(See S. Mercogliano, pp. 12–13, May 2020)
As the program manager for the early stages of the hospital ship program, I read Dr. Mercogliano’s article with interest.
As he notes, the concept under which the requirements were developed was the removal and treatment of casualties directly from the battlefield, in hopes of improving survival rates. I had a team of medical personnel who worked hard in defining the requirements for doing so most expeditiously.
While this was going on, numerous ship options were reviewed. These included ships in the reserve fleets, merchant ships, cruise ships, and new construction. In fact, one new construction option was offered by a shipbuilder. However, certain political considerations drove us to the conversion option.
One result, as the author notes, was the use of a manpower-intensive and dated steam propulsion plant. The cruise ship option proved less feasible at the time because of the commercial demand for cruise ships and the unwillingness of owners to divest themselves of a major source of income at a reasonable price. I would like to think that the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) and Mercy (T-AH-19) have served the need well, even though replacements are required.
A first step toward replacement would be to review the casualties being experienced in today’s types of warfare and the best treatments available. Replacement in the 2030s timeframe is just too long. An accelerated strategy should be developed and funded.
—CAPT Edmund Mortimer, USN (Ret.)
(See R. Brodie, pp. 46–50, April 2020)
My original inspiration for a mine-hunting concept, which Commander Brodie seems to share, was coconut crabs. My current vision incorporates toy remote control all-terrain vehicles and paddle wheels.
The crab is a development problem. Yes, there are experimental robots with legs, but there also are cheap toys with wheels, and lug tires can act as paddle wheels. (Just for fun, do an internet search for Ural sidecar motorcycles fording/swimming streams in Siberia.)
So, that’s mobility. For any weapon system, the next problem is sensors. Magnetic signals are common in weapon systems, so finding iron/steel is a cheap sensor option. Explosives usually emit some detectable ammonia-based odor, so that’s another possibility. The worst case fail for such a hunter would be that it finds and destroys a latrine.
—Charles Warren, USCG Aux. (Ret.)
(See M. Cancian and B. Schwartz, pp. 52–57, April 2020; D. Burnett, E. Higgins, and B. Haas, pp. 8–9, May 2020)
Opening the door for a new breed of privateers as a response to a rising Chinese Navy will result in a new era of piracy. Historically, too many overly prudent military commanders have been concerned only with the problems they see before them and developed quick solutions in response. Rarely have commanders been wise enough to foresee what longer term harm might result from that solution.
In the event of war with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), attacking the Chinese merchant fleet would be a matter for naval strategic planning. Reinstituting letters of marque and allowing privateers to roam the seas on the hunt for fat merchant ships laden with billions of dollars of goods might therefore seem to be a win-win choice. The Navy could outsource harassing the merchant fleet and cripple the commerce that fuels China’s military-industrial complex, allowing the Navy to focus solely on defeating the PLAN at sea.
The wise commander will be able to discern that this plan would prove to be catastrophic. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the monarchs of Europe employed privateers to harass enemy merchant commerce around the world. This created employment opportunities for able seamen, who reaped vast profits from it.
After the war’s end, European governments slashed military expenditures, and the privateers were out of work. Sudden disenfranchisement left few options for honest employment, since working conditions on board merchant ships were horrendous and offered much worse pay. Turning to high-seas piracy was a logical choice for those who wished to continue profiting from their seamanship and prize-capturing skills. The Pirate Republic of Nassau was a bane for the trans-Atlantic trade until Woodes Rogers, himself a former privateer, was able to bring the pirates to heel.
Employing privateers and then laying them off doesn’t necessarily correlate to piracy. Even so, naval strategists should be cautious about creating new enemies after hostilities cease in the event of war with China. Issuing letters of marque clearly lies within Congress’s constitutional power, but exercising that power may not be wise.
International precedents have all but forbidden it, and the United States cannot afford to lose its global moral standing. Instead, in the event of war, the Navy could bolster its small unit capabilities by commissioning junior officers to serve in a “privateer” fashion by assigning them to small vessels to specifically harass and capture enemy merchants. This would officially bring these “privateers” under the Navy’s order of battle and would keep such activity unquestionably legal.
