The Midshipmen Weigh In: Does the Naval Academy Still Have Vlue?
(See A. Drew, pp. 50–51, May 2018 Proceedings)
As a graduate of Army ROTC and an Army Vietnam veteran who attended West Point’s Military History Fellowship—and a new member of the U.S. Naval Institute—I was impressed by Naval Academy Professor Anne-Marie Drew’s article discussing midshipmen’s responses to the question of the value of Annapolis and West Point. While on active duty, I served alongside many West Point graduates, and during the 1994 Military History Fellowship I received instruction from the West Point history faculty. Does the Naval Academy still have value? Absolutely.
The West Point graduates with whom I served provided the Army with a core of professionals against which those of us with commissions from other sources could judge our performance and commitment. I can only remember one whose presence in the Army I questioned, and I heard later that he was identified and discharged.
As I reviewed the comments of the midshipmen, I was struck with the Navy’s openness to allow and consider divergent opinions. Although this openness may be the result of the passing of time since I wore the Army uniform, and of collective experience with fighting multiple wars in fractious political environments, it may also come from a Navy culture that has always been willing to consider such divergent (and even off-the wall) opinions as long as they are kept within the naval service.
In the 1920s, future World War II Army generals Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton both published articles in Infantry magazine critical of the Army’s conservative, defensive doctrine for the employment of tanks. Both men advocated for a much more aggressive and offensive battlefield use of them. They both were reprimanded and warned about expressing such “incorrect” opinions again.
Nearly two decades later, when World War II loomed and the Army saw how Adolf Hitler and Wehrmacht tank strategist Heinz Guderian were using tanks in battle, Patton finally was freed to advocate for and deploy armor as he always had known it should be used.
For comparison, prior to World War I the Navy and its battleship admirals tolerated the divergent opinions and proposals of a comparatively junior officer, Kenneth Whiting, for a strange new type of ship which he called a plane carrier, to project U.S. sea and air power. After World War I, when the Navy recognized that the British had built the same type of ship and sent it across the North Sea to bomb Germany, the service adopted Whiting’s plan to put a flight deck on the coal ship USS Jupiter (AC-3) and create the first experimental aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1). After the conversion, Langley’s executive officer and senior aviator, again Kenneth Whiting, led creation of Navy doctrine for how to employ aircraft carriers. This Army veteran is glad that Whiting wore Navy blue instead of Army khaki.
The Army deserves credit for changing its approach to contrary opinions in the past 20 years, when very critical opinions about the Vietnam War from West Point graduate and Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster have been more than tolerated; indeed, McMaster’s openness of thought and courage of expression were probably factors in his selection to serve as President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor.
This willingness on the part of our military services to accept and consider this broad range of opinions adds to their value as well as the academies which produce the core of our naval and military leadership. The “Why?” question is one of the most important in a democracy. Those who lead our sailors and soldiers need to be prepared to answer it. Being able to do so adds value to the academies and all the sources of our military leaders.
—Felix T. Haynes
If It Floats, It Fights
(See C. Fox, pp. 44–47, June 2018 Proceedings)
Bravo Zulu to Lieutenant Commander Fox for targeting off-the-shelf balloon technology that needs only integration for at-sea warfare applications. Lifting gas is key: as noted, obtaining and transporting aboard ships sufficiently pure compressed helium would be complex. Perishable cryogenic liquid is expensive, not to mention that in 2020 America will become a net helium importer.
By contrast, limitless high-purity hydrogen can be harvested from seawater. Taking a lesson from hydrogen-powered submarines, hydride-based storage would need no compressor. Pioneer Astronautics demonstrated long mission duration using methanol reformation aloft in place of ballast, softening the balloons’ day-night heat-cool cycle.
We would be wise to overcome long-held prejudice and misconceptions to follow Lieutenant Commander Fox’s lead.
—Richard G. Van Treuren, Member of Naval Airship Association and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Lighter-Than-Air Tech Committee
Mariners or Machines: Who’s at the Helm?
(See K. Kulley & C. Harkins, pp. 80–81, June 2018 Proceedings)
The article examines the problems faced by a bridge crew dealing with a sophisticated control system while under the stress of maneuvering a ship in a congested waterway at night, noting that “technology failed to conform to the expectations of the bridge team, [and] watch-standers lacked the fundamental knowledge to understand the forces acting on the ship.”
