedy in Minneapolis also underscored the challenge of rapidly aging bridges, roads, railways, dams, levees, and more throughout the country. Estimates of what it will take to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure ran to $2 trillion, a reality certain to exacerbate growing deficits and constrain already tight resources for the Navy and other services. For example, Navy ship-construction estimates for reaching the 313-ship Fleet call for about $16 billion per year, doubling recent years' budgets, although most of the increases come in the out-years of the Future Years Defense Program.

 

Congressional analysts have said at least $29 billion will be needed annually for the program of record, while other observers predict $16 billion will be a ship-building "ceiling" not a "floor." Meanwhile, all services have identified billions in "unfunded priorities" that compete against other pressing needs. And Admiral Mullen's call for a top-line Defense budget equal to 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product looks to be a forlorn hope, at least for the near term. Indeed, the 2008 edition of the CNO's Sea Power for a New Era program guide shows Navy total obligational authority decreasing slightly, in real terms, through fiscal year 2015—yet another casualty of the war against Islamist extremists that cost about $12 billion a month last year.

 

But even bad press created opportunities for the Navy to make its case to an American public increasingly focused on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, health care, Social Security, soaring energy costs, a moribund economy, and more. For example, the continuing saga about Navy active sonar and the effects of sound on marine mammals presented an opportunity to explain the growing threat to the Navy and its global maritime partners from future adversaries' submarines that could be keys to anti-access strategies. Ensuring our capabilities to detect, locate, track, and defeat the undersea warfare challenge will require scientific, technological, and operational expertise. To gain that expertise, the Navy in peacetime needs to use the systems and hone the tactics, techniques, and procedures it will use in war. The Navy will put in place measures to protect marine mammals in peacetime, but all bets are off in war.

These and other issues, trends, and dynamics last year helped to shape the strategic, operational, and political framework for how the Navy would be perceived by Americans of all Red-State and Blue-State hues, and particularly how it might position itself for the 18 to 24 months of "transformation" under a new administration.

Global Navy Operations

Personnel and operational tempos remained red-lined throughout 2007, exacerbated by ambitious global commitments and a 280-ship Fleet that was the smallest since before World War II. More than 50,000 Sailors and Marines served in the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR), more than 29,300 Marines and 11,300 Sailors were in Iraq and Afghanistan, with another 700 in the Horn of Africa. The Navy provided 12,985 active component augmentees and 9,527 mobilized reservists and filled approximately 8,000 individual augmentee and 4,500 "in-lieu-of" requirements.

At the same time, half the Fleet and 12,000 Sailors were at sea in support of worldwide operations, while the Navy also found itself deployed at home in HADR operations that garnered national attention and praise. As U.S. fatalities in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom reached 4,000, statistics showed that 92 Navy men and women—78 active duty and 14 Reserve—had made the ultimate sacrifice.

In October, President Bush honored Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, who gave his life in defense of his fellow Navy SEALs during a June 2005 Operation Red Wing firefight in Afghanistan. With complete disregard for his own safety, Murphy moved into a clearing where he could get a signal to call for assistance. Although coming under heavy fire and severely wounded, he said "thank you" before signing off and returning to the fight. He was the Navy's first Medal of Honor recipient in 35 years.

In his prepared testimony on the Navy's posture in early 2008, Admiral Roughead explained how the service's Fleet Response Plan (FRP) enhanced the ability to meet the combatant commanders' (COCOMs') requirements last year. "The unscheduled deployment of a second carrier to the Middle East in January 2007 is an example of how FRP provides the nation with options to defend its vital interests," he noted. "FRP also allows the Navy to respond to global events more robustly while maintaining a structured, deliberate process that ensures continuous availability of trained, ready Navy forces." To underscore his faith in the FRP, the CNO outlined numerous examples of 2007 global operations.

