Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Second Thoughts on the Third Offset

I think we overestimate ourselves and underestimate potential adversaries.

I'm pondering over at USNIBlog.

Come on by!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Dangers of Going Half-Brained and Whole Hog on STEM

I'm not sure how many of you had a chance to check out the recent CSIS panel that touched on introducing STEM into JPME. I'll embed the video at the bottom of the post.

Really? As if we don't have enough of a bias towards technology?

Not only does it tie in to the conversation we had Sunday on Midrats on Making a Better War College, it had me thinking of John Naughton's article in The Guardian, How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos.

In part;

It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didn’t care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think that’s unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel – Trump’s favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber.

So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. Take the Google co-founders. Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter.

Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines – intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history – or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.

We are now beginning to see the consequences of the dominance of this half-educated elite. As one perceptive observer Bob O’Donnell puts it, “a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the ‘tyranny of the majority’ or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of today’s social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

SUBLOST: All Hands to Argentina

There was a huge drama unfolding off Argentina over the weekend with the loss of Argentina's 32-yr old TR-1700 Class conventional submarine ARA SAN JUAN.

The immediate response you saw from other navies the world over is a reminder of a tradition almost universal in the common culture of all professional mariners; the past does not matter, the cause does not matter; friend, neighbor, stranger, or even actual or potential enemy does not matter - helping fellow mariners in distress are your #1 priority.

Argentina's friends, neighbors, and even the nation they recently fought a war against are all doing what they can, and sending what they have to help find the SAN JUAN, and hopefully bring her crew to safety.
A U.S. Navy rescue crew from San Diego has joined the international search effort for a Argentine submarine and its 44 crew members missing for several days beneath the stormy southern Atlantic Ocean.

Navy sailors with Undersea Rescue Command (URC) departed Miramar Saturday with a Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) and four aircraft, en route to where the ARA San Juan lost contact with the Argentine Navy Wednesday.
...
... highly trained American sailors will employ advanced technology on the Submarine Rescue Chamber, or SRC, which has already been in touch with the family members of the 44 on board, and will utilize an underwater system called Remotely Operated Vehicle, or ROV. It can climb down to depths of 850-feet and pull to safety "up to six persons at a time," the Pentagon officials said.

The sailors will also be relying on Pressurized Rescue Module, or PRM, which can rescue "up to 16 personnel at a time ... by sealing over the submarine's hatch allowing sailors to safely transfer to the recuse chamber," according to officials.

The American reinforcements will join the Navy's P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft and a NASA P-3 research aircraft that have been assisting the ongoing search for the ARA San Juan,
The weather in the South Atlantic is being what it is, horrible;
The best-case scenario, according to some experts, was that the submarine’s communications gear malfunctioned — perhaps as a result of a fire or flood — but that it did not lose the ability to navigate. Working against that theory is the fact that the submarine was due to arrive at its home port here on Sunday.

“It’s grim,” said Capt. Richard Bryant, a retired United States Navy submarine commander. “It implies that the ship is either on the surface without the ability to use its propulsion or that the ship is submerged.”

The first of those possibilities is deeply concerning, but not hopeless, according to experts. Given the stormy conditions, the crew is in significant peril if the vessel is being whiplashed.

The grimmest alternative is that the submarine sank as a result of a catastrophic event such as an explosion or fire. If the crew survived such an event, those onboard could conceivably have enough oxygen for several days after it went under, according to an Argentine Navy official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

If it is flailing on the surface, and the crew manages to weather the storm, the sailors would have enough fresh water and food to last for about 25 days, the official said.

The growing concern on Sunday was fueled by the fact that the crew had not activated emergency beacons that are standard in commercial and military vessels.

“The fact that we haven’t had communication for so long, that it didn’t show up at port as expected, and the fact that at least the initial search effort hasn’t found anything yet all point to the fact that the submarine may well unfortunately have been lost,” Captain Bryant said.
...
"We have 11 ships from the Argentine navy, from municipalities, and from countries that have collaborated with research ships such as Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Peru, the United States, and (the UK).

"These ships are following the submarine's planned route, (and are) sweeping the whole area and we also have navy ships sweeping from north to south and from south to north."
...
Among those missing is Argentine Eliana Krawczyk - who became the first female South American submariner.
...
The Royal Navy is now flying in its elite Submarine Parachute Assistance Group (SPAG) to help locate the sub and the 44 people on board.

The team of medics, engineers and escape specialists will join the US in the search as offers of help also rolled in from Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Making a Better War College, on Midrats



What is the best way to hone the intellectual edge of the officers who will lead our Navy? How do we gather our best minds and ideas together to best prepare our Navy for the next war?

How is our constellation of war colleges structured, how did it get to where it is today, and how do we modernize it to meet todays challenges?

We've put together a small panel on Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to address this and related issues with returning guests Dr. James Holmes and Dr. John Kuehn.

Dr. Holmes is a professor of strategy and former visiting professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer and combat veteran of the first Gulf War, he served as a weapons and engineering officer in the battleship Wisconsin, engineering and firefighting instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School Command, and military professor of strategy at the Naval War College. He was the last gunnery officer to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger.

Dr. Kuehn is the past General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.

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, November 17, 2017

Fullbore Friday

Captain Hudner passed this week. In his honor, a replay FbF from 2010.


Of course, you know who is today's FbF. Who else? It is EagleOne and my guest on Midrats this Sunday at 5pm EST - CAPT Thomas J. Hudner Jr., USN (Ret). I'm going to steal this from my bud Stephen at AcePilots ... but I don't think he will mind.
Flying one thousand feet above the icy Korean mountains, the Corsair's engine cut out. At such a low altitude, the pilot, US Navy Ensign Jesse Brown, couldn't bail out or clear the mountain. He spotted an opening that looked more or less flat, and in any case, it was his only choice. A wheels up, dead stick landing. The Navy's first African American aviator probably thought that he had been through worse than this, being hazed and harassed throughout his pioneering Naval career.

The F4U went down heavily and smashed into the rough terrain, folding up at the cockpit. Sliding through the deep snow, the big fighter started smoking immediately.

Lt. (Jg) Thomas Hudner and the other VF-32 pilots studied the situation on the ground as they circled overhead. This close to the
Chosin Reservoir, Chinese Communist soldiers would be along soon. The crashed and burning aircraft was a hopeless wreck. At first the Navy fliers thought that Ensign Brown was dead. Then his wingman and roommate, Lt. William H. Koenig, noticed Brown waving to them through the open canopy of his Corsair (Bureau # 97231). A rugged, prop-driven, big-nosed WWII design, the Chance Vought F4U normally could take a lot of damage. On this day, 4 December 1950, Brown had been tragically unlucky; some North Korean flak gunner had hit the plane in a vulnerable spot.

Flight Leader Richard L. Cevoli radioed "Mayday" and called for helicopter rescue. A Sikorsky HO3S helicopter was dispatched, but would take at least 15 minutes to reach the stricken flier. Lt. Hudner looked down at his friend and flying mate. He promptly decided to go down and try to pull Brown out the smoldering aircraft. Hopefully, both pilots could then escape on the chopper.

