Comment & Discussion

In the case of the Vincennes , the Aegis combat system was operating at the fourth level of automation. Everything is automatic except for the Captain’s final command. He must press a button to initiate missile firing. The Aegis system had a fifth level: full automation with no human intervention. If it had been at that level, the missile would not have been shot. 

After-the-fact data analysis showed that the Aegis system knew the plane was ascending. Aegis would not have shot unless the plane were descending. In 1984, the Aegis test-ship USS Norton Sound (AVM-1) conducted a test to shoot down a fast missile rather than a target drone. Because of the unusual nature of the test, the ship was manned by the best and brightest combat system engineers. After the target was launched, the Aegis system detected it and was in full automatic to shoot it down without human intervention. Suddenly, the Aegis system aborted the firing process.

Personnel were stunned. What had gone wrong? Everything had been checked and double checked. Later the humans figured out that the system had operated properly. Had the system fired, its own missile would have impacted outside of the authorized firing area.

In 1987, an Iraqi jet fired two missiles at the USS Stark (FFG-31). She was hit. Even a basic combat system software package would have turned the ship to unmask the height finding radar and other systems. She did not turn.

More automation has been coming for decades. That is good. Train the human only for those things that cannot or should not be automated.

—CAPT Charles Gallagher, USNR (Ret.)

Lieutenant Colonel Tingle’s article brought memories flooding back of one of the saddest milestones of my 50-plus year association with the Navy, including as commissioning operations officer of the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) and commanding officer of the USS Chosin (CG-65). 

For those of us with roots firmly planted in the Aegis community, those memories are painful and often tinged with deep anger. The USS Vincennes (CG-49) tragedy was totally avoidable. The Aegis Combat System was designed to deal with far more challenging scenarios. Its capability was demonstrated in operational test scenarios as demanding as the U.S. Navy could safely design. 

The author provided a cogent summary of many of the factors involved but demonstrates the fallacy of trying to analyze a complex subject through written references without any personal, practical expertise in the subject.

His statement that “It is noteworthy that at the time of the incident, the Aegis’s command-and-control monitors were unable to display the altitudes of tracked aircraft” might have led him to a totally erroneous conclusion. Actually, it wasn’t and isn’t noteworthy at all.

That statement could be taken to imply that air contact altitude information was not available to those at the Aegis Display System consoles (“command-and-control monitors”), which were occupied by the commanding officer (CO) and tactical action officer (TAO), among others. That is not true.

He is correct that kinematic information (course, speed, altitude) was not displayed alongside the contact’s symbol on the large screen displays (LSDs), as shown in the article’s opening photo. While that information is common on civilian air traffic control displays, it was not available on the LSDs at the time because the designers concluded—correctly, I believe—that it added too much “clutter” to an already busy display.

Do not conclude, however, that the very critical altitude information was not available at those consoles, because it was. Simply by highlighting the contact, the CO and TAO could have accessed all of the kinematic information at their console positions. This would have allowed them to determine that the contact in question was remaining at altitude and not flying an attack profile.

Had the CO or TAO simply performed the final “safety check” of looking at those target kinematics before firing—an integral part of their job descriptions—this tragedy could have been avoided.

—CAPT Dennis R. Dean, USN (Ret.)

The Mirage of Mission Command

(See C. Graham, pp. 62–65, August 2018)

When I went to radio school about 100 years ago, we were told international carrier wave (CW) Morse code was the most reliable means of communications because it could not be jammed. If a competing signal is placed on a frequency, an operator can adjust his beat frequency oscillator to change the pitch of the signal and still copy.

If satellite communications go down, would it not be nice to have a system on board that needs nothing more than a small, inexpensive transceiver and an antenna? The problem unfortunately goes beyond equipment or space—
to operators.

If the Navy wants to go back to CW mode as an emergency communication system, it can’t do it half way. You cannot send sailors to school to learn Morse, and then put them on a shelf until you need them. This skill needs to be practiced often.

This system was used from World War I until the early 1970s. Yes, weapons were slower then, but Morse-enabled technology also has advanced. Continuous wave transmission could be the answer to Commander Graham’s question.

—RMC John Hummel, USN (Ret.)

Reload Missile Shooters at Sea

(See T. Granger, pp. 73–74, July 2018 and
N. Polmar, pp. 8–9, August 2018)

Commander Granger proposes reloading vertical launch missile systems from an afloat forward staging base (AFSB) ship using that ship’s crane. The concept is good, but there is a better way execute it. 

