(See pp. 40–58, March 2021)
It was instructive to read the answers from the commanders of other naval forces with respect to the question about finding the balance between money and force capabilities. For the most part, it was, “It’s a challenge, but we have successfully met it.” Especially interesting was the response from a European admiral who maintained that his navy had emerged from a long period of downsizing without having sacrificed any capability. Indeed.
It was therefore refreshing to read the response of the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord: “We have not.” This is a person who is not afraid to speak truth to both his political masters and his sailors. U.S. commanders should take note.
When I was a Navy physician, I spoke at the Naval Institute’s October 2000 symposium on the safety of the anthrax vaccine. The presentation was well received by our military’s members and its leaders, and the anthrax vaccine was eventually withdrawn. I wish to share with my colleagues in uniform now in service—and especially to those who are choosing not to be vaccinated—that declining the COVID-19 vaccine may be unwise.
I have personally received the Pfizer vaccine and have investigated its safety profile. These vaccines are clearly of a better caliber than the anthrax vaccine, and I believe the vaccines currently being administered will help our world emerge successfully from a pandemic that has killed more than half a million citizens of our country. I am sharing my input because I have learned from military personnel that many consider these two vaccines equivalently problematic, resulting in a poor uptake within the military. But nothing could be further from the truth.
—Craig Michael Uhl, MD, former LT,
(See M. Hall, pp. 60–63, February 2021)
Lieutenant Commander Hall has written a thoughtful, important article, focusing our attention on combat search and rescue and the possible need for mass casualty recovery during a future conflict with a peer naval competitor. It’s gratifying to see that people are thinking about this difficult challenge. The one question I have is how some of his suggestions can be implemented in the highly restricted emissions-control battlespace environment that will characterize such future conflicts.
For example, he discusses using telecommunications-capable drones to assist in medical/trauma care on ships or for units too small to carry a medical team. Likewise, several of the scenarios he outlines require GPS (likely to be jammed, degraded, spoofed, or eliminated in the first hours of a peer conflict) and the use of locators to be carried by Marines in the field to summon medical assistance. I recall a prior Proceedings article that reminded us “that to be detected is to be killed.” So, while the author’s vision of employing these technologies will be extremely useful in an electromagnetic spectrum-permissive scenario, we need to further explore how to accomplish these life-saving tasks where strict emissions control is required to survive.
—Capt. Daniel S. Schwartz, USMM (Ret.)
(See R. German, online, February 2021)
I agree with the author about the importance of understanding one’s enemy and operating environment, designing a clear strategy, and integrating elements of national power to support that strategy. However, these concepts are not specific to counterinsurgency.
The author misses the obvious point that counterinsurgency only works (when it works at all) as a means of countering an insurgency. The sand and rock formations of the South China Sea have no meaningful “local populations” to serve as the kind of auxiliary force the author proposes. Even if they did, there is no Chinese “insurgency” to counter in the South China Sea. China is a nation-state and a near-peer adversary, and a war with China would be an interstate (primarily conventional) conflict, not a counterinsurgency. Chinese naval vessels and aircraft are not “insurgents.” China Coast Guard vessels are not insurgents, nor are members of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, who are irregular forces but directed by a state actor.
An obsession with counterinsurgency paralyzed the Army’s thinking for a decade. We need not, and should not, attempt to transplant such thinking into the Sea Services.
—LCDR Brian Hayes, USNR (Ret.)
(See C. Bott, March 2021, pp. 34–39)
Captain Bott’s description of Russia’s Northern Fleet as “revitalized and capable of effective offensive operations” is at odds with most facts and observations.
For example, his cited Knyaz Vladimir, the fourth ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) of the Borei series, was eight years from keel laying to commissioning, almost twice as long as the fourth SSBN of the Ohio class. That Russian program—like other submarine projects—appears to be several years behind schedule. The Akula attack submarine cited, the Vepr, may have just completed an extensive overhaul, but she was laid down in 1990—the “basic” hull, machinery, and systems are more than 30 years old.
The delivery of the new nuclear-powered attack submarine Kazan has been delayed—again. She will be only the second new SSN placed in commission since 1996! And how many operational nuclear-powered submarines are available in the Northern (and Pacific) Fleets? The U.S. Navy can count 14 SSBNs and 54 guided-missile and attack craft currently in commission.
