I appreciate the authors’ intent to stimulate the growth in numbers and professional competence of icebreaker operators. Preliminarily, however, I suggest that, rather than “ice pilot,” the more appropriate title would be “ice conning officer.” “Ice pilot” connotes a level of special navigation skill that can be developed only over years of practice. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, at present, we do not have any true ice pilots. Even after five tours, including icebreaking in four classes of cutters, the experience I gained did not compare with that of Canadian and Russian ice navigators, among others.
The Afloat Icebreaker Training Program is a good opportunity for junior officers to enjoy some unique indoctrination and experience a point of entry into the science and art of icebreaking. It should enhance the process of earning confidence.
There are two elements to this qualification: conning and ice. It is important to develop the skill of handling the ship in challenging situations without the aid of tugs, sometimes using ground tackle. Whether breaking a channel or performing close ice escort, the conning officer must know how to handle the ship, and how to clear gracefully if the evolution does not proceed as intended. Conning in ice is one thing, close escort is another matter, and an ice pilot should have the competence to do both.
Learning to read the ice takes years of experience. Pack ice is dynamic and may be affected by weather patterns remote from the ship’s location. Ice conning requires understanding the pressure, concentration, age of the ice, snow cover, and so forth. It also takes time to learn when to press on or heave to.
It is essential that the nation develop a cadre of professional icebreaker sailors, which implies building a critical mass of icebreakers and renewing the attraction of going to sea. Seagoing can be tough, and icebreaking has unique challenges, but—in addition to seeing new parts of the world—the satisfaction of being part of the icebreaking community is significant.
—RADM J. J. McClelland Jr., USCG (Ret.)
The authors score a direct hit on a critical U.S. fiberoptic cable vulnerability: No federal organization is in charge. At least 15 federal agencies own a part of the submarine cable puzzle: the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Corps of Engineers; the Maritime Administration and NOAA; the FCC, FBI, NSA, CIA, and Team Telecom; the National Security Council; and the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Homeland Security, and State.
But none of these organizations is in charge. Each has a specific mandate it jealously guards, and each resists anything that would diminish its fiefdom. In peacetime, agencies can collaborate and muddle along because the commercial cable industry collaborates to make communications flow smoothly. The vulnerability is that this industry approach will likely break down in the event of hostilities. In that case, rapid action—not a group discussion—will be required.
Whether the Coast Guard is the right agency to be in charge is a question, but I applaud the authors for proposing the idea. The larger question is who should be in charge in a national emergency or war. The weakness of the current approach is highlighted by the discussion of the cable security fleet (CSF), which the authors note has an “unclear future.” The CSF statute, enacted in 2019, provides a $5 million stipend for two U.S.-flagged and -crewed cable ships that can be activated within 24 hours of a presidential Declaration of a National Emergency. In peacetime, the ships carry out normal commercial assignments and contracts, but in wartime they would be tasked by the U.S. government.
The Maritime Administration administers the peacetime CSF, but the wartime chain of command is murky and untested. While Military Sealift Command will likely have operational control, only an agency in charge can determine and detail the repair assignment priorities. Commercial CSF cable ship operators do their part, but the federal government has dropped the ball.
The contingency contracts envisioned under the CSF statute have never been negotiated. Vital issues of wartime compensation, crew bonuses, access to spares and marine depots, war risk insurance, and indemnity for cable operators for breaching peacetime contracts are unresolved. The time to work out these details is now, not after war breaks out.
The cable security fleet lacks a federal sponsor. The present $5 million stipend for a cable ship with a 42-mariner U.S. crew is out of date and inadequate. By comparison, under the 2022 Tanker Security Program, a tanker with a 21-mariner U.S. crew receives $6 million per year. A logical extrapolation suggests the CSF cable ship’s stipend should be increased to $12 million annually, but since no federal agency is in charge, there is no sponsor to request the needed budget.
—CAPT Douglas R. Burnett, USN (Ret.)
I am glad to see Commander Giarra’s article complementing my own on augmenting the United States’ low-yield nuclear arsenal—in particular, the importance of sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles to shoring up American deterrence. However, his argument falls short in a few key areas.
The premise—that so-called tactical nuclear weapons were key to Cold War deterrence and will be so again—misses the mark. Commander Giarra implies that low-yield nuclear weapons retain value as part of a nuclear deterrent—as if they ever possessed such value. This is a misconception that threatens to muddle any thinking on the employment of low-yield nuclear weapons today. Low-yield nuclear weapons were introduced to solve dilemmas unique to the Cold War.
