(See M. Hoyler, pp. 44–47, June 2019)
[Editor’s note: Versions of these letters originally appeared on the Alidade Online Discussion.]
It is pretty shocking that the author doesn’t even mention China’s claim that the South China Sea is sovereign Chinese waters, and thus its attack is on the nature of the international legal order. Freedom of the sea is our chief interest. The Caribbean reference at the end is simply false. The United States has never claimed to own the Caribbean the way China claims to own the China seas.
—James Holmes, Naval War College
I have been reading Peter Ziehan’s The Absent Superpower, which contains a detailed assessment of the fracking revolution.
One of Ziehan’s implications is that we don’t need Middle East oil and we can let the Eastern Hemisphere descend into chaos should its leadership continue to act spinelessly in the Gulf. He doesn’t want us to try to save the Eastern Hemisphere from itself any more.
The South China Sea is different. I vote for supporting our Asian friends and allies by confronting China. Unfortunately, the present Navy is ill-suited to contain China and keep the peace.
—CAPT Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.)
(See P. Mayles, pp. 64–67, July 2019)
(See S. Mercogliano, pp. 58–61, August 2019; J. Marks, p. 8, W. Frank, p. 9., and R. Zavala, p. 9, September 2019)
(See H. Lynch and J. Eady, pp. 54–57, August 2019)
(See J. Ward, pp. 62–67, August 2019)
These timely and prophetic articles, which focus on the implications and consequences of decreased American sealift and diminished U.S. maritime power, provide a detailed analysis of the industry and expanding threats from Chinese military and maritime ambitions. Seventy-five percent of the Earth’s surface is water, and the bulk of global commerce is seaborne. Continued control and access of international waterways is critical to U.S. security and prosperity.
Captain Lynch and Lieutenant Eady don’t hold back when they note “the aging military sealift fleet is woefully unprepared for the next major conflict . . . showing signs of neglect, obsolescence, and decay.” A looming sealift shortfall reported to Congress in December will create unacceptable risk in force projection.
Dr. Mercogliano, an academic and former ship deck officer, carefully details another part of the maritime disaster in waiting. The United States ranks 22nd in the world in vessel tonnage. Hong Kong and China are at the top, and ship construction—practically nonexistent in the United States—is centered in China, Korea, and Japan. He reports that among the top 20 container ports in the world, Los Angeles is number 17, and all the rest are in Europe and Asia. I concur with his call for a renewal and investment in both the military and commercial aspects of sea power.
Dr. Ward details the growing threat from China based on what the Chinese refer to as their “Century of Shame.” As a student of history I know of no better description of Chinese life in that period than the book (and later, the film) The Sand Pebbles. European, American, and Asian powers dominated and exploited Chinese life with naval and gunboat diplomacy. China and its government are determined to control and influence access to China and its Asian neighbors through extended and unprecedented control of the seas that surround Asia.
The United States and its allies urgently need to invest in and rebuild seapower capabilities and the maritime industry to provide a naval check against Chinese territorial and military ambitions. There will be military and commercial consequences for failing to maintain adequate seapower, resources, and capabilities. Our status as the premier superpower is at risk. Failing will impact every aspect of American life in business, trade, prosperity, and standard of living.
The Navy and Marine Corps will be a potent force in a future conflict, because they control sealift assets. The Army, however, being heavy with tracked and wheeled armored vehicles and dependent on maritime lift that may not be available, will be at risk.
Even the most potent military force in the world, if it cannot be deployed, is a useless force.
—George R. Baird, retired Army civilian
In the 1990s, I was the chief of plans of XVIII Airborne Corps, which at the time included the 24th (now 3rd) Mechanized Division, and during the deployment phase of Operation Desert Shield, I was a special assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army, so had a ringside seat to watch the early deployments. I have been retired for some time, but can say unequivocally that the Fast Sealift Ships (FSSs) bought in the 1980s for rapidly deploying Army forces saved the day and taught us a lot of valuable lessons. One result was the current fleet of large, medium-speed roll-on, roll-off (LMSR) ships earmarked for early deploying Army forces. Some still serve today.
Though there are sufficient charter ships available worldwide to deploy and sustain any number of forces, a deadly gap of about a month exists from the order to deploy until enough capacity has been obtained. Today’s fleet of LMSR ships are designed to fill the gap. I believe the steam-powered FSSs have been retired, and the slower but bigger LMSRs will be the workhorses of any emergency deployment.
The Army learned in Desert Shield that it’s better to deploy equipment from the continental United States (ConUS) than to preposition it at Diego Garcia. It takes less time to shake down the gear, and soldiers fight best with the equipment they’ve trained on—a critical point if combat is expected immediately. And so, the Army’s “prepo” ships are loaded with materiel—ammunition, engineer supplies, etc.—but fighting equipment comes from home. This was a hard-fought discussion within the Army staff, since most Army officers at the time were European-trained and thought instinctively about prepositioned stocks. But Desert Storm settled the argument. Still, when we get around to replacing the LMSR fleet, we need faster ships.
