Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bold Alligator Scaled Back

The Armed Forces of the United States and the Navy, as our focus on this blog, exist to fight wars.  There is no other mission.  Everything else is a secondary, time wasting exercise.  If we aren’t fighting a war then we should be preparing for war.  Instead, the Navy’s time is filled with useless tasks that detract from the main mission.  A case in point is the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to hurricane areas at the expense of combat training.  As USNI News website describes it (1),

“The Navy and Marine Corps’ Bold Alligator 17 international amphibious exercise will still take place this month but will be scaled down due to ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

“However, due to ongoing HA/DR missions in Puerto Rico, many of the forces set to participate in the major live exercise will not be available anymore.”

So one exercise had to be scaled back a bit.  What’s the big deal?  Well, the big deal is that Bold Alligator is not just a small exercise.  It is the main amphibious exercise for the Marines/Navy. 

“Bold Alligator … is now the East Coast’s premiere amphibious force training exercise.”

Worse, the exercise, despite being the main training exercise, is only occasionally conducted as a live exercise so it is absolutely vital that the opportunity for live work be taken.

“Bold Alligator was last conducted as a live exercise in 2014, with the 2015 installment meant to be a simulated event. Last year’s live exercise was postponed a year, with the services opting instead to conduct a pierside live, virtual and constructive event to prepare for this year’s highly integrated exercise between traditional amphibious forces and the carrier strike group needed to help set the conditions for amphibious operations.”

Does it really matter if a ship or two misses the exercise?

“Expeditionary Strike Group 2 leadership was set to serve as the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force aboard amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3). Now, ESG-2 and Kearsarge are no longer available for BA 17, along with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), amphibious transport dock USS New York(LPD-21), dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD-50), hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), aviation logistics support container ship SS Wright (T-AVB 3), and elements of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command and 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing – all of which are tied up with the ongoing HA/DR response, according to a U.S. Fleet Forces Command statement.”

That’s a lot of assets that will miss the premier combat training exercise of its type and a rare and vital chance for live training.  The very reason for the existence of the exercise is being curtailed.

“On the Marine Corps side, without Kearsarge and other amphibious ships, many planned amphibious landing events have been canceled … “

So, a vital and rare opportunity, which only comes once every two or three years, is going to be watered down and many units will miss it entirely so that the Navy and Marines can deliver food and water?  Let me repeat.  The Navy has only one mission – war or training for war.

The U.S. government has many assets and organizations at its disposal that can provide humanitarian assistance but the military should not be one of them.  Humanitarian assistance missions degrades the readiness of our forces, puts unnecessary wear and tear on equipment, and racks up precious flight hours on aircraft. 

This is a shining example of the failure of the Navy to say “no” to a non-mission essential task request.  The Navy’s failure to say no is why we have ships and crews sailing with lapsed certifications.  Instead of training and perhaps learning basic seamanship, navigation, and combat, we have crews spending their time delivering supplies.  Instead of providing our ships and aircraft with maintenance to restore readiness, we’re sending them to deliver supplies – a job that any commercial cargo ship can do far more cost effectively and efficiently.

We are tasking our Navy with gender issues, sensitivity training, diversity programs, biofuel experimentation, climate change planning – in short, everything but war and training for war.


(1)USNI News website, “Bold Alligator 17 Exercise Scaled Down Due to Ongoing Humanitarian Assistance Mission in Puerto Rico”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Oct-2017,


  1. Yes the military shouldn't be doing the 'meals on wheels' stuff. That said, it would be a PR nightmare on an epic scale if they didn't do this for US states and territories.

    1. The military needs to go to Congress and list all their readiness problems which would make an absolutely overwhelming case for not doing HA. They can further reinforce the case by citing the cost ineffectiveness of having the military do this versus a commercial option - consider the cost of operating an amphib or carrier doing HA versus a commercial cargo ship with civilian crew. Congress then needs to take the mission away from the military and give it to any of the dozens (hundreds?) of aid groups, both governmental and civilian, throughout the US and properly fund those groups to perform the mission.

      The military has to stop saying yes to every request. "Yes" is gutting our readiness.

      What would be the PR nightmare if, say, we failed to intercept a NKorean nuke ballistic missile because the assigned ship wasn't available due to being rammed by a cargo ship because the watchstanders weren't trained and didn't have valid certifications?

      What would be the PR nightmare if the Navy had to engage in battle and lost because our readiness was degraded due to too many HA missions?

      There's PR nightmares and then there's reality nightmares if our military can't actually do its job of warfighting. By taking on HA missions, the military is letting the country down.

    2. The military can't say 'no, we won't do it'. They can argue against it with the reason why but push comes to shove, they obey orders. They can also go to congress and plead their case but I'm afraid they won't get much more then some mushy statements of support.

    3. I think we both understand what I mean when I say the Navy needs to say no. There's no need to belabor the obvious.

  2. Hopefully I don’t earn a smack upside the head for this comment.

    It’s important to realize that civilian commercial organizations don’t typically have a lot of spare capacity lying around unused. That’s the way to go broke unless you run something like a high seas salvage operation that charges an arm and three legs when needed.

