Decommission Fleet Forces Command
(See S. Tangredi, pp. 50–54, December 2019)
Bravo to Captain Tangredi! As a former commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet (1992–94), I was appalled at the reorganization that led to the current dysfunctional lash up between the OPNAV, the fleets, type commanders, and the operating forces. Sure, it has been made to work—sort of—but at the cost of clarity of purpose, informed resource allocation, and inattention to challenges in the Atlantic.
At that time, faced with rapidly shrinking defense budgets, the Chief of Naval Operations felt it was important to demonstrate to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Navy was “transformational” and adapting to the post–Cold War security environment. I thought warfighting considerations were placed on the back burner and reorganization was seen as a way to demonstrate the Navy was in tune with the new realities. This same mind-set led to other ill-fated initiatives such as the littoral combat ship (LCS).
The Cold War ended, but did the Russians buy into the new world order? I spent three days in 1993 with the commander of the Russian Northern Fleet. He made it clear that Russia would be back—and with a new defense strategy that would call for military intervention beyond Russia’s borders should her vital interests be threatened. This has come to pass.
Yes! Decommission Fleet Forces Command, and bring back the Atlantic Fleet!
—ADM Henry Mauz Jr., USN (Ret.)
PTSD: Treat the Epidemic in Our Ranks
(See S. Mulvaney, pp. 50–57, November 2019)
While the interests of active-duty and retired people may diverge, Colonel Mulvaney’s article was absolutely on the button. In successful treatment of post-traumatic stress, not only are veterans’ lives changed, but family stresses also are ameliorated. I hope the Department of Veterans Affairs gets on board.
For me, this was the most important article I have read in Proceedings in my memory.
—LT Iain Thompson, USNR (Ret.)
JOs Need to Learn Operational Art
(See E. Hernandez, p. 14, January 2020)
Had I been introduced to operational art studies earlier in my career, rather than when it was required, I would have understood how my personal piece of the puzzle fit together with all of the other pieces. I probably would have made better decisions, too.
—CAPT James T. Rooney, USN (Ret.)
Naval Tactics Needed in Seapower Education
(See W. Hughes, pp. 12–13, November 2019)
Captain Hughes’ passing is a profound loss to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and the Navy as a whole. His November commentary was an outstanding contribution; I could only wish it included a few additional points.
Anti-intellectualism in the Navy has deep roots. The Navy has always valued a sea tour over postgraduate school—talk to your detailer and see promotion boards for confirmation. When I was the curricular officer for operations research (OR) at NPS, the school was constantly attacked by powerful elements in the Navy that wanted to shut it down.
During my tour at NPS, the P-3 Orion community was downsizing. Many aviators from this community went through the OR program. Most graduated with their degrees and were immediately handed their discharges from the Navy. While this was a nice “kiss goodbye” and assist for these talented aviators to have marketable degrees as civilians, what does it say when the Navy made no effort to retain these outstanding officers? Operations research P-coded billets were about 30 percent gapped at the time.
Can the Navy really succeed at sea with fresh-caught ensigns with degrees in English, history, or political science? The Naval Academy requires 65 percent of its graduates to complete academic majors in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics disciplines, leaving the rest without the really intensive introduction to the sciences that today’s high-tech Navy requires.
In my five sea tours, I saw that the majority of officers who struggled and failed came to their ships with liberal arts degrees. It is sometimes argued that senior officers sometimes take on international and quasidiplomatic posts, where liberal arts backgrounds are helpful. But I would suggest such aspirations are best prepared for at the masters’ degree level. After degrees in physics and operations research, I earned a doctorate in public administration and organizational behavior, a liberal arts degree. It is a whole lot easier to go from hard science to the liberal arts. Some of my University of Southern California professors crabbed about engineers in their graduate programs—it seemed the engineers applied a rigor to their logic that some of the postmodernist profs found difficult to overcome. It is hard to tell a guy who has run a nuclear propulsion plant, “Truth is subjective.”
In my day, large numbers of OR-coded billets were gapped—yet the Navy did not add additional student slots. I suspect the situation is the same today. Anti-intellectualism? Detailer bias? The issue, though, is that I can think of few billets in the entire Navy where a degree in OR would not enhance an officer’s performance and decision making. We should increase our NPS throughput for the general education of the fleet and not just tie it to P-coded billets.
The rigorous NPS operations curriculum is the best in the world. It overshadows all other programs. Able to perform actual analyses, NPS graduates become proficient practitioners in three or four OR subspecialties. Other programs provide merely an introduction to the sub-specialties, so the officer can read a study performed by a civilian contractor and (hopefully) understand it. The NPS OR department is a national resource and should be fully supported and expanded.
—CDR Alan D. Zimm, USN (Ret.)