Compact folding hydraulic cranes are commercially available. Assuming the weight of a missile and its associated canister is not more than a few tons, the system to be transferred weighs less than the buoys and sinkers that Coast Guard tenders regularly handle at sea. However, the Coast Guard crews handle such loads with more lines than the single little one visible in the photo. 

The Navy is expert at underway replenishment and has great experience with handling munitions at seat. This is a problem for boatswain’s mates rather than engineers (who overthink problems). Key is the KISS principle. 

Placing the crane on the AFSB means you have to deal with the movement of two ships throughout the evolution. If you put the crane on the ship being reloaded, you only have to deal with the movement of two ships when the full canister is collected by the crane.

—J. B. Friderici

The Navy Needs People More Than Ships

(See N. Friedman, pp. 88–89, July 2018)

Dr. Friedman is correct that manpower reduction was the driving force behind the Zumwalt -class operational requirements document. We were fully cognizant the class would not enter the fleet for many years, so we aimed for a design that “shot ahead of the rabbit.”

We set a crew target of 95, recognizing:

1. Cost . Manning a ship had been treated as nearly cost free since the time of galley slaves. But by the mid-1990s, people costs were taking an increasingly large share of the Navy’s annual budget. 

2. Connectivity . We were confident advances in reliable wide-band connectivity would allow greater manpower efficiency at sea. As a leading indicator, in 1995 a doctor embarked on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) reattached a crew member’s severed finger. The procedure, performed in the Mediterranean, was supervised via video teleconference by a surgeon in Virginia. Our approach to manpower leaned on this example. We envisioned small numbers of shore based E-8’s and -9’s substituting for greater numbers of senior enlisted at sea. The concept would also have reduced late career sea time for our best people. For the concept to succeed, remote equipment monitoring would be essential, but we knew it would be possible.

3. Working and living conditions . Shipboard living conditions had not improved much in a century. A misconception exists that compact ships are less expensive. This is untrue. The cost of steel is less than the cost of cramming. We sought to avoid the small-tonnage limitation. There was to be space for senior enlisted staterooms and roomier crew compartments. It was the combination of reduced crew and increased hull sizes that was to enable a real improvement in crew quality of life. Again, we were focused on manpower—how to recruit and retain it.

Why did we select 95?

We used a seemingly impossible manpower goal to force a paradigm change. An incremental status quo reduction would not do it. We initially considered a ceiling of 100 but revised it because of an observation by former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman (for whom I had been greatly privileged to work). To paraphrase: don’t use round numbers; they give the impression there’s little detailed analysis supporting them.

—VADM Dan Murphy, USN (Ret.), Director, Naval Surface Warfare (N86), 1996–1998


(See C. Cash, pp. 52–55, July 2018 and
J. Zhao, online, August 2018)

It is nonsense to consider renewing an alliance with China based on the events of 70 years ago. During World War II, the United States was allied with China’s Kuomintang—Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party—not with the Communists who govern China today.

At the conclusion of the war, it became clear that the greater enemy to the world was the spread of communism, formerly from the Soviet Union and currently in China.

The author should not repeat—without any footnotes—the claim that 300,000 civilians were massacred in Nanjing or that the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge “was a pretext for invasion.” [Editor’s note: There is little scholarly consensus on the number of victims. Estimates range from as low as 10,000 to 20,000 by some Japanese historians to the official Chinese estimate of more than 300,000, with many sources falling in between.] There also is no proof offered that Japanese troops at Nanking “were given orders to kill all prisoners of war” despite what the photo caption says.

We should focus instead on current actions, namely Chinese aggression in the South and East China seas (including against Taiwan), theft of intellectual property rights through cyber and trade manipulation, and human rights violations, such as in the cases of Liu Xiaobo, Tibet, and China’s ethnic Uyghurs.

—VADM Fumio Ota, Ph.D., JMSDF (Ret.)

I wholeheartedly agree with Commander Cash that an acknowledgement of the role China played as America’s ally during World War II is long overdue. Still, from a Chinese perspective that conflict began several months prior to the sinking of the USS Panay (PR-5), as did American involvement.

Friday, 13 August 1937, to be precise. On that day, after a century of humiliation and six years of so-called “incidents” perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army, China at last stood up. It did so in Shanghai, the most international city in Asia. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the military and civilian leader of China’s central government, chose to fight there in part because the battle would take place in front of influential foreign business leaders, as well as print and newsreel reporters from around the world.