Yes, the Belgorod “mother submarine” is impressive. She, too, was laid down some 30 years ago, and so far appears to be one of a kind. But she is not Russia’s largest submarine. The much larger Typhoon-class Dmitriy Donskoy remains in service as a missile test ship and is planned to remain in that role for another five years.
Not addressed by the author is the Russian Navy’s surface ship situation. The most-impressive, nuclear-powered “battlecruiser” Pyotr Velikiy is the only one of the four Kirov-class ships that remains operational. The Admiral Nakhimov of that design is said to be undergoing modernization, but that work is far behind schedule. Meanwhile, Russia has not built a destroyer or cruiser in more than two decades. Its recently built frigates and corvettes are well armed and impressive warships. But they do not compare to the capabilities of the U.S. Navy’s 90 Aegis cruisers and destroyers.
And the U.S. Navy has ten nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in commission, plus one being refueled and upgraded, and replacements are under construction. The Russian Navy can list only one flattop, the Admiral Kuznetsov. That carrier’s operations off Syria, which the author cites, were neither impressive nor long-lasting. And she recently suffered a devastating fire while in the Severodvinsk shipyard. She will emerge from repairs and modernization in a “few years,” according to some sources—if ever. While new carriers are planned, their design and construction start do not appear to have been decided.
A final point is manpower: The Russian Navy, like the other armed services, relies on a one-year conscription policy, imposing considerable problems for maintaining qualified enlisted personnel. While the indications are that the navy has a most competent cadre of officers and warrant officers, there are problems in ship manning.
There are many impressive aspects of the Russian Navy, but the “challenge of the Northern Fleet” declared by Captain Bott may be based at a Potemkin village.
The Author Responds: Mr. Polmar and I may be speaking past one another. He does a terrific job comparing Russian Navy capabilities with those of the U.S. Navy, where the U.S. Navy comes out on top.
Such a comparison, however, is outside my scope—and not, in fact, what the Russian Admiralty is preparing its Northern Fleet for. Indeed, the armed forces, security services, and Vladimir Putin himself have no interest in peer-to-peer conflict with the United States. Instead, they will continue to strive to asymmetrically influence, disrupt, and, if necessary, badly hurt the United States.
The Russian Navy’s missions are more narrowly focused than our Navy’s, a reflection of different national security interests. Charged with fielding and protecting ballistic-missile submarines and defending the homeland from U.S. strike groups and attack subs, the Russian Navy has uneven capabilities, if credible and improving ones. Its ability to conduct secondary missions (such as out-of-area power projection) certainly has shortcomings but is likewise improving.
Emerging capabilities entering the Northern Fleet and the Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research in the next decade will allow Moscow to find and exploit seams in our defenses and support Putin’s explicitly stated intent to put at risk not only military units but also Western leaders, cities, and infrastructure.
One might add surprise as a feature when considering capabilities and intent. Our record on accurately predicting and responding to Moscow’s malign behavior is, at best, mixed—with APT28/APT29 (SolarWinds) the most recent in a series of surprises for the intelligence community.
I appreciate Mr. Polmar’s perspective on Russia’s shortcomings, and while I fundamentally agree, I am making a different point. Of note, the Potemkin villages metaphor is interesting. While the terrifically accomplished Prince Potemkin did establish the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, there is scant evidence that he manufactured ersatz villages for his lover Catherine’s 1787 visit to Crimea.
—CAPT Christopher Bott, USN (Ret.)
(See B. Young and J. Wood, online,
I agree with the authors on many points, though with some nuanced disagreements and caveats. I wholeheartedly concur that the U.S. military—especially the Army—needs to create a fully resourced branch for information operation (IO) practitioners to create a group identity.
The authors’ proposal to create a branch, similar to logistics, has some advantages, such as having a prerequisite skillset within the information environment. However, unlike the authors, I prefer a non-accessions branch model that would vet seasoned IO personnel similar to how civil affairs selects people. This model would ensure that the IO environment would draw from a diverse group of officers with varied skills—and contacts—that could make up any potential IO branch.
