Monday, May 29, 2017

Freedom of Navigation - Trump Version

We’ve previously noted that the infrequent Freedom of Navigation (FON) actions by the US Navy in the South China Sea have done more harm than good, legally, by serving to reinforce China’s claims of sovereignty.  The actions were carried out as “innocent passage” which is a prescribed method (see the UNCLOS documents for the exact procedure) for warships to pass peacefully through the waters of another country.  By conducting the FON actions as innocent passages, they served to bolster China’s claims since innocent passage can only be applied to another country’s territorial waters.  Thus, the US was implicitly recognizing China’s claims.  Alternatively, some FON actions were conducted at greater than 12 miles from any disputed islands or lands which, again, bolsters China’s claims of sovereignty. 

Had the US wanted to dispute China’s sovereignty claims, the FON actions should have studiously avoided following innocent passage procedures or observing the 12 mile territorial limit. 

Interestingly, the Navy has just recently executed a FON action near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands that explicitly ignores the innocent passage procedures.

“A U.S. destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of a Chinese artificial island on Wednesday in the strongest challenge of hotly debated Chinese claims in the South China Sea, USNI News has learned.

Around 7 P.M. EST on Wednesday (7 A.M. Thursday local time), USS Dewey (DDG-105) passed within six nautical miles of the Chinese installation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Island chain, several U.S. officials confirmed to USNI News

The guided-missile destroyer operated normally and did not conduct the transit under the rules of an innocent passage – the restrictions that allow a warship to pass through another country’s territorial waters with no notice.

The ship was within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef for about 90 minutes zig-zagging in the water near the installation. At one point during the operation, the ship’s crew conducted a man overboard drill, a U.S. official told USNI News.” [emphasis added] (1)

This is good news in a minimalist sense.  At least this FON did no further legal damage.  Presumably, this change in policy is due to the new Trump administration.

On the other hand, this kind of FON serves no concrete purpose if the other side, the Chinese in this case, choose to ignore it.  It does not hinder development of artificial islands or bases.  It does not blockade any Chinese actions.  It does not lodge an official protest with the UN.  It does not establish a “counter-island” developed and controlled by the US.  In short, it does nothing but offer a silent, unspoken, token, symbolic protest in the mildest manner possible.

Previous FON actions have clearly done nothing to dissuade China from their expansionist policies and actions in the South and East China Seas.  FON actions, even this type, accomplish nothing but ratcheting up tensions.  We need to either back out of the area and concede the South and East China Seas as Chinese territories or begin taking concrete, productive actions along the lines we’ve discussed in previous posts and comments.

As a reminder,

“Unlike other Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea, the Mischief Reef installation isn’t subject to overlapping territorial claims from any other country and is built on a low-tide elevation, as determined by the 2016 Hague tribunal ruling on Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention [UNCLOS], a low-tide elevation cannot be claimed as the territory of any country and does not command a territorial sea.”

China, you’ll recall, is a signatory to UNCLOS and, therefore, bound by it’s rules and regulations.  Despite this, China is actively violating several aspects and provisions of the agreement.

Setting aside the myriad political and economic actions that we could and should take, the following actions, which cover a range of intensity, should also be considered.

  • Close, high speed passes to attempt to cause wake damage to island facilities
  • Blockade of islands and bases
  • Physical hindering of resupply ships
  • Physical disruption of, and interference with, reclamation vessels
  • Covert disruption of island facilities (SEAL missions)
  • Electronic jamming of island communications

China is clearly on a militaristic expansionist path.  It is only a matter of time before China and US come to blows.  One can make a pretty compelling argument that it is better to do it now while China has not yet gained complete parity/superiority than to wait and do it under even less favorable circumstances.

If we’re not going to contest the South and East China Seas then we need to cede the area and retire from the region, diffuse tensions, and save the wear and tear on our ships and aircraft.  Of course, if we’re going to do all that, one can also reasonably ask why we need ships and aircraft.  We can cede entire regions without the use of our military!

Our policy of token resistance is having no positive effect whatsoever.  We need a new geopolitical and military strategy for the region.