An analogous situation occurred on 6 July 2013 ,when an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 approached San Francisco International Airport. The crew had engaged a new automated flight-control system, but despite the combined experience of the pilot, co-pilot and an instructor pilot, they did not realize that on final approach the system would not advance the throttle as it did at high altitude when operating on “automatic pilot.” As they approached the runway, the plane’s airspeed dropped below the minimum necessary to maintain lift, and the aircraft sank, striking the seawall at the end of the runway. The resulting crash and fire killed three and injured dozens.
The Navy, ship builders, and aircraft manufacturers, have a tendency to purchase the latest sophisticated systems even though older, less sophisticated but reliable ones have proven themselves over time. These new systems are often designed by engineers sitting in a quiet office running calculations on a computer, who fail to consider how these often-complicated systems will affect a bridge crew (or pilot) operating in a noisy, confusing, high-stress environment. The old manually operated engine-order telegraph worked well and was easily understood by the bridge crew, resulting in one less issue on which the crew had to concentrate.
—James M. Dempsey, former officer-of-the-deck on the USS Kearsarge (CV-33)
There’s a Case for Diesels
(See M. Walker & A. Krusz, pp. 64–66, June 2018 Proceedings)
There are several points made in the piece that need to be addressed.
While it is true that the price of oil currently is relatively low, it was only a few years ago (2008) that the price of oil briefly hit $160 a barrel, and it has been above $100 a barrel for several years in this century. The price of oil is based on many factors, and to suggest that it will remain below $65 a barrel for the next 25 years is risky to say the least.
When analyzing the cost of a diesel boat versus a nuclear-powered one for the U.S. Navy, the cost of building, operating, and crewing the oil tankers needed to supply fuel over the 25-year lifespan used in the article must be added to the cost of diesel subs. The oil must be delivered to submarine tenders at their forward bases because submarines cannot be refueled at sea as surface ships can. The net difference is not a minor cost.
The most significant error in the article regards how a nuclear reactor is cooled and what happens to the water. The article states: “Nuclear submarines require . . . a robust cooling system to maintain safe operation of the reactor. Noisy pumps circulate water around the reactor core at all times, then pump the same cooling water back into the ocean. . . .” Nothing could be further from the truth. The reactor cooling system is a closed-loop system with no contact with the ocean at all, and reactor coolant pumps are designed to be among the quietest rotating equipment on the boat.
—Bob Gabbert, PE
Behind Enemy Lines: A Marine in East Germany
(See R. Camp, pp. 72–75, June 2018 Proceedings)
Col. Camp’s fascinating article brought back many memories from the years my family lived in then-West Germany, 1978–81. Dad was assigned north of Frankfurt am Main at Camp King, a former wartime Luftwaffe interrogation center and later the place where East German defectors were interrogated.
Jobs were difficult for dependent children so many of us had jobs at the Commissary as baggers for tips. The Soviet Military Liaison Mission (SMLM), the “companion” organization to the one described in the article was also in Frankfurt and had access to the Commissary. Occasionally they’d come in to do some shopping; they had ration cards, so Marlboros were a hit, and they enjoyed buying stuff likely not found back home. (They were lousy tippers, so no one wanted to bag for them).
We’d see them around town in their easily recognizable green Opel Rekords with yellow license plates adorned with the Soviet flag and SMLM; the acronym gave rise to the moniker “Smell ’em cars.”
In 1979 my family took a road trip to West Berlin by way of the East German Autobahn. Everyone has heard of Checkpoint Charlie, well we had to pass through checkpoints Alpha and Bravo as well and had our car searched by a Soviet soldier.
One day we took a bus tour of East Berlin, and Dad had to wear his uniform without a nametag. He was also told not to trade uniform insignia after some intrepid East Germans a few years before had entered West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie by using traded insignia to make convincing uniforms.
Toward the end of the day, I was done with museums and chatted with the driver, a young soldier not much older than myself. An East German sauntered up to the bus and struck up a conversation with us. When he learned from the driver that the Volkspoliziei at Checkpoint Charlie were prohibited from entering the bus and searching, he asked if we could take him to West Berlin. The driver demurred, saying something about his sergeant having a part of his anatomy if he did so and the young East German walked off. He must have been talking to us for about 20 minutes, unmolested by police. To this day I swear he was Stasi, the East German secret police.
—Captain David L. Teska, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve (Retired)
To see the Comment & Discussion from July's print edition, visit www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-07/comment-and-discussion.