 

Last year saw routine and surge deployments of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), John C. Stennis (CVN-74), Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and Nimitz (CVN-68) carrier strike groups (CSGs) and the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), Boxer (LHD-4), Bataan (LHD-5), Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and Kearsarge (LHD-3) expeditionary strike groups (ESGs). In January, as relations with Iran deteriorated, President Bush ordered the surge of two carriers to the CENTCOM AOR; within weeks two CSGs were in the North Arabian Sea and a third moved westward to fulfill Western Pacific commitments, while the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), home ported in Japan, completed a maintenance availability.

 

The Navy contributed to Joint Force needs "with expert planning and execution across the spectrum of operations," Admiral Roughead noted. For example, when the Air Force grounded its F-15 aircraft to check on airframe fatigue problems, F/A-18 Hornet aircraft flying from the Enterprise took on Air Force missions in the skies above Afghanistan. "This flexibility and continuity allowed our NATO forces and the International Security Assistance Force to continue their missions without degradation in air cover," the CNO averred.

The Navy also deployed high-demand expeditionary units and individual augmentees to Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operations through accelerated movements of Naval Construction Battalions (SEABEES), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams, and SEALs. Stood up in 2006, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) deployed Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) One in March and RIVRON Two in October in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom tasks, including neutralizing the threat of underwater improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance in critical rivers and lakes.

The Navy's expeditionary riverine capability continued to increase, with RIVRON Three scheduled to deploy in the spring of 2008. "NECC's mission enables our Navy to better balance its force across the blue-, green-, and brown-water environments," Admiral Roughead noted, "ensuring effective Navy expeditionary warfighting, closing capability gaps, and aligning seams in global maritime security operations."

 

COCOM demand for such specialized services remained high throughout the year and into 2008, creating unintended consequences for the Navy's countermeasures (MCM) capabilities. Personnel readiness of the service's sole very-shallow-water (VSW) MCM detachment—Naval Special Clearance Team One—deteriorated because of the unprecedented need for EOD, SEAL, and Marine Corps reconnaissance expertise in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. As a result, the specialized unit, with its unique marine mammal and clandestine near-shore search-detect-and-neutralize systems saw its responsibilities transferred to EOD Mobile Unit One, Coronado, California. Navy EOD divers proved their worth during the initial phase of Operating Enduring Freedom, working alongside Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy divers to clear critical waterways for humanitarian shipping. A nascent need for VSW EOD capabilities is also to protect America's home waters.

 

Indeed, the domestic terrorist threat of mines and underwater IEDs to U.S. ports and waterways received growing attention from the Navy and the Coast Guard, among other federal, regional, state, and local agencies last year. Rear Admiral J. J. Waickwicz, then-commander of the Naval Mine and Antisubmarine Warfare Command (NMAWC), San Diego, requested a special study to identify the real dimensions of the threat and how the Navy would deal with it. The Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Science and Technology, retired Rear Admiral Jay Cohen, has identified land- and water-IEDs as one of his top three domestic concerns. And, in response to a 29 November letter from retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Vice CNO Admiral Patrick M. Walsh agreed in January 2008 that the "United States must be prepared for any potential terrorist activity in our ports, harbors and waterways, including threats from maritime mines and Underwater Improvised Explosive Devices."

 

The war on drugs continued apace last year, with the Navy deploying Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) on board numerous warships athwart busy transit zones. These joint interdiction operations disrupted trafficking of more than 188,900 pounds of cocaine, accounting for some 53 percent of the 355,755 pounds the Coast Guard seized in 2007—a banner year. The detachments also detained 68 suspected smugglers, seized 5 vessels, and sank 13 more engaged in illicit drug traffic. A worrying development was the drug cartels' increasing use of semisubmersible craft, which is making the Maritime Domain Awareness problem even more daunting.