Limited nuclear war was conceived to solve a problem created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” doctrine, which stated that the United States would respond to any attack by the Soviet Union with an overwhelming nuclear attack on Soviet territory: Such an approach depended on a U.S. nuclear monopoly. Once the Soviets balanced the nuclear equation, Soviet acts of aggression could have confronted the United States with risking American cities or capitulating. The result would have been the piecemeal taking over of the world by the Soviets. The Soviet nuclear capacity thus placed a renewed premium on conventional forces, in which NATO was at first hopelessly overmatched. The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons was advanced to help offset NATO’s numerical inferiority.
This situation does not pertain today. The modern need for low-yield nuclear weapons is psychological—to prevent nuclear blackmail from deterring the United States from coming to its allies’ defense in the event of aggression. To his credit, Commander Giarra hinted at this problem by pointing out that the lack of low-yield nuclear weapons forces the United States “to rely only on strategic nuclear weapons.” He fails, however, to reach the heart of the problem, which is conventional, not nuclear, deterrence. It is the ability to react to a threat at the level at which it arises that will negate the advantage aggressors think they derive from the limited use of nuclear weapons. The author’s fixation on tactical nuclear weapons for strategic nuclear deterrence—including, bewilderingly, extended deterrence—does irreparable harm to any argument for low-yield weapons.
Indeed, precisely because the United States is no longer conventionally inferior to potential opponents, low-yield weapons are no longer “tactical.” The article comes close to understanding why low-yield weapons have once more become vital, but limited knowledge of history as well as the combination of the material and psychological factors that comprise the balance of power fail the author and, ultimately, his article.
—Brandon M. Patterson
Naval tactical nukes look great in the showroom, but they are lemons once you drive them off the lot. Sure, any nuclear antiship missile that survived adversary air defenses would turn a Luyang III into a miniature sun, but those weapons also negatively escalate adversary risk calculus, severely restrict commanders, and drain both shipboard and enterprise-wide resources better spent elsewhere.
The existence of surface-launched nuclear weapons turns every surface salvo into an existential proposition for nuclear-armed adversaries; even if our fight is not with them, they will ask, “Is this the moment America crosses the nuclear Rubicon?” We already recognize the folly of conventional ballistic missiles—that we would inject dangerous uncertainty into adversary nuclear calculus every time we launch a conventional strike. There is no such thing as tactical nuclear weapons; any nuclear employment for tactical purposes imposes strategic consequences and engages an escalation path down which few wish to tread. Even if the missiles possess flight profiles distinct from an SM-6 or Naval Strike Missile, we should not assume nuclear-armed adversaries would have the data, time, or inclination to make such a rapid, back-of-the-napkin analysis before escalating accordingly.
In addition, the existence of ship-launched nukes obliges every commander of a nuclear-capable asset to restrict his or her actions to avoid undesired escalation even if those weapons are not on board. The more actions that could be interpreted as the start of a nuclear war, the more constrained a commander’s options before that nuclear tipping point are—and the greater the risk that every misinterpretable act might become that tipping point.
Finally, surface-launched nuclear weapons burden constrained bandwidth and resources from manufacture to movement to magazine. Even if the fleet were not short 9,000 sailors, onerous new administrative, material, safety, and security requirements would wear ships to the bone. On the way to that shipboard launcher, the needs and requirements of nukes would touch piers, transports, and supporting magazines. Meanwhile, an already insufficient industrial complex strains to churn out high-utility conventional naval weapons. All this is before we even consider unit cost.
From minefields to missile engagements, weapons must be assessed as part of a package and an overall system. The systemic consequences of building and fielding ship-launched tactical nuclear weapons defeat any limited tactical value. Perhaps there is a place for tactical nuclear weapons—just not on our ships.
—LCDR Matt Hipple, USN
Commander Giarra’s article is a welcome addition to the excellent American Sea Power series. It raises two questions that need to be explored.
First, is a tactical nuclear exchange at sea fundamentally different from one ashore? That is, if a tactical nuclear weapon is released by either adversary at a maritime target, is it less escalatory than against a land target, and does it, therefore, carry less risk? Second, does a U.S. maritime tactical nuclear capability induce enough uncertainty in an adversary’s calculus to be an effective deterrent for both conventional and nuclear conflict?
Commander Giarra’s paper should be a catalyst for such discussions. What can be acknowledged now is that within the “spectrum” of nuclear capabilities, the U.S. Navy lacks a class of weapon our adversaries possess.
—CAPT Jeff Kline, USN (RET.)
The Author responds:
Mr. Patterson objects to the premise that tactical nuclear weapons were key to Cold War deterrence, but history is against him. If deterrence is the ability to prevent a war by demonstrating the ability to fight and win it, then the Navy’s tactical nuclear weapons certainly were part of the deterrence equation.
