Soft-Power Counter to Chinaal Command decreases in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military strategic focus is of necessity shifting to account for the emergence of new world superpowers. The Pacific Command (PACOM) commander, as a component of the National Defense Strategy, has therefore included the following in the list of focus areas: strengthen and advance alliances and partnerships, mature the U.S-China military-to-military relationship, and counter transnational threats. With these in mind, how can the United States maintain and increase its influence in the region such that its posture is not interpreted as threatening to China, but at the same time effectively and subtly counters Chinese influence? The answer is to increase its “soft power” assets, specifically medical and humanitarian capabilities in the region. This can be accomplished by enhancing and enlarging shore-bound medical facilities in Guam and Okinawa while transferring the USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) to a homeport in the western Pacific.
Soft Power’s Strategic Importance
The impact and importance of voluntary humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR) cannot be understated. Poignant demonstration of this occurred during and after multiple HA/DR missions, including the one after the devastating tsunami in Indonesia on and after 26 December 2004 (more than doubling the United States’ favorability rating with the local population); the deployment to Haiti of the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) after the January 2010 earthquake, in Operation Unified Response-Haiti; and the actions of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and Essex (LHD-2) in conjunction with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force during Operation Tomodachi following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
U.S. successes in this area have not gone unnoticed. China’s People’s Liberation Army has recognized the importance of sea power and how it relates to its own ability to advance Chinese interests throughout its region and the world. This is most aptly demonstrated in China’s recent acquisition of its first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, from the Russians.1 Somewhat less conspicuous, though equally important, is China’s recognition of the value of soft power, as manifested by a recent visit of the Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark to Cuba, Jamaica, and Costa Rica, effectively symbolizing a quiet Chinese military foray into the Western Hemisphere.2
An Under-Used Asset
Navy Commander Edilberto M. Salenga has emphasized the importance of afloat medical platforms to both the National Defense Strategy and the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. In a thorough argument, he describes the different capabilities of “gray-hulled” amphibious (LHA/LHD) and “white-hulled” hospital (T-AH) platforms, provides the historical basis for using hospital ships, and includes the recent application of these platforms in various combatant commands. Salenga concludes that “Speed of Response is the most critical element of a successful humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation.” This point cannot be overstated. While the deployment of the Mercy to Indonesia after the tsunami was widely considered a success of medical diplomacy, the ship’s arrival one month after the event limited her ability to aid in the acute effects of the disaster. It was, in fact, the gray hulls that were first on the scene. This is partly why Salenga cautioned that “amphibious ships should be used more frequently than hospital ships.”3
The fundamental premise concerning the importance of afloat medical capabilities and rapid disaster response is not in dispute. However, increased use of LHA/LHD–class amphibious-assault ships in this arena, while previously effective, may no longer be possible given recent events. Relatively continuous deployment cycles have contributed to the wear and tear of existing vessels, most recently resulting in the inability of the Essex to meet her deployment requirements for the second time in seven months.4 This, coupled with the fact that current LHA-1–class ships are either decommissioned or likely to meet the end of their expected service lives (in the current era of budget constraints), indicates that alternatives such as forward-basing the Mercy should be explored.5
Commissioned in 1986 as one of two T-AH-class ships containing 12 operating rooms, an 80-bed intensive-care unit, and 1,000 additional beds, the Mercy augments existing gray-hulled medical capabilities by providing a much larger platform. Among her many missions, she continues to deploy, integrated with voluntary support from various nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, to the western Pacific in support of the annual humanitarian mission Pacific Partnership.
A review of the ship’s deployment history is replete with missions to the south Pacific but none has been conducted to South America, which traditionally is covered by the Comfort. So a question arises: If timely response to humanitarian crises is of paramount importance and all previous Mercy missions have been to the south and western Pacific (including a relatively late arrival after the Indonesian tsunami), why is the Mercy homeported in San Diego, so far from areas of her primary employment?