The Army also learned that most of its ConUS bases had insufficient railheads and rolling stock to get heavy equipment to the ports. After the war, the Army spent millions upgrading rail capabilities so equipment could move faster. It’s been 20 years since I saw that happening, but I suspect those facilities have been maintained and have come in handy in subsequent deployments.
Dr. Mercogliano’s excellent article made clear the need for a larger commercial fleet and for the commercial base to build, maintain, and operate it. That’s a strategic gap that extends beyond the Navy’s purview and will take broad action by the government. Sealift tends to be an orphan in the services’ budgeting processes.
—COL Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
China’s expansionist policy in the 21st century resembles what other nations have done for millennia. Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Mongols exerted influence and control over land and people far from the bases of their civilizations. With the development of long-voyage ships and scientific navigation, Europeans did the same in the 16th through 19th centuries. Their imperialism was checked in the 20th century by world wars.
The United States began its brand of expansionism very early, with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. The latter specifically declared that the Western Hemisphere was a sphere of influence controlled by the United States; foreigners keep out. China’s assertion of its “natural right as a sovereign nation” to exert control over adjacent islands is similar. The Monroe Doctrine was invoked in 1865 when the United States demanded that France end its occupation of Mexico. The demand was backed by U.S. troops mustering at the Rio Grande.
U.S. expansionism in the 19th century included war with Mexico (1846–48) and war with Spain (1898)—both assertions of sovereignty and imperialism. This was the era of “Manifest Destiny,” the quasireligious belief that God’s will compelled the United States to expand and control ever more territory. The United States acquired Texas, Alta California, and much more in the Southwest; then Pacific islands including the Philippines; Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay. Hawaii, a sovereign kingdom, was annexed at the same time.
In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. In the 20th century, the country acquired the Panama Canal zone and the Virgin Islands and used the Navy and Marine Corps to support commercial expansionism in Central America, Haiti, and Mexico. This eventually drew the ire of Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, who condemned these incursions, describing his participation in them as a “racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
China’s tianxian, also quasireligious, echoes Manifest Destiny. As China expands its territorial claims and its commercial and cultural influence along the New Silk Road, it is doing what most powerful nation-states have always done. Other nation-states should recognize this movement as a natural development. Rather than flexing defensively and militarily, other nations should engage China commercially and diplomatically, backed by the historical knowledge that expansion is self-limiting. Using China’s cultural, diplomatic, and commercial movements against it, as in Kung Fu, can restrain and redirect its expansionism.
Nations that are no longer engaged in territorial expansionism have become politically stable and internationally influential and provide their citizens with a high standard of living in a democratic environment. The Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain are all good examples. No nation can control the world order all the time.
The rarely sung fourth verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” contains the line, “Then conquer we must, if our cause is just.” Does China’s national anthem contain similar, imperialistic language?
—CDR Earl J. Higgins, USN (Ret.)
(See H. Ullman, pp. 90–91, August 2019)
For the most part I agree with Dr. Ullman, except for his argument with the rationale for the Guadalcanal campaign.
He suggests that the Japanese occupation of the Watchtower objectives didn’t pose a threat to Australia, and that the Japanese were primarily interested in Port Moresby. The Japanese had already established a base for their long-range reconnaissance flying boats at Tulagi. With the addition of strike aircraft on Guadalcanal, they could have choked off the logistics pipeline from the U.S. West Coast to Australia. Without these supplies, the Australians would have had a difficult time holding the southern half of New Guinea, which would have made northern Australia ripe for the picking.
As for the shortcomings of leadership displayed in the campaign, I’m sorry to say that we can expect more of that in any future conflict. It is the nature of large organizations to promote people based on reasons other than professional performance. Opportunistic individuals will seek out the key accomplishments to add to their résumés that will impress the selection boards.
—CWO 3 Chuck Berlemann, USN (Ret.)
Having recently completed Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (J. Hornfischer, Bantam, 2012), with its demonstration of the tragic effects of our unpreparedness at the onset, I found Mr. Ullman’s warnings about today strongly supported. We cannot make the same kinds of mistakes again.
We had apparently not carefully explored the capabilities of the Japanese Navy with respect to its night fighting skills and its destructive use of torpedo warfare, compared to ours. The conflict also underscored the vulnerability of our aircraft carriers to enemy submarines if not accompanied by ASW escorts. The aerial support to the surface and land forces at Guadalcanal was essential to victory.
As Mr. Ullman notes in his book, Anatomy of Failure (Naval Institute Press, 2017), “The criticism [of past administrations] is too often that they failed and what we did was not successful. The issue is how best to ensure success in a future that will be unpredictable, unsettled, and far more complicated.”
If we do not make provisions to attain a high degree of readiness for combat now, what is the likelihood of being battle ready when the balloon goes up?
—CAPT Robert Bruce, USNR (Ret.)
(See N. Miller, pp. 23–26, August 2019)
Lieutenant Miller’s argument for shifting the Coast Guard’s emphasis from drug interdiction to fisheries is wanting. Although protecting fisheries is clearly important for human sustainability, I must say— having dealt with strategic drug issues—interdiction is vital in the present sense.