 

Global Maritime Partnership

In another example of how the Navy and Coast Guard put the National Fleet Policy into operation last year, the two services collaborated closely in CENTCOM maritime security operations and supported Global Maritime Partnership (GMP) goals. In the Northern Arabian Gulf, Navy and Coast Guard forces protected Iraqi oil platforms, maintained Iraqi territorial sea integrity, assisted in policing adjacent waters, and trained Iraqi naval forces. LEDETs deployed on board Navy ships trained hundreds of Iraqi navy and marine personnel in security and law enforcement, boarding procedures, self-defense, and small-boat tactics and maintenance. "We are working together in OIF," Admiral Roughead noted, "conducting Maritime Interception Operations, high-value asset escorts and coastal-security patrols with coalition and Iraqi naval forces."

 

The GMP initiative last year included supporting "COCOM Theater Security Cooperation objectives with well-trained, combat ready forces," according to the CNO. "We are developing the concept of Global Fleet Stations (GFS), which will allow the Navy to coordinate and employ adaptive force packages within a regional area of interest." The pilot GFS, carried out by the high-speed vessel Swift (HSV-2) and closely coordinated with the State Department, focused on bilateral engagement activities with seven Latin American countries. "This effort enhanced cooperative partnerships with regional maritime services and improved operational readiness for the participating partner nations," Admiral Roughead explained.

On the other side of the Atlantic, highlighting the list of ongoing programs was the Africa Partnership Station, a similar U.S.-led response to requests by African nations for maritime training. "There are a lot of things going on," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan said, "probably more than most people are aware of." The Navy's APS ship, the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43), coordinated training sessions with the Coast Guard and embarked Coast Guard Auxiliary members as interpreters for country visits, well in advance of the standup of the new U.S. Africa Command. "The Navy is using . . . Fort McHenry . . . as essentially a floating classroom and training facility off the coast of West Africa," Whelan added. Instructors from the United States and several allied nations carried out the training, which included military-to-military and civilian-military exercises.

Such operations were not limited to surface and amphibious warships. On 28 February 2008, the USS Annapolis (SSN-760) returned to Naval Submarine Base New London after a six-month deployment that included support of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-led initiative to enhance cooperative partnerships with regional maritime services in West and Central Africa. The Annapolis' crew served as ambassadors for the U.S. Navy during port visits to Rota, Spain; Toulon and Brest, France; Praia, Cape Verde; and Ghana.

 

The call on Cape Verde marked the first visit to Africa outside the Mediterranean by a U.S. submarine. "We were very excited to be the first U.S. sub to visit that region," said Commander Dennis McKelvey, the commanding officer. "The reaction from our hosts clearly showed how this is yet another example of the international community collaborating in creative ways to achieve common goals such as improved maritime safety and security."

The Navy's international outreach last year also included more than 230 bilateral and multilateral exercises with navies in the Gulf of Guinea, the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, the Arabian Gulf, and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Exercises include MALABAR 07-2, operating with Indian, Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies, FRUKUS (French, Russian, and British navies), and PHOENIX EXPRESS (European and North African navies).

HADR Operations Worldwide

Forward-deployed Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary forces also responded to three sudden natural disasters. The Military Sealift Command's (MSC) afloat pre-positioning ship USNS GySgt Fred W. Stockham (T-AK-3017) provided relief to the victims of the tsunami that struck the Solomon Islands on 2 April 2007. The ship's helicopters also rescued 20 people from a Taiwanese-flagged freighter that ran aground on a coral reef near the Gizo harbor in the late hours of 12 April. Most of those rescued were New Zealand Red Cross and aid workers who themselves were intent on providing assistance to victims.

 

The USS Wasp (LHD-1) and Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) supported relief efforts following Hurricane Felix's 2 September landfall on Nicaragua and Honduras. In less than a week, the U.S. HADR response was in place, with Navy helicopters airlifting more than 125,000 pounds of relief supplies and medically evacuating 34 people. In all, U.S. military forces delivered more than 490,000 pounds of aid to thousands afflicted by the category-five storm.

