The Surprising History of Unmanned Navy Systems
(See K. Mizokami, pp. 90–91, June 2020)
In 1936, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral W. H. Standley was on a trip to England, during which he witnessed the test of a British remote-control target aircraft called a Queen Bee. On Admiral Standley’s return, he authorized Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics at the time, to develop radio-controlled targets for the U.S. Navy.
Lieutenant Commander Delmar S. Fahrney (who later became a rear admiral) was put in charge and quickly drew up plans. Construction of an aircraft began at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fahrney and a technical director discussed what the name for the aircraft should be. Given that the inspiration was the British Queen Bee, they decided to use the word “drone” for the U.S. aircraft.
—Diane S. Segal
The War That Never Was?
(See J. Winnefeld and M. Morrell, online, August 2020)
The authors’ argument, while thought-provoking, is fundamentally flawed, relying more on ancient philosophers—Thucydides and Sun Tzu—than contemporary realities. Since strategists and planners in Beijing and Washington may well seize on the article because of its prominent authors (a former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman and a former acting CIA director) and venue, it is important to examine it closely.
Winnefeld and Morrell are highly accomplished strategists whose ideas demand attention and respect. But the argument does not reflect the current weakness of China’s naval power or Beijing’s inability to enforce or attain its global aspirations through military might alone. Stipulating that domestic pressures and foreign developments might tempt Chinese President Xi Jinping and his colleagues into thinking about invasion, the considerations and realities that follow would likely stay their hand.
First, Western signals, electronic, and—above all—human intelligence capabilities would soon reveal the fig-leaf nature of any assertion that the buildup for (the hypothetical) invasion was simply an exercise in coastal waters to hone China’s military skills.
Second, the Pentagon, mindful for seven decades of Taiwan’s critical strategic location, could be expected to vigorously press both Republican and Democratic leaders and candidates for a prompt and united response immediately upon discerning China’s intentions.
Third, Xi and his colleagues could not be absolutely certain Japan and South Korea (with their modest but not negligible air, sea, and undersea assets) would not intervene, even absent U.S. action. Occupation of Taiwan by the People’s Republic would leave South Korea geographically and militarily isolated and Japan, especially its Senkaku island claims, directly imperiled. Such considerations could be perceived as overriding in both Seoul and Tokyo. In such a case, China would be faced with a key decision: proceed and risk failure, or back down and face international condemnation and ridicule.
Fourth, assuming China feels compelled to proceed, it simply does not possess the resources to mount a successful amphibious operation across 118 miles of often turbulent waters. At Inchon, South Korea, in September 1950—the last amphibious combat operation of any size—the invading forces included 230 ships, many of them large attack cargo vessels and comparably sized troop transports. China lacks such heavy lift capabilities, though it is planning to build several amphibious assault ships comparable to the U.S. Wasp class. It must rely instead on masses of fishing boats (some large enough to transport a tank or similar armored vehicle) to carry an army of thousands and their equipment across the waters and sustain them through many days of combat.
How large a force would be needed? My own research into the end of World War II in the Pacific (“Planning the Penultimate Stages of the Pacific War,” in the Naval Institute Press’s The Battle of Leyte Gulf at 75) revealed that planners at Pearl Harbor and the Pentagon agreed that no less than 12 war-hardened divisions would have been required to subdue Japanese forces in Taiwan. No member of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), from general to the meanest man in the ranks, has ever heard a shot fired in anger—at least not in intense modern combat. But the PLA would face a native army, fighting in its own fields, streets, and homes—one that might be weakened but not neutralized by “fifth column” agents within and beyond its ranks. Throwing rocks and bottles at Indian troops on the Himalayan frontier is poor preparation for over-the-beach operations on Taiwan.
Fifth, even if PLA troops did force a lodgment and were able to expand it, the iron laws of geography would soon take hold. For, while the western half of the island is flat, the eastern part is mountainous and wooded, providing perfect cover for guerrilla activities that could last for decades. As in Hong Kong, the people of Taiwan have over the past 70 years grown up under a system radically different from that on the Mainland.
Resentments over the sudden takeover by the Kuomintang in 1949 faded under a relatively free and increasingly prosperous lifestyle dramatically different from the authoritarian, often brutal conditions imposed by the Communist regime just 120 miles away. It is unknowable how many Taiwanese would take to the hills to regroup and then harass the invaders, but the PLA would expend time, blood, and treasure in fruitless hunt-and-destroy operations while guerrilla bands would periodically attack port and military facilities from Taipei to Kaohsiung. And the Beijing government would expend enormous diplomatic capi-tal trying to explain its harsh methods to a skeptical if not hostile world.
