Book Reviews

Murphy’s book contributes a critical element to the body of knowledge on piracy with an insightful analysis of whether the popular notion of a failed state is a “useful and accurate explanation of Somali piracy.” He concludes that state failure is not a necessary prerequisite to piracy and maritime terrorism, countering this oft-cited assertion by demonstrating that Islamists and pirates seem to require a degree of state order to carry out their agendas and hence prefer weak to failed states. Murphy demonstrates that in each case the factors—and combinations thereof—that promote piracy are different: strategic geography, jurisdictional seams, the degree of conflict, permissive local political and cultural environments, inadequate security, and reward and opportunity. His findings also reinforce other current expert assessments that Somali piracy remains fragmented and relatively unsophisticated.

Perhaps Murphy’s most important contributions to the piracy debate remain his findings on the alleged piracy-terrorism nexus. He assesses that the Somali al-Shabab movement, while of concern, is not interested in highjacking the purely economic activity of the pirates for jihadist purposes. Murphy’s discussion of internal Somali clan politics, conflict, and Islamic society helps illuminate the hard truths relevant to piracy and terrorism. This serves an important purpose regarding commonly touted answers to both problems: the lesson is that there are no quick or easy solutions. Recent statements by Coalition maritime leaders in the region suggesting that the military treat pirates like terrorists, and a recent paper published by the Heritage Foundation that reinforces this idea, are evidence that confusion and misperceptions on piracy persist. While Murphy largely discounted the piracy-terrorism nexus in his 2009 book, the point is worth repeating here. Still, he keeps an open mind and watchful eye on Somali Islamists.

Finally, the author evaluates the international naval response since 2000 and finds it lacking. He raises the uncomfortable assertion that “the U.S. Navy’s failure, in tandem with its coalition partners, to curb the pirates’ activities raises doubts about its willingness to devote the resources that are necessary to make maritime security a reality.” He concludes that piracy continues off Somalia because it has become a well-oiled (if localized) organized-crime effort that benefits from sanctuary ashore, the protection of powerful clan leaders, and a clear international reluctance to bear the costs of addressing root causes inland. While the naval task forces have indeed made it harder for the pirates to operate with impunity and have pushed them south to the Indian Ocean, Murphy asserts that any claims of a serious reduction in piracy or effective deterrent effort from those naval operations are specious. This raises the question of the value relevant to the cost of the 30-plus warships conducting antipiracy and counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Murphy answers the question of whether there is a Barbary–Somalia analogy with a resounding “no.” He acknowledges that while superficial parallels exist, analysts should use caution in applying them to contemporary policy, strategic, or operations contexts.

His well-documented work moves far beyond the often mediocre literature on piracy. Murphy provides a fresh study with cogent arguments directly relevant to the current international approach to the problem. Indeed, he closely examines and rejects several assumptions that many pundits routinely cite in government and military circles. His expertise on Somali dynamics ashore, often overlooked in piracy discussions, adds an important element to the body of knowledge on contemporary maritime security issues. This work cements the important concepts that Somali piracy remains an economic—albeit criminal—activity, motivated by pragmatism and profit in a society that has yet to fully embrace any jihadist group.

Commander Patch is an associate professor of strategic intelligence at the U.S. Army War College and adjunct faculty member at the American Military University. He is a retired Navy intelligence officer and qualified surface warfare officer and joint specialty officer. He writes on maritime and defense issues for various periodicals and serves on the U.S. Naval Institute’s editorial board.

 

How the Helicopter Changed Modern Warfare

Walter J. Boyne. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2011. 384 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. Appen. $29.95.

Reviewed by Captain George Galdorisi, U.S. Navy (Retired)

One of the popular terms in military circles today, especially among staff officers briefing seniors, is BLUF , or “bottom line up front.” So the BLUF for Walter J. Boyne’s How the Helicopter Changed Modern Warfare is: Read this book.

Boyne has more than two-dozen military volumes to his credit, most of which are focused on flight, so it should come as no surprise that he has produced yet another excellent one.

The author has two objectives here. His first is to tell the story that the title implies, and the second is to deliver a message. He largely succeeds in the first instance and advances his second objective and overarching message with passion and conviction.

Boyne constructs a fast-paced narrative that begins with the first uses of helicopters in warfare and for lifesaving missions. He takes readers back to April 1944 in Burma, where Second Lieutenant Carter Harmon, flying a YR-4B, rescued four men from behind enemy lines, carrying them out one-by-one over two days, as that was all the weight the underpowered aircraft could carry. The same year, half a world away, Commander Frank A. Erickson, U.S. Coast Guard, flying an HNS-1, made an emergency delivery of 40 units of blood plasma from lower Manhattan Island to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where it was administered to survivors of an explosion on the USS Turner (DD-648). Two dramatically different missions—but indicating that the military helicopter was here to stay.

The author demonstrates the use of the helicopter in both “hot” and “cold” wars. Understandably, a great deal of the discussion focuses on Vietnam, where Boyne shares the view of most military historians that the helicopter came of age as an instrument of war during that conflict. His narrative continues through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, weaving technological developments with evolving military doctrine and tactics in a compelling tale that at times reads like a novel. His mastery of facts and statistics lends great credibility to his narrative, and he writes with conviction.

Although Boyne covers all aspects of the use of the helicopter as an instrument of war, he sums up as follows: “While helicopters may have achieved brilliant wartime results in conducting special operations, their MEDEVAC and CSAR roles have so many dimensions and such an effect upon morale that they stand above all others, no matter how meritorious those might be.”