He anticipated this would generate international diplomatic and military support for China. It didn’t.

The first American civilians to die in what became World War II were killed the following day, in a tragic “friendly fire” attack by China’s still infant air forces—an attack planned by recently retired U.S. Army aviator and advisor to Chiang Kai-shek Claire Lee Chennault.

On Saturday, 21 August, as the USS Augusta (CA-31) evacuated American women and children from the war zone, an errant shell wounded 18 sailors and killed Seaman First Class Freddie John Falgout of Raceland, Louisiana. They were arguably the first American military causalities of World War II. But strident calls of “America First” meant no substantial U.S. aid would arrive in China until well after Pearl Harbor.

—Bill Einreinhofer, executive producer of the public television documentary  Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began

I commend Commander Cash on his essay and thoughts, in particular his tying “China’s larger history” with recent and future events. I offer two slightly different viewpoints, based on my growing up immersed in a Chinese society and my subsequent nearly two decades of service in the U.S. military.

First, where Commander Cash notes the 1937 Japanese invasion of China as the origin of current Chinese views of external forces and territorial integrity, the current Chinese mindset focuses on earlier events, the late 1800’s when multiple foreign (mostly European but also American) forces had their way in ports and other places against a weak and militarily-backward Imperial China. This loss of territory and subjugation at foreign hands marked the national psyche with the hope—and slogan—that one day “The sleepy lion will awaken.” 

Indeed, it has. To wit, the current Chinese government’s insistence that not one inch of national territory will be lost ever again to foreign powers, notably in the South China Sea that Chinese history states is part of national territory.

Furthermore, Commander Cash connects the pre-WWII Chinese Nationalist government with the current Communist government, whereas these two governments were vastly different in philosophy and their relationship to the West, in particular the United States. Had the Nationalists remained in power, China would have remained a much-trusted ally and today’s world would be very different.

— Col. Frank Yang, ANG, USAF

The Carrier’s Role is

(See A. Ross, pp. 16–20, July 2018)

Lessons from George III

(See J. Holmes, pp. 16–21, August 2018 Naval History )

It is not often that an article in Proceedings so closely matches the ideas put forward in sister publication Naval History . Retired Royal Navy Commander Ross gives a succinct, cogent review of the failings in naval development, not only in carriers, but in all aspects of naval preparation.

Military thinkers have always warned against preparing to refight the last war while doing it anyway. First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher was in position to give the Royal Navy the advanced ships and systems it needed and the ability to carry out his vision, a lesson unrecognized by current naval thinkers and politicians.

James Holmes showed how the navy of King George III was able to recover from costly battles by maintaining a formidable fleet. The British learned then from their mistakes. We have seen throughout our history that the admirals always seem to know better. No need to look further than the Cold War “revolt of the admirals” or silly arguments over vessel naming conventions.

As a college history instructor, I am constantly reminded of the quote of George Santayana, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Both articles should be read and taken to heart by those in current leadership.

—LCDR Craig Pearson, USN (Ret.)

JOs Can Fix SWO Training

(See K. Davidson, pp. 14–15, July 2018)

Lieutenant Davidson’s excellent article took me back to my disassociated sea tour many years ago. The difficulties she encountered with non-standardized reference materials were identical to my own—and opposite to the standardization I had experienced in Naval Aviation. At the time, I asked my fellow junior officers and commanding officer, “Why not a NATOPS for ships?”

The NATOPS program, Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization, was born in the 1950s to curtail an alarming accident rate, and to standardize aircrew training and knowledge for an increasingly sophisticated fleet of aircraft. The most recognizable part of the program remains the individual aircraft operator’s manual, tailored for each aircraft type and simply referred to as NATOPS.

Each contains the minimum level of information to operate the aircraft safely. It includes physical characteristics; limitations; macro description of major systems with basic schematics; emergency procedures; and handling characteristics and training requirements, all tailored for the operator. A similar Naval Sea Systems Command program—referred to as SEAOPs—is in use with the Landing Craft, Air Cushion, fleet.

Today’s Navy has roughly the same number of surface-ship classes as aircraft types. In most cases, the number of primary systems—propulsion, electrical, hydro-mechanical and weapons—that affect performance, mission readiness, and safe operations are very similar.

Officers reporting to new ships should receive a class-specific operator’s manual, a valuable resource to speed mastery. It would be the foundation of their studies and complement the traditional resources officers look to for information. This approach would also significantly reduce reliance on non-standard information (“gouge”) that officers historically have relied upon. Additionally, it would serve to tighten and strengthen the commanding officer’s standing orders by eliminating strictly ship-class information, allowing the orders to focus on the commanding officer’s intent.

