Monday, December 18, 2017

The Interoperability Myth

Lately, the Navy and Marines have been making a point of conducting cross-training operations with other navies in order to demonstrate and develop interoperability.  This begs the question, to what purpose?  Does anyone really believe that the US will cross-operate with another country’s military in a real war?

It’s never happened to any significant degree and it never will.  Interoperability cross-training is a pointless, useless, waste of time.

The first problem is that, short of a world war, it is highly unlikely that another country is going to join us in a conflict.  Is Spain really going to militarily join us in a strike?  They rarely have and I see no reason why they will in the future.  Is France going to commit their military to a joint military conflict?  France has denied us simple overflight permissions in anti-terrorism strikes.  There’s no way they’ll join us in actual combat operations.  Turkey, a NATO ally, has denied us basing and operations (3).  They’re not going to join us in combat operations.  Japan is slowly ejecting us from their land and is constrained by legal limits on military action.  The UK has joined us but their military is dwindling fast.

The next problem is practical and involves logistics.  Are we really going to send MV-22’s to fly from a Royal Navy carrier – a carrier that lacks the spare parts, trained maintenance techs, maintenance manuals, and diagnostic equipment required to actually operate the aircraft?  I would hope not.

Another problem is public relations.  Is the Navy going to allow Marines to conduct an assault from a Royal Navy ship when we have a fleet of 30+ big deck amphibious ships sitting around that need all the justifications they can get?  Of course not.  How bad would that make the Navy look in front of Congress?

Combat effectiveness is also an issue.  A recent example is the deployment of US Marines onto a Royal Navy amphibious ship.

“A total of 150 US and British Marines and up to three Osprey aircraft will be deployed on HMS Ocean.” (4)

What purpose does that serve?  Three MV-22s and 150 troops are not an effective combat force.

How many combat operations have we screwed up on our own?  Remember President Carter’s ill-fated hostage rescue attempt in 1980?  And we want to layer on the added confusion of trying to operate from, and with, a foreign navy?  That’s insane. 

Common sense also rears its ugly head.  An occasional cross-training of a very few units/troops is not going to provide across the board competence by either the US or whatever foreign country, in operating with the other.  If the time were to come to cross-operate for real, the very, very few units/troops who had actually trained for it would have been long since dispersed, retired, or unavailable.  Why would we possibly try to operate aircraft, under combat conditions, on someone else’s carrier when we have all the deck space we need to operate the aircraft from our own ships?

Consider a recent cross-training exercise,

“The Corps will test capabilities for the first time in November during the large NATO exercise Trident Juncture, Cooling [Brig. Gen. Norm Cooling, deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe-Africa] said, putting Marines aboard the Ocean for two weeks and working on the Spanish amphibious ship Juan Carlos I for several days and then the Ocean for two weeks.” (5)

How does a week or two of cross-training build any permanent and useful capability or skills?  We can’t even build competence in basic ship handling when we sail our ships full time!

Cross-training makes for good public relations opportunities and photo ops, I guess.  Consider this example - MV-22’s operated from the HMS Illustrious in 2007 and 2013.

“Lieutenant Commander Nigel Terry, deputy head of HMS Illustrious’ Flight Department was also on board when the Osprey visited in 2007.

He said: "Opportunities like this present an invaluable opportunity to continue to grow our ability to work together with other nations. This is absolutely essential in modern naval operations.

"It allows us to grow our understanding of our different procedures as well as providing valuable training for our deck crews.” (1)

This Royal Navy spokesman is either delusional or just engaged in public relations spinning.  How does the Royal Navy briefly operating an aircraft they’ll never have help the RN?  For the reasons I’ve already enumerated, the US is never going to operate MV-22’s from an RN vessel.  This is absolutely pointless.

I suppose there’s some small benefit on a person-to-person level in getting to know foreign sailors but that doesn’t begin to justify the effort and expenditure of the exercise.  If we want people to conduct group hugs we can schedule port visits when a ship happens to be in the area.

Here’s an example of how/why our goals so seldom mesh with another country’s.  Consider the criteria of use for some of Italy’s new ships.

“Previously, the Italian Defense Ministry said that the new warships [frigates] would be used only for humanitarian operations.

In 2015, the Defense Ministry and Fincantieri shipyard signed a contract to build an amphibious assault ship equipped with a helicopter deck.

According to the ministry, the ship would be used for humanitarian operations, including to aid in the evacuation of refugees. This is why the ship was dubbed a "humanitarian aircraft carrier." In addition, recently laid down patrol ships were also planned for humanitarian missions.” (2)

A country building “humanitarian aircraft carriers” isn’t going to conduct military operations with us.

There may well be countries that fight beside us in future conflicts.  The Royal Navy, for example, will always stand with us but they will fight beside us, separately, not mixed in with us.  With that in mind, there is value in exercising communications and command/control procedures but that’s not the kind of cross-training this post is talking about.