Two months later, the Kearsage , with the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, and the Tarawa (LHA-1), with its embarked 11th MEU, responded to the cyclone that devastated Bangladesh. "The suffering caused by this storm is devastating," said Rear Admiral Carol M. Pottenger, Commander Task Force 76, embarked on board the Kearsarge . "We are here to bring help and hope to those in need and aid the people of Bangladesh during this difficult time." Tropical Cyclone Sidr slammed into the Bangladesh coast on 15 November, with winds in excess of 156 miles per hour, killing thousands and leaving several hundred thousand homeless. "We train for these types of operations to ensure that we're ready to help in a moment's notice, said Captain John Miley, commander of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) ONE embarked on board the Tarawa. "We're set up to be flexible; that's how we do things. We're highly-trained, and we feel fortunate that we can reassure our friends and allies of our commitment to the region."

In what has become virtually an annual commitment, the MSC hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) carried out humanitarian-assistance operations in South America, while the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) conducted humanitarian missions in the Western Pacific. Working alongside non-governmental organizations, and foreign medical officers, Navy people visited 20 countries; treated more than 130,000 medical patients, 29,000 dental patients, and 20,000 animals; conducted more than 1,400 surgeries; completed more than 60 engineering tasks; and spent more than 3,000 man-days in community-relations projects. "These missions of support, compassion, and commitment are enduring," Admiral Roughhead stated, "and they are codified in our maritime strategy." Indeed. The humanitarian-assistance success stories of the Comfort and her sister ship, the Mercy (T-AH-19), in recent years have contributed to calls for the Navy to establish as many as 15 humanitarian strike groups to satisfy soft-power needs in critical world regions. And the irony is all but palpable: not long ago the Navy was contemplating scrapping both ships to help make ends meet.

 

And HADR at Home

Dozens of vehicles were navigating the evening rush hour on 1 August when the I-35 West bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed, plunging cars, trucks and buses and their occupants into the river. Ultimately, 13 people died and at least 100 others were injured. Within days of the tragedy, some 30 Defense Department personnel—including 18 Navy divers and a six-man support team from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) Two stationed in Little Creek, Virginia—were supporting state and local authorities. (The unit provides expeditionary combat-salvage capabilities that include mobile ship salvage, towing, battle-damage repair, deep-ocean recovery, harbor-clearance demolition, and emergent underwater ship repair.) The Navy divers were in the water less than ten hours after arriving on scene, but all too soon search-and-rescue turned into recovery-and-salvage efforts. They located eight victims and also moved some 50 tons of debris and wreckage before heading home.

On 8 August, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter visited the site of the tragedy, noting, "This is something Navy diving and salvage units are trained and equipped for, and they have been able to supplement and complement the efforts of local dive teams and other agencies. Whatever we can do to help support the people of Minneapolis, that's what we're here for." Two weeks later, President Bush also thanked the MDSU team "for your prayers and the compassion you've shown to the families."

During an awards ceremony at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek on 14 January 2008, Colonel Michael Chesney, the coordinating officer who directed DOD efforts in Minneapolis, remarked, "You executed extremely professionally and never gave up. . . . You represent what's best about our military." Hennepin County Sheriff Richard W. Stanek attended the ceremony and praised MDSU Two's heroic efforts: "I could not have done it, the people of Minnesota could not have done it, without the divers of MDSU-2. [My department] would serve with you any day." MDSU Two members each received a Joint Service Commendation or Joint Service Achievement Medal, along with a Minnesota Commendation Ribbon with Pendant from the state for their efforts. "It was fulfilling to do work for a city in the United States where it mattered, and we were appreciated," said Navy Diver 2nd Class Noah Gottesman.

In October and November, as 24 firestorms roared through southern California, burning through more than 516,000 acres, killing seven people and injuring nearly 90, Navy and Marine Corps forces mobilized to protect lives and property. Navy firefighting helicopters from the "High Rollers" of Helicopter Sea Combat Support (HSC) 85 based at Naval Air Station North Island attacked wildfires in San Diego County, supporting the California Department of Forestry (CalFire). "We began our second day of sorties at 8 a.m. and the guys will not stop until sunset," said Captain Matthew Pringle, commodore of HSC-85. "We are working in conjunction with CalFire and coordinating under Navy Region Southwest. We have met all requests; as soon as there is a call, we are there to put out the fire."