Transfer the Mercy
The aforementioned weaknesses and criticisms concerning previous disaster-response missions performed within PACOM (timeliness of arrival, aging fleet) can be mitigated by moving the Mercy from her current homeport to one of three locations in the western Pacific: Okinawa, Japan; Guam; or Honolulu, Hawaii. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Moving to Honolulu affords the ship sizable shore-bound medical-facility assets (Tripler Army Medical Center) from which to obtain the required medical, nursing, and support staff. Although it is an Army facility, the current era of jointness would create an additional opportunity to commingle military medical services. Disadvantages include the considerable distance between Hawaii and the western Pacific rim.
Homeport in Guam yields a geographically closer mission starting point. There is already a substantial Military Sealift Command (MSC) prepositioned ship presence in and around Guam, requiring little to no additional MSC support. A disadvantage there would be reduced shore-bound medical capabilities.
While the complement of shore-bound medical capabilities in Okinawa is somewhat smaller than that available in Hawaii, the U.S. Naval Hospital–Okinawa and its surrounding clinics still have a rather large core of medical personnel as well as a geographically superior starting homeport. That said, the medical capabilities of both USNH–Guam and Okinawa would require some augmentation to support ongoing humanitarian missions, and this cost would constitute an additional disadvantage. This could, however, be deferred through a combination of savings gained by reducing capabilities in other, less active combatant commands in conjunction with those associated with keeping medical care within the region and reducing expensive temporary additional duty flights to other locations.
Specifically, 606 active-duty personnel, retirees, and dependents were air-evacuated from USNH–Okinawa to Tripler Army Medical Center or other larger medical centers within the continental United States for care during Fiscal Year 2011, at an average cost of $3,000 for a trip lasting three to four days.6
In addition to reducing the effective natural-disaster response time and directly aiding an aging amphibious fleet, moving soft-power assets directly to the area where operational tempo is highest has other strategic advantages.
Augmentation of regional medical capabilities would, of necessity, require some increase in force-protection assets, affecting a “quiet” increase in total troop deployment. This would provide regional combatant commanders additional capabilities to “strengthen and expand alliances and partnerships” through “low-risk missions such as peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance” as outlined in the 2008 National Defense Strategy. An increased peaceful presence would also theoretically continue to counter the influence of China’s envisioned naval expansion. The opportunity for China to partner with us in HA/DR exercises within the region might also be possible.
The transfer of soft-power assets, specifically the Mercy, to the western Pacific offers multiple strategic, mission, and humanitarian advantages with few disadvantages. Augmentation of regional medical capabilities (medical and support staff) would be necessary to support the manpower requirements associated with planned humanitarian mission deployments as well as those related to unplanned natural disasters.
2. Jeff Franks, “Chinese Navy Hospital Ship Visits Cuba, Caribbean,” Reuters, 22 October 2011, http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/10/21/idINIndia-60058520111021; The Gleaner, “‘Ark Peace’ Medics Treat Needy Jamaicans,” 31 October 2011, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20111031/lead/lead3.html; The People’s Daily Online, “Chinese Navy ‘Peace Ark’ hospital ship arrives in Costa Rica,” 24 November 2011, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90786/7655740.html.
3. CDR Edilberto M. Salenga, USN, “Developing Soft Power through Afloat Medical Capability,” 3 February 2009, 21, 17, 19, www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ada500907.
4. Mackenzie Eaglen, “Yes: We Face a Readiness Crisis,” 14 February 2012, www.sentinelsource.com/opinion/columnists/guest/yes-we-face-a-readiness-crisis/article_78af6eef-e380-524e-bb8d-84e6aa84bb04.html.
5. LT Robert Bebermeyer, USN; LT Konstantinos Galanis, HN; LT Shelly Price, USN. From 13,414 Projects in New Construction Naval Ship Design “LHA (R): Amphibious Assault Ships for the 21st Century,” 7, www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA512200.