(1)USNI News website, “U.S. Warship Came Within 6 Miles of Chinese Artificial Island in Toughest Challenge Yet to Beijing South China Sea Claims
”, Sam LaGrone, 25-May-2017,

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LRASM Drops Out of OTH Competition

Well, the Navy’s over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship missile (ASM) selection process just gets more baffling by the day!  As you recall, the Navy is looking for an OTH ASM to arm its LCS ships and, possibly, Burkes and other ships.  The OTH ASM is intended both to give the toothless LCS a bit of bite and to make the LCS and every other ship in the Navy components in the much-hyped distributed lethality concept that the Navy seems committed to.  You’ll further recall that distributed lethality is one of the outgrowths of the Third Offset Strategy which is predicated on networks and UAVs.  The Third Offset and Distributed Lethality envision a vast regional (world wide?!) network of all-seeing sensors completely interconnected with every platform and weapon.  Every ship in the Navy thus becomes an offensive threat – or so the fairy tale goes.  The key to all of this is, of course, networking.  Remember that - we’ll come back to it in a moment.

You’ll also recall that Boeing just recently dropped out of the OTH competition, stating that its missile, the Harpoon, was overqualified (see, "Harpoon Drops Out of OTH Competition").

Now, in a fairly surprising bit of news, Lockheed has announced that it, too, is dropping the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) out of the competition.

“After long and careful consideration, Lockheed Martin has decided to withdraw from the U.S. Navy Over-the-Horizon Weapon System (OTH-WS) competition. As the current OTH-WS request for proposal process refined over time, it became clear that our offering would not be fully valued,” read a statement from the company provided to USNI News.” (1)

“Lockheed Martin, frustrated by changing requirements the company feels are skewed to a particular competitor [Kongsberg’s NSM], is dropping out of the U.S. Navy’s over-the-horizon missile program … “ (2)

Their offering would not be fully valued????  What does that mean?  Apparently, it means that certain features of the missile would not be considered as benefits in the eyes of the Navy selectors.

“Both companies expressed concern that the Navy was giving little consideration to the networked capability of the weapons, USNI News understands.” (1)

“…Boeing and Lockheed felt that key attributes of their systems, particularly networking capabilities and in-flight targeting updates, were being discounted, robbing Lockheed’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM, and Boeing’s extended-range Harpoon Block II Plus of key competitive advantages.

“There was no value for being able to go after radiating or emitting targets,” an industry source said, discounting an LRASM capability that can detect emitting and moving targets.  “Through responses it became clear there would be no credit for attacking emitting targets, and no requirement to be on a network.”

The absence of a networking requirement was “surprising,” the industry source said, “given the needs of the distributed lethality concept,” which envisions netting together weapons, sensors and command facilities on a variety of platforms.  

Additionally, the industry source said, there was “no plan to do a cost-per-kill analysis. They made that clear. So no extra credit for improved survivability.” (2)

So, if you believe Lockheed and Boeing, the OTH ASM selection competition is a sham and the Navy has a pre-determined winner, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) already selected.  Now, do I believe Lockheed and Boeing?  Do they have any credibility?  Emphatically, no!  However, they have both dropped out of a potentially lucrative competition so that means that there is something seriously wrong.  With that in mind, yes, I am inclined to believe that the Navy has already, unofficially selected the NSM for the OTH ASM.

The only alternative explanation is that the Navy is conducting a fair and open competition but that the real requirements are for a vastly dumbed down missile with no networking capability and that just doesn’t seem believable.  The entire foundation of the Third Offset Strategy and the Navy’s distributed lethality concept is networking – the very feature that they don’t want in the OTH ASM?  Does that seem believable?

The Navy, and the military in general, loves to trumpet tests wherein a Boy Scout in Montana controls a Standard missile fired by a cruiser in the Pacific until the missile is re-targeted, mid flight, by a Marine private marching out of his boot camp graduation ceremony while he relays the new targeting data via a handheld quadcopter.  Given the Navy’s love of this kind of nonsensical networking capability, the dependence of distributed lethality on networking, the Navy’s pursuit of NIFC-CA (Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air) and CEC (Cooperative Engagement Capability), again I ask, does not requiring networking in the OTH ASM sound believable?

Now, understand, I have no sympathy for Lockheed or Boeing and I have no problem with the Navy tailoring their industry requests (RFP) to give them exactly the product they want.  Their requests should be specific and tailored.  Why pay for capabilities you don’t want or need? 

However, if the stories and claims are to be believed, what the Navy appears to want doesn’t match their desired warfighting concepts, as questionable as those may be in my mind.  This is inconsistent.  I’m missing something here.