The squadron is the only one in the San Diego area trained to provide firefighting support and trains for this mission regularly. That training proved valuable in the California cedar fires of 2003, underscoring operating procedures and the type of support the Navy could provide in fire emergencies. In the fall 2007, 42 helicopters and their crews based at North Island were ready to support all missions. "This is a complicated airspace. We are having to coordinate our mission with all of the other helicopters flying," added Pringle, but "HSC-85 is very capable of being where it needs to be."

The SONAR Issue

Lawsuits in federal court continued to dog the Navy's compliance with environmental laws regarding its use of Medium-Frequency Active (MFA) SONAR. These lawsuits seek to prohibit or severely limit use of MFA SONAR during testing and training, such as those conducted in the southern California and Hawaii range complexes. As a result of preliminary determinations of non-compliance, one court issued a preliminary injunction that imposed additional mitigation measures on top of the 29 already employed by the Navy, even though the science supporting such additional measures remains unclear.

As a result of the injunction, however, in January 2008 President Bush determined that allowing the use of MFA sonar in the remaining eight major exercises in the southern California operating area during 2008 was "essential to national security" and of "paramount interest to the United States," exempting the Navy from provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Act. Concurrently, the Council on Environmental Quality approved alternative arrangements for compliance with National Environmental Protection Act, which the Secretary of the Navy accepted. On 29 February 2008, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's refusal to vacate the preliminary injunction in view of the President's and the council's actions.

While the court recognized that "there remains the possibility" the Navy would not be able to certify its strike groups, it concluded the balance of hardships tipped in favor of maintaining the injunction. In a separate order, the court granted the Navy a temporary partial stay until 30 March from the most problematic mitigation measures imposed by the injunction. On 31 March, the Navy asked the Supreme Court to review the district court's injunction. The petition for a writ of certiorari, filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of the Navy, argues that the 9th Circuit's ruling conflicts with the judgment of Congress, the President, and the nation's top naval officers, as well as previous decisions of the Supreme Court.

The national security imperatives of all this are clear. "Limiting our ability to train [effectively] and exercise with MFA sonar will degrade operational readiness and place our forces at risk," the CNO underscored in his 2008 testimony. "Our measures provide an appropriate balance between good stewardship of the environment and preparing our forces for deployment and combat operations," he continued. "Our Sailors must be trained to the best of their abilities with all of the technological tools available to fight and win."

Navy Secretary Winter was even more emphatic: "The inability to train effectively with active sonar literally puts the lives of thousands of Americans at risk."

Winning Hearts and Minds of . . . America!

President Harry S. Truman once remarked about the Marine Corps' propaganda machine "that is almost equal to Stalin's." Perhaps vestiges of that early Cold War machine contributed to the Corps' public opinion ranking of more than 2.5 times that of the Navy's last year. Certainly, the Navy has as good a story to tell the American public as the Marines, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard, too. And with the 2008 presidential election in full swing, explaining to Americans the need for a modern, capable Navy is a critically important task.

As the CNO underscored in his Guidance for 2007-2008, "Actions without corresponding words are open to interpretation. Words without corresponding action can ring hollow. Effective communication is fundamental to achieving desired effects in every domain." The message should be clear.

Dr. Truver is Executive Advisor, National Security Programs, at Gryphon Technologies LC, a Washington, DC-based high-technology and engineering firm. He relied on numerous Navy, DOD and published sources for this article, including the February 2008 Posture Statements of the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations and the 2008 edition of the CNO's Sea Power for a New Era program guide.

 

 

Mr. Maxwell is the Deputy Commander, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Mr. Bost is the Technical Director, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command.

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