Comment & Discussion

—Lieutenant Colonel Jay A. Stout, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Save Lives at Sea

THE RECENT preventable collisions at sea of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), causing the loss of life of 17 U.S. Navy sailors, is a national tragedy. Navy Regulations, Article 1010, reads: “He [the officer of the deck] shall thoroughly familiarize himself with the laws to prevent collision and shall strictly comply with them.”

In order to save lives at sea, I propose that the U.S. Navy immediately adopt the following mandatory procedures:

• One-Mile Rule: Nothing gets within one mile of the ship. If it does, then the commanding officer (CO) must be immediately called to the bridge and establish bridge-to-bridge radio contact with the other vessel.

• U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Rules of the Road: Effective immediately, all surface warfare offices (SWOs) must pass the USCG Rules of the Road test that is administered to all U.S. Merchant Marine officers for the oceangoing licenses. A minimum grade of 90 percent is required to pass this critical test. This includes flag officers. Starting in 2018, this must be an annual requirement. In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a rifleman, In the U.S. Navy, every SWO must know and be proficient in the International Rules of the Road.

• Bridge Simulators: The U.S. Navy must program all of its simulators to replicate the two recent collisions. All SWOs below the rank of admiral must spend one week in a bridge simulator learning everything that happened that caused the two recent fatal collisions. They must learn how and why these collisions could have been prevented. This must be done prior to 1 January 2018.

• 3-Month + 17-Day Basic Surface Warfare Officer Training: The extra 17 days are to remember the 17 sailors who died in the last two collisions. A memorial for these 17 sailors should be established at SWO School so that the deaths of these sailors will never be forgotten. All SWOs at the rank of lieutenant commander and below must undergo this training at Newport, Rhode Island. This must start no later than 1 January 2018. It is to include heavy bridge simulator training. All U.S. Navy collisions and groundings for the past 30 years must be replicated in the simulators for lessons learned. Bridge-simulator training must also include navigating major congested areas around the world, including the Malacca Straits, Tokyo Wan, the English Channel, etc. U.S. Merchant Marine–licensed officers need to be part of the teaching staff to explain the operation of merchant marine vessels at sea. Required reading should include:

• It’s Your Ship, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, U.S. Navy (Retired)

• Turn the Ship Around, by Captain L. David Marquet, U.S. Navy (Retired)

• Admiral Arleigh Burke, by E. B. Potter

• Japanese Destroyer Captain, by Captain Taeichi Hara and Roger Pineau

U.S. surface warfare officers should be the best in the world. These measures will make that happen.

—Captain Al Melvin, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired), U.S. Coast Guard Master License, Any Gross Tons, on Oceans

Rebuild Air ASW 

(See N. Woodworth, pp. 32-36, October 2017 Proceedings) 

I share Commander Woodworth’s enthusiasm for air ASW training, and I agree that the best target to practice against is a real diesel submarine (SSK). Not only does an actual SSK have the right acoustic properties, particularly active sonar cross section, but the challenge of searching is made more realistic when the SSK is operated by real diesel submariners. Commander Woodworth mentions the Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI), which uses South American boats to train our Navy. One reason the DESI program is so successful is the expert SSK operators’ clever tactics.

In the NATO area of operations, there are more than 40 allied SSKs that could be used to train maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft (MPRA). These boats come from multiple classes, including air independent propulsion submarines and even a Kilo. When these boats are at sea, they often make themselves available for passing exercises (PassExs), and aviators from allied nations can arrange to search for them. Such opportunities give the added value of training in the same areas where we might have to look for adversary SSKs.

In addition to ad hoc training, as Commander, Submarines NATO, we host two exercises each year giving advanced tactical ASW training to air, surface, and submarine forces. In Exercise Dynamic Mongoose, near Iceland in June 2017, eight MPRA and a number of ASW helicopters trained against a variety of submarines. Exercise Dynamic Manta provided similar training in the central Mediterranean. Other NATO maritime exercises offer opportunities for ASW aircraft to practice throughout the region. The U.S. Navy generously supports these events with deployed MPRA, ships, and submarines.