6. Erica D. Smith, nurse coordinator for air evacuations, USNH-Okinawa, Japan. Personal correspondence, 5 December 2011.
Submarine Undersea Launch Capacity
In 2008, the USS Georgia (SSGN-729) completed her conversion from SSBN (nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine) to SSGN (nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine), concluding the SSGN Conversion Program and giving the U.S. Navy submarine force four capable and flexible guided-missile/special operations forces (SOF) platforms. Since then, the force has been frequently asked how it intends to replace the Ohio-class SSGNs when they retire in the mid-2020s after 42 years of service. The five-plus years of them proving their worth culminated in March 2011 when the USS Florida (SSGN-728) produced a stunning display of combat-ready firepower in Operation Odyssey Dawn, by launching more than 90 Tomahawk missiles in support of operations in Libya.1 The Navy is taking action now to avoid losing over half of its undersea strike capacity when the last SSGN retires in 2028.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget includes funding to start design of a Virginia Payload Module (VPM) for use on future new construction Virginia-class SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines). Should the VPM become reality, it would consist of four SSGN-like missile tubes that would be placed in a new hull section located aft of the sail. This modified Virginia design could begin construction in FY 19 and allow the Navy to begin to recapitalize the undersea strike capacity that goes out of service with the Ohio SSGNs’ retirement.
A Well-Worn Path
Inserting new hull sections into already-designed submarines is not a new concept. The first ballistic-missile submarine, the USS George Washington (SSBN-598), was originally intended to be one of the Skipjack-class (SSN-585) attack submarines. Because of emergent requirements, the Navy designed and installed a 130-foot missile compartment behind the sail to make her the first SSBN; she went on to complete a 25-year career, having her missiles removed to comply with the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. More recently, the Navy modified construction of the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23), the third and final Seawolf-class SSN, to install a 100-foot hull section called the multi-mission module. Currently, starting with PCU North Dakota (SSN-784), all Block III and later Virginia-class hulls have a modified bow section that replaces the traditional spherical array with a Large Aperture Bow array and replaces the traditional 12 vertical launch tubes used on previous submarines with two large Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs) that utilize SSGN-like Multiple All-Up Round Canisters (MAC).
The modifications to the George Washington and Jimmy Carter began as a means to rapidly and more affordably fill a capability gap. The same is true for VPM. When the Ohio SSGNs begin retiring from service in 2026, the Navy will lose 154 undersea launchers per boat—616 total—or 60 percent of the submarine force’s conventional-strike capacity. Removing that many offensive weapons from the inventory would significantly damage the Navy’s ability to meet its combined-forces obligations, especially given that the submarine is the premier platform for operations in an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environment. Leveraging the modular design of the Virginia and commonality with current VPTs provides a cost-effective force multiplier.
To address future requirements, the Navy’s Director of Undersea Warfare (OPNAV N97) released the Integrated Undersea Future Strategy in 2011. Reconstituting the force’s conventional strike capacity is one of the most important elements in the strategy. As the operations against Libya proved, submarine-launched cruise missiles are ideal for both surprising an enemy and quickly eliminating key defensive capabilities, allowing follow-on forces to act more freely. With A2/AD areas continuing to grow and expand, conducting battlefield-shaping strikes from within the A2/AD area is critical to the air-sea battle plan.
The VPM Concept
Program success depends on the early definition of requirements. The Navy is working to complete the detailed requirements for the VPM, allowing design to start as soon as funding is appropriated.
The current VPM concept calls for a 97-foot hull section consisting of four centerline SSGN-like missile tubes, leveraging the VPT design. These will accept the MACs, consistent with the Virginia-class Block III forward VPTs, and currently used on board the four SSGNs. The missile tubes will accommodate seven Tomahawk cruise missiles each. When fully loaded, the VPM-equipped Virginias will have 40 vertically launched Tomahawks compared with 12 in the class’s current configuration. Using the Virginia class as a baseline, building 20 SSNs equipped with the VPM module would add an additional 560 launchers to the inventory, replacing more than 90 percent of the SSGN capacity. The additional VPM volume allows for future capabilities such as Special Operations Forces or Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.
