A photo of the USS Thresher (SSN-593) taken through the periscope of the USS Hardhead (SS-365) off Rhode Island as the Thresher sailed for Portsmouth Navy Yard in fall 1962. (Courtesy of Paul Brown)
Stop the Erosion of Command
I agree with both the principle behind and the content of Captain Eyer’s article. Having commanded two destroyers and a cruiser myself—as well as a cruiser-destroyer group, a task group, and a systems command—I do not believe I would survive in the stifling top-down, administratively driven environment found in today’s Navy.
The article led me to reflect back to my first ship command in 1967, a destroyer escort assigned almost exclusively to independent operations of a highly classified nature and often far distant from any friendly port. I was a newly promoted lieutenant commander at the time and the Cold War was in full swing. I will never forget each time opening and reading my sealed orders, always after departing port for an assigned mission. Paragraph one told me where to go, normally thousands of nautical miles away. Paragraph two told me in general terms what to do when at the appointed area. Paragraph three—always the same—consisted of a single sentence that in effect said, “If or when in doubt, act in the best interests of the United States of America.”
I did so, independently, and always felt and experienced the trust and confidence of my superiors. I am not sure I would feel that way in today’s environment. What has happened to the “special trust and confidence” as found in our commissioning documents and oaths of office? Does it still exist in reality? Have we re-defined the meaning of the word “command?”
—VADM Peter M. Hekman Jr., USN (Ret.)
Declassify the Thresher Data
I was on board the USS Hardhead (SS-365), a submarine in Development Group 2, at the time the USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost at sea. I had been on board the Thresher for indoctrination in late summer or early fall 1962. Unlike diesel submarines, nuclear submarines had so much more power they did not worry about maintaining a positive buoyancy when going to test depth. On the other hand, if they had a reactor scramble they would wind up with less power than a diesel boat. I expect Thresher had negative buoyancy. Pumping out ballast is a must when diving deep in peace time.
I took a photo (above) of Thresher, near Block Island, Rhode Island, through the Hardhead’s periscope in November 1962. The Thresher was on her way to Portsmouth Naval shipyard—from which she would not return.
—LCDR Paul L. Brown, USN (Ret.)
Ethics in Asymmetrical Warfare
Ensign O’Connor confuses key concepts of international and domestic law. The rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution do not generally extend to non-citizens outside of U.S. territory. Guilt and innocence are criminal-law concepts that do not apply to targeting in war. A foreign target of a U.S. strike is not entitled to “due process,” let alone the presumption of innocence.
What the author’s collateral-damage example really implicates is the “principle of proportionality” within the law of war. Reasonable people can and do disagree about what constitutes an acceptable degree of collateral harm to noncombatants. However, I am aware of no serious interpretation of the law of armed conflict that supports the idea that all harm to noncombatants, even if unintentional, is “legally unjust in its denial of due process.”
The article also fails to correctly address the Geneva Conventions (there are four, not one) and their applicability to different types of armed conflict. The Conventions govern international armed conflict between contracting parties, regardless of whether the manner of fighting is “asymmetrical” (a term that is legally meaningless). To my knowledge, the United States has never argued otherwise. To the extent that Ensign O’Connor believes that foreign terrorists should receive “due process,” he is proposing a new—and, in my opinion, unwise—concept, rather than applying the established law of armed conflict.
—LT Brian Hayes, JAG Corps, USNR
Win with the Second Best Weapon
Commander Nelson’s article on mining operations against Japan is of particular interest to me, as I devoted a good portion of a book to the subject.
Major General Curtis LeMay ran XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas and was intensely focused on the strategic campaign against Japan’s urban-industrial infrastructure. He was not eager to divert assets from that project and held reservations about supporting the Navy with Operation Starvation mining activity. He tasked one of his five B-29 wings as the “designated hitter” in mining, with most of the effort conducted by one group of the 313th Wing.