The Soviets were forced to ask: Would the United States and its allies fight a nuclear war? The fielding of low-yield weapons answered in the affirmative. President Ronald Reagan’s insistence on introducing ground-launched cruise and Pershing II nuclear missiles left no doubt, especially given the thousands of NATO/U.S. tactical nuclear weapons assigned to East German and Soviet targets. Former Strategic Command commander Admiral Charles Richard pointed out that these dilemmas have been brought forward. Cold War stability no longer exists—and deterrence has failed regarding Ukraine—because Russia has threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and the West cannot respond in kind.
I agree with Mr. Patterson regarding the modern psychological value of tactical nuclear weapons. U.S. allies agree, too, and they have not forgotten our extended nuclear security guarantees. But, increasingly, that psychology is playing against us because of deficiencies in our arsenal. The advent of conventional precision munitions might seem to replace tactical nuclear weapons in some cases, but, so far, allies that depend on our nuclear umbrella—and our adversaries—are unconvinced.
I am particularly surprised by the chorus of objections in Proceedings and elsewhere regarding fleet tactical nuclear weapon operations and infrastructure, some of which Lieutenant Commander Hipple usefully expresses. But these mainly are excuses rather than reasons. Obviously, there is ample precedent for Navy tactical nuclear weapons—this is, after all, great power competition. If weapon stowage afloat is a problem, then build more ships.
Nuclear combat—at or from the sea—would be devastating. The entire point of reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons into the Navy would be to prevent such outcomes. Nuclear deterrence operates at every level—tactical and strategic, as well as within operational training and doctrine—only when the capability is credible.
—CDR Paul Giarra, USN (Ret.)
Captain Manvel’s article gives cogent reasons why the LHA/LHD amphibious ships are not fit to serve as light carriers (CVLs), but he doesn’t mention the biggest one: speed. I have followed the buzz for the past few years, but I have seen little about the fact that World War II CVLs were fast, and our current big deck amphibs are not.
I first went to sea in the USS Essex (CVS-9). That class was bigger, heavier, faster, and more survivable than an LHA/LHD and should never be compared to a light carrier. I was chief engineer in an LHA, where I learned firsthand the strengths (several) and weaknesses (several) of that family of ship classes. I also served as antisubmarine warfare commander for a carrier strike group. The days that replaced the slow and quiet approach to listening for Soviet nuclear submarines taught me that speed is life. Nuclear-powered carriers have unmatched speed, maneuverability, and survivability.
The original CVLs were built on cruiser designs that retained their armor and had propulsion plants that allowed them to keep up with the big carriers. They had a smaller deckload of aircraft but were in every way fast carriers. The LHA/LHD classes with a deckload of F-35s have perhaps a greater power projection capability, but the ships lack the armor, redundancy, and speed to run with the big carriers. In a future war with peer or near-peer competitors, a capable light carrier would have to integrate with larger carrier groups. The current LHA/LHD classes are too vulnerable to do so.
There is certainly a place for imaginative usage of big deck amphibs in the power projection role, but trying to reincarnate them as the same force multipliers that World War II CVLs were is likely a dead end. If we want a true, fast, survivable CVL, we will have to start from scratch.
—CAPT Carl Lundquist, USN (Ret.),
Golden Life Member
It IS always nice to have one’s work cited by another author, even when that author does not agree with your work. Although Captain Manvel’s data regarding ship structural survivability features vis-à-vis the Essex class of World War II and today’s LHD and LHA classes is unassailable, I would caution against drawing too broad a conclusion as to the survivability of the LHD/LHA classes based on the Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) fire and her subsequent loss. There were many factors involved in that ship’s loss that go beyond structural design. One might argue that the LHD level II survivability was the least contributing factor in the loss of the Bonhomme Richard.
—CAPT Pete Pagano, USN (Ret.)
BZ to Lieutenant Commander Meadors. Framing cyber as an operational domain and using time metrics to assess the battlespace has the potential to give commanders insight into their ability to operate in a cyber-contested environment. Temporal measures can also guide capability providers and testers as they work to field systems that can detect, contain, and mitigate cyberattacks on operationally relevant timescales.
The operational test and evaluation (OT&E) community is responsible for providing objective assessments of systems in realistic combat environments. Cyber is an indelible part of that environment, and, as Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), I expect my team to make sure testing is operationally representative.
Current DOT&E cyber guidance requires the necessary data collection for many of the measures Lieutenant Commander Meadors describes. Operational testers collect timelines for attack detection and response under cyber threat stimuli. OT&E frames cyberattacks in the context of their effects on the mission, rather than a checklist against compliance requirements. Whether through direct measurement or estimation, OT&E aims to link the effects of a cyber compromise to a unit’s ability to conduct its mission (e.g., air defense).