Xi and his talented colleagues know all this. They know they dare not jeopardize their overarching dream of softly reordering the world economy for the sake of satisfying domestic yearnings. There will be no invasion of Taiwan in the foreseeable future short of an open effort by Taipei to defy Beijing. There will be numerous (if probably failed) efforts by the People’s Republic to bring Taiwan into the fold through peaceful means.
—Lisle Rose, author, Power at Sea, vol. 3, (University of Missouri Press, 2006)
Aircraft Carriers: Bigger Is Better
(See T. Manvel, pp. 52–56, September 2020)
Captain Manvel’s essay perfectly illuminates why the supercarrier was the ultimate weapon in the 20th century—and why it is of questionable value in the 21st.
The essay begins with a comparison of the Gerald R. Ford–class aircraft carriers (CVNs) with the America-class amphibious assault ships (LHAs). While a CVN costs three times what an LHA does, it can be in only one place at a time, and it probably would take the same number of antiship missiles to put each out of action. But targeting three ships is much harder than targeting one.
The author’s illustration of how much more ordnance a large CVN can store than an LHA also demonstrates how such a concentration in a single large-signature platform violates the principles of distributed lethality, placing too many golden eggs in one basket.
While it is true that the America class cannot operate E-2 airborne early warning aircraft, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle (which is smaller than the Americas) can. It is not much of an advantage for a large carrier to be able to devote two fighter squadrons to dominate the battlespace while another two squadrons conduct strikes, because the carrier essentially must pay a self-defense tax of two squadrons inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone for 12 hours or more while the other two squadrons conduct the strikes, one providing fuel to the other.
Meanwhile, nine destroyers freed from defending a CVN could unleash the same amount of firepower, measured in strike-miles, as the carrier in less than 30 minutes—at less than half the cost and at much lower risk. Captain Manvel is correct when he illustrates how a nuclear power plant frees up space for aircraft, ordnance, and jet fuel while greatly improving the flight deck layout of a carrier and reducing dependence on fleet oilers. But a Charles de Gaulle–sized CVN is also nuclear powered and can gain similar advantages.
The CVX analysis of alternatives that resulted in the Gerald R. Ford class used a Persian Gulf campaign analysis, which made sense in the late 1990s, when we were expecting to conduct air campaigns close to the shores of an opponent who could barely shoot back. But today’s National Security Strategy requires ships capable of surviving, fighting, and winning against peer competitors with advanced long-range reconnaissance-strike capabilities.
Recent wargames conducted by the RAND Corporation and others call the efficacy of supercarriers in such an environment into doubt. While the LHA “Lightning carrier” is not a substitute for a CVN, other small carrier designs could be, as could using surface ships differently. Today’s Navy cannot afford a “too big to fail” approach. Captain Manvel proves bigger is more efficient but, in the process, accidentally demonstrates how overemphasis on efficiency can endanger the fleet.
—CDR Phillip E. Pournelle, USN (Ret.)
The Navy spends almost $12 billion every year to maintain, equip, and deploy CVNs. It must critically evaluate every weapon system, platform, and dollar to determine how each fits in the Navy and joint force battle plans. As measured by capabilities and return on investment, it should be abundantly clear that the nuclear supercarrier is outmoded. CVNs go to sea today with some of the smallest air wings, lightest payloads, and shortest strike ranges since the Korean War. Is it worth it?
In a 2017 USNI Blog post, (“The Carrier Debate Says More about Us Than It Does about the Carrier”), Lieutenant Commander Graham Scarbro asserted the shortcomings of the modern carrier are a result of myopic post–Cold War strategic assumptions, not an inherent failure of the platform. The development of antiship ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, unmanned vehicles, and other emerging threats are qualitatively different from previous ones. The Navy could continue to pour billions into the CVN in the hopes of its remaining a viable weapons platform, but at what opportunity cost?
Already, future budgets project draconian cuts across the operational forces to pay for the Columbia-class submarines and sustain the carrier force. P-8 acquisition has been slowed, a Virginia submarine has been delayed, and the number of destroyers to be built has been reduced. If nuclear deterrence is a “no-fail” mission, the construction of the Columbia cannot be delayed.
Every new attempt to “make the carrier relevant” relies on the promise of yet-to-be-fielded equipment, perfect emissions control, and a fanciful absence of Chinese countermeasures. Future carrier-based war plans are predicated on hope. Hope is not a course of action.