What is it about the NSM that makes the Navy want it so bad?  You’ll recall that we recently looked at the NSM (see, "Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile") and concluded that it was a nice weapon with some advantages and disadvantages.  Curiously, we also noted that it was claimed to be capable of in-flight re-targeting which suggests at least a degree of networking which is at odds with Lockheed and Boeing’s claims.  Be that as it may, nothing about the NSM jumped out as a world-beater capability that would make it the automatic choice of the Navy for an OTH ASM.  The NSM’s completely passive nature was an unusual feature but that did not strike me as an overwhelming advantage.

Kongsberg NSM - Where's the Magic?

I can’t answer my own question.  I don’t know what makes the NSM so desirable to the Navy that they would write RFPs that “force” the Harpoon and LRASM out of the competition. 

Further, forcing the LRASM out is doubly puzzling because the LRASM is being developed as the air-launched ASM of the Navy and most observers, myself included, assumed the ship-launched version would quickly follow and that the LRASM would become the standard Navy OTH ASM.  Now, it’s possible that the NSM could become the LCS OTH missile and the LRASM could be selected, separately, for Burkes but I would have thought the Navy would have been driven to standardize on a single OTH ASM.

Finally, forcing Lockheed and Boeing out leaves only a single competitor.  Is that single competitor, knowing that the Navy has no other option, likely to offer their cheapest bid?  Of course not!  The single source competitor is going to greatly increase their bid to the highest point that they think they can get without triggering a reopening of the competition.  Instead of getting everyone's cheapest bids the Navy will get a single source's highest bid!  That's one of the reasons why monopolies are bad.  I would have thought the Navy would leave the requirements loose enough to at least have a few companies offer a bid so that all the bids are cheaper.  In the end, the Navy can always select the one they want, anyway, so there's no harm in having multiple bidders even if the Navy already knows which one they want. There's no harm, and a lot of good, in having multiple bidders.  The Navy seems to have no business sense about how to play competitors against each other.

In summary, I have no idea what’s going on here. 


(1)USNI News website, “Lockheed Martin Drops LRASM Out of Littoral Combat Ship/Frigate Missile Competition”, Sam LaGrone, 24-May-2017,

(2)Defense News website, “Lockheed Martin Drops Out of US Navy Missile Competition”, Christopher Cavas, 24-May-2017,

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Combatant Commanders and OpTempo

The Navy constantly complains that it is underfunded and cannot meet the combatant commander’s requests.  As a result, Navy operations tempo (OpTemp) is far too high and critical ship maintenance is being deferred, training is being neglected, and readiness is degrading.  It seems obvious, doesn’t it, that if the combatant commander’s requests can’t be met then the Navy needs more funding?  Well, before we ship additional barges of money to the Navy, let’s think about this system a bit more.

Who or what are the combatant commanders (CC)?  You can readily find all the information you want on them on the Internet so I’m not going to bother providing any more than the bare bones highlights. 

The US Department of Defense has organized its command and control of the armed forces via regional or functional commands with a high ranking General or Admiral in charge of each command.  Here are the commands.

  • United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM)
  • United States Central Command (USCENTCOM)
  • United States European Command (USEUCOM)
  • United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM)
  • United States Pacific Command (USPACOM)
  • United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)
  • United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)
  • United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)
  • United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)

Simplistically, the commanders assess the military needs of their area of responsibility and request the forces they feel are needed to meet those needs.  Pretty straightforward, right?  In order to continue this discussion, let’s recognize that none of us has any access to the combatant commander’s requests or the process of prioritizing and filling those needs.  Thus, any further discussion is pure speculation.  So, with that said, let’s speculate, apply some logic, and see what we come up with!

Let’s start by seeing what data and logic we have to work with, given that we just stated that we have no insight into the actual requests or process.

  • Here’s a truism:  You need more military assets to fight a war than you do to simply “patrol” a region.

  • Here’s a data point:  The only region in the world that is actively engaged in combat is the Middle East (USCENTCOM) and even that is limited and sporadic. 

  • Here’s a fact:  The Navy’s primary objective is to maintain or expand their budget share.

  • Here’s a fact:  The Navy’s resources and assets are fixed and finite.

Well, that’s not a lot to work with but let’s see what we can come up with.