Hudner made one more tree-top pass and dumped his remaining fuel and ordnance. He dropped flaps and tailhook, and thumped the Corsair onto the ground. He hit a lot harder than he had expected. At 6,000 feet above sea level, the Corsairs' air speed indicator had understated the actual speed. Hudner began to wonder if this had been such a good idea.

"I knew what I had to do," said Hudner in an interview by Frank Geary, for Jax Air News, the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., base newspaper. "I was not going to leave him down there for the Chinese. Besides, it was 30 degrees below zero on that slope, and he was a fellow aviator. My association with the Marines had rubbed off on me. They don't leave wounded Marines behind."
Hudner tightened his harness and, with his wheels up, set his Corsair down onto the snow and rocks some 100 yards from Brown's smoking aircraft. "He was alive, but barely, when I got onto his wing and tried to lift him out of the cockpit. But his right leg was crushed and entangled in metal and instruments. I hurried back and requested a rescue helo, making sure it would bring an ax and a fire extinguisher. When I got back to Brown, I began packing snow around the smoking cowling.
"When a two-man Marine helicopter arrived with only its pilot, the ax he carried proved useless in our efforts to hack away the metal entrapping Brown's leg. He was going in and out of consciousness and losing blood. "The helo pilot and I, in our emotion and panic, and with the light of day fading, discussed using a knife to cut off Jesse's entrapped leg. Neither of us really could have done it, and it was obvious Jesse was dying. He was beyond help at that point. The helo pilot said we had to leave. Darkness was setting in and we'd never get out after dark," said Hudner. "We had no choice but to leave him. I was devastated emotionally. In those seconds of our indecision, Jesse died."
'Nuff said. More over at AcePilots.

First posted May 2010.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

You know what our Army needs? More Mannings and Bergdahls

As if those two guys weren't enough of a data point that perhaps they should focus on intake quality;
People with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army under an unannounced policy enacted in August, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.

The decision to open Army recruiting to those with mental health conditions comes as the service faces the challenging goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. To meet last year's goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.
...
“The decision was primarily due to the increased availability of medical records and other data which is now more readily available,” Taylor's statement to USA TODAY said. “These records allow Army officials to better document applicant medical histories.”
...
While bipolar disorder can be kept under control with medication, self-mutilation _ where people slashing their skin with sharp instruments _ may signal deeper mental health issues, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

If self-mutilation occurs in a military setting, Cameron Ritchie said, it could be disruptive for a unit. A soldier slashing his or her own skin could result in blood on the floor, the assumption of a suicide attempt and the potential need for medical evacuation from a war zone or other austere place.
That is the least of the problems they can make.

I don't know about you, but I would rather be in a 80% manned unit, than a 100% manned unit loaded with 20% administrative burdens. Heck, make that 80% to 85% even ... or 80% to 81% ... you get the idea.

You are always going to have problems with people. They can be fragile and imperfect ... but in the name of all that is holy would you inject that problem in to the system from the start ... with full knowledge?

I think we have lost the bubble on avoiding administrative burdens.

This kind of burns my hide a bit. What this does is let the recruiters make their metrics, but at the cost of pushing the problems down the line to be dealt with, fixed, or consequences suffered by the operational side of the house.

"Hey look!" they'll say, "Look at all the high ASVAB scoring recruits we brought in!" 

Then you look at the details, "...but many have significant mental health issues. You're bringing in damaged smart people."

"...but, look at their numbers! Now, give me my Army Comm for the month. Let someone else worry about TS-SCI access, combat stress, and access to the most powerful conventional weapons on the planet."

Monday, November 13, 2017

OHP's 2nd Life: The Sins of the Past Haunt the Present and Weaken the Future

For those familiar with what condition the SPRU were in when we started sinking them, and the neglect the last serving OHPs received in their last few years, there was always a little something haunting the back of our minds when the idea was floated to bring them back. That little something was that unless the Navy played against type - there was little to any way we would see them back in a usable form after being run so hard and put up so wet.

So, we have a perfect set-up for the Potomac Flotilla's 5-Step Faint-Bluff-Cover-Run CONOPS:

1. If we were going to do things right, it is not going to be cheap. 
2. As Big Navy does not want them back, they will not low-ball the estimates. 
3. When everyone balks at the estimate, Big Navy will offer the minimum-capability cheap option.
4. The minimum-capability cheap option will then be evaluated, naturally, as not really worth the bother.
5. Big Navy can then do with the money what they wanted to do in the first place.

We saw Step-3 when SECNAV Spencer floated a bit about bringing them back in their self-propelled 76mm gun with attack helo-pad form, but that is not all that usable, unlike other modernization options. Less expensive, but you get what you pay for.

It looks like we are somewhere between Step 4 & 5 now. Big Navy is going to win this argument;
A single-page internal memo, which was circulated in the Chief of Naval Operations office in October, estimated the Navy would have to spend at least $432 million per ship over the decade of service, a figure that well exceeds the cost of one brand new littoral combat ship.

A second October memo described to Defense News said that of the 10 frigates left for recommissioning, two are reserved for foreign sales, one isn’t seaworthy, and the remaining seven would still cost more than $3 billion to bring back.

The paper instead recommends putting the money toward destroyer and cruiser modernization, as well as littoral combat ship procurement and development of the next-generation guided-missile frigate now in development.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fullbore Friday

As the lead-up to Veterans Day also happens to be the USMC Birthday on FbF ... of course we have to have a certain focus today.

Every day, American's men and women are serving in places no one knows about, cares about, or even if they did - have any clue why they are there and why what they are doing is important.

Today I ask you to give a nod to our Marines in Anbar.

For you listeners to Midrats, you'll recognize their leader.

Susannah George of AP reports; over to you;
The US-led coalition’s newest outpost in the fight against the Islamic State group is in a dusty corner of western Iraq near the border with Syria. Here, several hundred American Marines operate close to the battlefront, a key factor in the recent series of swift victories against the extremists.
...
Under a plastic tent, the Marines run an austere joint command center about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border. A dozen monitors relay surveillance footage and troop positions in the town of Qaim nearby. Using racks of radio and satellite equipment, the coalition forces and Iraqi officers at the base pass information between forces on the ground and al-Asad air base, the coalition’s main base in Anbar province some 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the east.

Such outposts have become more common the past year, bringing the Americans out of main bases and closer to the action. U.S. commanders say the tactic has paid off in the swift rollback of the Islamic State group.
...
U.S. Marines Col. Seth W. B. Folsom, commander of Task Force Lion, oversaw the Qaim fight and said he expects clearing and holding the retaken territory in Anbar to be more difficult than the assault itself.

“It’s much more challenging, no doubt in my mind it’s more challenging,” he said. Motivating troops to attack to regain their country is easy, he said. “What’s less easy to motivate men to do, is to stand duty on checkpoints.”
...
“Anbar is the far reaches of Iraq,” said Col. Folsom. “The challenge that we’ve got here that they have not had as much up in the north is really just the tyranny of distance.”
...
Col. Folsom said he hoped within the next year Iraqi forces would be able to hold the western edge of Anbar on their own and coalition forces can fall back to al-Asad air base.

