Major Nicholson chooses successful campaigns to illustrate his principles, but I disagree that the Falkland Islands War was a British home game only 275 miles from Argentina. Geographical proximity is an undeniable force multiplier.
The author also did not note that the British tried to use this strategy in the first six months of war against Japan and failed. The British relied on the massive battleship guns defending Singapore, the capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse, more than 100,000 ground troops, and a land-based air force. This joint team could not prevent Japan from using its proximity advantage to achieve the air and naval superiority that decided the campaign.
The author also does not mention that the United States tried that same approach in the Philippines by basing B-17s and P-40s with a MacArthur-led army and the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, including submarines. That, too, failed in the face of Japan’s proximity.
The idea that the United States and its allies can sustain air and naval superiority on China’s doorstep is not an affordable or realistic proposition. Plan Orange—the U.S. plan for fighting Japan—did not envision beginning the war on Japan’s doorstep. It recognized the need to attrite Japanese forces prior to approaching Japanese waters.
The author also implies that to win will require occupation of Chinese territory. In the Nuclear Age, does he really think China, which has a long history of Western occupation, will allow such a thing to happen?
What a great job on the January 2023 Proceedings, but kudos in particular to Captain Tangredi. I single him out because his piece makes so much sense and is so timely. I hope that our politicians and planners will read it and take heed, but, of course, I know that’s asking too much. Perhaps there’s some way to trim it down to bullet points so that even a busy legislator can understand. Here are some of my takeaways:
Some estimates predict that, by the end of the decade, China’s navy will count 460 ships and the United States’ 260. It is difficult to see how the United States can be assured that it has the strategy, technology, and training so superior as to overcome these odds.
A second relevant observation is what common sense would tell us—affirmed by the work of Wayne Hughes—that as one’s opponent grows, the chance of its defeat reduces. The Chinese fleet is growing; the U.S. fleet, even including allies, is not. As Tangredi writes, a naval war in the Pacific in this decade would pit a smaller U.S. naval force against a larger People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), on China’s home turf.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that even now the peacetime demands of the regional combatant commanders overwhelm the availability of deployable ships. As Tangredi writes, “Based on historical research, claims such as, ‘Numbers don’t matter,’ and, ‘Our ships are more capable and therefore we need fewer’ have no basis in evidence.”
—VADM Robert F. Dunn, USN (Ret.)
Quite frankly I was puzzled by Captain Tangredi’s assertion that “Bigger Fleets Win.” A more accurate phrase would be “Better Fleets Win.”
There are several flaws in his argument. First, Salamis, many of Nelson’s victories, Midway, and the Battle off Samar—the last significant naval battle fought—were all won by smaller fleets. At Samar, tiny destroyer escorts and a few aircraft carrying antipersonnel bombs courageously drove off the much larger Japanese force commanded by Vice Admiral Kurita Takeo.
Second, the real power of the Soviet Navy then and the PLAN today rests in ballistic and cruise missiles, naval aviation, submarines, and nuclear weapons. Imagine what the EMP from an exoatmospheric burst of a 1-megaton weapon would do to a huge and very able naval force.
In Captain Tangredi’s examples, those battles were not only fought in a nonnuclear age—none involved dependency on space or the need for complicated and reliable command, control, and intelligence. Further, the art of counting “ships” is the reason China reportedly has “the largest Navy in the world.” Its Navy includes about 70 Type 056 1,500-ton corvettes and about 100 smaller missile patrol boats.
If the whole U.S. Navy challenged the whole PLAN in combat at sea with no other forces engaged, does anyone doubt who would win?
Finally, where today would one find a fleet-on-fleet conflict? U.S. planning is based on the joint force. Any service going it alone in a real fight had better bring a lot of body bags with it.
I agree wholeheartedly with Lieutenant Commander Zarow. At first read, I was reminded of the 1968 training film The Seven Sailors, which shows damage control gone wrong, albeit due to improper maintenance. His article revealed to me that I was lucky to serve on ships that prioritized the integrated training team (ITT). Apparently, ITT events are not the norm throughout the fleet.
We experienced difficult casualties on board to see how we would respond and if we could fight in situations that we had never before experienced. My favorite drill included taking out the bridge (while I was on watch) with a hypothetical missile to see how the crew would navigate the ship while fighting a fire and dealing with numerous casualties. Realistic events such as this should be complemented with lessons learned from all drills. Heat casualties will happen when fighting any casualty in hot climates. Personnel casualties, such as from falling down a ladder, will happen. Hose, pipe patching, and plugging teams cannot be counted on to spend as much time in the casualty space as needed, as recently relearned in the Bonhomme Richard fire.