A 2019 Rand study for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, What America’s User’s Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2006–2016, provides data on both the amount of cocaine used and overdose deaths in the United States. The study estimates U.S. cocaine consumption for 2017 at roughly 165 pure metric tons and unintentional overdose deaths at 13,942. That would indicate roughly 84.5 deaths per ton of consumption. Miller indicates 223.8 metric tons of cocaine were removed in 2017. This would suggest Coast Guard interdiction saved almost 19,000 lives with what they took from the traffickers. Not a bad year’s work.
Underlying Miller’s entire approach is the implication that Coast Guard resources must be used more profitably. While it would be nice for government programs to make a profit, the real requirement for Coast Guard law enforcement is that they use their operational capability to act for the good of the country. For now, 19,000 lives seems to accomplish that mission.
—LTCOL Ralph Little, USA (Ret.)
(See D. Cantwell, pp. 36–41, August 2019)
(See H. Kim, p. 33, May 2019)
I heartily concur with Lieutenant Cantwell’s case for CVN(X)-68 and cite 1978’s Iowa-class battleship modernization plan. I had made a similar proposal (including a “Benny Sugg” ship model) to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in 1973. The admiral patiently explained in a reply to me (see letter below), “The addition of the three missile systems shown would likewise add considerably to the cost of conversion.” We should emphasize how much toil and treasure CVN(X)-68 would actually save, testing rapidly evolving but possibly critical technologies.
—Richard G. Van Treuren
The Navy currently has 11 large nuclear aircraft carriers. Nine are needed to maintain two on station constantly in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean. One is always in long-term overhaul. The 11th, and oldest, could become a training carrier without affecting operational tempo. Such a carrier could remain fully functional and deployable in a national emergency. It would have no permanent air wing or escorts and could be ordinarily manned by reduced crew unless activated.
The benefits would be numerous. Operational carriers would be relieved of the need to interrupt their schedules to provide carrier landing qualification. Aircrew could have more training time. Carrier-specific crewmen—flight deck, shiphandlers, and nuclear power plant, for example—could be trained on the carrier before assignment to operational carriers. Costs would be reduced, as fewer active personnel and aircraft and escorts would be needed.
The training carrier could also form the nucleus of a red fleet for naval war problems and exercises, a training/aggressor squadron similar to what Captain Kim suggested in May. A training carrier regularly acting as an aggressor would be especially valuable in light of China’s drive for a viable carrier capability of its own.
The sooner the Navy creates a training carrier, the better.
(See A. Howard, pp. 14–18)
The article gives the speed of sound at sea level as 720 mph. This would only be correct at extremely low temperatures, such as may be found in the Arctic.
The speed of sound varies with temperature, and is usually given as 760 mph at sea level on a standard day, around 60 degrees F.
At 36,000 feet, since the temperature is lower, Mach 1 is typically around 660 mph. So 760 and 660 are usually given as the bookends of the speed of sound.
When aerospace vehicles have their speed listed as a function of Mach number, 660 mph is usually the multiplier, because the fastest velocities occur at high altitudes.
For a hypersonic missile traveling at Mach 5.0, this would equal 3,300 mph. because it would be at high altitude.
If a cruise missile like the BrahMos is said to be capable of Mach 2.5 at sea level, this would equate to 1,900 mph, not 1,650 mph on the deck.
—MSGT Chris Dierkes, NYANG
(See J. Miller, pp. 48–53, August 2019)
It is unfortunate that Lieutenant Miller’s interesting article on mine warfare begins with an error of fact. He writes that, before World War II, the U.S. Navy had “neither built a minesweeper nor swept a mine.”
On the contrary, in 1917, the construction of the Bird-class minesweepers—54 ships—commenced. Before World War I, two protected cruisers, the USS San Francisco (C-5) and Baltimore (C-3), were converted to minelayers. Many of these participated in the 1919 removal of the North Sea Mine Barrage. Several were damaged, and men were killed.
Two of the minelayers and most of the “birds” continued to serve until and through World War II. As part of the prewar expansion of the Navy, new minesweepers were built starting in 1939, and a number of flush-deck destroyers were also converted for both minelaying and minesweeping.
So contrary to the author’s opening statement, the U.S. Navy had a great deal of experience with mines prior to World War II.
(See A. Rhodes, pp. 19–23, July 2019)
I agree that we must learn geography to understand history. History is often determined by geography.
Why is Armageddon (“Har Megiddo”) so important in ancient history—and even up to the 1970s? Why was the Lake Champlain–Lake George corridor so crucial in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812? Why were key battles of both World War I and World War II fought in the Ardennes?
A study of history is not complete without understanding geography.
—Donald Wambold Jr.
The September 2019 World’s Coast Guards incorrectly identified the agency that oversees Indonesia’s service. Vice Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrochman is the head of BAKAMLA (Maritime Security Agency), which refers to itself as the Indonesian Coast Guard. U.S. security assistance is directed to BAKAMLA and not the KPLP (Kesatuan Penjagaan Laut dan Pantai).
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