‘Silent Victory’ Won Earlier
(See F. Hoffman, pp. 68–72, December 2019)
I initially agreed with Colonel Hoffman’s thought-provoking and enjoyable counterfactual thesis that if the submarine force had planned further ahead for unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific and if the Mark XIV torpedo problems had been identified in peacetime, the war would have been shorter. But on further reflection, I think the counterfactual scenario was a little simplistic. In particular, I want to highlight the Japanese response in the counterfactual scenario—or, rather, the lack of it.
In reality, the only silver lining to the inexcusable failures of U.S. torpedoes during the first two years of World War II was that it lulled the Japanese into a false sense of security. Yes, they were losing ships, but the loss seemed manageable and slow. Much like the fable of the boiling frog, the Japanese did not realize they were in extremis until it was too late.
But they did recognize it eventually. Japanese Captain Oi Atsushi recalled in an oral history that around 20 August 1943, the Japanese “realized that some innovation had come to the American torpedoes . . . [and the] sinking rate of our torpedoed ships suddenly began to increase.” Consequently, during 1944, the Japanese took substantial measures to beef up their antisubmarine capability, but it was too late—there were simply too many U.S. submarines.
On the other hand, had the United States shocked Japan with a competent and effective submarine campaign from the very beginning, Japan’s reaction might have mirrored the Allied antisubmarine campaign in the Battle of the Atlantic, initially suffering appalling losses to German U-boats before overwhelming the U-boats with numbers, superior operational skill, and scientific advances.
Just as the Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese Navy into attacking Midway, an effective submarine campaign in 1942 might have caused Japan to shift resources and personnel into antisubmarine warfare far earlier, when the U.S. submarine force was much smaller. Furthermore, the immediate example of an effective U.S. unrestricted submarine campaign might have been enough to force the Japanese Navy to order its submarine force to adopt more aggressive tactics against U.S. supply ships, a weakness the Japanese failed to exploit during the real war.
Ultimately, we’ll never know if effective U.S. torpedoes would have substantially shortened the war. As it is, by early 1945, there was virtually nothing left for U.S. submarines to sink, but the Japanese militarists still hung onto power until August 1945.
—Commander Joel I. Holwitt, USN
Combating Australia’s WildFires
Navy and Marine Corps helicopter squadrons are routinely called on to provide firefighting watch in the arid expanses of Southern California, on Okinawa, Japan, and elsewhere. At any given time, some 20–30 CH-53E and UH-1Y aircraft are stationed on Okinawa as part of the unit deployment program and detachments to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, where they routinely stand aviation contingency watches. Australia is a longtime ally with whom we have increased joint operations. Supporting them through this catastrophic fire season would net significant rewards.
Participating in fighting fires that threaten major population centers such as Sydney would yield significant benefits in goodwill and practical experience performing ancillary missions. With Australia having approximately 160 aircraft available for fighting some of the worst wildfires in its history, an additional two dozen U.S. aircraft would be a significant contribution at relatively minimal cost to the United States—in return for relevant real world experience and a strengthened ally.
—LCDR Scott Wallace, USN
Fighting Along a Knife Edge in the Falklands
(See J. Vandenengel, pp. 62–67,
Chinese naval forces might eschew symmetrical surface and naval air (carrier) operations if they assess U.S. forces as equal or superior to their own, leading U.S. forces to have to squander resources on interminable, unproductive antisubmarine warfare and bear the brunt of air attack, suffering heavy casualties just as the British did in the Falklands. It would be a mistake to refrain from striking the enemy mainland from which the attacks emanate. The British lacked the means to attack the adversary’s mainland. U.S. forces do not—and must do so to survive, although targeting mobile missile launchers (including decoys) could be difficult and would rapidly deplete land-attack missile inventories.
Though the threats and similarities with the Falklands campaign have been noted, it is puzzling that the author ignores the Japanese home islands a few hundred miles away. Japan is not only much closer to the area of operations than Ascension Island was, but it is incomparably larger and more capable as a base of operations. The Senkakus and other islands in the Ryukyu archipelago are sovereign Japanese territory, an attack against which would immediately involve the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the entire Japanese nation, whose ports, airfields, and industrial capacity would be at the disposal of the allied defense effort.
The British task force had no allied ports to which to tow damaged vessels for repair and refit or to replenish their dwindling afloat supplies, which imposed a deadline and sustainability limits on the campaign.
Today, the entire Japanese archipelago would become a de facto 5,000-mile westward extension of the Continental United States. The Falklands campaign was truly expeditionary, but a U.S. Senkaku campaign from Japanese bases would more likely resemble a local slugfest between European peers in the North Sea or Mediterranean.