The usefulness of any metric, including the described time metrics, depends on the context in which it is measured. Operational metrics and their data need to reflect real-world conditions. The DOT&E’s “2022 Strategy Update” aims to ensure the T&E environment is as representative as possible, and that T&E improves warfighting capability. A key pillar is “test the way we fight,” which is accomplished using systems employed at the individual platform level operating as part of a system of systems. DOT&E has already had success during underway fleet and joint exercises, in which we can assess the cyber survivability of that system of systems. We encourage the T&E community to think more holistically about how our weapon systems will operate and fight together, including in a cyber-contested environment.
Finally, to accurately analyze cyber engagements on large scales, testers and warfighters will need to deploy automation to log, organize, and fuse data across disparate sources. Armed with data collected under operational conditions, the T&E community can provide operational and acquisition decision-makers with useful and actionable time-based measures of systems’ cyber resiliency.
To be effective on the battlefield, warfighters must be able to operate in a cyber-contested environment—with systems designed to be responsive to the timelines of effects and needed responses such as those that Lieutenant Commander Meadors describes. The first salvo in the next conflict will likely not be kinetic, and the cyber fight will be omnipresent thereafter.
—Hon. Nickolas Guertin, Director, OT&E, OSD, and Dr. Mark Herrera, Institute for Defense Analyses
What’s old is new again—visual signaling!
I was a signalman on an oiler from 1971 to 1973. We were capable of complete emission control (EmCon), sending and receiving via flashing nondirectional and directional lights with night infrared capability (“Code Nancy Hanks”), flag hoist, and semaphore using the Allied Naval Signal Book. Most messages were tactical, regarding ships in formation.
I agree with the author about the current atrophy of visual signaling. The new technology for flashing light conversion to text or laser may be a solution, but they may be lacking in the directional secure mode and the benefit of an “operator” to send and receive, not to mention the cost of developing entirely new systems.
If we are to go to war with what we have, quartermasters will need refresher training with frequent drills, in port and at sea. This leads to what the actual duties of the quartermaster of the watch are and manning—because it seems unlikely the signalman rating will return.
The Navy needs to rethink new construction and, where possible, reconfigure existing ships’ bridges and masts to accommodate visual signaling, uncluttering bridge area lines of sight to send and receive traffic.
I agree with Petty Officer First Class Hall. Sleep deprivation results in substantially reduced crew proficiency at sea, risking ship safety, as evidenced by the two destroyer collisions in 2017.
I experienced firsthand two different approaches while serving on my first, second, and third warships. On the USS Towers (DDG-9) and Reeves (CG-24), my division stood port and starboard underway watches in the combat information center (CIC)—12 hours on and 12 off. On board the cruiser USS Chicago (CG-11) we worked a full eight-hour workday as well as stood underway watches in CIC.
On the Towers and Reeves, a small group of operations specialists completed the daily cleaning of the berthing compartment, took care of the laundry, and performed such damage control maintenance as was required. This group rotated among the division members, so no one lost their watchstanding proficiency. It allowed for well-rested watchstanders, especially during intense exercises.
However, on the Chicago, we had to work a full eight-hour workday at sea as well as stand our watches in CIC. It was understood that our “being seen” cleaning our spaces during the workday at sea was to placate the ogre of an executive officer (XO), who had it in for our operations officer. Apparently, he did not want to oppose the XO, which resulted in our being routinely deprived of much-needed sleep.
Effective management of crew rest was not a priority for the surface community in the 1970s. I am relieved to see it is being addressed now and, hopefully, will become routine throughout the Navy. We don’t need any more collisions at sea!
—OSC (SW/AW) John M. Duffy, USN (Ret.)
In my 1995 Proceedings article, “Who Needs Space Command?” I mentioned an exchange I was present for in the late 1980s after I was one of the few Navy officers to be nominated for the Air Force’s “Space Flight Engineer” program. NASA had just dropped me as an astronaut candidate, but the Air Force was planning to launch shuttles out of Vandenberg, so this was my second bite at the apple. We were assembled in an auditorium all in civvies, and an Air Force general was articulating his service’s plans to develop an indigenous astronaut corps, for which I had made the initial round of selection.
Perhaps because he failed to realize that one or two Navy guys were in the audience, the general began bemoaning the substantial role the Navy had played in space from the earliest days. The general concluded, “We began to lose this fight when Gene Roddenberry decided to call Captain Kirk ‘Captain’ Kirk, instead of ‘Colonel’ Kirk.” I have known since the late 1980s that, if a Space Force was ever created within the Department of the Air Force, its officers would mimic Air Force ranks.
The authors are correct that we will have “ships” traveling to and from deep space (Mars) within a generation, but those ships will likely be operated by Elon Musk, and I have little doubt he knows how a ship’s captain should be titled.
—CAPT William Toti, USN (Ret.)