The Virginia-class submarine’s current program of record calls for a total of 30 boats with the last three scheduled to go under contract in FY 19.2 To reconstitute the majority of the undersea vertical-launch tubes, the Navy needs at least 20 VPM-equipped SSNs, beginning with the FY 19 Virginias and continuing until the early 2030s. Therefore, provided the VPM is incorporated into 20 boats starting in 2019, recapitalizing the submarine force’s undersea-launch capacity is achievable.
Keeping the VPM’s construction cost to an absolute minimum, when coupled with the continued cost and schedule performance successes of the Virginia-class submarines now under contract, will be essential to recapitalizing most of the SSGNs’ launchers. Although there will be the increased acquisition cost associated with building these larger submarines, the cost of Virginia-class submarines with the VPM is much less that the costs required to design and build dedicated replacement SSGNs. As the design progresses, refined cost estimates will be made to determine the construction budget requirement for the modified ships.
The benefits are clear—by building VPM-equipped SSNs the Navy will maintain much of its conventional undersea-launch capability within a modern and flexible submarine designed to defeat A2/AD efforts. The 20 VPM-equipped submarines would have 90 percent of the firepower found on today’s four SSGNs with the added flexibility of distributing the payload across five times as many platforms. This dispersal allows greater operational latitude in deploying the strike capacity, and greater survivability of the forward-deployed strike capability.
After the completion of the USS Florida’s combat operations, Vice Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., then-U.S. Sixth Fleet and Maritime Component Commander said, “Submarines proved their worth by giving us maximum flexibility in Operation Odyssey Dawn. They provided unprecedented intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and terrific firepower, all from the sea. They are critical to winning any war against any adversary today and tomorrow.”3
The value of the SSGN has been proven. The Navy cannot afford to let the capability disappear. While obstacles remain, chief among them today’s fiscal realities, delivering VPM-equipped Virginia-class submarines to the Fleet is the most cost effective option for recapitalizing the Navy’s conventional undersea-launch capability.
2. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Annual Report to Congress on Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY 2013, Integration of Capabilities and Resources, April 2012.
3. Kimber, “Florida Returns from Historic Submarine Deployment.”
Captain Goggins is program manager of the Navy’s Virginia-Class Submarine Program (PMS 450) at Naval Sea Systems Command. His previous assignments include project officer of the Seawolf, project officer of the SSGN Conversion at SUPSHIP Groton, Connecticut, and assistant program manager for post-delivery and new construction at PMS 450.
Position of Influence
Like many organizations, the U.S. Navy is downsizing. The reshaping of the force began several years ago, and, as then–Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Admiral Jonathan Greenert noted in 2009, the initiatives are reducing the size of our workforce. The situation continues to strain the proud legacy of the Chiefs’ Mess for grooming future leaders. But—make no mistake about it—all sailors still belong to their chiefs, who “know the mission, know [their] sailors, and develop them beyond their expectations as a team and as individuals,” writes former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy J. R. Campa Jr.1
Facing Myriad Challenges
As chief petty officers confront a smaller force, decreasing budget, and more individual augmentations, they also struggle to lead from the middle. Superior to junior enlisted yet subordinate to officers, they are tasked with leading and developing both to their full potential. The Chiefs’ Mess alone is required to transcend the boundaries of rank and rate. To accomplish this effectively, they must be mentors, confidants, masters of their trade, and they must lead from the front. But how can they do that if they’re stuck in the middle?
The answer is mentoring, using the influence of their singular position in the Navy, and discipleship in which the master trains the apprentice. The mentoring relationship, as explored by scholars including Lisa Kahle-Piasecki, pairs experienced personnel with those who are less skilled so that the latter can develop. In this apprentice relationship, on-the-job duties are supervised by the senior member with the goal of hands-on improvement.2 For this to work, effective leadership is essential.
