Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ill Served

Ill Served

As the Trump administration settles in and begins to formulate their geopolitical strategy, they’ll be looking to the military for viable options for that portion of the spectrum.  China and the South China Sea remain one of the major problem areas that need to be dealt with.  What kind of advice will the military offer?  What options does the Navy propose?  Navy Times details the Navy’s advice (1).

U.S. Navy and Pacific Command leaders want to ratchet up potentially provocative operations in the South China Sea by sailing more warships near the increasingly militarized man-made islands that China claims as sovereign territory …”

What is the point of these Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS)?

U.S. Navy leaders believe that the FONOPS help clarify rights under international law and secure U.S. influence in the region.

The previous FONOPS operations, those few that occurred, certainly did clarify things.  They clarified the fact that the US would not contest Chinese annexation efforts or hinder China’s illegal island building.  In fact, as we’ve previously discussed, the FONOPS solidified China’s illegal territorial claims by implicitly recognizing China’s sovereignty over the islands!

Did the Navy’s few FONOPS accomplish their goal?  No.  Did the previous administration’s policy of appeasement accomplish its goal?  No.

“I doubt it it's possible to compel China to withdraw from its newly built islands in the Spratlys. But the U.S. could develop a strategy aimed at preventing more land reclamation, capping militarization and deterring China from using its new outposts to intimidate and coerce its neighbors,” Glaser [Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. ] told Navy Times in an interview.”

The Navy defends its previous efforts,

“U.S. Navy officials are quick to point out that the U.S. has been operating there for decades and are maintaining the historic status quo. “

Status quo????  The Navy has stood by while the Chinese have successfully annexed the entire South China Sea!!!  That’s not maintaining the status quo.  That’s watching while a wholesale invasion takes place.

The Navy wants to continue to make carrier deployments to the region.

"There is nothing new about U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike groups deploying to the western Pacific,” said U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry.

“Our strike groups have patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific regularly and routinely for more than 70 years and will continue to do so. Regional security, stability and prosperity depend on it,” Perry said. “

Regional stability depends on it???  Again, I’ll point out that previous carrier deployments did nothing to prevent the Chinese from annexing the entire South China Sea.

So, having noted that previous FONOPS and carrier deployments to the South China Sea accomplished absolutely nothing, what is the Navy’s advice to the new administration?  - more FONOPS and more carrier deployments!!!!!

Seriously?  They accomplished nothing so the Navy’s most brilliant advice is to do more of them?  This is the best that our military professionals can come up with?  What a bunch of incompetents. 

President Trump is being ill served by Navy leadership.

Note:  This post is not about the politics of the situation.  It’s about the quality of advice coming from our professional military leaders.  You can agree or disagree with the geopolitics of the situation but the quality of advice is clearly lacking.


(1)Navy Times website, “The Navy Is Planning Fresh Challenges To China’s Claims In The South China Sea”, David B. Larter, 12-Feb-2017,


  1. I was thinking about this this morning, actually.

    I remember to one of the Obama/Romney debates where the former President stated something to the effect of 'The admirals aren't telling me we need more ships....'

    This at a time when INSURV was already classified, I believe, due to repeated failures. Maintenance was starting to get heavily deferred. Deployments continued to lengthen, and sailors and equipment were getting cross-decked.

    If you worked at a company where you were having to run machinery 24/7 to keep up with demand, jury rig fixes because management wouldn't spend money on maintenance, and you yourself were doing triple overtime just to keep up, and then when queried by clients concerned with your companies demands your managers said 'We're doing GREAT! We have no problems fulfilling your orders! We can do even more! No problem!' while they blithely ignored your repeated reports of impending doom... or worse, your career got sidetracked for not being a team player...

    Wouldn't you feel betrayed, and part of a dysfunctional organization?

    I feel for today's sailors.

  2. Oh... and to avoid going off tangents...I don't think sequestration is a great excuse. Higher op tempo maybe but while we were not buying or maintaining Hornets we were perfectly happy to blow billions on a Destroyer that can't shoot, and however much money on lean in circles, biofuels, and mission modules that don't work.

    Navy leadership seems entirely too interested in making politicians happy. I know that this is *part* of the job. To paraphrase Rickover, fish don't vote, but when I would hope for *someone* at the top to say to the President 'We can't sustain this op tempo on this budget. We need to either cut things or take time off to refit ships and refresh crews' there seemed to only be the echoing sound of crickets.

  3. Just looking at the annual US navy FoN report
    U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Freedom of Navigation (FON) Report
    for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016

    There is something like 20 countries that have 'excessive maritime claims, including Italy, Brazil, China ( of course) Taiwan etc .

    This was interesting
    "Philippines* Claims archipelagic waters as internal waters

    and its not only China that has 'historic waters'
    Italy Claimed historic bay status for the Gulf of Taranto.

    1. And of those countries with "excessive" claims, how many are building illegal artificial islands, defying international UNCLOS tribunal rulings, using military force to seize disputed territory, making illegal claims about EEZ's, etc.? Only one that I can think of.

      Did you have a point to make?