Why are we cross-training when we haven’t mastered our own procedures, operations, and tactics?  If we get to a point where we have totally mastered all of our own “stuff” and we’re sitting around bored, looking for something to pass time, then sure, let’s go cross-train.  Until then, let’s stop wasting time.


(1)Royal Navy website, 20-Sep-2013, retrieved 19-May-2017,

(2)Sputnik website, “Italy to Respond to Russia’s Presence in the Mediterranean With Naval Reform”, 29-Nov-2016,

(3)Los Angeles Times website, “US Seeks Overflights in Turkey”, Esther Schrader and Richard Boudreaux, 12-Mar-2003

(4)Sunday Express website, “Hundreds of US Marines to be deployed on British warship amid Russia threat”, Nick Gutteridge, 16-Jun-2015,

(5)Stars and Stripes website, “With fewer ships at their disposal, Marines turn to allies”, Steven Beardsley, 16-Jul-2015,


  1. Well the internet ate my comment due to a fat thumb. LOL.

    I disagree somewhat. Working together can bring trust over time. I believe we are losing the war in the SCS because we are absent, not because the Chinese are building FARPS (those are as dumb for them as they are for us). It actually means something to be there with our allies.
    As far as concrete ideas: we can exchange officers with other countries to work on language skills, and to work through communication problems during low end missions such as anti piracy, etc. They can learn over the next 10-20 years that we are there with them several times a year, every year. We've seen that even the dreaded and crappy LCS can make strides with this. Or they can work on their Mandarin skills while their English skills erode.
    Can we send a squadron of Marine 35B's to the HMS carrier to deploy to the Med? Absolutely. And we are planning on that. We just need to train with them and them with us. What does that look like? Well for certain it means we don't need a carrier in the med during that time. The HMS carrier and a LHA from the U.S. can do the job just fine if not better.
    When we work with other countries we get a feel for what they can do. After working with Australian Amphibs we should be relieving them or them us in the SCS. They are good at what they do. They can be and are on station while we're not. We should be coordinating our training, on station time, etc with them. Same with Singapore, Japan, South Korea, etc. We need to be present in the world with our allies. We don't need to to it all for them.
    We are functionally broke. We need less time on station. We need less cruises. We need more time for maintenance and training. We can't afford the ships we have let alone 350+.

    One of the most needed commonality is logistics. Finding ways to fuel other ships during peace time can change the flow of the war. We never have done that in peace time so I'm assuming we would never do it during a war. If we do it often during peace time we can and will do it during war.
    The arrogant American for decades has been, "Get out of the way. We'll do it." The reality is that we can no longer do that. We are heading for a literal and figurative crash.

    1. "I believe we are losing the war in the SCS because we are absent,"

      No we're not! We're losing (actually we lost - it's all over) because we refuse to confront. How do you possibly see us conducting some additional exchange sessions with other navies stopping the Chinese? They flat out ignored the UNCLOS tribunal ruling as well as our Freedom of Navigation exercises and yet you think a few exchange missions will make them rethink what they're doing?

      Did you read the post and have you read your history about other countries fighting alongside the U.S.? Or, even giving us permission for combat overflights or basing? It's pretty bleak. Again, a few low level exchange missions isn't going to change that.

      The problem with deploying, say, F-35Bs on some other country's amphibious vessel is that now we've ceded command to them. Suppose we have F-35Bs on an Australian phib and we suddenly want to conduct one of our infamous limited strike missions. Do you think Australia is going to allow it? They might but odds are far better that they won't. They have their own geopolitical goals that only very loosely and occasionally align with ours. So, we can't launch the strike. What good did that deployment do us?

      This is an extremely naive and unrealistic view given the history of other countries refusing to aid us when we ask.

      Finally, most of what you address is not what the post covered. The post was about actual deployments not simple exchange assignments. I don't care about exchange assignments one way or the other. They don't help anything but they don't hurt anything, either. They're a relatively harmless waste of time.