While there are certainly some schedule and fiscal challenges with getting patrol aircraft and SSKs in the same location at the same time, I suggest that an effort to increase training with existing SSKs would be dramatically cheaper than purchasing diesel boats for the U.S. Navy.

—Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, U.S. Navy, Commander, Submarines NATO/Deputy Chief of Staff Submarines, NATO Allied Maritime Command

March of the Women Marines: Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter

(See A. Denis Clift, p. 94, November 2017 Proceedings)

My mother, a former Swedish-American model, became a woman Marine in World War II. She was the first woman to hold the billet (not the actual pay grade, which was that of staff sergeant) of sergeant major in the Corps at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

In boot camp, her drill instructor (DI) was a rugged and jaundiced veteran of Guadalcanal. It seemed to her, she told us during her stories, that he always was wondering in perpetual anger about the assignment he’d been given. However, upon graduation, when it was “eyes right” marching past the reviewing stand to the Marine Corps Hymn, she recalled the DI standing there at full attention—tears streaming down his face, proud as could be.  

—Captain Raymond J. Brown, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)

Outflank China in the South China Sea

(See B. Wessley, pp. 32-37, June 2017 Proceedings)

The Clock Is Ticking in China

(See J. Fanell, pp. 10-11, October 2017 Proceedings)

I found the June 2017 issue especially informative and professional—except for the article on outflanking China. This article contained nothing but the usual bilge water about forming partnerships, increasing awareness, and building resistance to China. What the United States needs to do is fight fire with fire. We need to go out into the international waters of the South China Sea some 50 feet outside the Nine-Dash Line and build our own artificial islands—only more of them and larger than China’s. We should stock those islands with bigger runways, better radars, longer-range missiles, and more fighters and bombers, and maybe just a few intercontinental ballistic missiles. Then and only then will the United States have the means necessary to enter into some meaningful negotiations with China.

Even though the Nine-Dash Line can be justified by neither history nor law, China claims that it now marks the boundaries of “Chinese territorial water.” The Chinese are willing to look the other way for an occasional freedom-of-navigation tour by a sole U.S. destroyer, but just watch what would happen if the United States tried to sail a single or multiple carrier strike group through those waters. They would declare an act of war, and we already have learned from Captain Jim Fanell’s October contribution “The Clock Is Ticking in China” that they now believe they have the weapons, facilities, and capabilities to defend the Nine-Dash Line. The real purpose of that line is to facilitate the exclusion of the U.S. Navy from the South China Sea. 

Actions speak louder than words, and thus far words have not protected our allies or our interests in the South China Sea.

—Captain Stephen P. O’Brien, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The United States Needs Mobile Afloat Basing

(See J. W. Hammond, pp. 20-25, November 2017 Proceedings) 

 In his insightful article, retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel James Hammond, my classmate, provides a comprehensive historical analysis of mobile fleet maintenance and repair. His urging for an increase in the Navy’s mobile-basing capability is thought-provoking, and he appropriately emphasizes the need for continued examination and discussion of the current state of maritime logistics. 

Throughout history, our naval force has adapted to changes in threats to our security and vital national interests, but we have seldom, if ever, accurately predicted the timing of naval involvement in a major regional or global conflict. Current world events reinforce that we are living in a time of great uncertainty and increasing complexity. Russian resurgence, China’s near-peer status, Iranian malevolence, North Korean irrationality, and global violent extremism all have national-security implications that translate into immense readiness requirements for joint U.S. forces. 

While the author states, “Adapting a modern version of the 1945 fleet train would re-establish the distinctly U.S. solution for naval maneuver warfare,” the resources required to develop—and then to sustain in reserve—a naval logistics infrastructure capable of supporting a modern expansive regional conflict would be both impractical and imprudent. As Commander of Military Sealift Command (MSC), I can offer public assurance that not only are the maritime logistics challenges of today and the future well understood, but new operational concepts and innovative solutions are forging the path to improved capability. Among the actions we are taking today are: 

• Operationalizing MSC to align with changes to fleet and joint warfighting doctrine

• Focusing on the holistic readiness of ships, implementing programs and processes that provide meaningful assessment metrics for each vessel and that can be used to make informed decisions, prioritize maintenance, and allocate limited resources 

• Identifying capability and capacity gaps relative to potential enemy actions using results from wargaming and simulation   

• Providing mariners with realistic, relevant, and challenging tactical training to prepare them to operate in a contested maritime environment 

• Seeking innovative logistical capabilities, leveraging the expertise and depth of industry partners, and then using demonstrations to rapidly inform their practicality and potential. (One illustration is lightering between commercial tankers and combat logistics force ships, thus increasing the capability and reach of our ships.) 

