Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The 7th, in Color

So much is written about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that I don't think much more could be added here this year.

Instead, let's use the power of color to bring to the front one of the most important lessons of this attack. This isn't ancient history that is best looked at in the abstract. On the fading edge of living memory, but still every bit of why we were caught flat footed applies to what we do today.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we see it in grainy black and white photographs and a few bits of video. It seems a long time ago, an abstract.

From false assumptions, habits worn of peace, and the natural belief that bad things only happen to other people in other places - it is all there.

Crossposted at USNIBlog.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

James Webb - Where He Is Best

Regulars here know that I've had some issues with James Webb through the years, dating back to when he started defending Murtha in a prep for his run as a Democrat as a Senator.

A lot of people got excited when he ran for President this year, but I knew he wouldn't last. Like he was a 1-term Senator, he really isn't a politician. He doesn't have the stomach for the BS. He is something else - he is a thinker. He is an observer. He is an author.

He also speaks for a lot of America that the usual sources of information do not understand any more. He reminds me so much of my father in many ways. Mostly because they share the same background.

I would highly recommend to you the following speech he gave last month; Foreign Policy in America's Interest: Keynote Address Jim Webb.

This is Webb at his best.

Grasping at the Fading Light

It's taken a week, but I think I've finally found a way to address a slightly bizarre article by Wyatt Olson in S&S on the soon to be outgoing SECNAV. It isn't the writing that is bizarre, it is the mess of the subject at hand, Ray Mabus.

After originally being a fan, I soured on Mabus when he started down the "Great Green Fleet" boondoggle, and I've never really seen a reason to come back. I wish I were wrong about him, but after going back to Olson's article, I've come to the conclusion that I was correct in keeping a tilted head. 

Mabus isn't "bad" as SECNAV, it is just that in so many things, his personal biases lead him to be wrong. If he focused on what a SECNAV should so, I think he would be an exceptionally solid SECNAV - but look at the strange items he invested professional capital on to satisfy personal agenda items. What a waste.

First, let's start with what Mabus has done well.
On the top of his to-do list was increasing the number of ships being built for the Navy, a goal Mabus has achieved.

“In 2001, the U.S. Navy had 316 ships,” Mabus said. “By 2008, seven years later, after one of the big military buildups in our history, we were down to 278 ships.” With the contracts in the pipeline, the Navy is on track to possess 308 ships by 2021, he said.
Looking to the previous administration, as his Chief of Staff put it;
Not blaming, just facts. 41 ships put under contract 01-08. 86 under contract 09-16.
One could push back a bit about being involved in two resource stretching land wars in Asia from 01-08, but the numbers are what they are. Mabus's fleet building was done with the opposition party in control of Congress for most of his years in office - so good on him and his team there.

Now, let's get to the part of Olson's review that led me to further believe in Mabus's detachment from what his other policies actually are and their consumption of professional capital. Just a few examples;
Mabus contends that the underlying motive for his changes has been to make sailors and Marines better warfighters.
Warfighters. OK. When someone uses, "warfigher" in this way; shields up.
Mabus also touts the success of moving the Navy and Marine Corps away from fossil fuels to renewables. He launched the Great Green Fleet initiative soon after becoming secretary, and earlier this year the first aircraft carrier group was deployed using a 50-50 blend of fossil and biofuels.

As of last year, Navy and Marine Corps bases were getting half their energy from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, Mabus said. Renewables account for about 35 percent of the energy the Navy uses at sea – half of which is nuclear.

“We’re better warfighters today because of it,” he said. “We’re more expeditionary because of it. We’re less vulnerable because of it.”
Experiments are good, but paying exorbitant amounts of money for bespoke blends to try some Soviet style industrial policy for renewable energy (covered here over the years), all during the period that fracking turned the USA in to a net exporter of fuel? No. Then there is the abuse of the word "warfighter" - something we'll see again. There is zero evidence anything involving fuel from beef fat helped in the Long War. Zip, zero, nada.
When it comes to naming ships, Mabus said, “I know I’m not going to please everybody. But my job, as I see it, is to make sure that those ships connect to the American people.