Regardless, the much more significant point is that they are correct it is long past time to have a fully resourced IO branch with its own cultural identity distinct from other branches. Such a branch would also advocate for training, align doctrine, and promote the profession, ensuring IO is less confusing, and fully ensure the U.S. military can compete within the Army’s multidomain operations framework. It also would support aligning IO personnel with IO elements—not the case at present.
Second, there is a reason for the evolution of the IO. To a degree, I defend the convoluted and confusing. The IO realm is perplexing because the information environment in which an IO practitioner should be an expert is confusing and changes every day. The buzzwords within the IO community do not help (e.g., strategic communication). It feels as if we are arguing more about the meaning of words than performing the IO function.
Third, while I support creating a social identity, leave room for some ambiguity. Right now, IO practitioners can chart their own courses while keeping within the spirit of IO doctrine (i.e., JP 3-13). It is incumbent on the IO practitioner to advance himself or herself to be an expert in the information environment and provide recommendations; for all intents and purposes, an IO practitioner may just be an underpaid consultant providing custom-made services and advice when needed.
It is long overdue that the Army takes the information environment more seriously by providing a support structure through some kind of an IO branch, one worthy of a culturally significant group identity. This is important to our service members and critical to achieving and maintaining decision dominance in the coming years.
—Maj. Matthew Fecteau, USA
U.S. Service Member Crimes in Japan
The total number of Japanese policemen is about 300,000. The number of serious crimes committed by Japanese policemen is reported in Internet news to be roughly 70 in a year.
The total number of soldiers in United States Forces Japan is roughly 50,000. The number of serious crimes committed by soldiers of U.S. Forces Japan is reported to be only a few in a year. Therefore, we can safely say that the crime rate of U.S. Forces Japan with comparable seriousness is not particularly higher than that of Japan’s police. In fact, the crime rate of the Japanese police is apparently higher than that of U.S. Forces Japan. It is not fair to blame the United States for its military’s misconduct without taking these facts into account.
—Dr. Satoru Hirano
(See P. Kotilkoff, pp. 72–76, October 2020; A. Battenburg, p. 89, December 2020; and C. Olson, pp. 9 & 86, January 2021)
During my 46-plus years in Naval Nuclear Propulsion, I spent more than 25 working in or with public and private shipyards servicing and building nuclear ships. The authors’ stories ring true regarding the significant delays and cost overruns of submarine availabilities.
When I first went to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 1988, it held about one-third of the homeported submarines in overhaul captivity. Performance across the shipyards has not improved since then. Initial scopes of work were underestimated, and budgets were low-balled to meet fiscal restraints. Work scope always mushroomed, and cost overruns followed.
All sorts of program and project management improvement schemes have been tried. But one key area has a major effect on availability schedules but usually goes overlooked until the crisis stage (delay in undocking): tanks, especially ballast tanks.
Ballast tanks—a critical feature of submarines—by nature must operate in the very harsh seawater and air environment. Tank work anywhere on a ship—especially ballast tank work—is confined, claustrophobic, uncomfortable, and dirty. And since ballast tanks cannot be inspected until after drydocking, they inevitably lead to growth in the scope of work. Even assigning sole task tank managers to each tank with dedicated resources results in limited and uneven success, as resources often get targeted for “higher priority” work elsewhere. Because tank work usually resulted in delays, other second- and third-order priority task managers would not be forthcoming about their lingering issues, hiding behind the impending or growing tank work delays, hoping to sort out their issues without management attention—until it becomes too late, resulting in additional delays.
Keeping a ship “fit to fight” requires a lot of hard work, materials, attention to detail, adequate budget, and trained personnel resources. Those in their granite palaces do not really understand what it takes to perform routine preventive maintenance, let alone major ship repairs and overhauls. Those in the trenches often submit realistic budget and resource requests but are told by the granite palaces that the requests are too expensive and will take too long, demanding less cost on a shorter schedule. Then they wonder why the Navy cannot meet its needs and commitments.
The recent engine fire and explosion on a United Airlines Boeing 777 reminded me of my second-class cruise in 1951.
