Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CNO's 2014 Position Report

CNO Greenert has issued his latest Position Report (1).  If you’re interested in reading it you can follow the link below.  I’m not going to critique it.  It’s largely a work of fiction and spin combined with a handful of trivial facts – not worth ComNavOps’ time to write about.  I simply offer the link as a courtesy to readers.


Bad Habits

Any coach will tell an athlete that practicing poorly is worse than not practicing.  The only thing worse for an athlete than not practicing is to practice incorrectly and develop bad habits.  Bad habits are worse than no habits.  It’s much easier to teach someone new habits than it is to try to unlearn bad habits.  Closely related is the mindset that develops from bad habits.  The athlete thinks they’re better than they are because they’ve been practicing but they don’t realize that all they’re doing is practicing the wrong things and getting good at the wrong things.  When the actual game comes, they fail and wonder why.

The job of the United States armed forces is to fight and win major wars.  You can throw in all the deterrence and peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance and embassy protection and whatever other missions but those are just sidelights – necessary, to be sure, but not the real, overriding mission.  The way the armed forces prepare for their main mission is to practice (train).  Unfortunately, for the last couple of decades the armed forces have been engaged in a seemingly endless series of nation-building, police actions that have had the unintended consequence of developing bad habits in the military.  We’ve forgotten what major war is and we’ve certainly forgotten how to wage it.

We have high level unit commanders (battalion and above) who have never exercised their units as complete entities.  We have rank and file who think combat is a carefully scripted and highly regulated set of rules of engagement that are intended to prevent collateral damage.  We have Marines who have served an entire career without ever setting foot on a ship.  We have a Marine Corps that is shedding tanks and artillery to become lighter.  We have a Department of Defense that is more focused on women’s issues, gender integration, hair styles, number of pull-ups, diversity, and humanitarian assistance than trying to figure out how to kill as many enemy as possible in the most efficient manner possible.

We think war is going out on a patrol in the morning and coming back at night for a hot meal, some video game time, and a good sleep.

It’s not just that we’ve forgotten what war is, it’s that we’ve developed bad habits without knowing it and now we think we know what war is even though we’re not even remotely close.  Instead of developing new and more powerful tanks and artillery, we’re focused on developing better IED resistant HUMVEEs because we think that’s what combat is.  Instead of training how to apply a division’s worth of combat power in a coordinated and devastating fashion, we’re training how to talk to a villager while respecting their culture and sensitivities.  Instead of emphasizing area munitions that can kill anything in a wide range, we’re trying to develop non-lethal weapons.

Let me ask you a question.  How big is a carrier strike group today?  Answer, it’s four or five ships due to budget concerns.  When war comes, we’re going to attempt to operate multi-carrier strike groups (as we learned the hard way in WWII and the Cold War) and yet we’re only practicing with mini-single groups.  Our Admirals have no idea how to operate a multi-carrier group, tactically, because we aren’t practicing it.  Worse than not knowing how, is that we’ve developed bad habits and think we know how to operate a carrier group. 

War with China, Iran, N. Korea, or Russia will come as a rude awakening.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Offset Strategy Follow Up

We just recently discussed the CSBA proposed offset strategy but it warrants a bit of a follow up.  It’s become clear in recent days that Hagel and Work are going to commit the US to exactly this offset path and that greatly worries me. 

Setting aside the asymmetric punishment aspect that is highly questionable and renders the entire strategy suspect, the execution of the strategy seems to be focused on information, networks, data, and surveillance at the expense of high explosives.  Consider where the armed forces are already heading. 

  • The Marines are shedding tanks and artillery in favor of lighter weight, mobile vehicles.
  • The AF wants to drop the A-10.
  • The Navy has terminated production of Tomahawk missiles with no replacement.
  • The mainstay of future aviation is a lightweight, short ranged surveillance and communications node rather than a kick-butt combat aircraft.
  • The AF has only 19 B-2 bombers and 180 F-22 fighters.
  • The Navy is prematurely retiring combat stores ships that are needed to support sustained combat operations.
  • The Navy has dropped another air wing, down to 9 now.  That’s effectively dropping a carrier since a carrier is useless without an air wing.
  • The Navy is retiring the SSGN submarines with no replacement.
  • The Army is being gutted in terms of personnel.
  • And so on …

The trend is clear.  The armed forces are getting lighter and moving their emphasis away from high explosives and towards information and mobility.  Don’t get me wrong, information is extremely valuable – critically so, in fact.  The problem is that at some point you still have to blow things up.  Taking the current trends to their logical conclusion, we’re running the risk of having a force that can observe with perfect awareness while the enemy crushes us because we don’t have enough armor and big enough explosives.