U.S. bases in Okinawa close to China are at great risk from attack and might not be viable. However, air defenses on interposing land masses enhance the survivability of mainland air and naval bases such as Iwakuni and Yokosuka, in addition to dozens of excellent, well-equipped commercial ports, many with shipyards possessing sophisticated repair capability. Japan’s industrial and technological ability to support an allied defense effort is unquestionable.
Safeguarding Japan and its defense infrastructure from air/missile attack, offensive mining, and shipping interdiction is critically important. Studies should focus on leveraging and defending this invaluable strategic asset.
—G. R. Gabaretta
Lieutenant Commander VandeneNgel is to be congratulated for his excellent article about the Falklands conflict in 1982. His thesis that there are lessons for a future conflict with China is interesting and should be explored further.
I would note two related points: First, the British “aircraft carriers” Hermes and Invincible were small, very-short-takeoff-and-landing carriers, operating only Harriers and helicopters. Second, the British expended all the antisubmarine weapons in their surface ships (mostly on whales and other marine life). The United States quickly provided weapons to refill British magazines. And, the United States provided other valuable assistance to the British forces.
In a future conflict with China, who will provide the refills for U.S. warship magazines and other assistance?
[Editor’s note: Mr. Polmar was the only non-Pentagon member of Secretary of the Navy Lehman’s panel studying lessons of the Falklands conflict and wrote the secretary’s lessons report for Congress. Also, to obtain firsthand information on the conflict, he briefly traveled on the Hermes during her return to England.]
What Does the Navy Need from the Marine Corps?
(See B. Kerg, pp. 20–25, November 2019)
Bravo Zulu to Major Kerg for asking the right questions; the Navy would be wise to heed him.
With a slight nod to the history of Marines in the “fighting tops” of square riggers, I offer this suggestion: Transfer visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operations to the Marine Corps. Although the Navy has become good at it, it has done so at a cost.
Typically, the best members of a ship’s crew are selected to join the VBSS team as a collateral duty, emphasis on “collateral”; there is no such thing as a VBSS-rating. During VBSS training work-up cycles, those assigned to the teams are not on board their ships, so they cannot perform maintenance, participate in shipwide training, or stand watch, which increases the burden on the remainder of the crew. Once deployed, the problem becomes further exacerbated, as sailors struggle to balance their ordinary duties with VBSS responsibilities, usually at the price of both.
However, Marines should be able to adapt to this mission with relative ease. The biggest hurdle would likely be training to the vagaries of the laws and rules of engagement. Marines already have the (likely better) equipment. Stand up a VBSS battalion with VBSS companies that form and train together, and deploy them as teams with strike groups, distributed among the ships. The Navy in this way will get better-trained and -equipped VBSS teams and sailors spending more time focusing on what they do best. While the devil is in the details, this could be a win-win for the Navy–Marine Corps team.
—CDR Jason Fox, USN (Ret.)
The End of Deception
(See R. Kuzma and T. Wester, pp. 62–66, November 2019 and C. Baker, p. 88,
Isn’t jointness the paradigm for the U.S. armed forces? This Navy-centric article made no mention of the role the Air Force would likely play in a future confrontation with China or Russia. One can imagine a South China Sea combat scenario where B-2s (or the future B-21s) and low-observable, advanced cruise-missile-armed B-52s attack not only the first and second island chains, but also targets in mainland China, allowing Navy assets to move in with much of the area-denial threat removed or substantially degraded.
—Kevin A. Capps
Every Marine Is Not a Rifleman
(See D. Hill, pp. 16–17, November 2019; G. Murphey, p. 8, and M. Shackley, p. 8, December 2019)
There obviously is quite a distinction between shooting at a paper target in controlled conditions on a rifle range and doing so under fire, with all the stresses that causes. However, I would like to make another distinction, which is that he seems to be looking at the question from the viewpoint of a sniper, which obviously not every marine carrying a rifle will be.
I served for three years in the Marine Corps (1966–69), and, although I didn’t have an infantry military occupational specialty (MOS), despite having requested one, I was intensely proud of my shooting ability. I qualified as an Expert with the M-14 during boot camp and requalifications. I knew, if the time came for me to take my place in the firing line, that I could pull my weight and reliably hit targets up to 500 yards out.
The emphasis on marksmanship has always ensured that in a battlefield emergency any Marine unit commander can place any Marine, regardless of MOS, into combat with the expectation that an infantry-like performance will result. This mind-set is unique to the Marine Corps. Indeed, during the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal on 13–14 September 1942, Colonel Merritt “Red Mike” Edson famously said, “Raiders, parachutists, engineers, artillerymen. I don’t gave a damn who you are. You are all Marines. Come up on this hill and fight!” He didn’t say, “All you infantrymen come up on this hill and fight!” Look at Japanese attacks, such as the mass charges on Guam, where cooks, clerks, MPs, telephone linemen, and other rear echelon-types were successfully used as emergency infantry and helped to avert disasters.