—CDR Patrick McKernan, USN (Ret.)

Prepare to Fight in

(See N. Nethery, pp. 56–60, August 2018) 

As a former Army Officer and Vietnam Veteran, but more importantly a student of military and political affairs, I am a bit taken aback by Major Nethery’s call for accepting the need to fight major ground campaigns in so-called “megacities.” 

No one denies that such combat results in very high casualty rates for U.S. forces engaging in such actions. Major Nethery doesn’t even comment on the domestic political issues surrounding such levels of casualties. 

It remains questionable as to whether such MOUT actions would be worth the overall cost in a broader campaign. The better—and more cost effective—strategy for dealing with large metropolitan areas such as Baghdad is to aggressively employ the use of precision-guided weapons and selected targeted actions such as the so-called “Thunder Run” by a battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry on 4 April 2003. 

That action resulted in limited U.S. casualties and the fall of Baghdad, from both a political and military point of view. This action of course was supported heavily by air power. 

Clearly there will be special circumstances to each engagement in the future, but fighting house-to-house in megacities seems to me a fool’s errand, leading at best to unacceptably high levels of casualties. A version of the “Thunder Run” by 3rd I.D., or frankly, the Syrian Army’s draconian solution to the situation in Hama several decades ago—that generated the expression “Hama Rules”—seems the correct approach for better results.

—Robert Martin

Declassify the Thresher Data

(See J. Bryant, pp. 62–66, July 2018)

On the day that the USS Thresher was lost, I was on board the USS Robert E Lee (SSBN-601). We were operating off Holy Loch, Scotland, getting ready to conduct a deep dive to test depth following our refit. The shocking news about the Thresher was announced, and our captain (Commander Chuck Griffiths, later a vice admiral) was very careful to conduct the dive in 100-foot increments. That was standard procedure for the conduct of deep dives following refit.

After we returned from patrol, I was ordered to Washington along with all other nuclear submarine chief engineers to be briefed on the new procedures that Naval Reactors had established to keep the propulsion plant online in case of a reactor scram during a flooding casualty. What surprised me was that Admiral Rickover invited only the chief engineers and not the commanding officers and that he conducted the briefing personally. Evidently, he wanted to ensure that the “hands on” operators fully understood the changes.

Admiral Rickover was upset about the USS Plunger (SSN-595) in 1968 when I was ordered to command her, because she was the first Pacific Fleet submarine to fail the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination. I was studying at Naval Reactors preparing for command, and he called me into his office to discuss my assignment. He asked me if I knew that the Thresher was lost when conducting a dive to test depth following refit without carefully checking at 100-foot increments. I told him that I did. He then stressed emphatically (as only Admiral Rickover could do) the importance of following that procedure.

—VADM N. R. Thunman, USN (Ret.)

Ready. Responsive.

(See K. Pecora, pp. 32–27 August 2018)

Having served as a Coast Guard volunteer for the past 40 years, I was pleased to read Lieutenant Commander Pecora’s article advocating a more consistent effort in promoting the security, lifesaving, and environmental contributions of the Coast Guard to our country. What little civilians see of the service is usually of the “Coast Guard Saves Four . . . Film at 11!” variety.

The volunteers of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary can help. They have frequent and direct contact with the recreational boating public. The photo in the article showing kayaks and personal watercraft undergoing safety inspections in Orlando illustrates this point perfectly: It’s a pair of Coast Guard Auxiliarists who are providing the vessel safety checks.

Along with boating safety classes, these Coast Guard Auxiliary endeavors provide “preventative search and rescue,” because the proper outfitting of recreational boats and the training of their skippers will reduce the number of distress calls to Coast Guard small-boat stations. As Coast Guard volunteers, we also donate use of our own boats to participate in rescue patrols, as well as deploy them to help with crowd control at major maritime events like the Tall Ships arrival into Boston Harbor
in 2017.

—Brian R. McMahon, Sector Captain (p) USCG Aux.


On p. 68 of the August 2018 Proceedings , a photo caption incorrectly identified Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy. We deeply regret the error.

Also in August, on p. 36 the boating safety checks are being conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary not the regular Coast Guard.

In the July 2018 Proceedings , on p. 94, the USS Turner Joy (DD-951) was incorrectly identified as DD-961.



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