The Coast Guard’s Firefighting Fiction
Every Sailor a Firefighter
Fireboats are not what is lacking. We need more trained firefighters familiar with multiple classes of ships that can respond in numbers to an in-port fire. I say this as someone who was a damage control assistant and a chief engineer on a ship that had a fire.
Fireboats put out massive volumes of water and can quickly alter ship stability. The case of the 1942 loss of the SS Normandie/USS Lafayette (AP-53) in New York Harbor because of fireboat overkill is a good example. Too much water is just as bad as not enough/early enough.
Problems on your ship always come back to shipboard training and the general awareness of the crew regarding fire hazards. Yes, the institutional Navy has some blame, notably in its reduction in the size of the onboard duty section since 1993—to the point at which those sailors are too few in number to sustain a major firefighting effort.
—Steve Wills, Navy League Center for Maritime Security
“Damn . . . the Torpedoes!”
I found Captain Belt’s article most informative. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I served as the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) staff officer for Admiral Stanley Arthur on the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19). I certainly did not have the same vantage point Captain Belt had over the traditional mine countermeasures (MCM) effort, as that was not my focus, and I defer to his observations. Rather my focus was on the EOD forces that operated during the war. In fact, I would argue that it was those EOD forces who won Desert Shield.
Realizing that the biggest threat was World War I–era floating contact mines, in December 1990, we began to split up the traditional four-man EOD dive teams from the carriers and ammunition ships and began to deploy them as two-man “pouncer” teams, a concept that had been notionally exercised during PacEx 88 but never deployed practically. For a floating mine, the process was to surface swim to it and disable it, but two swimmers could better accomplish the task and therefore we could deploy double the number of pouncer teams.
The powers that be took some convincing. The historical method for dealing with a floating mine was to shoot at it so that it would sink—but, usually, it would sink only a few feet below the surface. It then became a much-more-dangerous subsurface floating mine. With the new process, once a ship’s lookout team spotted a mine, the pouncer team would swim to it and attach a C4 satchel. A waiting Zodiac or helicopter would quickly take them out of the blast zone before detonation. It is estimated that dozens of such floating mines were destroyed prior to 11 January 1991, the beginning of the Gulf War.
Ships could easily have endured a worse fate from striking these mines than did the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) or Princeton (CG-59). And the public reaction to losing a capital ship prior to commencing the war might have been more than problematic. It should be noted that the efforts of these pouncer teams did not stop once the Tomahawks began to fly but continued to the end of the war, as well as during the clearance efforts post-conflict throughout the northern Gulf.
The point, then, is that rudimentary, low-cost methods successfully worked in concert with MCM platforms during the Gulf War. And today, although advanced MCM technology and sophisticated remote mine-hunting systems are now available, EOD technicians remain a crucial part of the mix, as they were in 1990–91. The much-needed effort to replace the man in the minefield may be on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
—CAPT Tom Bernitt, USN (Ret.)
You Have to Be There
The idea of a South China Sea counterinsurgency is intriguing; however, I am skeptical.
I agree with Dr. Holmes that you must be there, but I question what is best to bring to the fight. During my three years with the State Department in Afghanistan, we often faced the task of evaluating Taliban incursions into districts and provinces. Rarely was it a black-and-white matter. Insurgent tendrils do not always spread at the point of a gun. One of the most telling gauges of Taliban control was not guns or firepower but the rule of law. To whom were villagers turning to seek redress of grievances?
If a farmer goes to sleep with a goat tethered in his compound and wakes the next day to find his courtyard empty, he wants justice. If he observes the animal in a neighbor’s backyard, in whom does he place his confidence to right this wrong? Representatives of the central government or insurgency? Trust in the Taliban was a sure indicator of the insurgents’ sway over the farmer and community.
Granted, when the local Talib investigated the situation, he was carrying a gun. However, the more significant point is the delivery of services. In too many instances, the insurgents were better able to deliver needed economic, political, and social services to the populace.