Requests.  A reasonable person would assume that the CC’s only request those assets that are absolutely vital to meeting their responsibilities and our national security interests.  A reasonable person would be wrong.  The CC’s have no incentive to reign in their requests.  For example, we can request a policeman on every corner but we cannot afford to pay the taxes to make that happen.  Therefore, we don’t make the request.  The CC’s, however, simply make requests and do not have to directly deal with budget or resource issues.  If a CC wants a ship to patrol his area, he does not have to pay to build it and operate it.  Therefore, from the CC’s perspective, why not request a policeman on every corner? 

In fact, there is a perverse, reverse incentive to ask for more than you need.  The more you request, the more likely you are to get at least something.  If you really only need one ship, why not request ten?  Who knows, you might get two which is one more than you really need!

What’s the penalty for requesting, and receiving, more assets than you need?  There is none.  Again, there’s a perverse, reverse incentive.  The more assets you get, the more stability your region should have and the more “presence” you can demonstrate (presence accomplishes nothing but it is the Navy’s coin of the realm, currently).  The more stable the region, the better the CC looks.  So, it is in the best interest of the CC to request as many assets as he possibly can.

We noted that only a single region has any combat occurring and that is only a limited, sporadic combat.  So, why are the CC’s even requesting any assets?  Presumably, they want them for presence which we have repeatedly shown is a worthless mission and deterrence which is a questionable mission, at best.

As I noted, I have no access to the annual lists of CC requests so I can’t analyze their worth.  However, here is a list of “major” deployments as cited in a 2017 Bipartisan Policy Center report (1).

  • The war in Afghanistan
  • The continuing U.S. presence in Iraq
  • The fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups
  • Various movements and operations in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Liberia, Libya, Niger, Poland, Senegal, Somalia, South Korea, South Sudan, Ukraine, and Uganda
  • The Ebola epidemic
  • Various disaster-relief missions
  • New force presence in Australia

Note that of the listed deployments, only two involve any degree of actual combat (Afghanistan and ISIS).  Two are 100% non-combat related (Ebola epidemic and disaster relief).  The remainder are presence missions which we’ve already established are worthless.  So, of the 7 listed deployments, 2 are completely non-combat and should not even be military missions.  Thus, right off the top, around 30% of the deployments shouldn’t be done!  This is an example of how many CC requests may be militarily worthless and accomplish nothing militarily other than to artificially and needlessly increase OpTempo and decrease maintenance and readiness.

Budget.  The Navy tells us that they just don’t have the assets to fulfill all the CC requests.  A reasonable person would assume, then, that the Navy must prioritize the CC requests and balance them against the maintenance, training, and readiness needs of the Navy when determining which CC requests to fill and which to ignore.  A reasonable person would be wrong.

The Navy views the CC requests as a godsend because every request is viewed as justification for more budget, more ships, and more aircraft.  It doesn’t matter to the Navy whether the requests are worthwhile or trivial.  All requests are equal when it comes to justifying budget.

In fact, the perverse, reverse incentive rears its ugly head, yet again, when it comes to requests.  The more requests the Navy fills, the faster the ships and aircraft wear out which means more budget, sooner, for new construction.  Thus, the Navy would rather fill CC requests, no matter how worthless, by extending deployments and deferring maintenance in order to be able to retire ships earlier due to lack of maintenance, thereby strengthening their case to Congress for increased funding.

The entire Combatant Commander setup is geared towards inflated requests, reverse incentives, and leads to premature wear and tear on the military.  There is nothing wrong with having a CC as a regional subject matter expert but having them divorced from the budgetary, maintenance, and readiness ramifications of their asset requests is a flawed system.


(1)Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Building Blocks of a Ready Military: People, Funding, Tempo”, Jan 2017,

Monday, May 22, 2017

China War - Taiwan Seizure

I’m on record as saying that the first act in any Chinese War will be the seizure of Taiwan.  Why is that?  Well, two reasons:

  1. Taiwan has long been a sore point for ChinaTaiwan belongs to them, in their view, and its “hostage” status to the West (the US) is an affront to China’s national pride.  China has vowed to reclaim Taiwan, the only question being when.  If China is going to enter a war anyway, it may as well seize Taiwan in the process even if Taiwan is not the main purpose of the war.

  1. Taiwan is too close to China for the Chinese to allow it to possibly be used as a military base of attack on China.  Thus, Taiwan must be seized at the outset of hostilities.