Now consider where the rest of the world is going.  Not a day goes by without reading about another country buying/developing main battle tanks, supersonic missiles, more and larger artillery, theatre ballistic missiles, long range bombers, highly capable frigate/destroyers, etc.  The rest of the world is gearing up for serious, high end combat.  We’re gearing down for information, mobility, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance.

Lastly, bear in mind that this offset strategy and implementation is being overseen by Hagel and Work.  I would be hard-pressed to name two less competent people.  Work, in particular, has demonstrated that he will ruthlessly crush any opposition.  As we proceed down the offset path and it becomes evident that there are flaws in the strategy and implementation, will we or the military leadership hear about them or will people in the military be so intimidated that they’ll meekly and quietly go along while our military capability goes down the drain?  This is exactly what happened with the LCS which was Work’s pet project.  He demonized opposition despite the overwhelming evidence that the program was badly flawed.  Is this the leadership we can depend on to take us down an already suspect path?

The risk in all of this is that we wind up with an entire military that’s essentially the LCS.  Remember all the things the networked, nodal, information-centric LCS was going to do?  It was going to dominate littoral combat for generations to come.  The reality is that it turned out to have no combat power, whatsoever.  Now, we’re looking to strip down our military combat power in favor of information, networks, and surveillance.  Do you see the parallel?

Let’s be fair, here.  The offset strategy is not an official program, yet, and even if it were there are no specific details published.  Perhaps I’m jumping the gun and worrying about nothing or worrying about things that aren’t going to happen the way I’ve laid out.  Perhaps we’ll talk about this for a year or two, not much will happen, and then new leaders will take over and things will go in a different direction.  On the other hand, what if I’m right?  Time will tell. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Triton Sense and Avoid

From Janes website, an interesting tidbit about BAMS (1) 

“The US Navy (USN) is revisiting the sense-and-avoid (SAA) capability of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) after previous efforts have failed to produce a system that works to the service's satisfaction.

The navy's efforts to develop and field an SAA system for the MQ-4C have proven to be more challenging than was first anticipated.

This issue has proven to be so problematic that the navy issued a stop-work order to Exelis, which was developing the SAA sensors under contract to Northrop Grumman, while it evaluates alternatives.”

There’s nothing special about this.  Developmental challenges are to be expected but it does remind us that even the seemingly mundane features can prove difficult and that should give us pause as we leap into our assumptions about the ease of development of rail guns, lasers, anti-gravity, and telepathic networks. 

For all you fanboys of [fill in the blank], remember ComNavOps rule of thumb:  a program will be fortunate to achieve half its claimed capabilities at twice the cost.


(1) IHS Jane's Defence Weekly , “US Navy seeks new sense-and-avoid solution for Triton UAV”, Gareth Jennings, 5 November 2014,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who's Running the Military?

ComNavOps has a simple question to ask.

Who is running the military?

That should be simple to answer.  Let’s just check to see who has produced the influential documents that are guiding the military.

First up would have to be the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) concept that has driven so much of the military’s efforts for the last few years.  This concept has been the basis for the entire naval amphibious assault concept changes (stand-off distances, high speed connectors, modified amphibious assault vehicles, etc.), the Pivot to the Pacific, the focus on longer range aircraft and missiles, and the termination of the LCS, among other notable actions and trends.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Next would be the current offset strategy that Hagel and Work seem to be committing the military to.  In simplest terms, the offset consists of using networks and unmanned platforms to compensate for lack of numbers.  The author of that concept was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

So, the answer to who is running the military would seem to be the CSBA. 

I have nothing against using outside consultants to assist the military in its various planning efforts but wouldn’t you think the bulk of the high level “strategic” analysis should come from the professional, uniformed ranks?  If not, what are we paying them for?

After the CSBA, there is a second level of reports that shape the military and they are provided by GAO, CRS, DOT&E, and others.  These reports are usually narrowly focused on specific topics and help shape the implementation of the higher level CSBA guidance.