Eliminating or substantially reducing the size of the CVN force will face significant criticism, and federal law would need to be changed. Still, the Secretary of the Navy must critically evaluate how the service does business and where to save money.
Carriers have secured their place in history, but history is where they should remain. The information age has made them redundant, ineffective, and prohibitively expensive. If the Navy does not make hard choices now, it stands to lose far more than money in the future.
—LTJG Andrew Heckler, USN
Let Sailors Be Tactical Incubators
(See R. Hilger, pp. 26–31, June 2020)
My takeaway from Lieutenant Commander Hilger’s article is that it’s all about effective leadership and “culture change”: close collaboration between the operational forces and industry.
As a former deputy program manager in the Submarine Combat and Weapons Control Program Office (PMS 425), I became familiar with this dynamic firsthand. In the mid-1990s, it had become apparent that the Navy’s submarine force no longer held what was termed at the time “an acoustic advantage” when compared with the Russians. This realization became the catalyst for change on a scale seldom seen. Virtually every aspect of system acquisition had to change.
One aspect involved the relationship between the operational fleet and suppliers. The submarine force was one of the few Department of Defense (DoD) organizations to embrace using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computers. The more usual militarized computing development and support added considerable time and expense to system changes.
The United States had always believed its submarines and defense industrial base were superior to the Soviets’. That assumption was now in doubt.
The force created a design team to regain superiority. A concerted effort was made to open participation to small business, universities, and the operational fleet. Yes, those groups were all traditional participants, but not previously on the scale needed to regain what was called acoustic superiority.
A legendary submariner, Captain Rocky English, was asked to work with the type commanders to select the cream of the submarine fleet’s sonar operators for this task. A half dozen “Jonesies” were selected. All were veterans of many deployments with both the U.S. and foreign navies. These seasoned sonarmen had seen and used what our Navy and our allies had to offer. The rest of the design team was instructed to follow their lead.
They were very innovative and came to the project with many ideas of their own. They were instrumental not only in defining the man-machine interfaces for the new system, but also in providing invaluable guidance in the setup of the new system’s support and training approach.
The results were spectacular. At the eight-year anniversary of the Navy’s decision to follow this revolutionary approach, Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion (A-RCI) systems had been installed on more than 50 submarines, with at least four generations of hardware and software upgrades. A comparison of actual costs over the ten-year legacy period preceding and ten-year post-A-RCI introduction yielded cost reductions of 6:1 for development and 8:1 for operation and support. Superiority was regained and maintained in a fraction of the time and cost of the more usual process.
Then–Captain James J. Shannon built on the submarine community’s success by establishing new open architecture (OA) guidance supporting the Navy’s (and later, DoD’s) decision to implement an OA approach on all new systems. Later, Rear Admiral Shannon pioneered the Navy Integrated Fire Control Architecture that will become the backbone of the Navy’s counterair defense.
Who and where are the change agents today?
Need to Know
(See B. O’Rourke, p. 11, August 2020)
The item regarding U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) interest in the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle reminded me of my final exam question during the guided weapons course I took at Britain’s Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, UK, in 1994.
After a year of study, students were left alone in a small room and given one hour to sketch out a prescribed concept design—airframe, propulsion, guidance, and warhead—then present and defend the answer to a panel of six professors from various British universities.
My group had to develop a missile to be launched from a Carl Gustaf that would insert a stun grenade through a window of a building 1,000 yards away. This problem apparently was taken from a USMC requirement (suggesting the Marines have been interested in this Swedish weapon for some time). Ironically, while I was a Canadian naval officer (essentially a SWO equivalent), I was the only one, in a class dominated by British Army engineers, ever to have seen a Carl Gustaf.
This had occurred 20 years earlier, when my ship embarked a section of soldiers who were practicing small-unit landings from sea. Naturally, they brought a number of their weapons with them, including a Carl Gustaf, and decided to demonstrate it at sea against a raft target. The first soldier fired the weapon from the fo’c’sle but, after three days at sea in the rolling swells of the North Pacific, he was about as green as his uniform.
Next up was our chief bosun’s mate, a typical deck ape with several decades of sea time, who was not about to let a little blow upset his equilibrium. After a minute’s instruction on the weapon, the Buffer hoisted it to his shoulder and put the round through the target. Sometimes familiarity with the environment is as important as expertise with a weapon.
—CDR Mark Tunnicliffe, Royal Canadian Navy (Ret.)