So, having recognized the fact that Taiwan will be the first objective (in terms of land seizure) of any war, how will China go about accomplishing it?  ……  I have no idea but for the sake of filling up some post space, why don’t we speculate.

If you had decades of time to plan for the seizure of a major piece of land, and an island to boot, how would you go about it?  Ideally, you’d slowly secure surrounding pieces of land so that once you initiated the seizure of your target, you’d already have fully equipped bases surrounding the target and protecting your invasion force.  Does this sound familiar?  The Chinese have seized various islands in the surrounding first island chain and militarized them.  Where islands are not physically available, the Chinese have built artificial ones.  You’ve got to give them credit for some outstanding creativity and initiative.  Would we have thought to build artificial islands?  I doubt it and, if we did, we’d have subordinated our military needs to ecological concerns, the welfare of coral reefs, the protection of endangered species, and abandoned the idea.

Instead, the Chinese have constructed numerous bases to the south of Taiwan with the Paracels and Scarborough Shoal protecting the area to the south and the Spratleys protecting approaches to the South China Sea in the far south.

Further, China is moving to co-opt the Philippines into their sphere of influence via a combination of state sponsored emigration, veiled threats, and political maneuvering.

China is also looking to seize and construct island bases to the north and east of Taiwan in the Senkaku and Ryukyu Island groups.

“Chinese authorities in the spring of 2013 brazenly challenged Japan’s sovereignty of the islands with a concerted campaign that included an article in a magazine associated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a widely publicized commentary in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper and therefore China’s most authoritative publication; two pieces in theGlobal Times, the tabloid controlled by People’s Daily; an interview of Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan in the state-run China News Service; and a seminar held at prestigious Renmin University in Beijing.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to affirm that China recognized Okinawa and the Ryukyus as Japanese.

The close timing of events indicated these efforts had been directed from the top of the Chinese political system.

Over the last decade, Beijing has been moving in on Okinawa step by step, almost island by island. It has regularly dispatched its ships and planes to the Senkaku Islands, often entering sovereign water and airspace, in a campaign to wrest from the Japanese those small and uninhabited specks in the ocean. The provocations around the islets, which China first claimed in 1971 and now calls the Diaoyus, spiked upward in 2012 and then noticeably declined the following year.” (1) [emphasis added]

Here’s the statement from PLA General Luo Yuan.

“’Let's for now not discuss whether [the Ryukyus] belong to China, they were certainly China's tributary state,’ Luo said in an interview with China News Service. ‘I am not saying all former tributary states belong to China, but we can say with certainty that the Ryukyus do not belong to Japan,’ he added, in comments translated by the South China Morning Post.” (2) [emphasis added]

To understand the geographical and, therefore, military perspective, the Senkaku Islands lie about 100 miles to the northeast of Taiwan.   The Ryukyu Island chain begins about 100 miles to the east of Taiwan and arcs to the northeast up to the Japanese mainland.  The two groups of islands would form natural barriers and military strongpoints isolating and shielding any Chinese military actions involving Taiwan.

The presence of the surrounding island bases allows the Chinese to seize Taiwan without worry about US counterattacks.  The island bases represent the line in the ocean that the US must cross in order to come to the aid of Taiwan.  We must be willing to engage and destroy Chinese territory just to get to Taiwan.  There’s a major difference between going to Taiwan’s aid and destroying Chinese sovereign territory.  Will we be willing to destroy Chinese territory?  I suspect not.  For all practical purposes, the seizure of the first island chain and the construction of bases has sealed Taiwan’s fate.  For all those Chinese apologists who tried to argue that the islands were of no value and not worth contesting, there’s your answer.

The islands also present a speedbump in the road to aiding Taiwan even if we want to.  The time and material required to neutralize the surrounding islands are likely to be enough to allow China to consolidate its seizure of Taiwan and present the US with a fait accompli.  It’s one thing for the US to come to the aid of an ally that is actively resisting attack but it’s another to step into a situation in which the attack is over and the invasion has been accomplished.  The latter requires a good deal more fortitude on the part of the US and may present an insurmountable threshold for the US geopolitical calculation.

So, not only do the island bases represent a “line in the ocean” that we would hesitate to cross, they also represent a significant speed bump in the path of our response – one that would render the attempted rescue moot.