    If the US was to remedy the issue of it’s hugely inefficient military spending, fix the armed forces to the appropriate standard, then fully fund a civilian HA organization we would be where we need to be. FEMA as currently structured isn’t it, but it could form the skeleton. I agree completely the military is not optimized for this role, but neither is anyone else.

    I understand the issues around burning military cycles apparently unnecessarily, but in all seriousness, who else can do it the way things are today?

    The Puerto Rico situation is horrendous and is getting worse fast.

    1. I fully recognize that no one else can do it today but we need to immediately restructure how we do HA. We need to choose an organization as the lead - or create a new one - and fund and equip it appropriately. Honestly, it doesn't require that much resources. If you look at how many people are actually involved in a typical HA mission (versus how many the military brings) and how many supplies are actually distributed, it isn't really that much. For most cases, a single, stocked cargo ship is all that's needed plus the manpower and vehicles to distribute the supplies. That's not much of an effort. A single RO/RO ship would be ideal. Instead, we send entire amphibious groups to do what a single cargo ship could do.

      We could have a two pre-positioned cargo ships, one one each coast, ready for immediate deployment for HA much as we do now for pre-positioned military equipment. The ship sails to the affected area and the distributing personnel marry up and distribute supplies.

      If we want to get more involved, we can for a civilian SeaBee group - but that's a separate topic.

      This would also be a small way to boost our merchant marine.

    2. HA is more than bringing in supplies like food and water. There is treating the wounded, locating survivors, distributing supplies, restoring communications, and bringing order to the chaos. Plus a thousand other things. An amphibious group with their aviation assets can deliver supplies deep inland and aid in the search for survivors. They can treat the wounded and help restore hospitals. And, they have all the command and control functions to lead such a mission.

      I get that HA shouldn't be their primary mission, but the Navy is uniquely equipped to conduct HA/DR missions.

    3. "I get that HA shouldn't be their primary mission, but the Navy is uniquely equipped to conduct HA/DR missions."

      I addressed this in the previous comment reply.

      The Navy is horribly inefficient at the task as well as depleting readiness. Here's an example, a couple years ago (I don't remember the specific disaster off the top of my head) a carrier was used to deliver water jugs via helos. So, we had a several billion dollar vessel, with 5000 crew and astronomical operating costs on scene to support the actual efforts of a half dozen or so helos and around 50 crew that were actually involved. That is kind of the definition of waste! A cargo ship with a helipad would be a much better application. In fact, a RO/RO wouldn't even need the helos! A RO/RO with some trucks is the way to go.

      The Navy is uniquely equipped in the same way that having a division of infantry escort an old lady across the street is uniquely equipped. It will get the job done, for sure, but is immensely inefficient and wasteful.

      We must end this use of the military for HA.

    4. "The Puerto Rico situation is horrendous and is getting worse fast."

      This one, specifically, is a bit of a peeve of mine. As best I can tell from television reports, PR seemed to have almost no preparations of their own. They're turning to the mainland U.S. govt and expecting them to provided all the assistance after utterly failing to take any preparation measures themselves.

      Recognizing that they are in prime hurricane location, here's what they should have done prior to this to prepare.

      -They should have formed a civil engineering "militia" with workers in various trades identified, located, and organized into work groups to be able to clear roads, rebuild bridges, clear obstacles, etc.

      -The engineering militia should have had pre-positioned stores of heavy machinery, vehicles, and gas ready to go.

      -They should have banked a 60 day reserve of gas.

      -They should have had a store of emergency comm gear (cell towers, in essence) ready to be deployed on a temporary basis.

      -They should have had a Search and Rescue "militia" ready to go with pre-positioned vehicles, gas, and supplies.

      The Boy Scout's motto is, "Be Prepared". A U.S. territory should do the same. I have relatively little sympathy for those who refuse to prepare to help themselves.

    5. "That’s the way to go broke unless you run something like a high seas salvage operation that charges an arm and three legs when needed."

      What do you think an amphibious group costs to operate? Yikes!!!!!

    6. I think there are at least a couple of problems. Puerto Rico is broke at the Territory government level.

      My comment about using civilian contractors was only about lack of availability on the spot market. Most civilian contractors are tied up on long term contracts.

      A properly set up HA operation has a lot in common with oilfield support operation both in the use of supply ships and heavy use of helicopters.

    7. "Puerto Rico is broke at the Territory government level."

      Again, I have little sympathy for a people that allows their govt to spend their tax money (I assume they pay taxes) unwisely. The welfare - meaning preparedness for hurricanes - of the people is parmount. Whatever else they're spending their money on is less important. Survival trumps all other spending priorities. Again, not a lot of sympathy for people who don't look to their own survival as a top priority.

      The people of PR should revolt and throw their govt out!

    8. Throw out their colonial oppressors? Where have I read about that before? ;)

    9. Sounds familiar. Hmmm ...

      "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

    10. Since they dont get a vote (and neither does their local government) in most things that effect their island I would think taxation without representation is a better rallying cry.


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