Leadership gurus abound and espouse the requisite qualities and characteristics: if one is able to be transformational and delegate effectively, or perhaps embrace each person and situation individually, success will surely follow. This may be true in certain circumstances and even effective to an extent. However, more is required for chief petty officers to lead in today’s lean Navy.
To be a successful mentor and trade master, chief petty officers must:
• Exert a positive influence on others
• Be directly involved with their sailors
• Show genuine concern for subordinates, peers, and superiors
• Ensure mission accomplishment
Masters of the Trade
The chief has always taken sailors under his wing and influenced subordinates in preparation for his replacement. Because ships’ professional libraries were once nonexistent or poorly stocked, much of the subordinates’ education was obtained through direct conversation with the chiefs themselves and written down, to be studied later.
In addition to the technical aspects of the various ratings, chief petty officers also talked to the first-class aspirants about leadership, accountability, supporting the chain of command, and other professional subject matter, often using personal experience to illustrate how something should (or should not) be done. The chiefs passed on to their young apprentices the secrets of their rates (trades), while at the same time mentoring them in various competencies to become complete sailors. The same must hold true today if the Navy is to survive.
Chiefs must be of good moral character and directly involved with their people, while their character development continues through regular mess training and mentoring by the command master chief. This evolution process begins during the induction season each year and continues throughout the chief’s career.
As Campa said, “Deck-plate leadership is a very basic concept. When I am talking to chiefs about it, I am talking about their connection with their sailors.”3 Only by getting to know their people will the Chiefs’ Mess effectively be able to mentor junior sailors and officers.
By combining their influence and involvement, chiefs set the tone of the command out of genuine concern. Recognizing this, Campa noted, “As chief petty officers, that is what gives us our credibility with our leadership—knowing our sailors and knowing the tone of the command so we can best provide input.”4 A ship goes the way of the Chiefs’ Mess, according to the old saying that illustrates the extent of this influence.
Meeting Goals and Accepting Accountability
The Chiefs’ Mess’ primary tasks have always been to meet the mission, rise to the occasion, and get the job done even in the face of insurmountable obstacles. Professor J. F. Leahy notes in his book Ask the Chief that these service members “are responsible for, have the authority to accomplish, and are held accountable for leading sailors and applying their skills to tasks that enable mission accomplishment for the U.S. Navy.”5 Regardless of rank or position, it is only through effective mentoring and personal development that the Navy’s mission can be accomplished, and this task falls squarely on the Chiefs’ Mess.
For the mess to continue its legacy of mentorship in the 21st century, and for it to remain viable, members must:
• Innovate: The mess must embrace mentoring and view it as an innovative technique for sailor development. Today’s sailors are being asked to do more with less. Their performance is critical to success and will only improve through a meaningful mentoring relationship with their chief. The mess thus must be the hub of innovation for the command.
• Train: Command master chiefs must include mentorship training as part of their regular mess and command training. Not only does this help both the mentor and protégé, it also motivates the trainee to look for these opportunities.
• Lead: Implementing, maintaining, and sustaining mentoring programs is the job of leaders. This ongoing process is essential to leadership itself, and chiefs must continue their record in this area. Through mentoring, they expand their circle of influence.
The Navy has transformed itself during the past decade, and the chief’s role has changed with it while retaining his position as the master. His authority may be limited, but his sway is not. The mess must continue to develop and lead from the middle, at the same time adhering to the principles of its legacy. Chiefs must adapt to new roles as the situation dictates, simultaneously continuing to be mentors, confidants, and masters.
2. Lisa Kahle-Piasecki, “Making a Mentoring Relationship Work: What Is Required for Organizational Success,” Journal of Applied Business and Economics 12, no. 1 (2011): 46–56.
3. A. Brown, “MCPON Addresses Deckplate Leadership at San Diego Conference,” America’s Navy, 1 March 2007, www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=28073.
5. J. F. Leahy. Ask the Chief: Backbone of the Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 2.