— ENS James A. Sauter, USN
(See W. Toti, online, April 2020)
Captain Toti doubles down in his online article on the analysis he offered days before in The Wall Street Journal, presenting Captain Brett Crozier as a hapless Colonel Davenport (played by Gary Merrill in the movie Twelve O’Clock High), whose love for his crew leads him to seek popularity among his troops while avoiding the hard decisions demanded by his role as commanding officer.
Unfortunately, the article repeats remarks by former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly that the release of Crozier’s actual email have shown to be distortions or even false.
The article characterizes Crozier’s email as the “shotgunning” of classified information. There are two factual problems with this. Crozier did not alert the world to the situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). By the time he sent his memorandum on 30 March, the ship’s case counts had been the subject of daily reporting and speculation. After the first reported cases on 24 March, senior Navy leaders were holding daily press conferences to discuss the situation. By 26 March, Acting Secretary Modly announced the plan to dock the ship in Guam indefinitely for tests and quarantine. I expect the Chinese have a well-developed understanding of how this virus propagates.
The article implies that Crozier singlehandedly flipped the switch to take his warship offline. In fact, Crozier’s memo set out a reasoned, factual analysis with two potential end states—exactly the prescription Toti exhorts for military course-of-action recommendations. The first of those end states was “we go to war with the force we have and we fight sick.”
Sadly, the author adopts an unfortunate tone regarding Crozier’s “We are not at war” statement, asking “Who would like to make that case to the families of the 13 American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far in 2020?” The rhetorical device is both unbecoming and primed to backfire: If half the crew were infected, a mere 0.5 percent case mortality rate would match those 13 lost souls. The 3.4 percent rate published by the World Health Organization would dwarf it.
The author seems to resent the “rock star” sendoff the ship’s crew gave Crozier—but by all accounts, the former commanding officer was as surprised by it as anyone. Captain Toti seems to cite the cavernous hangar bay as evidence that social distancing on the carrier is possible, while rejecting the peer-reviewed Diamond Princess case Crozier referenced, which showed the challenges of doing so on a ship. That study observed shipboard infection rates “4 times higher on board compared to the [rate] in the epicenter in Wuhan.” How exactly Captain Crozier should have limited the virus’ spread in the narrow confines of a warship is left unsaid.
The Chief of Naval Operations would not have taken the extraordinary step of recommending reinstatement absent powerful evidence that Captain Crozier appropriately elevated his concerns to his chain of command and conducted himself with honor.
—Brett G. Odom, USNA Class of 1992
(See J. Leeds, pp. 64–68, April 2020)
Lieutenant Commander Leeds highlights an important issue around the ability of naval forces to strike targets. He focuses on a China scenario, but the same issue would likely arise in many others, especially in the Black Sea or the Baltic.
He correctly identifies the challenges of having B-1B bombers carry out the mission, whether transferred to the Navy or remaining in the Air Force. The overall shortage of long-range bombers makes it very unlikely that B-1s would be given the mission under any circumstance. Also, the Air Force reportedly will be converting the B-1 to carry the AGM-183A and other hypersonic weapons. Last, training B-1 crews for the maritime strike mission at approximately $70,000 per flight hour would be prohibitively expensive.
Perhaps the way to attack the problem is to distribute launch capability to Navy transport aircraft. The P-8A is a great multimission aircraft, but Navy transports are single mission. Could the C-40 (a military version of the 737-700) be configured with pylons to carry missiles such as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile or some other standoff antiship or land-attack missiles? Of course, such a plane won’t bring a huge punch to the fight, but it could enhance strike options and create a multiaxis threat for an adversary. Off-aircraft targeting would work in the same way as described in the article.
Similarly, should the Navy look to increase its transport aircraft capability and capacity, the Boeing 747-8F freighter or the 747-8I would be strong contenders. The aircraft would dramatically enhance the Navy’s lift capacity, to get critical supplies and personnel to a wide variety of airfields. The Air Force is converting two 747-8Is for the presidential lift mission, so the type is already coming into government service.