“We have to find some sort of sustainable presence,” he said. “What that will look like, I don’t know. There may still be some commuting to work in one way or another.”
Best to you and your Marines Seth.

You can listen to our interview with Seth about his previous book, Where Youth and Laughter Go, below.



Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Are we holding the right people accountable?

Our friend Mike Junge, CAPT USN doesn't think we are.

I'm pondering his ideas over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and give it a read.

Trumpism Without Trump? No. Trumpism-Light Without Hillary

Give a nod to Virginia Democrats. They had an exceptional get out the vote effort, were jazzed to get to the voting booth, and had a smart top of the ticket that jinked towards the center to bring in the big squishy middle.

Poor Ed Gillespie. Ed is a good guy and would have been a fine Governor. Why he picked 2017 to make a run? Who knows. It was a low-probability voyage of the damned the day a year ago that Trump won.

As I remain in many respects a Party unto myself – and not a Virginian – I’ve watched this race with a detached and neglected curiosity, mostly to see what kind of wreck it will be.

Between twitter and what few minutes of “the shows” I’ve been able to stomach, I’ve found the spin and hot takes to be less than convincing on both sides.

I do think there are some important lessons that both Democrats and Republicans should ponder.

1. Ed is about as establishment GOP (not that there is anything wrong with that) as you can get. He was never going to excite the Trump base to turn in numbers in the hinterlands as great as the pent-up frustrated Democrats within commuting distance of DC wanted to come out and rage-vote.

2. Ralph Northam is a good politician who offered an opportunity for the (D) to get a 1 in the “Win” column with style. He was always the favorite to win, and by shifting towards the right to even center-right in the general, he broadened his spread.

3. The pummeling the VA GOP got was well deserved and should be of no surprise. So much of it comes from the general confusion in the GOP establishment that is directly responsible for Trump being elected.

Let me take a bit to flesh-out that last bit, as it applies to the nation as a whole, and a bit to VA.

Exhibit A is Reince Priebus. He exercised even less control of the 2016 primary process than he did in his shambolic and abbreviated tour as Trump’s Chief of Staff. He allowed a huge clown car of Republicans to run and suck the oxygen out of the room, divide blocks, and created an opening for a neglected and scorned part of the GOP coalition to cleave almost in whole away from the rest the pack to Trump.

While Trump cultivated the part of the Republican Party that the establishment constantly took for granted – those who each election played Charlie Brown to the GOPe Lucy – those told to shut up and vote for the nominee given to them – the rest fed on each other.

Jeb! and his Alfrid Lickspittlesque partner Mike Murphy engaged over $100 million in a selfish personal vendetta against Marco Rubio from one side, while the unelectable Chris Christie came at him from the other. The professionals joined with the unelectable to eliminate the plausible, as the picayune egoists allowed to clutter the stage scampered about throwing glitter and smoke in the air. Ted Cruz? He was as confused as everyone else, and as he tried to position himself as best he could in the chaos, the table was already set.

As I mentioned as far back as 2015, Trump’s personality is exactly what he is; a New York City real estate developer. It isn’t a show, it just is. As the established coalition partners in the Republican Party were having slap fights over who was more entitled to what – Trump consolidated the neglected and scorned portions of the Republican Party together, welding them to him by constantly reassuring them he would not leave them.

How could a life-long Democrat, Clinton supporting, abrasive, womanizing, gun control supporting, single payer healthcare, crass Yankee get Evangelicals, gun owners, honor bound Southerners, nice Midwesterners and others to support him?

One person; Hillary Rodham Clinton. More and more people began to see that only one thing kept HRC away from the levers of power she lusted after. Sadly, that became DJT. Reince did not have the balls of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to do what needed to be done – so Trump hijacked the Republican Party.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Republicans, on paper, have never been stronger – but there is a problem. That problem is Trump. He is toxic.

Yes, he as strong support, but 1/3 does not give you 50.1%. There are a lot of people who did not vote for DJT, but against HRC. That bolt is shot.

The HRC dragon has been slain. That motivation is no longer there. Without it, there is DJT standing in the light. He is not an attractive figure for many that voted for him simply to keep HRC away from power.

Anti-HRC enthusiasm is gone.

The standard Conservative message is good – but it needs to get out from Trump’s shadow to survive.

There is no Trumpism, there is only Trump. Some of those specific issues that gained him legitimacy; anti-sanctuary cities and respect for our history for example, are issues that the Democrats adopted to win in VA.

Trumpism is Trump. The Republican Party cannot be Trump, because when he goes, so will the Party if they are yoked to him. Trumpism is a dead end.

The Democrats know this better than the Republicans, I think – or just have an easier job. They are going to continue to push (R) towards DJT to keep his stink on them. They don’t need Trumps 33.3%. They just need some of the other 16.8%+.

What they need to do is to not just capture some of that 16.8%, they need to depress and de-motivate the Trump base before the Republicans find a way to re-motivate them in a post-Trump world.

The Democrats are in the process of cutting the last strings to the Clintons. This will open all sorts of doors to them – and will remove a not insignificant motivation for Republicans that has powered many of for decades.

The Republicans need to regain the respect of the parts of their coalition that is loyal to Trump. They don’t need to be Trump – they just need to do show some respect for all parts of their Party. They also need to realize that they need to absolutely avoid the most toxic parts of Trumpism as it will kill them.

Can they do that? I don’t know. My inner-Eeyore thinks not in time. The Republicans will pay a price for having a NYC Democrat populist at the top of their ticket. How big will the price be? We’ll see.

There is great opportunity here for those who are fighting the good fight inside the Republican Party. As Trumpism takes its course, those who were steadfast yet out of the frag pattern will be able to step in and take power in the Party. Those who left or retreated from conservative principals by joining Democrats or fan-boi Trumpism? No. They will not be seen as part of the solution. There is not much time left to re-join the fight. Come back - we need 'ya.

A final note: no one born before 1963 should run for office as a Republican ever again. Those who are closest to the Reince/Mike Murphy part of the Party should be sent to lobbyist exile.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Estonian View of ZAPAD

What was Russia up to this year with their large-scale ZAPAD exercise on NATO's borders on the Baltic?

It is one thing to ponder that from the other side of the Atlantic, imagine it was taking place just a car commute away.

Worth your time to read it all, but digest these nuggets from Estonia's Postimees' Oliver Kund;
The flagship of the Northern Fleet, battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, made the news in late July when it was scheduled to appear in the St. Petersburg naval parade. Few know that the 252-meter ship partook in a military drill in the Baltic Sea on its way back, even though a ship of its size is not meant to be deployed in such narrow waters.

Landings closest to Estonia took place on the Gulf of Finland islands of Suursaar, Lavassaar, and Tütarsaar the latter of which lies fewer than 60 kilometers from the Estonian coast. The scope of activities in the Baltic Sea would have been even bigger had stormy weather not caused some of the exercises to be canceled. There was no such problem in the Arctic, where the Russian navy rehearsed sinking enemy frigates and tactical landings.

What happened on the other side of the Estonian land boundary? The main focal points were the Luga and Strugi Krasnye polygons the closest of which was once again some 60 kilometers from Estonia.