“If you live in Wichita, you don’t have much connection to the Navy normally. But now that there’s a USS Wichita, there’s that connection.”
In defending his strange ship naming policies - I have to throw a flag here. Wichita is in Kansas. When you look where the Navy recruits from, on a per capita basis Kansas comes in at #27 of 54 USA States and territories measured. Kansas has more Navy to it than the SECNAV's home state Mississippi (#28), and some States where one would think the Navy's presence would have some impact on recruiting; New Hampshire (#46), Connecticut (#48), and Rhode Island (#50).

Is the SECNAV ill-informed or just grasping for excuses and distractions unmoored by facts in order to avoid discussing why he really picked the names he did? Hard to tell, but he owes our Sailors from Kansas an apology.

He should have stopped there.
Mabus’s predecessor instituted a namesake convention based on famous American explorers and pioneers for a new class of supply ships called T-AKEs. Mabus named ships after civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Cesar Chavez because he regards them as pioneers.

“I got the name Cesar Chavez from the shipyard,” he said. “They were the ones who recommended it because 85 percent of the shipyard workers in San Diego are Hispanic.”
Yeah, read that again.

What does one do with this? Is this patronizing or just plain insulting? 

What an assumption he makes here wrapped in an acceptance and promotion of sectarian based naming of ships. I guess that was more important than the consideration that Chavez was openly negative about his time in the Navy and the Navy in general.

As for the numbers, here's a fun fact; San Diego is only 28.8% "Hispanic." Under Mabus's leadership, the Navy has spent tens of millions of dollars bleating on about making sure our Navy "looks like America" - yet - well - I'll let you take it from there, this isn't Thursday.

There is more in the article to chew on, but here is a quote to help you look forward;
How much of Mabus’ legacy, including contracting, renewable energy and gender equality, will survive the incoming administration is an open question since Republicans won control of Congress and the White House in the Nov. 8 election.

“It’s hard to roll back the stuff your predecessor did unless there’s some reason that it’s absolutely not working,” VanDiver said.

Of potential reversals, Mabus said, “If you go back, you make us a less effective warfighting force. I don’t know anybody who wants to do that.

“It shouldn’t be ideological. It shouldn’t be a matter of political correctness or anything like that. It’s what makes us better warfighters.”
That is whistling past the graveyard. That which can be created on the sand of personal whim can be removed via the same methods.

It is not that hard to roll things back, all it takes is will and leadership. Looking at who the team the Trump Administration is probably going to put together from, you will have a Navy team focused on 350 ships and little foolishness. 

There will be compromises that will need to be made, we'll have to dance with the programs we have in the first decade, and hard work will need to be done to get on that glidepath - but the focus will be on what a Navy is, not what social and political experiments can be done with it. 

To accelerate progress towards 350, the new team will require the stripping away of non-value added distractions and anything that slows efficiency down. As such, there will be ample opportunity to pack up some of the previous Administration's hobby horses and put them on the curve for pickup.

It will be a grand sight to see.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Knowing Your South China Sea

I have a little personality quirk that requires me to do something that, to be clear about, I really wish everyone else did as well.

I am a firm believer that you cannot discuss military or foreign policy matters without a map within arm's reach. Without out geographical context, it is all just words and numbers. It is like trying to understand national borders without studying history - everything is unmoored conjecture and word salad.

Along those lines, I highly recommend that everyone bookmark the webpage of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative's webpage - specifically their Arbitration Map. Their "Features," "Analysis," and "Island Tracker" are all exceptional executive summaries of a complicated issue that will not be going anywhere.

Remember - always have a map handy.

Hat tip SteelJawScribe.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Author LtCol Seth Folsom, USMC on, "Where Youth and Laughter Go; With 'The Cutting Edge' in Afghanistan" - on Midrats

For the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern our guest will be Lieutenant Colonel Seth W. B. Folsom, USMC the author of Where Youth and Laughter Go; With "The Cutting Edge" in Afghanistan. Described by USNI Books:
It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.

Where Youth and Laughter Go completes LtCol Seth Folsom’s recounting of his personal experiences in command over a decade of war. It is the culminating chapter of a trilogy that began with The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq in 2006 and continued with In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War in 2010.
We will discuss not just his latest book, but also larger issues related to command, the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and the Long War.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Fullbore Friday

Your ships are worn out and patched together after months of fighting. Your Sailors are tired. You are in the middle of refueling and resupply well away from the enemy. On the mess decks, the crew is thinking about what can be done to pick up the crew for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Then you get a message;
On the day before Thanksgiving, American Admiral William “Bull” Halsey ordered Captain Arleigh “31-Knot” Burke ... to intercept the Japanese convoy.
When he received Halsey’s order, Burke was hundreds of miles away, taking on fuel at New Georgia Island. The destroyers that made up his small fleet — the Charles Ausburne (Burke’s ship), Claxton, Dyson, Converse, and Spence — had been in almost continuous battles for several months and were badly in need of maintenance.