The 747-8F also compares favorably with its heavy lift capability in terms of cost per flight hour. According to the fiscal year 2020 Defense reimbursement rates, the C-40 costs between $5,000 and $8,000 (depending on variant) per hour to operate, while a C-17 costs approximately $15,500 per hour. Commercial 747-8s cost roughly $20,000 per hour—but the commercial calculation is different. Of course, there are missions that only a C-17 can carry out, but many missions do not require the unique capabilities of a military transport to execute. Navy 747-8s could extend the service lifetime of C-17s by conducting missions that do not require its unique capabilities.
— CDR James Diffell, USN (Ret.)
(See J. Vandenengel, pp. 20–25, May 2020)
When I was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School, one of my professors had us read the excellent book How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff. One of the premises of that book is that a writer can easily trick the reader into believing a false premise by conflating correlation with causality. Intentionally or not, this article suffers from that fatal flaw.
The subtitle—“If the day ever comes when the Navy decides it should stop building aircraft carriers, will it be able to?”—is a reasonable question worthy of debate. However, the author then posits several interesting but irrelevant factoids about aircraft carrier production “inertia,” and suggests these factors might be causal (rather than correlative) for why it might be difficult to suspend aircraft carrier manufacture in the United States.
Some of these arguments are not original—they come straight out of the Air Force’s playbook from the late-1990s Quadrennial Defense Review and were summarily dealt with then. Memories are short, but it was disappointing to see them emerge again, this time advanced by a naval officer.
Consider the point regarding “political engineering.” Yes, aircraft carrier construction benefits workers in 46 states, but so what? Is the argument that better decisions would be made, and the nation better served, if only Virginia workers benefited from carrier production? NASA’s Saturn V launch vehicle and Apollo spacecraft were manufactured in about the same number of states as aircraft carriers—did that political dispersion override the budgetary decision to stop that production? The author did not present a single example in which “political engineering” was causal in continuing production of any big-ticket item beyond valid operational need.
The closest he comes is to highlight Congress’s 2019 restoration of aircraft carrier nuclear refueling funds, but there his logic is flawed. This was not a case of artificial political buttressing of an unnecessary system but instead is an example of Congress interceding to prevent the Navy from succumbing to budget pressures to defund something that still had critical operational need. So, his example actually illustrates the opposite of the point he was apparently trying to make. How could he have missed the mark so widely? And how could the essay contest evaluators have let him get away with it?
There are some functions, most notably conventional first strike, that arguably could be performed by submarines and surface ships. But—and I write this as a submariner—when those surface and subsurface platforms’ magazines are empty, it’s days-to-weeks before they can regenerate strike capability. It is axiomatic that the only platform that can operate, without requiring the permission of a host nation, to generate rapid and repeated sorties, and the only platform that can operate with high reliability in close support of troops-in-contact, is the aircraft carrier. Submarines and surface ships may be “first responders,” but aircraft carriers are our Navy’s “emergency room.”
I do believe this article merited publication in Proceedings, if for no other reason than to expose the logical weaknesses contained therein. But to elevate the piece to Naval Institute’s highest award gives it credibility and legitimacy that its flawed arguments do not justify and does not do justice to the Institute’s long tradition of cogent analysis and critical reflection.
—CAPT William Toti, USN (Ret.)
(See J. Waddell, pp. 36–40, April 2020)
Major Waddell’s timely submission offers a sound analogy to Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 while offering insightful evaluation of its historical relevance to current naval concepts as well as for the Marine Corps’ future plans. His article was almost in lockstep with the recent release of Force Design 2030, which advocates for many of the recommendations in his proposal for the Littoral Operations Task Force.
There is a flaw, however; he advocates the elimination of assault amphibian armor and, for that matter, all light and heavy armor assets (ironic, given that April’s cover photo features the Amphibious Combat Vehicle [ACV]). In addition, he recommends the replacement of armor platforms with missile batteries, radars, and supporting equipment.
While this may sound simple enough on the surface, the problem is that currently the service is looking at its truck-based platforms, notably the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), to bear these missiles and radars. He advocates for divestiture of that vehicle, too.