A Navy passenger plane, I think it was named “Constitution,” with four engines, was loaded with midshipmen going to Eglin Air Force Base and Pensacola, Florida. I was sitting in a window seat on the starboard side not far behind the engines. Shortly after takeoff, I noticed what looked like fire coming out of the inboard engine. It suddenly grew in intensity, and I called the crew chief. He came back to my seat and observed the now flaming engine. He ran up to the cockpit to alert the pilots.
The engine was immediately shut down and the flames extinguished. The pilots probably were aware of the problem, but the crew chief came back to thank me for reporting the fire. We returned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, where the engine was replaced. We spent the night and took off the next morning with no more incidents.
—Capt. Charles Fellows, USN (Ret.)
(See A. Clift, p. 93, February 2021)
Mr. Clift’s article with Captain Shellenbarger’s account of the nuclear ship Savannah’s launching was interesting and timely. I remember touring the Savannah during her port call in San Diego in the early 1960s. She was an impressive vessel then and still is.
The ship, minus the reactor, is currently moored at the Canton Marine Terminal in Baltimore. The Savannah is on the National Historic Register and tended by volunteers from the N.S. Savannah Association. In January, the Maritime Administration issued a call for proposals identifying a future use for the historic ship.
—CDR Jon Mullarky, USNR (Retired)
(See S. Callihan, pp. 34–37, January 2021)
Lieutenant Commander Callihan’s surface warfare training proposals have merit, but readers should not confuse aviators’ qualification and Wings of Gold with surface warfare officer (SWO) qualification. These are two quite different qualifications, even though both result in gold pins worn proudly.
Qualification and designation as a naval aviator or naval flight officer mean the officer has demonstrated the skills and competency to operate an aircraft as measured by standards set forth in a syllabus. A SWO pin shows that not only has the officer satisfactorily demonstrated the leadership, seamanship skills, and competency to stand the watch as officer-of-the-deck (OOD), but also has shown leadership, skills, and competency as a naval officer.
The character, knowledge, and abilities of an officer are proven by executing duties as a division officer. The commanding officer (CO) then chairs an oral board to validate an officer’s readiness to be designated a SWO. The CO is best positioned to determine whether the officer meets qualification standards as he or she has closely observed the candidate.
Make no mistake, standing the watch as OOD is a core SWO competency and foundational to our profession. One cannot be a SWO without mastering the art and science of being an OOD. The SWO qualification, however, is greater than an OOD qualification. To borrow from John Paul Jones, a SWO pin means the wearer is not only a “capable mariner . . . but a great deal more.”
—CDR Ted Pledger, USN
(See R. Stuart, pp. 68–69, January 2021)
Regarding SenIor Chief Stuart’s fascinating account of the USS Midway (CV-41) off Korea in 1981, I have an anecdote. In the article, he expresses anxiety over the “meager” half-inch bulkhead plating separating his workspace from potential North Korean weapons. He need not have worried.
Apparently unknown to the senior chief, the Midway was not the only U.S. combatant out there at the time. My own USS Buchanan (DDG-14) was also present. We arrived in Sasebo for an upkeep period on 15 December 1981 to last through Christmas. I remember passing the Midway at the weapons pier on our way in. Soon after arrival, I received a rather urgent “Personal For” message from Captain McGrail requesting my presence aboard the Midway as soon as possible. He briefed me on the North Korea situation and advised me to be ready to get under way on very short notice.
On 19 December, we hurriedly departed India Basin and accompanied the Midway out of Sasebo into the Sea of Japan. I do not recall being any farther away from her than 2,000 yards during the entire period of our operations, much of which we spent astern as plane guard (often in thick fog, further impressing me with our naval aviators’ skills). Finally, the North Koreans stood down from their exercises, and, late on 22 December, we were detached. The Midway began a fast transit home to Yokosuka and then-PO1 Stuart was able to make his skiing trip. The Buchanan returned to Sasebo to resume our maintenance period and spend a lonely Christmas away from home (San Diego). We left the Midway with a feeling of pride that we were there and ready when called to ensure “our” carrier was adequately protected from threats below, on, and above the surface.
—CAPT Michael Mays, USN (Ret.),
Commanding Officer, USS Buchanan,
July 1981–June 1983