“The entire Western Military District was put on battle alert on September 14. All general staffs moved out; even the district headquarters, headed by General [Andrei] Kartapolov, was moved out of St. Petersburg,” former commander of the Defense Forces, retired general Ants Laaneots said.

Three out of four airborne divisions participated in drills in Strugi Krasnye. While modernized T72 tanks were sent to Belarus, equipment closer to the Estonian border included T90 main battle tanks and the brand new armored fighting vehicle BMPT. No land, air, or naval border violations were established by Estonia.

A lot of emphasis was placed on electronic warfare at this year’s Zapad. Russia is among the leading forces in the world when it comes to disrupting enemy communications as jammers at its disposal range from those aimed against individual squads to major transmitters that can cover hundreds of kilometers.

Disruptions to Latvia’s cell phone network on August 30 and emergency call service on September 13 were probably Russian tests. Mobile communications were disrupted using a powerful network jammer in Kaliningrad aimed at Gotland in Sweden and Aland in Finland.

“Our allies’ weakness lies in their dependency on long-range communications. Major countries need to keep in touch with the homeland when at war. The Russians realize that a corresponding strike would give them an advantage,” a Postimees source explained.

Zapad also offered new and surprising elements. For example, nuclear forces were involved in very early stages of the drills. If during Zapad 2009, Russia simulated a nuclear strike against Poland, and a similar flight of strategic bombers took place near Stockholm four years later, the nuclear exercise concentrated on the Baltic region this time.

Secondly, the exercise largely concentrated on the far north where additional forces were deployed from several other military districts.

Norwegian counter intelligence said in early October that Russia used strong electronic jammers on the Kola Peninsula. They caused SAS and Wideroe passenger aircraft to lose GPS signal climbing beyond 2,000 feet over a week.
It is a busy world out there. Pay attention.

Monday, November 06, 2017

What the Anti-ISIS Annihilation Campaign Looks Like

A powerful graphic.

Tells a story of annihilation and also asks the question - what to do with the returning? What will they do?

Sunday, November 05, 2017

USS FITZGERALD & MCCAIN Collisions; Observations with Bryan McGrath on Midrats



This week saw the release of the reports on the collision reports and Comprehensive Review of the incidents this summer between merchant ships in WESTPAC and the destroyers USS FITZGERALD and USS MCCAIN.

The totally avoidable collisions resulted in the death of 17 Sailors and removal from our most important theater two of our most critical assets.

Our guest for the full hour Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern will be Bryan McGrath, CDR, USN (Ret.).

Bryan grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987. He was commissioned upon graduation in the United States Navy, and served as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement in 2008. At sea, he served primarily in cruisers and destroyers, rising to command of the Destroyer USS BULKELEY (DDG 84).

During his command tour, he won the Surface Navy Association’s Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Award for Inspirational Leadership, and the BULKELEY was awarded the USS ARIZONA Memorial Trophy signifying the fleet’s most combat ready unit. Ashore, Bryan enjoyed four tours in Washington DC, including his final tour in which he acted as Team Leader and primary author of our nation’s 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”

Since retirement, Bryan has become active in presidential politics, serving first as the Navy Policy Team lead for the Romney Campaign in 2012, and then as the Navy and Marine Corps Policy lead for the Rubio Campaign in 2016.

He is the Assistant Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, and he is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a small defense consulting firm.

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, November 03, 2017

Fullbore Friday

Go ahead, call a 22-yr old woman a "girl" one more time.
They were a disparate pair. He had been taken prisoner while serving with the French army during the German offensive of 1940, but secured his repatriation as an invalid after deliberately breaking his arm with a hatchet. He made his way to England and joined the SOE. Baseden, born in Paris of a British father and French mother, was educated on the Continent and was fluent in French. She had an unusually feisty personality, an ideal qualification for dangerous work.

De St Geniès and Baseden were concerned by their inability to discover whether the previous circuit had been betrayed or simply discovered through a careless slip. De St Geniès cut all contact with French couriers, relying on Baseden’s carefully coded radio reports to London from meticulously varied sites. The circuit eventually covered a significant area of the Jura so that the Resistance had control by night of all but the main roads.

It was most unfortunate that a celebration to mark the successful receipt and secret stowage of a mass daylight drop of arms and explosives in July 1944 resulted in the death of De St Geniès as well as Baseden’s arrest.

The inner circle of the “Scholar” circuit had decided to have a celebratory supper together, choosing what they regarded as their safest house for the occasion — a cheese factory near Dôle. A German patrol arrested a “Scholar” agent near the factory because he was unaccountably carrying a radio transmitter. He knew nothing of the planned dinner, but the sergeant leading the patrol searched the factory on the off-chance of finding something there.

The wife of the caretaker was discovered at a table laid for eight, but no apparent guests, so the sergeant fired a burst from his machine-pistol through the ceiling to show he meant business. One bullet hit De St Geniès in the head and blood leaked through the ceiling, above which the party was hiding. He died at the scene and the others were arrested.

Baseden was interrogated by the Gestapo, enduring periods of solitary confinement and having her toes trodden on to persuade her to reveal her contacts in the Resistance. She was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, having avoided revealing any names by claiming that, as a radio operator, she was excluded from such information. From Ravensbrück she worked under guard as a farm labourer until falling ill with tuberculosis in February 1945. In the atmosphere of mounting apprehension among the camp authorities as the Allied armies approached, a fellow prisoner and former escape line organiser, Mary Lindell, secured her evacuation in a Red Cross train to Sweden, from where she was repatriated.
She passed last week after a full life.

I can't help but notice that she was a woman of exceptional pedigree.
Yvonne Jeanne Therese de Vibraye Baseden was born in 1922 the daughter of Clifford Baseden, an officer of the First World War Royal Flying Corps who crash-landed on the Count and Countess de Vibraye’s estate, was asked to stay for dinner, and then fell in love with and married their daughter. Yvonne Baseden was engaged as a bilingual shorthand typist before volunteering for the WAAF, in which she was commissioned and worked with RAF Intelligence in Brtitain until joining the SOE in May 1943.
Dad would be proud.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The FITZGERALD and MCCAIN’s MEMO - The Problem is Us

There will be more to come from the ongoing investigations in to the collisions of the USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and USS MCCAIN (DDG 56) that took place earlier this year. At each release, we should take some time to look at what is being presented and not just focus on the unit level failures – which are legion – but use those data points to see where they point towards the larger factors that led them to their unnecessary but logical end.

Earlier this week, the 72-page “MEMORANDUM FOR DISTRIBUTION” became available. You can read it all embedded below.

We must give credit to “Big Navy” here once again. This is about as transparent as you will get from any military service of any nation. It is of great credit to our service culture that we are doing this. Sure, there are things we can improve – all human institutions need improvement – but we should all acknowledge the goodness in this transparency. We appear to be focused on the right things, and BZ to those who gave the D&G to do so, and put this together.

It can be uncomfortable to do such investigations. It can be embarrassing. It can be unpleasant – but it is absolutely the only way you can find a way to learn, take action, and strive to make changes to make sure it does not happen again.

As you read this, you will soon start to realize that it was all preventable. Ships and crews have found themselves with the same challenges for thousands of years – from oar to nuclear power. Leadership, human factors, and the even the ergonomics of the human-machine interface – it all is there to either make an uneventful watch, or disaster.