It should be mentioned that the training in the basic and advanced phases—in and out of the schoolhouses—is based on peacetime operations. Deployment workups in the integrated phase get closest to wartime conditions for a short duration but neglect to include damage control. And even though ships in a carrier strike group or amphibious ready group learn to operate together, they never spend any time doing damage control together. The images that come to my mind are the numerous cases in World War II of battle-damaged ships receiving assistance from nearby vessels to fight fires or offload their crews. The knowledge required for this level of damage control has been long lost and must be regained.
Institutionalizing the requirement for ITT scenarios would require overhauling how ships train and certify. Until such changes take place, ships must take it upon themselves to train to win the fight rather than continue training to win in peacetime.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum”—if you want peace, prepare for war.
—LT Anthony Carrillo, USN
I could not agree more about the value of combat-based damage control (DC) training. It is incumbent on the DC experts to know the stories of ships that have sustained real combat damage and to study them. But, more important, the onboard training teams need to train the battle organization to the point of failure; otherwise, they run the risk of overconfidence. But the argument for the advanced phase to require another round of high-level DC training culminating in another certification, while understandable, is misguided.
The latest Surfaces Forces Training and Readiness Manual already requires major conflagration (flooding and fire) as both a certifying and repetitive exercises, but creating high-level and challenging drills during mobility damage control warfare (MOB-D) assessments will only make a ship’s basic phase more painful.
Lieutenant Commander Zarow writes: “Basic phase trains sailors to handle hoses and patch pipes,” but he forgets that the other product is a certified training team. Once the afloat training group (ATG) steps off the ship, it becomes up to onboard training teams to implement exactly the kind of high-level training discussed in the article. Furthermore, ships have already been provided not one but two opportunities to do it on a large scale: the final battle problem and during SWATT—the surface warfare advanced tactical training.
The issue is that some commands do not take the initiative to make these events worthwhile. Outside assessors do observe the battle problem and/or SWATT, but that is no reason to run more trash-can fires or small ruptured pipes. I have run three of these events, all of which included “killing off” and “wounding” personnel, requiring the writing of new watch bills, the loss of specific equipment and spaces for the duration of the event, and casualties based on historical accounts.
A key to these events was moving away from the rigid drill packages used during basic phase and instead opting for “if this, then that” style packages that allowed for multiple outcomes. It is possible to do this while still accounting for planning, debriefing, and safety. During SWATT, the DC packages piggybacked off other training events. If the watchstanders failed to shoot down a missile, for example, we had a drill for that.
If these were to become graded events for DC, a good deal of their value would be lost, as ships would inevitably train to pass, not train to learn. Damage control is not always black and white or pass/fail. We wrote drills hoping that teams would fail, because failure creates invaluable training and offers a stark reminder that the repair locker personnel always have a lot to learn.
—DCCS(SW) Jake O’Connell, USN
(See J. Kim, pp, 32–37, November 2022; and Z. Schwartz, p. 95, January 2023)
There is no question that the Ukrainians have had much success combating the Russian invasion and that drones have been a key part of that success. However, the author overestimates the importance of drones to a high degree. Drones can be incredibly useful for observing enemy positions and calling for fire, but, eventually, a fight will come down to Marines outmaneuvering and outcycling the enemy.
Drones can benefit infantry and combat-arms MOSs, but I question whether all squads outside the infantry should be equipped with them. The author appears to fixate on drones as the definitive factor: Whoever has the most drones, he assumes, will win.
Better might be to give every Marine Corps infantry platoon an organic antidrone weapon system. Too many times in training exercises have I had to pick up my platoon and abandon my position to flee from enemy small unmanned aerial vehicles circling overhead.
However, the author’s suggestion that we should train Marines to shoot drones from the sky with rifles seems ludicrous. However much you practice, these drones are typically too small, fast, and far away to engage with an M27. Conversely, I have seen videos of Ukrainians using drone jamming devices that can force a drone to crash. Giving these jamming devices to a designated Marine in a platoon would be extremely beneficial.