His reference to the fielding of the Naval Strike Missile omits the fact that Poland relies on trucks to carry the system; Norway places the system on its frigates and corvettes. By advocating for systems that are not self-deploying, he only increases the need for naval connectors. The large, slow connectors required to move the landing force ashore are useful in, at best, a semipermissive environment—but cannon fodder in a nonpermissive environment. As a logistician, he surely realizes that missile systems and radars will require large equipment of some nature to maneuver.
The ACV and its 10,000-pound load capacity offer the built-in capability for a self-deploying armored amphibian that can be integrated with a variety of systems, including the missiles and radars he advocates, while being able to swim 20 nautical miles in Sea State 4 conditions without larger connectors. Also, the ACV, without external support, can carry enough sustainment within to make it more operationally viable past initial contact.
ACVs are armed and armored and far surpass the capabilities of any truck-based platform in littoral combat. If they need to island-hop in permissive conditions, they can do that, too—within range limitations. The ACV offers a highly capable blank canvas on which to employ systems. The possibilities by this new and dynamic capability can generate are constrained only by the imaginations of bold operators.
—MAJ Justin D. Davis, USMC
While I applaud Major Waddell for writing, his suggestions are, in my opinion, misguided at best. He uses the example of the Israeli Defense Forces’ inept performance during a battle in August 2006 in an effort to secure territory along the Litani River in Lebanon.
Major Waddell draws strategic conclusions from what was a poorly planned and executed tactical fight. He also articulates a need to reorganize the Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) in a manner I believe to be flawed. Unfortunately, I have recently read in Stars and Stripes that the Marine Corps is making plans to adopt within the next ten years an organizational structure similar to what Major Waddell proposes. Among the changes he advocates, several are problematic:
Replacing light and heavy armor with coastal missile batteries, radars, and supporting equipment is questionable. Missile batteries have a hard time providing the accurate, high-angle fire necessary to strike enemy units within and on the high ground surrounding a canyon’s walls. Counterfire radars have utility but must be coupled with networked cannon and mortars, which must be judiciously employed in constricted terrain. To employ light and heavy armor properly means integrating infantry forces to improve battlefield awareness and force protection. Israeli infantry in his example could have performed reconnaissance of the bridge, ensuring it was not precharged with demolitions, and left stay-behind forces to ensure the enemy could not trigger the bridge’s demolition after the armor passed.
“Replace the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and HMMWV with the Polaris MRZR all-terrain utility tactical vehicle (UTV).” While I acknowledge the MRZR has utilitarian features, I see it more suited to the special operations community. An 875-cc, 88-horsepower engine is significantly less powerful than some off-road motorcycles. Certainly, the MRZRs will scoot on level terrain, but when you get into constricted, hilly, and rough terrain, they are going to slow down and become vulnerable targets. The JLTV, while exorbitantly expensive, will provide a more durable vehicle for a conventional unit and negotiate a battlefield more capably over the long haul than small all-terrain vehicles.
To support reducing the number of infantry companies, he discussed deploying a “small-boat-capable company and one motorized light infantry company with UTVs.” The approach to the Litani River in Lebanon is not a wet environment, nor is it a littoral. The Israelis would have been far better served by having more infantry accompany their armor; that is how you maximize your armor forces and deliver shock capabilities. Commanders must also employ effective fire support, including close-air support. Habitual training between the ground maneuver forces and their supporting fire support elements must be constant. At the end of the day, retain the infantry!
When a combat force needs to transit restrictive terrain, that is not the time to be learning you have insufficient infantry, armored forces, or fire-support resources. Perhaps it is just better to conduct a well-planned, aggressive, airmobile assault and simply bypass the restricted terrain. Then, let the enemy wither behind you. The Marine Corps really must rethink these ideas.
—COL Neal H. Bralley, USA (Ret.)
From Our Archive
Survivors from the 5th Marines are shown embarking French camions for the trip to a rear-area rest camp after the epic Battle of Belleau Wood, June 1918. Doughboys and Leathernecks grew to loathe the uncomfortable railway cars, which were known as “40 et 8” because each could hold 40 troops or 8 horses.