Even if war with China never comes, the slow and steady seizure of surrounding island bases (or construction of artificial ones) will eventually put the Chinese in a position of being able to dictate their desires to Taiwan under threat of blockade.  The geopolitical implications of this are obvious.  China can simply “starve” Taiwan into submission and reunification.

Viewed from a military strategy perspective, China’s actions in the South and East China Seas are not only understandable but logical and predictable.  We simply need to acknowledge the reality and choose our response.


(1)The Daily Beast website, “Now China Wants Okinawa, Site of U.S. Bases in Japan”, Gordon Chang, 31-Dec-2015,

(2)The Guardian website, “China lays claim to Okinawa as territory dispute with Japan escalates”, Justin McCurry, 15-May-2013,

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Offensive Mine Warfare - Operational Usage

We previously reviewed the Navy’s inventory of mines (see, "Offensive Mine Warfare") and noted that there are only two active versions:

  • Quickstrike – converted general purpose bombs of 500, 1000, and 2000 lb sizes
  • SLMM (Submarine Launched Mobile Mine) – modified Mk37 torpedo

We further noted that the delivery options for these mines are quite limited.  B-1 and B-52 bombers have mine laying capability but rarely train for the mission.  Submarines theoretically have the capability but have little capacity and apparently do not regularly train for the mission.

Mk 65 Quickstrike Mine Loading Onto A B-1 Bomber

How does this matter?  Well, that brings us to the operational employment of mines.  In order to understand their employment, we need to have an understanding of their historical use.  Without attempting to document a comprehensive listing, here are some notable historical uses by the US military.

In WWI, over 6000 mines were laid as part of the North Sea Mine Barrage, intended to inhibit U-boat movement into the Atlantic convoy lanes.  A US Navy group of ten converted commercial ships took part in the effort, aided by the Royal Navy.

Defensive minefields were laid up and down the east coast of the US and into the Caribbean during WWII.  Navweaps website states that 20,000 mines were laid defensively in US waters alone (2).  As far as is known, no enemy ship was sunk by the approximately 20,000 mines used in defensive minefields placed in US waters (2).

Also in WWII, US submarines planted mines in Japanese harbors and shipping lanes.

“[During WWII] US submarines planted a total of 576 Mark 12 mines and 82 Mark 10 mines in 36 fields. Of these, 421 mines planted in 21 of the fields sank 27 ships of about 63,000 tons and damaged 27 more of approximately 120,000 tons.” (2)

By 1945, the Army Air Force was devoting considerable resources to the mining role, with 80 to 100 B-29s based at Tinian being used to mine the home waters around Japan. These B-29s could carry seven 2,000 lbs. (907 kg). or twelve 1,000 lbs. (454 kg) mines. Starting in March 1945 and continuing until early August, 4,900 magnetic, 3,500 acoustic, 2,900 pressure and 700 low-frequency mines were laid. These mines sank 294 ships outright, damaged another 137 beyond repair and damaged a further 239 that could be repaired. In cargo tonnage, the total was 1.4 million tons which was about 75% of the shipping available in March 1945.

“Between January and March 1945, B-29s also closed the approaches to Singapore, Saigon and Camranh Bay harbors by magnetic mining.” (2)

Smaller WWII Aircraft were also used to lay mines.

“Avenger and Ventura aircraft could carry a single mine and in 1944 Avengers closed Palau harbor by mining the entrances. They then sank all 32 ships in the harbor with conventional bombs and torpedoes. A total of approximately 100 ships were sunk or badly damaged in the Pacific during the war by mines laid by Navy aircraft.”

This was a classic example of sealing the escape route and then destroying the trapped vessels at leisure.

We see, then, that a major conflict could be expected to require many tens of thousands of mines.  I can’t recall ever seeing an inventory summary of how many mines the US Navy has but I strongly suspect it’s not a large amount. 

Further, note that mine laying objectives are two-fold: 

  • One, is an offensive minefield intended to close enemy harbors, approaches, and navigational chokepoints.

  • Two, is a minefield intended to provide defensive protections around friendly harbors or invasion site approaches.

As a bit of a sidenote, here are some interesting examples of mine laying vessels used by the Navy in WWII.

  • The Navy developed a dedicated mine laying destroyer in WWII, the Robert H. Smith class, which was a variant of the Sumner class destroyers.  Twelve ships were built in late 1943 and early 1944.  Mine tracks ran along both sides of the ship and each track could hold 60 mines.  The mines were released over the stern, similar to the way depth charges were dropped (1).  Astoundingly, none of the ships ever laid a mine!