Applying this lens to the South China Sea and the maritime environment, it is wise to ask who can best provide needed opportunities to the nations in the area and, by extension, the Pacific basin. Has China provided any indication it will lead in a cooperative, engaging manner? China often relies on coercive, “debt-trap diplomacy.” Perhaps flooding the zone with armed presence is not the best approach. We should consider a process to engage allies and partners in a regional mechanism to settle disputes, reduce trade barriers, and encourage economic growth. Such a rules-based order we should be prepared to enforce.
—CDR Steve A. Hill, USN (Ret.)
The Maritime COIN project articles were excellent, but referencing just two quotes from Dr. Holmes’ article is sufficient to illustrate a major issue crucial to addressing the geopolitical challenge the United States faces:
You have to be there . . . and be prepared to stay there.
The ultimate determinant in war is the man on the scene with the gun.
The crucial issue is describing what are the actual “man” and “gun” Admiral Wylie’s figurative ones refer to.
Let’s describe a very possible, scaled, integrated force of small units, comprising a boat (not a ship), a small aircraft, and existing but modified land vehicles. Each would reflect best practices in reducing signatures in the four areas of concern: radar, infrared, sound, and visual acquisition.
The boat would be no more than 90 feet long, and its maximum weapons load out would be similar to those of World War II PT boats as a percentage of gross tonnage. Actual weapons carried for any given set of roles and missions would vary. This flexibility would also apply to its open systems architecture. In addition, it would carry a range of small UAVs, and would also work with theater UAV assets. It would be capable of operating independently but would be designed primarily to operate as a team with the paired air and land assets.
The aircraft would have a clean gross weight of up to 9,000 pounds, including a significant internal weapons load. Its roles and missions would be stunningly broad—and are almost completely unmet: observation, tactical-level C4ISR, and light attack, among others.
A range of good land vehicles, both domestic and foreign, could be easily adapted to the requirements of working with the rest of the team.
Pie in the sky? Actually, there are real and conceptual models that indicate that such parameters are well within current technology and production capabilities. Institutional opposition has slowed their adoption, as it has previous innovations.
The Pegasus-class hydrofoils demonstrated some very potent capabilities when operating within island archipelagos and littoral waters—environments that are now of great concern in the first island chain. Unfortunately, the USS Pegasus (PHM-1) embarrassed the blue-water Navy, and as quickly as politically feasible, the boats were retired.
The Air Force is adamantly opposed to such an aircraft, for reasons similar to those the Navy applied to the Pegasus class. It would be seen as threatening the funding, even the conception, of several high-end programs. This has been the author’s actual experience as well as observation of Special Operations Command’s recent experience in getting a useful armed reconnaissance aircraft into service.
But would the effort be worth it? Consider that a single team consisting of four such boats and four such aircraft, outfitted for a conventional conflict, excluding land units, could salvo some 20 modern antiship missiles while possessing significant antiair capabilities! Impossible? Open your minds! You just haven’t ever given such possibilities serious consideration
—LT Thomas J. Rath, USNR
Make Navy Medicine Ready to Fight Tonight
Mission one for every sailor and Marine—active and reserve, uniformed and civilian—is the operational readiness of today’s naval force. Navy Medicine directly supports this mission by ensuring warfighters are medically ready to fight today and tomorrow. We are responsible for maintaining and increasing the survivability and lethality of the Navy and Marine Corps’ most valuable weapon system: people.
So it was with great interest that I read the article.
Military treatment facilities (MTFs)—which are all under the authority, direction, and control of the Defense Health Agency—remain important readiness training platforms for Navy Medicine professionals. They provide the clinical workload to help build the knowledge, skills, and abilities our doctors, nurses, dentists, corpsmen, and medical service officers need to do their mission.
The warfighter benefits when we have access to complex and challenging surgical cases at either MTFs or through the civilian partnerships we have developed with leading medical centers to provide the necessary “reps and sets”—to prepare our Navy Medicine professionals for demanding operational assignments.
In a direct effort to increase our readiness at MTFs, we stood up Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Commands (NMRTCs) to provide command and control for Navy Medicine personnel, as well as the structure to execute service-specific force readiness requirements.