    2. Well obviously we disagree. But the good news is that without a relationship built with Vietnam, Malaysia, etc not only will they not allow overflights, they will suggest that we go back to our Monterey Language Institute and learn Mandarin, not Vietnamese, Malay, etc. Countries such as Australia will continue to work on their Chinese financial agreements, etc. Soon oil will be traded not in U.S. dollars. That will equal another 10-15% drop in our standard of living. They will do this because they love the Chinese? Nope. But we all do what we have to do.
      It doesn't matter if you or I see America as the greatest country ever or if we're in the basement of the Kremlin pretending to suggest a powerful military for the U.S. but hoping we go the way of the USSR. They all are seeing it as a sad financial mess. They see the end of an empire. American's want everything but don't want to give anything. They are the super power and everyone else will do what they want. That will work, right up until it won't or can't. Arrogance at it's best. We need a decades long relationship with our potential allies in the world.
      Now I will agree with you that we need to help while we're there. But we're not there because? We're farging broke. When we're there we have large government controlled Chinese fishing vessels literally pushing legal fishing vessels out of their own waters. Yes, we need to be there and put a shot across their bow and if necessary shots into the lower stern/engineering spaces.
      As far as working with other commanders that is something that has to be addressed. But not just for them allowing us. What happens when they take their boat and are going to attack a country holding their embassy employees hostage. Well, our 35B's need to be there to help. Deploying an LHA in a harrier carrier configuration and E-2's out of Italy or work on an AEW platform on the cheap for the LHA can work during peace time. That and the HMS carrier is a great team that also helps in case of your scenario. But I suspect things get worked out just fine.
      Again this is how we fix our problem without going broke.
      Is having an LHA in the Med instead of a super carrier a good idea? No. But for monetary reasons we already have done that and will continue to do that. Heck that's why LHA-6/7 were made. No one is buying the Navy's press release that says otherwise.
      With your logic why not stop all work with allies, NATO and get rid of those damned usless LHA's. Make a super carrier LHA the size of the Ford class. Sounds good to me but ....we...don' We have plenty of hubris but that doesn't buy ships.
      I suspect we don't disagree on most of how something might happen and how to deal with it. But we do disagree on just how broke we are. We can ride the wave of empire down or we can crash and burn. I suspect you believe that we will remain on top of the world. That is where we disagree.
      Nothing is perfect but neither is bankruptcy. We need to look at how to manage a higher level of acceptable risk at the strategic/tactical level. We need to think in terms of decades and not the next deployment. We don't do very well at either of those last ideas.

    3. I'm going to ignore most of your comment since its political/sociological and this is not that type of blog.

      Regarding military finances, I've addressed this in previous blogs and comments. It is a myth that we don't have enough money to do what we want. That is the spin/whine that is put out by the military to distract from the absolutely horrendous spending decisions they've made. I've listed some of the HUGE amounts of money we've wasted and what could have been done with it instead. Here's a few examples to refresh your memory. The Zumwalt (no ammo for its guns and no purpose now) program has cost us over $24B and is still counting. Each Ford, which offers very little improvement over the Nimitz, costs around $7B more than a Nimitz. The F-35 disaster is going to cost literally trillions of dollars over its life and is only a modest improvement over what we already have. The LCS, which is utterly useless, has cost us $30B or so. And the list goes on.

      Take all that money and put it toward what we really need and there is no budget issue. We can buy anything we need if we spend wisely. Money is NOT the issue. Defense spending is at or near the all time high. Money is NOT the issue.

      Yes, we're going to have to disagree about working with other countries. That's an utterly unworkable concept. I invite you to find any significant cross-operations in WWII among the U.S. and its allies. If your concept was ever going to work, that would have been the time and it never happened. Why do you think that is?

      I'm sorry, but this is not one of those disagreements where either view could be right. This a case of a right view and a wrong view! If you'd like to dispute this, find me some examples of significant cross-operations that have occurred. I've listed many examples of instances when cross-operations failed. Support your proposition with examples and data or acknowledge that it is flawed.

    4. I agree with you that the military is wasting money. But when we talk about where we go from here we get a different answer than where we would be if we had used our common sense in the first place. But to suggest that we will just stop doing stupid things in the military procurement is political or to suggest that even if we were in charge that we would have enough money to buy what we need is ignoring the elephant in the room. You call that elephant politics but the reality is that 1 trillion in debt a year is economics. When we fix the navy we will then contend with a 15% cut in the budget from where it is now. That's not a politician saying that. It generals and admirals.

    5. "when we talk about where we go from here we get a different answer than where we would be if we had used our common sense in the first place."

      Yes and no. Yes, the F-35 is already committed and we aren't going to change that. The LCS is almost completely purchased and we can't change that. And so on.

      However, by recognizing those mistakes, we can apply the lessons learned (that assumes the Navy is capable of learning a lesson and they show no signs of that!) and chart a better, less wasteful path forward.

      For example, we are not committed to the Ford class carrier. We could easily revert to the Nimitz and save several billion dollars on every carrier built from now on.

      For example, the Navy's new frigate is likely to be a modified LCS. We can anticipate that will be a disaster and not buy it, thereby saving fifty billion dollars or so.

      For example, there is no compelling case for large amphibious assaults so we could reduce the amphibious fleet from 33 ships to around 6 thereby saving untold billions in operating costs.

      I can go on all night but you get the idea.

      Now, the rest of your comment is a mystery to me as to what you mean. Generals are saying to cut the military budget by 15%???? None that I've heard. I think I'm misunderstanding your point. Try again?