  • The Navy did utilize a converted cargo ship, USS Salem CM-11, to lay 202 mines of Casablanca in late December 1942.  Salem also laid 390 mines off Gela, Sicily in July, 1943 in support of the Sicily invasion.

  • USS Weehawken, CM-12, originally a 1920 car ferry, was converted to a mine layer.  The ship laid defensive mine fields of Casablanca in December 1942 along with USS Salem and USS Keokuk.  Following that, she laid minefields off Gela, Sicily in July 1943.

  • USS Keokuk, CM-8, was also a conversion of a commercial ship built in 1914.  Wiki suggests that the ship engaged in mine laying along the Atlantic coast of the US during the summer of 1942.  The ship also participated in the mine laying off Casablanca and Sicily along with Salem and Weehawken.

  • USS Terror, CM-5, was the only purpose built Navy minelayer of WWII.  She laid defensive mines off Casablanca in December 1942.  The ship also operated in the Pacific, laying mines in the Pacific Marshall Islands in March and April 1944 and around Ulithi in September of 1944.  She also acted as a tender for numerous small craft engaged in mine laying and mine sweeping.

  • Several Clemson class 4-stacker destroyers were converted to mine layers during WWII.

We see then, that mine laying has, historically, never been given much priority in terms of developing dedicated mine laying vessels.  When the need arose, the Navy converted commercial vessels or adapted destroyers already in production.  This can be interpreted one of two ways:

  1. The Navy has failed to recognize the importance of mine laying and is continually caught short when the need arises or,

  1. Mine laying is a simple and generic enough exercise that there is no need to maintain dedicated vessels and when the need arises, any suitably sized vessel can be adapted to the task.

I tend to think it’s a combination of the two with a leaning towards the relatively undemanding nature of mine laying and the underlying economics of conversion versus maintenance of a dedicated mine laying force.  Of course, this only applies to mine laying in relatively uncontested areas.  Mining contested areas like enemy home waters requires either stealth (submarine mine layers) or stealth/speed (aircraft) in order for the laying vehicle to survive.  This suggests the need for maintaining a dedicated mine laying vehicle for contested areas.  Converted vehicles simply will not have the stealth and/or speed necessary for the task.

Let’s return, now, to the operational aspects of offensive mine warfare.

History tells us the kinds of mining that will be required.  So what kind of targets/areas should we be planning for in a major war?

Iranian harbors – a relative handful of mines could effectively shut down Iran’s entire navy (such as it is) and commercial shipping.

NKorean harbors – war with NKorea will be a land and air war.  I can foresee no reasonable need to conduct an amphibious operation but the ability bottle up NKorea forces and effectively blockade Russian and Chinese resupply vessels would be worthwhile.

Russian harbors, approaches, and navigational chokepoints especially those used by the Russian sub fleet, if mined, would deal a critical blow.  Mining of the so-called SSBN bastions would deny Russia the use of its ballistic missile submarines and completely disrupt one of their major strategic foundations.

Chinese harbors and navigation chokepoints are particularly susceptible to mining.  The narrow waters and sea lanes between the first island chain islands provide ideal opportunities to restrict Chinese submarine and surface ship movements and island resupply efforts.  An effective mine laying program would largely bottle up China’s fleet and remove at least one aspect of the A2/AD zone.

In summary, the patterns of use of offensive mine warfare are clear as is the need in future conflicts.  What is far less clear is the capacity of the US Navy to wage effective offensive mine warfare given the lack of mines (inventory), the dearth of mine laying platforms, and near total disregard for offensive mine warfare tactics and training.  As is so often the case, the US Navy is focused on the big, shiny toys and is neglecting a far more powerful and effective weapon.


(1)Destroyer History Foundation website,

(2)NavWeaps website,

Monday, May 15, 2017

Professional Warriors?