Because of that, Burke’s ship was capable of only 31 knots, not its maximum speed of 38 knots. That resulted in a message from Admiral Halsey that gave Burke his nickname:
Burke and his task force sped north to try to find and destroy the Japanese task force. They found what they were looking for not long after midnight on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1943, when they encountered two of the Japanese destroyers, the Makinami and the Onami.
... Using their relatively new radar technology on the moonless, dark, overcast night, Burke’s squadron fired more than a dozen torpedoes and sank both ships, finishing off one of the Japanese destroyers with surface guns.

The chase was then on to catch the fleeing destroyer-transports. Burke’s task force caught up with the Yuguri, sinking it and damaging the Uzuki, although the Uzuki managed to escape with the last Japanese ship, the Amagiri. It was the Amagiri that had collided with PT-109, the boat skippered by Lt. John F. Kennedy, on August 1, 1943.

Trying to catch the fleeing Uzuki and the Amagiri, Burke went deep into Japanese-held territory — far beyond the reach of American air cover. With the onset of dawn and the possibility of massed attacks by Japanese aircraft, Burke wisely ended the chase and withdrew.
Not a single American sailor was killed. Gunfire from the Japanese destroyers had all missed. A Japanese torpedo that hit one of the American destroyers didn’t explode. A group of torpedoes fired by the Japanese exploded in the wakes of Burke’s destroyers after he had a gut feeling that he should change position. And when Destroyer Squadron 23 withdrew, not a single plane from the four Japanese airbases in the vicinity of Rabaul (58 bombers and 145 fighters) attacked the task force. It was either luck or a series of miracles or a combination of both.

Burke’s strategy and tactics, and the performance of his sailors, led to the Naval War College calling the Battle of Cape St. George “an almost perfect surface action.” Bull Halsey called it the “Trafalgar of the Pacific.” It ended the Tokyo Express, the Japanese naval convoys that were used to supply Japanese land forces and attack Allied military efforts in the Solomon Islands.
Can only make 80% of your max speed due to maintenance? OK. What is your weapons state? Fine? Good. You're good to go.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


An understatement of the year would be "this is great news;"
President-elect Donald Trump will nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as his secretary of defense, he announced Thursday in Cincinnati at the beginning of his post-election tour.

"We are going to appoint 'Mad Dog' Mattis as our secretary of defense. But we're not announcing it until Monday so don't tell anybody," Trump said at his rally, adding later, "They say he's the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have and it's about time."
Mattis, 66, would join a Trump national security team that already includes retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA director.
Allow me a little self-indulgence.

Regulars here and at Midrats know my feelings towards Mattis. In summary, I had the pleasure in serving with him on three occasions; once when he was a 1-star and we were both trying to figure things out in C5F AOR in the weeks after 911; once as a 3-star when he was MARCENT, and once as a 4-star when he was the commander of NATO's Allied Command Transformation. I've had the pleasure of talking with him (the first time I thought he was a USMC SNCO for about 30-seconds until I saw his star), briefing him, and watching him work with his Marines. I never saw someone who was such a natural leader that so quickly earned the trust and admiration of those around him. I was a minor player around him on every occasion, but in spit of that - he remembered my name every time we found ourselves face to face again, years apart and he talked to me like it was only yesterday. 

If he built that bond with me, I cannot imagine the feelings of those who served with him day in and day out - but I've heard plenty.

Our nation will be exceptionally well served in any position he finds himself in. All should be at peace with him heading to SECDEF. I am still in awe that he may be heading there, and I hold the greatest hope for his success. I am just slightly saddened that I won't have a 4th chance to work with him - but I will enjoy the opportunity of seeing him from afar.

Some people are voicing concerns about the number of Generals picked so far by Trump. As a small (r) republican, in the back of my head I share that concern, but not with James Mattis.

Nope. Without question I would put the lives of my wife and children in his hands. Very few people on the planet pass that muster. That will do for SECDEF.