    6. I started to drift away from your post there. Sorry. Let me get back on track.
      You will not get much argument from me that there is no strategy behind our military's purchases of ships.
      I absolutely agree that we went in the wrong direction with the Ford, DDg-51 III and LCS.
      But again, that is because you and I would have a different strategy for defending the U.S. and in the case of LCS we have common sense that the idea as stated had no chance of succeeding.
      As for cross training, there is no reason to have it happen in the same way all the time. MV-22 doesn't need to be landing all the time on a UK ship. But if the UK were thinking of buying it would it make sense to see how it would work on a flight deck. Sort of like a test drive? Sure. Our special ops also work with sas more than regular navy. Using HMS whatever as a farp is a good idea in a crunch.
      I know the Navy usually doesn't land H-53's off of a carrier but it does happen. It happened often during times of resource constraint. Like during the Gulf war. So from time to time understanding how to do it and practicing is essential for safety.
      So placing U.S. Marines on an HMS can help the UK practice max sortie generation at a time when they don't have enough f-35's yet. We can confirm or deny that whole ski jump not being worth it for fuel savings vs wear and tear on the air frame. Why do we care? Right now we don't. But if budgets stay tight(no matter the reason) we might want to explore options. Using another country's vstol carrier is a great way to test a prototype.

    7. If there is a specific purpose to a cross-training then, sure, do it. If we want to help the UK practice sortie generation, that's fine. But, to simply deploy a bunch of Marines on a UK amphib for no particular reason is silly and that's what I'm focused on. Our Marines don't know how to conduct assaults from our own vessels and with our own equipment. Why would we waste time learning how to do it from a foreign ship when there is no chance we would ever do it for real?

  2. You will be censured for making sense, you know that.

    1. Yes. I'm in company with Rickover, Mitchell, Fulton, and the Wright brothers. That's good company. I'm okay with that!

    2. Any room for one more in the "penalty box" with you... ?


  3. The HMS Victorious was a successful example, working with USS Saratoga, when the USN was short of carriers.

    Bobs Baradur.

    1. No sir. There are many examples of our allies working with us - heck, the entire WWII was a non-stop example of such. What we're discussing is cross-operations where we mix countries within a single unit. For example (although it's never happened), operating an American air wing off a British carrier.

  4. The Victorious sent its Avengers to Saratoga, Sara flew strike missions, Vicky ran the fighters, having better fighter control than the Sara.

    1. That's an interesting example that I was not familiar with. I note that it was a very short-lived experiment that was never actually used in combat.

      Regardless, it does not invalidate the premise.

  5. CNO,

    I'm my opinion, I think the situation is similar to doctors and nursing staff from a major US hospital going overseas to visit, and perhaps work with, for a short time, hospitals in other countries, like in Western Europe, Asia, etc.

    No one truly expects hospital staff from foreign countries to move across to the US en bulk if the US has some outbreak, which is no different from the US would not really expect the Western military moving en bulk to support and fight with the US.

    What the US gets, are intangibles, like:

    - they can compare their own standards to those of other nations.

    - they might get some new ideas from overseas.

    - they might build some international relationships. You never know when friends in low places might come in handy.

    - you gain knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of foreign nation's military.


    1. Hi Andrew,

      Most of your points are supposed to be the responsibility of U.S Defense Security Assistance Organizations (e.g. MILGROUP) or Defense Attaches we have in most embassies.

      Real relations ships are built on officer, not unit exchanges and school opportunities (e.g. war college).


    2. "What the US gets, are intangibles"

      You're utterly missing the point. I'm not talking about individual exchange tours or visits. Those are fine. Let them compare methods and standards and report back. I'm talking about deployments of U.S. units to foreign ships. That's ridiculous because it will never happen in combat. It's a waste of time.

      Our time is better spent practicing on our own systems rather than a foreign system.

  6. ABDA command in early 1942,total disaster as a multi national command,most of the fleet units were lost as well as the whole of east Indies.

    1. That kind of is and kind of isn't what I'm talking about. That was an example of various countries serving/fighting side by side under a unified command. That's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about deployments of Marines being sent to a foreign amphibious ship or U.S. aircraft are deployed to a foreign amphib/carrier - that kind of thing. That's cross-training where U.S. forces are learning to operate from a foreign vessel which will never happen in war - so why practice for something that will never happen?

      ABDA was a side by side collection of ships that operated under one command. That's a bit different situation. We did lots of that in WWII. The entire D-Day invasion was a side by side operation under one command but we did not mix units.

  7. Having done cross training with other nations militaries, albeit with the army, I feel they are a complete waste of time. They are highly scripted affairs designed to not embarrass US or them, and to act as demonstrations for weapon systems, to generate sales to foreign countries. They should be stopped, just a waste of money and time, both of which we are running out of.


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