I wrote the first posthumous biography of LeMay (Palgrave, 2007) and noted that he remained consistent. If he had doubts about orders, he made his case, and if he failed to change policy, he proceeded. Afterward, LeMay said that Operation Starvation was perhaps the most cost-efficient operation of his career.
A byproduct of the mining campaign was to overwhelm Japan’s already-clogged ship yards, which could not keep up with repairs on vessels damaged by mines in addition to conventional sub attacks. The joint operation paid multiple dividends—perhaps a lesson to be studied more closely today.
Incidentally, a byproduct of Forgotten Fifteenth, my study of the 15th Army Air Force (Regnery, 2014), turned up a successful European mining operation. The Royal Air Force seeded the Danube with mines in 1944, frequently interdicting river traffic carrying fuel from Romanian (and to a lesser extent, Hungarian) refineries.
Run Silent, Run Shallow
Captain Patton’s well written article is pertinent to a very real problem facing the Navy. I recall a debrief from some years ago of the Unitas Pacific exercise during which a U.S. 688-class nuclear attack submarine was ambushed and “torpedoed” by a Chilean type 209 (German design) diesel submarine. The 688 had no idea that the opponent was in the vicinity—and the type 209 did not have air-independent propulsion!
I am very curious about the author’s source for the observation that “shallow-water ISR extends back as far as the pre–World War II period when U.S. submarines closely watched the Japanese fortification of Pacific islands.” What does he base that statement on?
I have written about U.S. submarine operations during World War II. My research gave no indications of any U.S. submarine patrols in the Japanese-mandated islands prior to the start of the war. There were patrols off Midway and Wake islands just before the Pearl Harbor attack, when tension was mounting (see the Naval Institute Press’s 2001 book Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan by Clay Blair Jr., pp. 84–85), but I highly doubt that submarines undertook any prewar patrols into the Japanese-mandated islands.
—CAPT John F. O’Connell, USN (Ret.), commanding officer, USS Spinax (SS-489)
A Personal Glimpse of John McCain
Mr. Stillwell made a common but incorrect assumption about John S. McCain III when he wrote of their meeting on 15 June 1976, “The effects of his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam were apparent. He got winded easily, and his hair was almost totally gray.”
The Baltimore Evening Sun ran an AP story on 31 July 1967 about the 29 July fire on the USS Forrestal (CVA-59). In that story, then-Lieutenant Commander McCain is described as “a graying 30.” This description was 87 days before he was shot down over North Vietnam. McCain endured many hardships as a prisoner of war, but gray hair was not among them.
—B. W. Jones
Bring Tactical Nukes Back to the Fleet
The idea of using nuclear weapons as inexpensive “force multipliers” is not new; it is as old as the weapons themselves. Unfortunately, neither the cost saving nor the tactical advantage have, or are likely to, materialize.
As the most likely U.S. adversaries already are nuclear powers, there is every reason to expect that if we embark nuclear weapons on our ships, they will reply in kind, nullifying any advantage. The balance of forces will remain the same, but the potential for escalation to general nuclear war will increase dramatically. The main practical outcome will be to increase financial costs and the workload of our people dramatically.
During the 1960s, nuclear weapons were carried on board most surface combatants, primarily for antiair and antisubmarine warfare. On aircraft carriers, the weapons supported strike missions. These ships had to be “nuclear capable”—which required strict compliance with a set of protocols that included continuous security patrols of weapons storage spaces and antisubmarine rocket launchers, a dedicated alarm system, and assessing personnel through the Personnel Reliability Program.
In 1961, as an AT2 avionics technician, I spent an inordinate amount of time loading, unloading, and guarding nuclear weapons. Each squadron on my carrier kept two aircraft loaded with nuclear weapons on alert 24/7, and each loaded plane had two armed guards out in the weather in port and at sea.
The costs of rearming ships with nuclear warheads far outweigh any likely benefits.
—CDR Robert B. Pinnell USN (Ret.)
The Navy Needs a New Engine of Innovation
Great article by Captain Pierce—and a valuable history lesson to boot.