NMRTC commanding officers are charged to ensure our medical personnel are ready to “fight tonight.” Their work includes the development of readiness performance plans to ensure our women and men have the clinical currency and operational competency to support expeditionary medical systems. The role of our NMRTCs continues to evolve.
To improve warfighter readiness, Navy Medicine has made significant changes to the management of sailors and Marines placed on temporary limited duty to ensure the focus is on recovery. We have partnered with the Navy clinical communities to develop a conditions-based limited duty guide that assigns recommended durations to the top 100 conditions that service members are referred for in the limited duty process. This work directly supports the Navy’s efforts to reduce gaps at sea. Based on the most recent data, the Navy has seen an 8 percent reduction in limited duty durations since implementation. That means more warfighters are now ready for duty.
Thanks to Lieutenant Commander Wallace for his insights into keeping MTFs sharply focused on operational readiness. As a high-reliability organization, Navy Medicine is never content and welcomes rapid-cycle feedback to make improvements. The stakes are high: On a sailor’s or Marine’s worst day, we must be at our best.
—RADM Bruce Gillingham, Surgeon General of the Navy
Functional Medicine for a Functional Force
I agree with Major Watts that Navy Medicine should evolve to encompass a more holistic approach to patient care. Regardless of branch or specialty, military service exacts a greater physical toll on the body than the average civilian job. It should be expected that adequate, progressive, and all-encompassing care is provided. While I am sure the tenets of osteopathic medicine will greatly improve both the diversity and quality of care in Navy medicine, I believe there are several other issues that also need to be addressed.
Navy Medicine is notorious for making it difficult to schedule an appointment, see an actual healthcare provider, or obtain a specialist referral. Often, the only way to receive basic care is by convincing local practitioners to circumvent the formal processes they claim they are enforcing. When small medical issues go untreated, they often turn into larger problems. The military lifestyle is hard enough without your primary healthcare provider telling you that he or she doesn’t have any availability until after your next deployment.
In the end, healthcare workers cannot provide unless they are empowered to do so. It is important for leaders to recognize that providers cannot give quality care unless they have the time and resources to consider concepts like those Major Watts outlined. Senior leaders need to make it possible for Navy Medicine to actually carry out its mission of caring for the fleet, so the fleet can effectively execute its mission.
—LT Sean Cruess, USN
In the Digital Age, Make Ships Go Dark
The Atrophy of Mission Command
It was apposite that August brought both a Professional Note about the need to revamp expectations regarding emissions control and a feature article on the erosion of mission command in the modern era. These two excellent contributions highlight two sides of a critical gap that must be addressed to compete effectively against capable adversaries.
As intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) tools become increasingly more capable, emissions control becomes ever more crucial. At the same time, “going dark” necessarily entails cutting ties (albeit temporarily) with higher authority. Retired Admiral James Stavridis recently appeared on the Sea Control podcast to discuss his book, To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision. He highlighted how readily commanders can consult up the chain when faced with consequential leadership decisions relative to their counterparts in earlier eras.
While Naval Doctrine Publication 1 (NDP-01) states, “Mission command is the preferred approach,” this succinct vision is often at odds or inconsistent with the expectations of the digital age, in which information can be a mouse click away. Mission command and leadership decisions, in general, are often uncomfortable, especially when tolerance for “crimes of command” (to borrow from Captain Michael Junge) is significantly reduced or absent.
Yet peer competitors will do their best to make it more difficult and, in some cases, impossible for leaders forward to consult others. Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie pithily wrote that “the ultimate determinant in war is the man on the scene with the gun.” This holds not only for actions but for decisions as well. Future success will depend on front-line commanders embracing the ethos of mission command, but they cannot do so effectively without support from their superiors in the face of uncertain outcomes.
Lieutenant Goldman is entirely correct in his promotion of Navy warships operating under emission control (EmCon) at sea.
In May 1986, Battle Group Romeo deployed to the western Pacific as the first battleship battle group, with the USS New Jersey (BB-62) as the centerpiece of the task group.