White Officers: Maybe Oblivious But Not Innocent
(See W. Melbourne, pp. 12–14, September 2020)
We Don’t Need Conversations, We Need Systemic Change
(See J. Johnson, pp. 15–18, September 2020)
Commander Melbourne’s provocative title promised an engaging complement to a Proceedings issue dedicated to preparing for the future. Assessments of the Navy’s policies toward fostering diversity and equality are noble undertakings to ensure sailors are treated with fairness and dignity. It was disappointing, then, that this article fell short of being such an assessment. Its lack of evidence proved too weak a foundation to support its weighty indictments of innocent officers and the Navy.
Viewed as an admitted catharsis by a man confronting racial injustice for the first time, the article would be largely harmless. But as a misplaced exposé of systemic racism in the Navy, it represents a dangerous creep of visceral reactionism that has no place in policy making.
The author pulls no punches in his diagnosis of today’s Navy as a cesspool of complicit and ignorant officers. Yet, for all the clarity of the charges, he provides only cursory and contradictory responses. His presentation of the Navy’s color blindness as both cause and solution of discrimination is the most conspicuous example, but perhaps the most egregious is the citation of a single snapshot of force demographics to justify the claim that the Navy uses race as grounds for removing officers from positions of power.
Employer equity studies typically require sophisticated statistical techniques. (See, for example, Nell Moore, “Faculty Salary Equity: Issues in Regression Model Selection,” in Research in Higher Education 34, no. 1 .) Objective modeling needs data that can answer the question posed and capture features of the system, including measurements that characterize performance. Commander Melbourne’s analysis is deficient and misleading in both areas.
This comment does not presume to determine the presence or absence of racial discrimination in promotions, lacking as it does sufficient data and statistical hypothesis testing. Rather, it humbly aims to be a check against unsubstantiated claims heaped on a group of people based on race alone—for the author makes it clear his charges are aimed not at deliberate racists, but at officers “living their lives, working hard, making decisions as well as they can.” By labeling such officers “authors of devastation,” he criminalizes virtuous actions as contributors to racist promotion policies. Hence arrives the vital yet unaddressed corollary: What retribution awaits these rhetorically convicted officers?
Commander Melbourne’s commentary does introduce reasonable concerns about confronting biases in recruiting/retention, albeit tangentially. And the July unveiling of Task Force One Navy demonstrates a commitment by the service and its leaders to identify and dismantle barriers of inequality.
Grounded enterprises guided by statistics and the experiences of minority service members must continue to lead this progress, not visceral tirades that often end up being divisive, accusatory, and counterproductive. The commander, who seems to have assumed Proceedings’ readers would consider a friendship kindled with a black man “extraordinary,” relies primarily on the latter, and in doing so pits sailor against sailor. Only as one team can we comprehensively uproot disparities and discrimination to ensure the Navy is a place of opportunity and justice for all.
—ENS Logan Hughes, USN
Given the current climate and social unrest of the day, the commentaries by Commanders Johnson and Melbourne were not surprising. (Nor were their comments entirely original. Both borrowed heavily from the recent New York Times “1619 Project” and the book White Fragility.)
Both commentaries draw from the academic concepts of critical race theory and intersectionalism: That from the establishment of European colonies in the 17th century, America, and later the United States, was, is, and remains a racist experiment by white Europeans to subjugate and exploit the capital and labors of African Americans.
Further, these theories hold that racism is part of the soul, fabric, and root of the United States, and that every said institution, structure, policy, government at its root and core is by definition racist, including the U.S. Navy.
What puzzles me is this: If these authors truly do feel this way and have felt so for some time, why enlist, join, and swear allegiance and fidelity to what by their own definition is a racist institution? They do both realize that the Navy is at heart a warfighting organization with ships, guns, airplanes, and missiles that will take those assets into harm’s way. And in war, the blood of everyone—whatever their race—looks the same.
It seems that the core values of duty, honor, and courage could urge—dare I say, compel?—both to resign their commissions. Words are easy; actions and the strength of one’s convictions far harder.
—CDR Peter Gregory, USN (Ret.)
Flag Officers of the Naval Services
(See pp. 103–16 and 119–24, May 2020; and M. Arnold, p. 86, August 2020)
Lieutenant Commander Arnold wrote with concern that among flag officers shown in the Naval Review there are “zero people of color.” I noted the same condition, and Proceedings published my comments about that lack of diversity—in the December 1988 issue, 32 years ago! In my comments I offered six recommendations the Navy should promote to effect a change and five suggestions to help black officers achieve promotion. Over the years I have not noted much action on my own or similar recommendations. Today, however, there exists a new social climate that encourages change, so perhaps the Navy’s leaders and officers should act to find more ways to promote diversity at the flag level.