There are some technical issues one could focus on here if you wanted, but they are at best a tertiary factor. In a read of this very "just-the-facts" MEMO, everything thread I start to pull leads to the unit level leadership first, and then in the direction towards fleet, community, and service level issues that created the conditions for these unit level failures to manifest themselves.

To set a tone, I am going to pull in to Surface Warfare mishaps something from the Aviation side of the house. We are all Navy officers, so this is more than fair. All credit here goes to our friend Herb Carmen, CAPT, USN (Ret) who pointed us this way on twitter.

Your reference is OPNAV INSTRUCTION 3750.6R, Appendix O, Paragraph A. In part,
Human error continues to plague both military and civilian aviation. Yet, simply writing off aviation mishaps to "pilot error" is a simplistic, if not naive, approach to mishap causation. Further, it is well established that mishaps are rarely attributed to a single cause, or in most instances, even a single individual. Rather, mishaps are the end result of a myriad of latent failures or conditions that precede active failures. The goal of a mishap investigation is to identify these failures and conditions in order to understand why the mishap occurred and how it might be prevented from happening again in the future.

As described by Reason (1990), active failures are the actions or inactions of operators that are believed to cause the mishap. Traditionally referred to as "pilot error", they are the last "unsafe acts" committed by aircrew, often with immediate and tragic consequences. For example, an aviator forgetting to lower the landing gear before touch down or flat-hatting through a box canyon will yield relatively immediate, and potentially grave, consequences.

In contrast, latent failures or conditions are errors that exist within the squadron or elsewhere in the supervisory chain of command that effect the tragic sequence of events characteristic of a mishap. For example, it is not difficult to understand how tasking crews at the expense of quality crew rest, can lead to fatigue and ultimately errors (active failures) in the cockpit. Viewed from this perspective then, the unsafe acts of aircrew are the end result of a chain of causes whose roots originate in other parts (often the upper echelons) of the organization. The problem is that these latent failures or conditions may lie dormant or undetected for hours, days, weeks, or longer until one day they bite the unsuspecting aircrew.

The question for mishap investigators and analysts alike, is how to identify and mitigate these active and latent failures or conditions. One approach is the "Domino Theory" which promotes the idea that, like dominoes stacked in sequence, mishaps are the end result of a series of errors made throughout the chain of command. A "modernized" version of the domino theory is Reason's "Swiss Cheese" model that describes the levels at which active failures and latent failures/conditions may occur within complex flight operations (see Figure 1).

Why would the Surface community want to benchmark an Aviation-centric instruction’s attitude as opposed on focusing on unit level failures? Here are 17 reasons;

- GMSN Kyle Rigsby of Palmyra, Virginia, 19 years old.
- YN2 Shingo Alexander Douglass, of San Diego, California, 25 years old.
- FC1 Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan of Chula Vista, California, 23 years old.
- PSC Xavier Alec Martin of Halethorpe, Maryland, 24 years old.
- STG2 Ngoc Turong Huynh of Oakville, Connecticut, 25 years old.
- GM1 Noe Hernandez of Weslaco, Texas, 26 years old.
- FCC Gary Rehm, Jr., of Elyria, Ohio, 37 years old.
- ETC Charles Nathan Findley of Amazonian, Missouri, 31 years old.
- ICC Abraham Lopez of El Paso, Texas, 39 years old.
- ET1 Kevin Sayer Bushell of Gaithersburg, Maryland, 26 years old.
- ET1 Jacob Daniel Drake of Cable, Ohio, 21 years old.
- ITl Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr. of Baltimore, Maryland, 23 years old.
- ITl Corey George Ingram of Poughkeepsie, New York, 28 years old.
- ET2 Dustin Louis Doyon of Suffield, Connecticut, 26 years old.
- ET2 John Henry Hoagland III of Killeen, Texas, 20 years old.
- IC2 Logan Stephen Palmer of Harristown, Illinois, 23 years old.
- ET2 Kenneth Aaron Smith of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, 22 years old.

Not waving bloody shirts around, but this should focus the mind. This is not an academic exercise, or some Black Swan event – this is a scenario x2 that people have been warning about for years. We don’t just have bent steel and bruised egos here – these are lessons written in the blood of 17 Sailors who we like to say are our most important assets.

Back to the document in questions. I highly encourage everyone to read it in full – and good people can come away from reading it with different areas of concern – and that is fine. For this retired CDR, here is what got the attention of my highlighter;

Part I: FITZGERALD:
By 0130 hours on 17 June 2017, the approximate time of the collision, FITZGERALD was approximately 56 nautical miles to the southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, near the Izu Peninsula within sight of land and continuing its transit outbound. The seas were relatively calm at 2 to 4 feet. The sky was dark, the moon was relatively bright, and there was scattered cloud cover and unrestricted visibility.
Weather; not a factor.
In accordance with the International Rules of the Nautical Road, the FITZGERALD was in what is known as a crossing situation with each of the vessels. In this situation, FITZGERALD was obligated to take maneuvering action to remain clear of the other three, and if possible, avoid crossing ahead. In the event FITZGERALD did not exercise this obligation, the other vessels were obligated to take early and appropriate action through their own independent maneuvering action. In the 30 minutes leading up to the collision, neither FITZGERALD nor CRYSTAL took such action to reduce the risk of collision until approximately one minute prior to the collision. FITZGERALD maintained a constant course of 190 degrees at 20 knots of speed.
No unusual circumstances. From a seamanship point of view, thousands of identical scenarios each hour of each night around the world.

The Officer of the Deck, the person responsible for safe navigation of the ship, exhibited poor seamanship by failing to maneuver as required, failing to sound the danger signal and failing to attempt to contact CRYSTAL on Bridge to Bridge radio. In addition, the Officer of the Deck did not call the Commanding Officer as appropriate and prescribed by Navy procedures to allow him to exercise more senior oversight and judgment of the situation.

The remainder of the watch team on the bridge failed to provide situational awareness and input to the Officer of the Deck regarding the situation. Additional teams in the Combat Information Center (CIC), an area on where tactical information is fused to provide maximum situational awareness, also failed to provide the Officer of the Deck input and information.
As you will see over and over; yes there is individual failure, but this is actually a systemic failure. No one gets to be OOD overnight. No one gets to be the senior officer in CIC by fogging a mirror. These are, in theory, highly trained professionals who have invested years to be standing that watch. At a minimum, the basics should be instinct, should be expected – should be reinforced by the entire watch team because that is what we do. This did not happen in isolation. This is not the first time any of this took place. 

Why, on this ship on this watch, did this happen? What were the conditions that created such an environment?

Of the 42 Sailors assigned to Berthing 2, at the time of collision, five were on watch and two were not aboard. Of the 35 remaining Sailors in Berthing 2, 28 escaped the flooding. Seven Sailors perished.

Some of the Sailors who survived the flooding in Berthing 2 described a loud noise at the time of impact. Other Berthing 2 Sailors felt an unusual movement of the ship or were thrown from their racks. Other Berthing 2 Sailors did not realize what had happened and remained in their racks. Some of them remained asleep. Some Sailors reported hearing alarms after the collision, while others remember hearing nothing at all.