—1stLt August Cocchiarella, USMC
These two articles immediately brought to mind the Marines who were abandoned on Wake Island in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. What happens to the stand-in force if the seagoing “parking garage” cannot get through China’s A2/AD forces to replenish those Marines? What happens if the United States has not achieved air supremacy and the airspace is too hot for helicopter and Osprey resupply? What happens if, as with the Philippines, the commander-in-chief decides that military effort is to be directed to another theater?
Many years ago, I was taught that we should “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” I can only hope someone has planned for the worst circumstances in which the stand-in-force Marines could find themselves.
—Mitchell R. Miller
There seems to be an “anticonsensus” developing regarding the Navy’s readiness for a prolonged fight inside the first island chain. Multiple authors have taken positions along the lines of “the Navy will lose if it doesn’t make [x] change now.” It would be useful to take this a step further and consider: “We won’t win. What comes next.”
My answer: Prepare to not win. The first island chain—Taiwan specifically—will remain in China’s sights. The United States is present by projection, while China is there by proximity. Democracies cannot endure war without a plausible end state. Either the war ends or the country ceases to be a democracy. Conventional naval forces will prolong the fight, but they will not end it.
The Navy needs to justify its purpose when it cannot contest the approaches to an adversary’s political center. This is the ultimate goal of a blue-water navy. Otherwise, it becomes a highly exposed attack surface. So long as the Navy faces a land-based enemy employing antiaccess technologies, convergence and concentration of force are disadvantageous.
The Navy is needed for domain awareness and access, but it will not defeat a peer competitor.
I much appreciated Mr. Bilms’s observations on how a small, determined country such as Iceland was successful in a significant crisis by cleverly maneuvering the interests of more powerful countries.
In March 1974, I was a young U.S. Navy flight surgeon at the NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland, when I was involved in a rescue at sea that never would have happened without the fishing dispute between Iceland and the U.K. The overall mission of the United States and NATO, of course, was to keep the Soviet Union in check during the Cold War.
When a British fishing trawler northeast of Iceland had an injured sailor, it did not dare put into an Icelandic port, but instead asked for help from the Icelandic Defense Force in Keflavik. The crew of a U.S. Air Force HH-3E from the 39th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Wing lifted the sailor from the deck of the heaving trawler, and he was cared for in the aircraft by Air Force pararescuemen and the duty Navy flight surgeon. The man’s injury was an uncomplicated ankle fracture.
Fortunately, the fisherman and aircrew all made it back safely, and thanks to the Cod War, the flight surgeon received a “Blue Nose Certificate” for that mission above the Arctic circle.
—CAPT Jane McWilliams Hardman, USN (Ret.)
The authors’ admonitions regarding the historical value of intellectual readiness were right on the mark. I completely agree with their recommendation to “create more command opportunities earlier in the career path to allow a broader cadre of officers to develop the associated leadership and intellectual skills.”
When I attended prospective commanding officer (PCO) school before assuming command of a Knox-class frigate, I was among the 46 percent of my classmates wearing command-at-sea insignia. Most of us had commanded ships in the grades of lieutenant and lieutenant commander—I had been a 28-year-old CO. The ships we commanded included: ATFs, ATAs, AOGs, MSCs, MSOs, YTMs and DEs, among others. I had many friends and shipmates who commanded what were sometimes referred to as “Spit Kits” (PT boats) who went on to command destroyers. Many followed ship commands with destroyer squadron commands, and a few reached flag rank. I am not aware that any of them was involved in an untoward incident while in command.
The question I have is, what ships remain in the Navy that would be suitable for early command opportunity? To the best of my knowledge, the aforementioned “Spit Kits” no longer exist or have been transferred to Military Sealift Command.
—RADM John W. Bitoff, USN (Ret.)
I read Mr. Clift’s article with interest. However, as a former medical officer of the USS Truxtun (DLGN/CGN-35), I would like to point out that the USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) was not the only ship with the DLGN designation, despite being the only ship of her class. Commissioned 5 May 1967, the Truxtun (also a single-ship class) was designated a DLGN until she and the Bainbridge were redesignated nuclear-powered cruisers in 1975.
—CAPT Kenneth Andrus, USN (Ret.)
In “High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellites Are Ready for Launch,” (February 2023) the article incorrectly noted that the Airbus Zephyr was tested as part of Army Futures Command’s Project Convergence in 2021. According to Airbus, the Zephyr was originally scheduled to participate in the project but did not end up doing so.