Finally, there is a third level of reports.  The military cranks out regular documents but if you’ve read any of them you know that they’re worthless, generic platitudes that are neither useful in concept nor used in practice and which offer no specific guidance.

Throw in the DoD’s near total reliance on industry to tell the military what it needs and what capabilities it can have and you have a picture of near total abdication of the intellectual guidance of our armed forces.  [Rant :  You don’t ask industry what the next “LCS/Small Surface Combatant” will do, you tell them what you want based on your strategic, operational, and tactical needs.]

What are our Admirals and Generals doing all day?  Clearly, they’re not producing any significant strategic thinking.  When did the military give up its role as the architect of professional military analysis?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maintenance Lessons

Navy Times website had an article about fleet maintenance that absolutely infuriated ComNavOps (1).  The article begins with a note about the Navy having to switch carrier deployments because one carrier is taking longer than expected to repair.  Here’s the relevant quotes.

"The problems that drove the carrier switch — extended maintenance after years of high deployment pace and smaller crews — also plague other carriers and ships. Two attack submarines are more than six months late in their yard work and two guided missile subs are more than a year late, officials said."

"The attack boats are ‘the lowest priority in the shipyard,’ said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command. ‘They are not doing well at all and are significantly late to their schedules.’ "

Hmm …  So, the submarines, arguably the most valuable warship in the Navy, have the lowest priority.  What’s wrong with this picture?

"The Navy often paints a rosy picture for overhaul schedules. But the fleet needs work, and the Navy’s top shipfixer says its time to ‘deal with the facts’ and set realistic goals for overhauls."

OK, that sounds like someone understands the problem but why is the rest of the Navy painting a rosy picture?

" ‘We started avails that were notionally six months long that we knew in our hearts were going to take nine or 10 months,’ Hilarides said in an Oct. 6 phone interview. He recalled telling fleet bosses that many 2014 overhauls were going to be late. They did not like the news ..."

"Navy officials estimate that 40 percent of preventative maintenance work is not getting done, or is not done right. Not following procedures is also a growing problem, especially in the surface Navy, and has caused more than $50 million in damages this year alone.”

So, the Navy knows what the problems are.  I wonder if they know why the problems occurred?

“Hilarides places much of the blame on the failed ‘optimal manning’ initiative, which the Navy moved to reverse by adding back ship billets in 2011 after years of cuts that hollowed crews. Personnel officials still estimate the fleet has 7,000 gapped jobs."

So, the Navy knows why the problems occurred.  I wonder if they’ve learned any lessons?

“‘If there is one thing I’ve learned, we shouldn’t take this apart again,’ Hilarides said. ‘We should rebuild it and keep it strong. This is part of the cost of running a world-class Navy.’ "

So, the Navy has learned their lessons.

Well, the entire multi-decade maintenance debacle has been painful and expensive but now we recognize the problems, the reasons, and we’ve learned our lessons.  OK, the history of the problem is discouraging but at least the Navy is moving forward with a newfound clarity of thought and understanding of what needs to be done.  We won’t see these problems crop up again.

And then, after all that, there’s this,

"Truman will begin a maintenance period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in October to ensure the carrier is prepared for its expedited deployment. The availability will be about one-quarter of the 200,000 man-days originally planned, said Rear Adm. Richard Berkey, who heads fleet maintenance for FFC."

The availability will be one-quarter of what’s needed.

One-quarter of what’s needed.

One-quarter.



What happened to understanding the problem?  What happened to recognizing why the maintenance problems got to be so bad to begin with?  What happened to lessons learned?

Are you kidding me?  Are you serious?  Is Navy leadership really that stupid?  This is why I started this blog.  I saw a caste of leaders that were devoid of intelligence and integrity and were violating the trust of the sailors under their command and the trust of the American people.  This absolutely infuriates me.

CNO Greenert, where are you?  You are abdicating your responsibility.  Get out of my Navy.


(1)Navy Times, "Flattop flip-flop: Repair problems force schedule change-up", Oct. 18, 2014,

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bold Alligator 2014

The Marine Corps is returning to the sea, they tell us [why did we leave?  But, I digress …].  OK, let’s take a look at the premier amphibious exercise of the year, the annual Bold Alligator (BA) exercise.  It’s been conducted since 2011 although two of those years the exercise was mostly simulation.