The occupants of Berthing 2 described a rapidly flooding space, estimating later that the space was nearly flooded within a span of 30 to 60 seconds. By the time the third Sailor to leave arrived at the ladder, the water was already waist deep. Debris, including mattresses, furniture, an exercise bicycle, and wall lockers, floated into the aisles between racks in Berthing 2, impeding Sailors’ ability to get down from their racks and their ability to exit the space. …
Not a minor detail. If you read the post-battle reports from prior wars of the last century, this is almost an exact repeat of what you saw early on. “Gear adrift” is not a punch line. Ship’s clutter is not just an eyesore. One hopes this is being looked at very close.

The next pull-quote I had to read twice, as it reflects the nature of Sailors as I know them. Hollywood and the usual suspects put a lot of false ideas about how trained professionals act in times of crisis.

If this does not let you know that we have the Sailors we need, I don’t know what to tell you. If this doesn’t tell you the exceptional quality of today’s young men and women, I don’t know what will. We just need to make our Navy as good as they are.
Sailors recall that after the initial shock, occupants lined up in a relatively calm and orderly manner to climb the port side ladder and exit through the port side watertight scuttle. Figure 14 provides an example of the route Sailors would have taken from their racks to the port side watertight scuttle on a ship of the same class as FITZGERALD. They moved along the blue floor and turned left at the end to access the ladder. Figure 14 provides an example and sense of scale. Even though the Sailors were up to their necks in water by that point, they moved forward slowly and assisted each other. One Sailor reported that FC1 Rehm pushed him out from under a falling locker. Two of the Sailors who already escaped from the main part of Berthing 2 stayed at the bottom of the ladder well (see Figure 8) in order to help their shipmates out of the berthing area.
How often do we train how to egress from berthing or watch stations? 

This next part reminded me of an interview with one of the three survivors of the sinking of the HMS Hood. The navigation officer let the Signalman step through the hatch first. That second was all it took for one person to survive and the other not.
One Sailor escaped via the starboard side of Berthing 2. After the collision, this Sailor tried to leave his rack, the top rack in the row nearest to the starboard access trunk, but inadvertently kicked someone, so he crawled back into his rack and waited until he thought everyone else would be out of the Berthing 2. When he jumped out of his rack a few seconds later, the water was chest high and rising, reaching near to the top of his bunk.

After leaving his rack, the Sailor struggled to reach the starboard egress point through the lounge area. He moved through the lounge furniture and against the incoming sea. Someone said, “go, go, go, it’s blocked,” but he was already underwater. He was losing his breath under the water but found a small pocket of air. After a few breaths in the small air pocket, he eventually took one final breath and swam. He lost consciousness at this time and does not remember how he escaped from Berthing 2, but he ultimately emerged from the flooding into Berthing 1, where he could stand to his feet and breathe. He climbed Berthing 1’s egress ladder, through Berthing 1’s open watertight scuttle and collapsed on the Main Deck. He was the only Sailor to escape through the starboard egress point.
Again, the quality of our Sailors today are in line with the finest traditions of our service. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
After escaping Berthing 2, Sailors went to various locations. Some assembled on the mess decks to treat any injuries and pass out food and water. Others went to their General Quarters (GQ) stations to assist with damage control efforts. Another Sailor went to the bridge to help with medical assistance. One Sailor later took the helm and stood a 15-hour watch in aft steering after power was lost forward.
All officers need to be prepared to be the senior officer present afloat. I’m not sure when the last time a ship lost their CO in such a situation. I don’t care if you are the XO or the junior ENS who just reported aboard. Think about it.
Five Sailors used a sledgehammer, kettlebell, and their bodies to break through the door into the CO’s cabin, remove the hinges, and then pry the door open enough to squeeze through. Even after the door was open, there was a large amount of debris and furniture against the door, preventing anyone from entering or exiting easily.

A junior officer and two chief petty officers removed debris from in front of the door and crawled into the cabin. The skin of the ship and outer bulkhead were gone and the night sky could be seen through the hanging wires and ripped steel. The rescue team tied themselves together with a belt in order to create a makeshift harness as they retrieved the CO, who was hanging from the side of the ship.

The team took the CO to the bridge, where a medical team assessed his condition. As he was being monitored by personnel on the bridge, his condition worsened. A team of stretcher bearers moved the CO from the bridge to the at-sea cabin at 0319, and shortly thereafter, due to the severity of his injuries, he was medically evacuated from the ship at 0710 to USNHY via helicopter.
In “8. Findings,” this should be in bold and needs a lot of investigation and details. Note the plural. Note where the ship is. This is about as damning as you can get.
FITZGERALD officers possessed an unsatisfactory level of knowledge of the International Rules of the Nautical Road.
This is simply amazing.
Watchstanders performing physical look out duties did so only on FITZGERALD’s left (port) side, not on the right (starboard) side where the three ships were present with risk of collision.

Key supervisors responsible for maintaining the navigation track and position of other ships:

Were unaware of existing traffic separation schemes and the expected flow of traffic.
This is not a YP full of 3/C MIDN.
The Officer of the Deck, responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, did not call the Commanding Officer on multiple occasions when required by Navy procedures.

The command leadership did not foster a culture of critical self-assessment. Following a near-collision in mid-May, leadership made no effort to determine the root causes and take corrective actions in order to improve the ship’s performance.
Though only touched on briefly, I hope in follow-on reports we see a lot more on this topic. Fatigue makes even the best professional act like an amateur.
The command leadership allowed the schedule of events preceding the collision to fatigue the crew.

The command leadership failed to assess the risks of fatigue and implement mitigation measures to ensure adequate crew rest.
Fair warning to all, these moments in the timeline are hard to read or even understand. This didn't happen in isolation; there is an entire watch team seeing this go down;
2350 - FITZGERALD overtook a contact on the left (port) side within 3 nautical miles and no report was made to the Commanding Officer as required by his Standing Orders procedures. No course and speed determinations were made for this vessel by watchstanders.

0000 - FITZGERALD was in vicinity of four commercial vessels, two of which were within 3 nautical miles and no report was made to the Commanding Officer as required by his Standing Orders procedures. No course and speed determinations were made for this vessel by watchstanders.

0015 - FITZGERALD was passing two commercial vessels, one of which was within 3 nautical miles and no report was made to the Commanding Officer as required by his Standing Orders procedures. No course and speed determinations were made for this vessel by watchstanders.
This is strange, as if the OOD decided that he/she would have their own Standing Orders – or was just erratic in application. Either way, huge bells should have been going off for the entire watch team after this.
0034 - Four vessels passed down the left (port) side with closest point of approach at 1500 yards. The Commanding Officer was informed. No course and speed determinations were made for these vessels. Radar contact on them was not held.
Did you catch that? No radar contact at 1,500 yards. No, I don’t understand – but I believe it based on what I’m reading. Perhaps best covered in a classified annex.
0058 - FITZGERALD was in the vicinity of five commercial vessels. Three of these passed on the left (port) side within 3 nautical miles and no report was made to the Commanding Officer as required by his Standing Orders.
I’m open to suggestions people – but this is more than just a case study. We need to have a full re-enactment on video to get the full measure of what reads as collective madness. That use of “madness” hyperbole? Well …
0108 - FITZGERALD crossed the bow of a ship at approximately 650 yards, passed a second vessel at 2 nautical miles, and a third vessel at 2.5 nautical miles. No reports were made to the Commanding Officer as required by his Standing Orders procedures. No course and speed determinations were made for this vessel by watchstanders.
I’ve got nothing.