This is the companion piece to the previous LCS incompetence post (see, “More [Unbelievable] LCS Incompetence”).  We discussed the blatant incompetence being demonstrated by Navy leadership and noted that professional warriors should already know what they have, what they need, what’s out there, and so on, without the need for endless study groups.  So, what’s wrong with our professional warriors?  The answer is simple.  We don’t have any professional naval warriors.  Here’s the reason …

Lately, the Navy has been dithering over many issues.  Do we need an LCS?  Should we have a frigate?  If so, what type?  What kind of over-the-horizon (OTH) missile do we need?  What kind of radar should an LCS “frigate” have?  Do we need F-35Cs or Advanced Super Hornets?  Should an anti-ship missile be supersonic or subsonic?  Should the America class LHA have a well deck or not?  What kind of uniform should sailors wear?  What size fleet do we need?  Should we retire the Ticonderoga class?  Is distributed lethality a good idea?  And so on.

The Navy’s response to all these questions has been to form myriad study groups, committees, Admiral-chaired panels, and the like.  All have the common attribute of delaying critical decisions.  These systematic delays reflect Navy leadership’s chronic inability to make decisions.  For example, the Navy just announced yet another delay, this time in the LCS “frigate” program.

“The Navy has slowed its frigate procurement timeline, looking at awarding a detail design and construction contract in Fiscal Year 2020 to allow more time to understand what it needs the ship to do and how it might affordably meet those requirements.” (1)

Another example of the inability to make decisions is the apparently constantly changing specifications for the OTH missile program (2).

Wouldn’t you think that a professional warrior would understand their craft well enough to be able to make timely and correct decisions without needing to resort to endless study groups of various types?

Consider another type of professional – a professional athlete.  The professional athlete practices his craft all day, every day.  The practice takes the form of film study of himself and opponents, physical skills practice, general physical training, scrimmaging (practice contests), and games against other athletes.  This regimen ensures that the professional athlete is the master of his craft.  If you ask the athlete about a new item of sports apparel or a new bat/ball/glove/whatever, he can tell you instantly whether it is any good because he thoroughly understands what is required and he has tried out every conceivable variation over the course of his career.  He has no need to conduct endless studies prior to answering.

Should not the professional warrior be the same?  Should not the professional warrior be able to define the characteristics of a new missile?  Should not the professional be able to evaluate a new doctrine or tactic without endless study?  Should not a professional warrior have developed an innate understanding of what characteristics make a good ship or aircraft?  Should not the professional warrior thoroughly understand the relationship between tactics and technology?

And yet, our professional warriors seem incapable of making such decisions.  Why is that? 

Well, the answer is simple – our warriors are not professional.  In fact, they are the farthest thing from it – bordering on amateur. 

Recall what we just said a professional does with his life – he studies his craft all day, every day, and practices it daily.  Now, what do our naval leaders do with their days?  They attend seminars on sensitivity, diversity, leadership, alcohol and substance abuse, ethics, gender respect, sexual assault, etc.  They process endless amounts of paperwork, mostly useless.  They strive to achieve ecologically friendly “green” initiatives.  They attempt to increase retention rates.  They host visitors and provide tours.  They perform humanitarian missions.  They build schools.  They frantically cross deck equipment for meaningless inspections.

How is any of that building up their warrior capabilities?

What they should be doing is conducting daily operational and tactical wargaming, conducting daily live tactical drills, engaging in frequent live wargames, studying friendly and enemy ship and weapon designs, conducting simulations of weapon performances, exercising live fire weapon system drills, etc.  If they did that, they’d know exactly what works and what doesn’t, what weapon system characteristics are desirable and what aren’t, what tactics work and what don’t, and what our gaps and needs are.  There would be no need for endless and unproductive study groups and delayed decisions.

Every day we see the end result of the lack of warrior focus.  Clearly, the sailors who allowed a vastly inferior Iranian “force” to capture them and seize their boats had not trained to be warriors.  The Captain of the Aegis cruiser that allowed an unknown and unresponsive fishing boat to ram it was not ready as a warrior.  The entire Navy leadership that keeps flip-flopping over the LCS direction are clearly not professional warriors.  And so on.

Do you recall my post calling for a dual path of Administrators and Warriors (see, "Promoting Warriors")?  Now you begin to understand the need for it.

We need professional naval warriors and we currently don’t have any.  We’d better start developing them or we're going to wind up with more LCS's, more Zumwalts, more Fords, and more F-35's and nobody but the Navy wants that!


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Slowing Frigate Procurement To Allow Careful Requirements Talks; Contract Award Set for FY2020”, Megan Eckstein, 3-May-2017,

(2)Defense News website, “Boeing Pulls Harpoon From US Navy Missile Competition”, Christopher Cavas, 2-May-2017,