—LT William J. Veigele, USNR (Ret.),
Golden Life Member
Guided-Missile Patrol Boats for Distributed Maritime Operations
(See R. Stochel, pp. 62–66, August 2020)
I had the privilege of serving on a Pegasus-class hydrofoil (PHM). The attributes and challenges in employing guided-missile patrol boats (PGGs) identified by Commander Stochel are as salient today as they were nearly three decades ago. The PHM program itself serves as an excellent case study, lessons from which could be critical for the Navy to effectively deploy the next generation of PGGs.
The author makes an excellent comparison with torpedo patrol boats in the southwest Pacific during World War II in the development of PGG concepts of operation. Limitations in PHM range forever hampered them from integration with the carrier battle group because there was no shift in doctrine to employ them any way other than as traditional warships. Treating them as akin to maritime patrol aircraft might have leveraged their capability without hampering battle group mobility.
Low cost was never an attribute of the PHM. Economy of scale could not be reached because the program was reduced to only six hulls completed. A future PGG program needs the commitment to build in numbers to fully achieve an economic advantage.
Weapons and speed remain key for high payoff (interpreted as high kill rate, to paraphrase Admiral Scott Swift). At one point, the PHM claimed to be the most heavily armed warship per ton in the U.S. Navy. Its speed, or rather its ability to change speed rapidly, provided accuracy in passive targeting unmatched by other ships. Future PGG platform design must consider these attributes to create the high payoff Commander Stochel advocates.
PGGs possess outstanding potential for distributed maritime operations. Success will come by studying the lessons of past programs.
—CDR Jack Lacivita, USNR (Ret.)
Commander Stochel cites the M80 Stiletto, designed and built by a private company, as a rapid and affordable means for the Navy to deliver the latest innovative technologies to the fleet. She is not the first privately designed Stiletto offered to the Navy for such a purpose.
In 1885, the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol, Rhode Island, designed and built a 25-mile-per-hour, 94-foot steam torpedo boat fitted as a yacht. It was faster than any U.S. Navy vessel then in service. After being aggressively marketed to the Secretary of the Navy and tried thoroughly by a Navy board, Congress authorized its purchase.
Fitted with bow- and deck-mounted trainable torpedo tubes, it qualified for the latest innovative technology of the day—the self-propelled torpedo. At the advent of the Spanish-American War, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt directed deployment of the first torpedo flotilla; of the four vessels in it, Herreshoff designed and built three. The Navy designed the other.
—CAPT John J. Palmieri, USN (Ret.)
For a Secure Indo-Pacific, Grow the Quad!
(See S. Shrikhande, pp. 38–42, August 2020)
The graphic used to represent the flag of India on page 38 is incorrect. The flag of Indonesia is shown.
All the articles in this issue regarding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific are amazingly well written and provide deep new insight. However, it will not be possible to establish maritime security there without the cooperation of Indonesia, which was not mentioned in any of the articles. Indonesia is the third-largest democracy in the world, stretching across 3,200 miles from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans.
Partnerships will be crucial, and maintaining peace will require deeper relationships with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
—LT Jamieson Prevoznak, CHC, USN
Shortfalls in the Marine Corps’ EABO Concept
(See B. W. B. Ho, p. 30, July 2020)
Kudos to the author for his well-considered examination of the expeditionary advanced base (EABO) concept, an idea so bereft of practicality and logic I initially believed it a prank.
Certainly, it is riddled with much silliness, but the greatest of all is: The Marine Corps apparently is not aware that a similar but better concept exists. Indeed, the nation already has the capacity to field a quick-action/reaction strike capability that—unlike a small islet or sand spit or jungle hideout—is agile and mobile. We call the platforms that can provide this capability “ships” (rhymes with chips) and “submarines” (rhymes with . . . well, nothing).
The idea that a small force of Marines is going to get a highly complex missile system off a landing craft, into position, and ready for action in a short time is pure James Bond. Not only does the enemy get a proverbial vote, but so do weather, tides, topography, and forgetful or poorly trained lance corporals, not to mention the Navy, balky and failure-prone equipment, and communication and sensor links. One might suspect that the authors of this poorly thought-out idea never served stints as logistics or maintenance officers.
Absolutely, the nation needs the ability to influence and deliver effects against China much as the Commandant envisions. But the Marine Corps should have no role in doing it in this manner—certainly not with EABO.
—LCOL Jay A. Stout, USMC (Ret.)