5-minutes is forever in an unfolding situation like this. The crew had one last chance. It seems that the JOOD finally stepped up – but …
0120 - The watch stander responsible for immediate support to the Officer of the Deck, the Junior Officer of the Deck, reported sighting CRYSTAL visually and noted that CRYSTAL’s course would cross FITZGERALD’s track. The Officer of the Deck continued to think that CRYSTAL would pass at 1500 yards from FITZGERALD.

0122 - The Junior Officer of the Deck sighted CRYSTAL again and made the recommendation to slow. The Officer of the Deck responded that slowing would complicate the contact picture.

0125 - CRYSTAL was approaching FITZGERALD from the right (starboard) side at 3 nautical miles. FITZGERALD watchstanders at this time held two other commercial vessels in addition to CRYSTAL. One was calculated to have closest approach point at 2000 yards and the other was calculated to risk collision. No contact reports were made to the Commanding Officer and no additional course and speed determinations were made on these vessels.
Then everything just came apart at the officer level. Panic? Vapor lock? Who knows, but what a terrifying four minutes on the bridge for the junior personnel on watch.
0125 - The Officer of the Deck noticed CRYSTAL rapidly getting closer and considered a turn to 240T.

0127 - The Officer of the Deck ordered course to the right to course 240T, but rescinded the order within a minute. Instead, the Officer of the Deck ordered an increase to full speed and a rapid turn to the left (port). These orders were not carried out.
Here is the kicker. 90-seconds to collision, one person on the bridge did not have vapor lock? Sal’s favorite rate;
0129 - The Bosun Mate of the Watch, a more senior supervisor on the bridge, took over the helm and executed the orders.
I do have a quibble with how this was worded. For the non-Navy types; to be clear, the BMOW is not an officer. That is an enlisted person – often quite junior. I’ll let BM3 (SW/AW) Charlesa Anderson, USN school you if you need a refresher.

In any event, too late;
As of 0130 - Neither FITZGERALD nor CRYSTAL made an attempt to establish radio communications or sound the danger signal.

As of 0130 - FITZGERALD had not sounded the collision alarm.
0130:34 - CRYSTAL’s bow struck FITZGERALD at approximately frame 160 on the right (starboard) side above the waterline and CRYSTAL’s bulbous bow struck at approximately frame 138 below the waterline.
The report has plenty of pics of the damage. If you wish to see them, go below.


Part II: MCCAIN: It is important to remember that this took place a few months after FITZGERALD. What happened then was in the mind of the MCCAIN’s CO and the crew. Like her sister ship, this story will have you shaking your head is disbelief.

There is a trend here.
- Loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in the operation of the JOHN S MCCAIN’s steering and propulsion system, while in the presence of a high density of maritime traffic.

- Failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road, a system of rules to govern the maneuvering of vessels when risk of collision is present.

- Watchstanders operating the JOHN S MCCAIN’s steering and propulsion systems had insufficient proficiency and knowledge of the systems.

In the predawn hours of 21 August 2017, the moon had set and the skies were overcast. There was no illumination and the sun would not rise until 0658. Seas were calm, with one to three foot swells. All navigation and propulsion equipment was operating properly.

At 0418, JOHN S MCCAIN transitioned to a Modified Navigation Detail due to approaching within 10 nautical miles from shoal water. This detail is used by the Navy when in proximity of water too shallow to safely navigate as occurs when entering ports. This detail supplemented then watch team with a Navigation Evaluator and Shipping Officer, providing additional personnel and resources in the duties of Navigation and management of the ship’s relative position to other vessels.
There are no external factors. This is all internal.

So the chain starts;
Although JOHN S MCCAIN entered the Middle Channel of the Singapore Strait (a high traffic density area) at 0520, the Sea and Anchor Detail, a team the Navy uses for transiting narrower channels to enter port, was not scheduled to be stationed until 0600. This Detail provides additional personnel with specialized navigation and ship handling qualifications.


Why the delay?
In general, people don’t know their equipment because it isn’t a priority. They don’t train in casualty modes. They haven’t been trained enough to recognize anything but the most normal or permissive environments. They have not seen or been trained to recognize primary and secondary indications that is causing a ship to act one way or another – or the multiple causes of a single symptom.

When you have good people, good equipment, and external conditions are within norms – most of the time the problem is inadequate training and/or experience from top to bottom.


At 0519, the Commanding Officer noticed the Helmsman (the watchstander steering the ship) having difficulty maintaining course while also adjusting the throttles for speed control. In response, he ordered the watch team to divide the duties of steering and throttles, maintaining course control with the Helmsman while shifting speed control to another watchstander known as the Lee Helm station, who sat directly next to the Helmsman at the panel to control these two functions, known as the Ship’s Control Console. See Figures 3 and 4. This unplanned shift caused confusion in the watch team, and inadvertently led to steering control transferring to the Lee Helm Station without the knowledge of the watch team. The CO had only ordered speed control shifted. Because he did not know that steering had been transferred to the Lee Helm, the Helmsman perceived a loss of steering.
This begs the question: had the crew on watch ever trained how to do this? The CO seemed to know what he was doing – but it does not seem that the bridge crew knew what to do and to ensure that it was done correctly - or to communicate to the watch team what they were doing.

I won’t go in to it more here, but you will also see some of the ergonomic issues with modern bridge systems. With your eyes closed or from the other side of the bridge – simple things such as Helm and Lee Helm status/inputs/are not readily apparent.

This describes the problem;
Steering was never physically lost. Rather, it had been shifted to a different control station and watchstanders failed to recognize this configuration. Complicating this, the steering control transfer to the Lee Helm caused the rudder to go amidships (centerline). Since the Helmsman had been steering 1-4 degrees of right rudder to maintain course before the transfer, the amidships rudder deviated the ship’s course to the left.

Additionally, when the Helmsman reported loss of steering, the Commanding Officer slowed the ship to 10 knots and eventually to 5 knots, but the Lee Helmsman reduced only the speed of the port shaft as the throttles were not coupled together (ganged). The starboard shaft continued at 20 knots for another 68 seconds before the Lee Helmsman reduced its speed. The combination of the wrong rudder direction, and the two shafts working opposite to one another in this fashion caused an un-commanded turn to the left (port) into the heavily congested traffic
area in close proximity to three ships, including the ALNIC.
There was no way to readily tell things weren’t what they should have been.
Although JOHN S MCCAIN was now on a course to collide with ALNIC, the Commanding Officer and others on the ship’s bridge lost situational awareness. No one on the bridge clearly understood the forces acting on the ship, nor did they understand the ALNIC’s course and speed relative to JOHN S MCCAIN during the confusion.
Training? Ergonomics? Experience? All three? Everyday ops is not where you find your problems - it is when the system is stressed. That concept applies here, but everyday ops that became stressed due to pure human factors.