So, is every Marine a rifleman? Yes, in mind-set and training. Is every Marine a sniper? No. Leave that to the specialists.
Could Jet Skis be the Next Amphibious Craft?
(See J. Topshe, p. 49, November 2019)
The only fault I find in Captain Topshe’s article is that he does not think far enough outside the box. He suggests limiting the use of personal watercraft to scouting, but I believe they can be used for frontal assault.
I had the misfortune of riding in an amphibious assault vehicle some 50 years ago. First of all, it was dark. The noise level was almost unbearable, and the temperature inside soon became near unbearable thanks to the engines. Add to that the fumes and the motion of the sea, and everyone was soon seasick. We all knew that if our craft was hit it would sink like a rock. I remember thinking I never wanted to go into combat in such a vehicle.
Things have not changed much in the intervening 50 years. Amphibious assault vehicles remain terribly slow. They still only allow one weapon per vehicle to engage the beach. The enemy can track them visually, on radar, or by infrared signature. Defenders can attack with shoulder-fired missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, and even charges dropped from drones. If you were the enemy defending a beach, would you rather see a dozen or so armored vehicles approaching you at 15 knots or 200 highly maneuvering jet skis approaching at more than 50 knots, each carrying a Marine whose primary weapon, whether rifle or machine gun, is mounted on the nose of the craft and able to fire at your position.
Two hundred Marines delivered to the beach at even $10,000 per watercraft costs only $2 million, a fraction of the cost of 16 new Amphibious Combat Vehicles.
The author also worries what to do with the vehicles once they arrive at the beach. Where each current gator requires an operator to return the craft to the mother ship, jet skis could be programmed to return to any ship with the proper homing beacon.
To solve the problem of a lack of transportation once ashore, the watercraft could be used in combination with other landing craft that could bring ground transport. Or, why not develop a vehicle that is a jet ski in the water and a motorcycle once it reaches land?
—CAPT Stephen O’Brien, USN (Ret.)
(See E. Wertheim, p. 93, December 2019)
The Marine Corps Must Reinvent Itself
(See A. Dahmer, p. 26–30, December 2019)
Captain Dahmer cites a 2013 Washington Post article that asked, “Why does the Navy’s army need its own air force?” And Mr. Wertheim notes that, “The U.S. Army officially marked the start of construction of its next-generation of landing craft.”
So a good new question might be: “Why does the Army need its own Navy?”
Shouldn’t all ships, let alone landing craft, fall under the auspices of the U.S. Navy? After all, amphibious warships are all part of the Navy, and many of the landing craft on those amphibious warships are owned and operated by the Navy. So, how did the Army get its own Navy? Who is responsible for training the personnel on board those ships? And how does the Army maintain the ships and their crews? In what shipyards are they serviced? Are those the same shipyards that service Navy ships? Would it not be much more cost-effective to have all landing craft and ships manufactured for and manned by the Navy, since it probably has many more landing craft than the Army does?
What’s worse, according to the Combat Fleets column, this has been going on since at least the 1950s, since the Army is developing is the next generation of landing craft. How did this get started in the first place?
If it doesn’t seem logical for the Marines to have its own air force, then it’s strange that the Army should be allowed to have its own navy.
[Editor’s Note: For the story of the Army coming to own its own landing craft during World War II, see “The Army’s Navy,” pp. 36–41, by Alan P. Rems, in the February 2018 Naval History.]
Save Tactical Utilities for Combat
(See J. Williams, p. 31, December 2019)
I agree with Lieutenant Commander Williams about the wearing of camouflage uniforms. My own experience in Vietnam, however, was exactly the opposite of his today. I arrived in Saigon as a naval advisor in July 1971 expecting to wear jungle greens. But sometime before my arrival, the commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam, (ComNavForV) had decreed that all personnel assigned to Saigon would wear khakis.
It was somewhat of a letdown. For the next year, I wore khakis (wash khakis, I think) to work first at NavForV headquarters and later at Vietnamese Navy headquarters. Everyone else did, too. The only time my jungle greens came out of my seabag was when I left Saigon for the field.
—CAPT William Galvani, USN (Ret.)
Lieutenant Commander Williams’ essay reminds us that being an officer and a gentleman possesses a most honorable lineage. But his article also caused me to remember a personal moment of cognitive dissonance.
As a retiree a few years ago, I was asked to make an antiterrorism presentation to some active-duty officers. The officers before me were all assigned to office billets, and all wore utilities. I was still familiar enough with the Coast Guard to know that the most sea duty these particular officers owned had probably been watching Baywatch in their youth. Yet they were dressed for a North Atlantic forecastle or a main prop casualty.
—CAPT Raymond J. Brown, USCG (Ret.)