If the book has a flaw, it is too brief. His purpose is to tell the history of a game-changing military technology. With only 321 pages, he leaves us wanting more. That said, the book is amply cited and refers to excellent secondary resources.

However, Boyne saves his most passionate writing for his second objective, and his message is best conveyed in a single sentence: “The United States has allowed investment in R&D for rotary wing aircraft to decline to the present sad state of affairs, where we have almost no potential to introduce helicopters of modern design into production.” He notes that no new helicopter has been procured for the U.S. armed services since 1990. “The helicopter’s current performance standards in terms of speed, range reliability, and maintainability have not reached the goals so earnestly sought in years when advanced new designs were coming off the drawing boards.”

Boyne demonstrates how this unsatisfactory state of affairs, in which the same helicopter designs of the 1970s and 1980s are used today, has persisted through an unfortunate and inadvertent confluence of factors. His arguments are effective, and he offers prescriptions to reverse this pernicious trend. Nevertheless, he is not optimistic about the outcome.

My BLUF still holds: this is a lively and entertaining book that will hold the reader’s interest from beginning to end. That is what we’re accustomed to from Walter J. Boyne, and he has delivered once again.

Captain Galdorisi is director of the Corporate Strategy Group at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific. His most recent book is Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue (Zenith, 2009), and his forthcoming book, The Kissing Sailor , will be published by the Naval Institute Press in 2012.

 

Fly Navy: Discovering the Extraordinary People and Enduring Spirit of Naval Aviation

Alvin Townley. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011. 323 pp. Intro. Bib. Notes. $25.99.

Reviewed by Commander Ward Carroll, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Fly Navy can be summed up with the fact that it begins and ends with the movie Top Gun .

In his introduction, author Alvin Townley writes the following:

Millions of Americans have now seen the film; we love its characters and know the lines by heart. Its heroes—Maverick, Goose, Viper, Iceman—have come to represent the camaraderie, adventure, and greatness for which we all hunger. We think that the people on carrier flight decks just might be privy to a secret that the rest of us were never told.

We are privy to a secret, Alvin, and here it is: Top Gun isn’t a serious movie to those in the business of naval aviation. It’s a running joke. One with beautiful visuals—fighter porn, if you will—but a joke, nonetheless. In misinterpreting this fact, the author has created a work that is as two-dimensional as the movie that motivated it.

Fly Navy presents a glossy brochure of a world in which there’s always room for one more superlative. All backs are ramrod-straight, Eagle Scouts abound, and everybody’s favorite song is Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American.” Even when the book nibbles at realism, it’s cliché; when it doesn’t bother with realism, the resulting tone is farce.

To wit: After watching his first routine arrested landing from the flight deck of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), Townley ham-fistedly describes the maintainers greeting the pilot, Lieutenant Lee Amerine, as teammates “after Lee had scored a game-winning shot.” So much for nuance.

And right after they meet, during their first conversation when the two of them are still on the flight deck, Amerine allegedly says, “In our squadron, we have two hundred 20-somethings and a great group of chief petty officers who are dedicated to keeping twelve F/A-18E Super Hornets fighting-ready. And there’s a cadre of fourteen pilots who go out and fight. Those two hundred young men and women bust their tails, work day in and day out, heaving thousand-pound bombs up onto our wings so that they get everything on this jet perfect . . . .”

Really? When referring to his airplane this Fleet lieutenant called it an “F-slash-A-Eighteen-E Super Hornet”? And he used the word “cadre”? I find it hard to believe any junior officer really speaks like that—and if he does, may I suggest to his squadron mates that it’s time for some tough love in the bunkroom.

The dialogue throughout the book is similarly stilted, whether Townley is quoting strike-group commanders, carrier commanding officers, or petty officers. One gets the feeling the entire Fleet is reading from the same CHINFO-generated playbook.

To his credit, Townley covers a lot of territory in Fly Navy . All types, models, and series are represented, and each phase of a naval aviator’s career, both officer and enlisted, is profiled. He interviews all the right people—including Crusader and Tomcat legend “Hoser” Satrapa, who has an all-too-brief cameo capturing the time he blew off his thumb with a homemade rifle and had doctors replace it with one of his toes. There’s also a funny story about squadron aviators who ignore a skipper’s orders and insist on carrying along a goldfish in a plastic bag as they fly on and off the ship.

But those vignettes are few and far between. They’re buried under the weight of hackneyed boilerplate and a cast constrained by their own cartoonish portrayals.

In the end, Townley returns to his touchstone, Top Gun :

The camera follows Maverick as he descends the ladder and steps onto the deck in the midst of the surging crowd. Just like I’d seen Lee Amerine do those many months ago aboard Nimitz , Maverick begins shaking the hands of these hardworking young people.

Once, I thought they were shaking his hand. Now, I realize he was shaking theirs.

That’s just corny. Worse, it demonstrates an intellectual sloth that the author attempts to present as tribute: lazy at best, disingenuous at worst.

Fly Navy comes out just as the Centennial of Naval Aviation celebration is getting under way. There surely will be more books to come from those hoping to take advantage of the focus that the year-long series of events and remembrances will create. Here’s hoping other efforts do better in capturing “the enduring spirit” of the job we love. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long year for insiders and aficionados alike.

Commander Carroll is a former Tomcat radar intercept officer, novelist, and the editor of Military.com. His first novel, Punk’s War , was published by the Naval Institute Press in 2001.

 

 
 

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