On departing Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the force was split into two groups: the guided-missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9), with her escorts with all radars and communications lit off; and the battleship and our Oliver Hazard Perry–class frigate in total EmCon Alfa, with just our satellite radio in receive only. We kept in total EmCon until sea and anchor detail the morning we arrived in Inchon, South Korea.
The Soviet Tu-95 Bears found the Long Beach group—but never found the battleship! Emission control works.
—OSC(SW/AW) John M. Duffy, USN (Ret.)
It Is Time to Move the Coast Guard to DoD
I can understand Captain Garofolo’s frustrations with support facilities and services for Coast Guard personnel, but moving the 232-year-old organization to the Department of Defense (DoD) will do more harm than good.
The Coast Guard is the smallest of the armed services and unique—a paramilitary organization with myriad responsibilities and duties. The other armed forces remain relatively isolated from the society they protect; the Coast Guard, on the other hand, has a close relationship with the nation’s civilian population thanks to the nature of its work. A transfer to DoD will inevitably lead to the Coast Guard being subjected to the formal military professionalism and culture prevalent in the other services, resulting in a detrimental impact on the amicable relationship it currently enjoys with the American public.
Far more ominous would be the Coast Guard’s position within DoD. Being the newcomer and the smallest of the services, do you really think the Coast Guard would be able to hold its own against its larger and more influential peers when it comes to appropriations and priorities?
A transfer to the Department of Defense could result in undermining the existence and morale of a maritime service that has always taken pride in its distinctive identity and connection with the American people.
—George Walker, Life Member
Think Small to Win Big in the South China Sea
A Campaign Plan for the South China Sea
Ensign Danby said, “Build a 500-ship battle fleet by 2040 that allows the Pacific Fleet to field a mobile and flexible force of unmanned vessels and lighter warships.” To do this, the U.S. Navy is going to need a lot of smaller warships.
Iran is a master of asymmetric warfare. It knows you can have a $2 billion destroyer with all sorts of capabilities, but if you send 30 small missile-armed fast-attack craft against it, one or two are bound to get through. The bombing of the USS Cole (DDG-67) showed what one suicide boat could do to the hull of an Arleigh Burke–class destroyer. And the Iranian government is not too concerned about the lives of the crews on its fast-attack craft.
China, though, has not only many fast-attack craft, but also a huge number of missiles, especially cruise missiles designed to sink large U.S. warships. It also knows that even though we have very good defenses against this, several missiles are bound to get through and sink their targets. And we know it, too.
A fleet of 12 Lewis B. Puller–class expeditionary sea bases could act as “motherships” to support our own fleet of fast-attack craft (FAC). There are many such craft in use today to choose from. If range and firepower are needed, the Cyclone class or the Coast Guard’s Sentinel class cutters have very good range and can be equipped to carry a wide variety of missiles. For inshore work closer to Pacific islands, there are the Mark VI patrol boats as well as the CB90 fast assault boats. Both are fast and hard to hit.
These craft are a bargain when compared with the cost of a destroyer, frigate, or littoral combat ship. They have small crews and can be built quickly and in large numbers. We used the same concept in World War II with motherships/tenders that supplied and repaired PT boats at island bases throughout the Pacific. They helped strangle Japanese coastal shipping.
Midshipmen Must Rebuild a Warfighting Culture at the Academy
Ensign Martin provides a good example of what may have been a problem with the Navy starting in the early 1990s. My questions are: How did the Naval Academy lose its warfighting culture? How can it be prevented from happening again? And what replaced the culture? He might be able to write a book about the entire subject!
There was a leadership change rolled out in the early 1990s when the Navy was introduced to the term “political correctness.” Another change I remember was “Management by Objective,” which brought a corporate mindset to the military. Another leadership culture was what I think was termed “TQL” or Total Quality Leadership, which was introduced by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Frank Kelso, who consulted with Dr. W. Edwards Deming on 14 key principles for management. But it was geared to a business organization and not a warfighting organization. This caused many problems for the Navy, which still has many aspects of that corporate/business culture rather than a warfighting one!
—YNC Bernard Michael Burawski, USN (Ret.), Life Member