So, with the renewed focus of the Corps on amphibious operations and the Pivot to the Pacific (read China, even though no one will say it) the 2014 exercise would, undoubtedly, have focused on major amphibious assault operations, you would think.  That makes sense.  If we’re going to kick in the Chinese A2/AD zone, or invade Iran or N. Korea, or launch assaults on Russia we need to be prepared to conduct major amphibious operations, right?

As a point of interest, the US contingent of the exercise included 14 USN ships:  6 amphibs, 1 CG, 3 DDG, 1 JHSV, 1 T-AKE, 1 T-AO, and 1 T-ATF.  Not exactly a major amphibious assault force, is it?  -no carriers -no bombardment group -no mine clearing task force.  Conspicuous by their absence is the LCS.  Wasn’t the LCS going to be the kick-the-littoral-door-down force that would secure the littoral region, remove the mine threat, neutralize the submarine threat, and spread democracy?  As best I can determine, the LCS has yet to participate in any of the BA exercises.  That’s odd considering that this is exactly the mission the LCS was designed for.

Anyway, as best I can piece together from numerous sources, the 2014 BA is a series of small, crisis response exercises.  Here are some of the pieces of the exercise.

  • provide security for humanitarian assistance (HA) operations
  • exercise a riverine team providing security for the HA ops
  • raid on a terrorist camp
  • embassy protection
  • aerial assault
  • Company size, unopposed landing
  • JHSV loaded 16 Humvees


So, what are we practicing? A bunch of low end, small events. Heck it's based on a humanitarian assistance mission! It's not an exercise to practice getting divisions ashore and demolishing an enemy - it's a scripted series of crisis response, mobility exercises, from what I've read. We're wasting a premier event on peacetime and low end tasks. That's not what the Chinese are practicing!

Here’s an interesting statement from one of the articles.

"'Coming into this event, there was a substantial amount of repair, cleaning and preservation work done to get the ship ready,' said Bossert [Capt. David Bossert, commanding officer of Kearsarge, LHD-3]. 'There was an untold amount of work done by Sailors and Marines assigned to USS Kearsarge, and they have done a phenomenal job.'" (1)

The ship had to undergo extraordinary basic maintenance to be ready for this exercise???!  That says quite a bit about our level of readiness, doesn’t it?

One of the pieces of the exercise involved a Marine battalion providing rapid response embassy protection and security from protesters.  Consider this statement.

“Our biggest challenge was getting out of the combat mindset,” Rosales[Sgt. Richard Rosales, a squad leader with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines] said. “The Marines are new to embassy guarding, so we met up with the [personnel] at the embassy to learn about daily operations, and how they would normally utilize the Marines [at the embassy].” (2)


Wow!  The Chinese are gearing up for high end combat and we're working hard to get out of the combat mindset. 

Another piece involved having a Marine recon unit land and provide intel for a Company landing team to come ashore in an unopposed landing for the purpose of supporting the embassy protection mission.

We have the opportunity to conduct a major exercise and we opt to spend it on a minor, Company size UNOPPOSED landing whose purpose is to support an embassy security operation.  Way to maximize training opportunities!

This ties back to recent comments about the difference between the Chinese military preparations and our own.  As I’ve said, and as I’ll repeat,

The Chinese are preparing for war.  We are not.

What happens if we have to conduct a major amphibious operation tomorrow?  Are we prepared?  Not from this exercise, we aren’t!

Here’s the thing – if we want to be able to conduct a major, multi-division offensive spearheaded and enabled by an amphibious assault then we have to practice it.  We have to assemble a major task force and practice the operation.  If, on the other hand, we’re concluding that we aren’t going to ever need an amphibious assault on such a scale then why do we have 30 some major amphibious ships and an entire Marine Corps?  If all we’re going to do is embassy evacuations and humanitarian assistance ops and the like, we can make do with significantly fewer amphibious ships (they can be commercial vessels if we aren’t going to conduct opposed landings) and a much smaller Corps.  In fact, if we aren’t going to do amphibious assaults one can’t help but wonder why we even need the Marines.  The Army has Ranger and Airborne units that can do the security and evacuation and small scale raids and probably do them better.

We need to either get serious about amphibious operations or admit that we’re out of the business and turn the resources over to the Army and Air Force.  Bold Alligator 2014 was an embarrassment.  The Chinese have to be laughing about our military priorities.