    2. The words about 'excessive maritime' claims are the reports words. Doesnt it seem the building on reefs is really an issue for those nations whose claim coincides with China. The USN is going to continue to go about its business no matter what the requirements of some 20 nations.
      One island Taiping or Itu Aba isnt a reef but over a km long with a runway. Its occupied by Taiwan and is part of Chinas claim as well , being the One China and all that.
      Small islands far from their homeland territory but close to someones elses are one of the many oddities that are common .
      St Pierre and Miquelon only 25km from Newfoundland Canada but a long way from France shouldnt really be part of France but it remains, it probably once was about lucrative fishing rights and later smuggling during US prohibition but hardly matters anymore.

  4. This really just reinforces what I was saying in the previous thread on "What war is"...where are the new ideas? So everybody complained about Obama strategy and what does DOD give Trump? MORE OF THE SAME! And it really doesn't matter who, if it would have been Hillary, DOD would have told her the same thing!!!

    Where are the new leaders (civilian and military) that are going to think outside the box?

    1. I think this is an interesting point. Ultimately, the strategy choices a president makes are not formulated by him - how would a civilian president with no naval service formulate a naval strategy?
      The president arbitrates, and may set a broad global political, economic strategy.

      But when it comes to an implementation strategy, the military (in this case) would come up with a group of options and ask the president to choose one.

      What options was Obama presented with?
      It seems the same options they plan on giving Trump.

  5. The onus is not on the military.

    WH/Congress decides to shoot or not. If decides to go to war, then unleash the If decides 'a bunch of rock is not worth it' (rightly or wrongly), then don't look to for answers. I don't think Admr. Nimitz and Spruance were trained to be a non-war warriors.

    1. Did you read the post? If so, did you see this,

      "... looking to the military for viable options for that portion of the spectrum."

      No one, other than you, is suggesting that the military is responsible for providing non-military options. As the post said, the military's responsibility is to provide options for the military portion of the geopolitical spectrum. How did you possible misinterpret that?

      The onus is absolutely on the military to provide options for the military portion of the spectrum.

  6. Don't shoot (i.e. wave to scare, or humanitarian support). Shoot less. Shoot more.

    I'm no military man, but what else is in the military portion of the geopolitical spectrum?

    If WH/Congress don't want to shoot; and FONOP is not scarry. Then WH/Congress should use other tools (like trade & $$) to engage.

    (there is a possibility to get China to shoot first, but do you think they will oblige? PH coup, maybe?)

    That's it. A coup.

    1. You might wish to familiarize yourself with the Continuum of Military Operations, particularly Phase 0 and Phase 1. There are a wide range of non-combat options which are the options that the civilian politicians need to hear about from the military.

      The military options generally go hand-in-hand with political options, of course.

      To help you understand this subject, non-combat military options can include, among others,

      -force size in theater
      -type of forces in theater
      -patrols; what type of patrols?; what assets?
      -show of force; what type?; what degree
      -signals monitoring and intel
      -training operations to send a message
      -military exercises with neighboring countries
      -denial of illegal EEZ claims
      -innocent passage
      -establishment of bases in neighboring countries
      -establishment of air defense zones
      -shadowing "enemy" vessels and aircraft

      And so on.

      The various military options, combined with appropriate political options can act to try to produce desirable results.

      Next time, a bit more thought might help you produce a comment that's a bit more helpful and a bit less glib.

    2. Don't mean to sound 'glib', but I just don't think the same as you do. While your posts are singularly focused with topic at hand (from bullseye and spread outward); I always go from outside in (lay of land and context first). I don't know why, but that's just how I'm.

      So, when you talk about SCS, and USN in particular (well, actually you always talk about USN first, and everything else is context and 2ndary). I see 'SCS' as 'US-China-ASEAN relationship' as mainstay, and USN as secondary (or ancillary in SCS, because the militaries are just one of pieces in this geopolitical game, and it's not even the most important one, IMO, because the prevailing Washington sentiment of 'bunch of rocks not worth the big war', and China's records of diffusing crisis from blows with other means (i.e. economic and geopolitical.) The combination of DC's attitude and Beijing's art-of-non-war indicate 'SCS' likely will be an intermediate (next 5-10yr) term non-military competition which is further enhanced by the attitude of the intermediaries (i.e. ASEAN nations) who play good game of fense-hopping (i.e. US security + Chinese money, but no war), unlike the more hardcore Japan and NK.

      I look at your list of options, and I came up with at least 3 filters to see if these options past muster: can China wait it out? can China pay someone off? can China take one step back and diffuse? (there are probably other filters). I think all the above can be naught-out by these filters.

    3. "Don't mean to sound 'glib', but I just don't think the same as you do."

      Now that's an excellent comment! I don't agree with most of it but it's an excellent comment. Agreement with me is not a requirement to post or to be recognized as outstanding, contrary to what some may think!

  7. Trump needs to appoint a competent replacement for Michael Gilmore to head DOT&E and ASAP.

    Right now its only an interim person in charge. Gilmore resigned as is custom.

    Currently Mr. Duma is the acting head.


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