• Unifying our workforce, identifying and training future leaders, and executing a battle rhythm that maximizes the power and potential of our workforce 

 Importantly, we cannot accomplish our goals without the strategic partnerships that allow us to think differently so that we might achieve evolutionary, if not revolutionary, changes in maritime logistics. For example, we are teaming with the American Bureau of Shipping to better use technology that will allow us to shift from purely time-based life-cycle maintenance to more condition-based. 

We recognize that investing scarce national resources in a vast material solution is neither affordable nor practical, given today’s maritime dynamic and our historical inability to accurately predict which coming global crisis will require a dominant naval response. At MSC we recognize the imperative to adapt to the exponential changes in the maritime environment and are seeking efficiencies, harnessing innovation, creatively partnering with stakeholders, and aligning with transformational strategies to provide global assured logistics, sealift, and special services to the joint warfighter. 

—Rear Admiral Dee L. Mewbourne, U.S. Navy, Commander, Military Sealift Command 

SWOs Need a “Flight School”

(See T. McKnight, October 2017 Proceedings Today)

Lieutenant Commander McKnight’s “flight school” for SWOs ideally would involve adding more yard-patrol craft (YPs), which would provide newly commissioned surface warfare officers (SWOs) with opportunities to learn how to operate ships in a safe and seamanlike manner. Given that YPs are relatively inexpensive to produce, this proposal probably could be executed.

Implementing such a proposal would, of course, require time: time to produce the YPs, time to create the necessary billets to support the operation and upkeep of the YPs, and time to determine which billets could be sacrificed to support the manning of the YPs and support centers. In addition, there would have to be a determination about where to assign the YPs, perhaps at the two main Surface Warfare Officers School Command detachments in Norfolk and San Diego (where the Basic Division Officer Course [BDOC] is taught). Then there would have to be a determination as to how much time in YPs would be required before reporting to a ship. As it stands, new ensigns attend BDOC for eight weeks in a temporary-additional-duty (TAD) status after reporting to their ship and occasionally are rolled into the next class if they experience academic difficulties (meaning 8 weeks could become 16).

Given these logistical hurdles, perhaps a more expedient solution could be to increase the use of an already existing resource: the Navigation, Seamanship, and Ship-handling Training (NSST) centers, located in all fleet concentration areas. These state-of-the-art simulators allow SWOs to practice safe navigation in a controlled environment. Most of the instructors are retired captains who have commanded at least two ships, and there are also a handful of merchant mariner and pilot instructors. All surface ships are required to send their officers to two 40-hour courses—Basic Ship-Handling (BSH) and Bridge Resource Management (BRM)—once during every commanding officer’s tour, according to a Navy instruction. Twenty-eight hours of special-evolutions training are required annually, and up to 32 additional hours can be requested.

The main issue is class size, with BSH being limited to six students. Most surface ship wardrooms accommodate more than six ensigns, so perhaps a requirement for two BSH sessions would ensure that all SWO ensigns attend during each calendar year. Alternatively, perhaps BSH and BRM could be added (a two-week addition) to the end of the eight-week BDOC, or BSH and BRM could be added to the Advanced Division Officer Course that all newly qualified SWOs attend between their first and second division officer tours.

One last point for consideration is that while we as a community suffered this recent rash of mishaps, it’s worth bearing in mind that every single day, our ships around the world conduct thousands of inherently dangerous evolutions without incident. We are still the best Navy in the world, and I disagree with the recently oft-stated notion that the SWO community is “broken.”

—Lieutenant Commander Eric A. Coop, U.S. Navy


In the November Proceedings Book Reviews section (p. 79), Admiral Harry Harris was mistakenly identified. The admiral’s correct title is Commander, Pacific Command.





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