“Translators are warfighters and risk takers who focus on pursuing breakthrough capabilities through recombinant innovation.” Yes! Traditional formulas for success are patterns of conformity. Translators believe and act as if there’s a better way to accomplish the goal. The Navy must continue to foster and advance those who think and act this way.
—RADM Paul Becker, USN (Ret.)
Redefine the Strike Group
The idea of releasing carrier strike groups (CSGs) from routine presence commitments so they can focus more on warfighting preparations makes sense. In particular, there is a need to practice multi-CSG operations more often. However, CSG deployments since 1991 have been driven more by wartime and postwar commitments, including two Gulf Wars and the Global War on Terror, than by routine presence.
The “dynamic force deployment” concept as it has been applied to the Truman CSG appears to have significant drawbacks while providing no clear benefit. Long experience has shown that 6- to 8-month deployments are optimal not only in terms of building and maintaining readiness and crew morale/retention, but also to achieve the most “bang” for the bucks invested in the pre-deployment workups. To curtail a deployment after 3 months, only to send the group out a month later, is wasteful of this uniquely powerful national asset.
A combat-ready CSG in homeport or transiting to/from the continental United States contributes little to U.S. national interests. It cannot exercise influence, reassure allies, or respond promptly to a crisis. Also, transiting limits training opportunities. Furthermore, unpredictably truncated or sporadic deployments are disruptive of logistical, personnel, and personal planning.
While keeping potential adversaries guessing about CSG deployments clearly is necessary in wartime, it provides no discernible operational or strategic advantage in peacetime. On the contrary, a country planning nefarious actions can rely on the CSG being unable to respond promptly if it is in or near homeport. If unpredictability is still desired, forward-deployed CSGs could be rotated between theaters in an unpredictable manner without sacrificing the benefits of their forward stationing.
—RADM Robert M. Nutwell, USN (Ret.)
China’s Imports Could Decide a Future Conflict
Dr. Friedman has pointed out an important vulnerability of China based on maritime access. He uses Russian wheat exports in World War I as an example, but in the case of China, I think the critical import is oil. China imports 56 percent of its oil, and its economy would be severely crippled without it.
Chinese exports represent nearly 20 percent of GDP—a blockade would be devastating to its economy. In World War I, the British blockade caused such economic and nutritional hardship on Germany that the people revolted.
A large reason that the Communist Party has total control in China is that it has provided an ever-increasing living standard for its people (with GDP doubling every 7 years). If this were to reverse, the Chinese people might demand a new government as the Germans did.
Due to an editing error, the Bell UH-1 “Huey” was incorrectly identified as a UH-60 in CAPT Healing’s Comment on p. 8 of the November Proceedings.
Captain Robert Firehammer—A Dedication
In researching “Institutionalize the Comprehensive Review” (see pp. 14–18), I learned the story of the late Captain Robert Firehammer, who died in a traffic accident in 2009 shortly after retiring from active duty. He and Dr. Nita Lewis Miller Shattuck were selected to receive the prestigious American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) “Jimmie” Hamilton Award for Best Paper of 2007 for “Avoiding a Second Hollow Force” cited in my article. He was the officer of the deck of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) when she struck a mine in 1988.
According to his shipmates, his quick actions minimized the damage and saved the ship. “The ship should’ve sunk. The damage it took, I would say that most crews probably would have lost it,” Captain Phil Altizer said. “He was physically leading up front in the effort to save the ship.”
Dr. Shattuck said of Captain Firehammer, “As a former head of [Navy Manpower Analysis Center] and a former [destroyer commanding officer], he got it. In our 2007 article, we called it a ‘second hollow force’—looks like a warship from the outside but inside, it is not a warship. He argued that the Navy’s manpower estimates were wrong (you really need more billets than are currently authorized) plus you need to man to that level!”
He is worth listening to, and my article is dedicated to his memory.
—CAPT John Cordle, USN (Ret.)