Another common theme; failure of basics.
Despite their close proximity, neither JOHN S MCCAIN nor ALNIC sounded the five short blasts of whistle required by the International Rules of the Nautical Road for warning one another of danger, and neither attempted to make contact through Bridge to Bridge communications.
Also common with the FITZGERALD is the apparent fragility of our communication systems. What would happen in combat? Is your ship training for this?
Most of the electronic systems on the bridge were inoperable until the two ships parted. Main communications systems on the bridge stopped working after the collision and the bridge began using handheld radios to communicate with aft steering. Sound powered phones, which do not require electrical power to transmit communications, and handheld radios were the main means of communication from the bridge. Aft Internal Communications, a space adjacent to Berthing 5 with communications control equipment, quickly flooded and was likely responsible for the loss of bridge communications.
Seconds and moments in time. Gear adrift. There are constants and restraints that determine who lives and who does not.
Two Sailors who were in Berthing 5 at the time of the collision escaped from the space. The first Sailor was on the second step of the ladder-well leading to the deck above when the collision occurred. The impact of the collision knocked him to the ground, leaving his back and legs bruised. Fuel quickly pooled around him and he scrambled up and back onto the ladder.

The Sailor climbed out of Berthing 5 through the open scuttle, covered in fuel and water from the near instantaneous flooding of the space. He did not see anyone ahead of or behind him as he escaped. He reported seeing two other Sailors in the lounge area, one preparing for watch duties and another standing near his rack. Both of these Sailors were lost, along with the eight shipmates who were in their racks to rest at the time of the collision.

The second Sailor who escaped from Berthing 5 heard the crashing and pushing of metal before the sound of water rushing in. Within seconds, water was at chest level. The passageway leading to the ladder-well was blocked by debris, wires and other wreckage hanging from the overhead. From the light of the battle lanterns (the emergency lighting that turns on when there is a loss of normal lights due to power outage) he could see that he would have to climb over the debris to get to the ladder-well.
The findings section is just plain sad to read. So avoidable and points to a huge shortfall; fundamentals.
… no single person bears full responsibility for this incident. The crew was unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation.

Because steering control was in backup manual at the helm station, the offer of control existed at all the other control stations (Lee Helm, Helm forward station, Bridge Command and Control station and Aft Steering Unit). System design is such that any of these stations could have taken control of steering via drop down menu selection and the Lee Helm’s acceptance of the request. If this had occurred, steering control would have been transferred.

When taking control of steering, the Aft Steering Helmsman failed to first verify the rudder position on the After Steering Control Console prior to taking control. This error led to an exacerbated turn to port just prior to the collision, as the indicated rudder position was 33 degrees left, vice amidships. As a result, the rudder had a left 33 degrees order at the console at this time, exacerbating the turn to port.

Several Sailors on watch during the collision with control over steering were temporarily assigned from USS ANTIETAM (CG 54) with significant differences between the steering control systems of both ships and inadequate training to compensate for these differences.

Multiple bridge watchstanders lacked a basic level of knowledge on the steering control system, in particular the transfer of steering and thrust control between stations. Contributing, personnel assigned to ensure these watchstanders were trained had an insufficient level of knowledge to effectively maintain appropriate rigor in the qualification program. The senior most officer responsible for these training standards lacked a general understanding of the procedure for transferring steering control between consoles.

If the CO had set Sea and Anchor Detail adequately in advance of entering the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme, then it is unlikely that a collision would have occurred. The plan for setting the Sea and Anchor Detail was a failure in risk management, as it required watch turnover of all key watch stations within a significantly congested TSS and only 30 minutes prior to the Pilot pickup.

If JOHN S MCCAIN had sounded at five short blasts or made Bridge-to-Bridge VHF hails or notifications in a timely manner, then it is possible that a collision might not have occurred.

The Commanding Officer decided not to station the Sea and Anchor detail when appropriate, despite recommendations from the Navigator, Operations Officer and Executive Officer.

Principal watchstanders including the Officer of the Deck, in charge of the safety of the ship, and the Conning Officer on watch at the time of the collision did not attend the Navigation Brief the afternoon prior.

No bridge watchstander in any supervisory position ordered steering control shifted from the Helm to the Lee Helm station as would have been appropriate to accomplish the Commanding Officer’s order. As a result, no supervisors were aware that the transfer had occurred.
As with FITZGERALD, the timeline tells the story in a nightmare way;
0521 - The first watchstander reported to After Steering. JOHN S MCCAIN did not have a complete delineated list of personnel to man After Steering in the event of a casualty or problem.

0522:45 - The Executive Officer noticed the ship was not slowing down as quickly as expected and alerted the Commanding Officer. In response, the Commanding Officer ordered 5 knots. This order was echoed by the Conning Officer. The CO did not announce that he had taken direct control of maneuvering orders as required by Navy procedures.

0523:06 - The port shaft continued to slow. The starboard shaft was ahead at a speed of 87 RPM and 100.1% pitch. The port shaft order at this time was 32 RPM at 81.1% pitch. JSM was on course 192T, speed 15.6 knots and turning to the left at a rate of approximately 0.5 degrees per second.

0523:27 - Aft Steering Helmsman took control of steering. This was the fifth transfer of steering and the second time the Aft Steering unit had gained control in the previous two minutes.

0523:44 - JOHN S MCCAIN was on course 177T, speed 11.8 knots, and was slowly turning to the left port at a rate of approximately .04 degrees per second. The ordered and applied right 15 degree rudder checked JOHN S MCCAIN’s swing to port and the ship was nearly on a steady course.

0523:58 - ALNIC’s bulbous bow struck JSM between frame 308 and 345 and below the waterline.
Read it all.
This was the fifth transfer of steering and the second time the Aft Steering unit had gained control in the previous two minutes.
We claim to be the world’s premier naval power. Our forward deployed forces are supposed to be our first line of defense.

We have work to do.

We have a lot of “who” and “what,” but those are just waypoints on where this needs to go; “why?”

The most important word in the English language, “why.” If, in the end, the “why” stays inside the lifelines of the ship and WESTPAC, then I’m afraid we have not done our job correctly.

When I look at who is leading this process and what I have seen so far, I think we are going in the direction of the correct “why.”

More to follow, but so far, indications are good.

This afternoon, David Larter at DefenseNews is reporting on the release of the Comprehensive Review by Fleet Forces Command. Once I get a copy and review, I’ll post my thoughts here early next week.

At the unit level, we’ve heard a lot about how technology or training methodology means that, “We don’t need to do X or Y anymore.” Well, that X and Y were usually fundamentals and offline systems. Hopefully we will continue to address these failed assumptions – because the requirement is all in black and white in this MEMO.

I also hope that we don’t just take action towards unit level failures. As I outlined earlier this year when these events started taking place – there are larger, institutional problems at play. They are harder fixes to both do and measure – but we know what they are and how to fix them. I hope we include lessons from the earlier Balisle Report when all is said and done, otherwise we are simply going to repeat this.

To repeat; I believe we have the right leadership focused in the right direction here – but we need to see sustained action through institutional inertia.