Cam Ranh International Port Visits in Strategic Context

By Zachary Abuza and Nguyen Nhat Anh

On 2 May, the French amphibious assault ship FS Tonnerre arrived in the Cam Ranh International Port (CRIP) for a four day visit. It was the third international visit to the newly established CRIP, nee Cam Ranh Bay, following the mid-March visit of a Singaporean naval vessel and a mid-April visit by two Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ships. These three visits reflect Vietnam’s strategic interests, most importantly, the development of an omni-directional foreign policy. While much attention will be paid to President Obama’s visit to Vietnam this month, it is important to note both how far bilateral relations have come, but also how much they are only a piece of Vietnam’s overall strategic framework.

The decision to give Cam Ranh the moniker “International Port” was a strategic one. Hanoi has long been called on to open up the port to foreign vessels transiting the region, but wanted to make sure that it was not aimed at any one country. Thus the port, which is one of the finest deep-water ports in the entire region and is full of new construction after the inauguration such as a new berthing area, pier, quay wall, and was opened up to all on a “commercial basis.” This is in line, if not a creative work around, with Hanoi’s “3 Nos” foreign policy (no alliances, no foreign military bases, and no policies that could be construed as being directed against any one state). The argument that any one foreign country could try to gain exclusive access to the port is nonsensical.

State President Truong Tan Sang at the grand opening ceremony of the Cam Ranh international port in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, March 8, 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre.
State President Truong Tan Sang at the grand opening ceremony of the Cam Ranh International Port in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, March 8, 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre.

Indeed, in bilateral defense talks held at the end of March 2016, Vice Minister of Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh said that Vietnam had actively invited Chinese vessels to visit Vietnamese ports, including CRIP. Even though it was an unpopular move domestically, it signals the leadership’s intention that CRIP not be directed against any one country.

While it is clear that Vietnam-U.S. defense cooperation has deepened considerably over the last few years and will continue to do so, both sides seem to be content on the pace with which the relationship is moving for various reasons.

Vietnam clearly has a strategic interest in a more robust U.S. presence in the region, and has actively championed the right of U.S. Naval vessels to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs), including past features that Vietnam itself claims and occupies. Vietnam also looks to the United States as the only thing between China and the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

However, although Hanoi is keen to further deepen ties with the United States, there remain many real impediments, including history, the continued legacy of Agent Orange, and the enormous costs associated with the cleanup of Bien Hoa, and criticism over human rights. Indeed, this year, Hanoi responded to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report, calling it “biased,” something it has not done and downplayed in the past few years. Furthermore, despite its embrace of the Trans Pacific Partnership, Hanoi is cautious about growing too close to the United States in the security realm, for fear of provoking a harsh reaction from China, hence its intention of displaying CRIP as a neutral, open-to-all port.

From 22-24 May, President Barack Obama will visit Vietnam, reciprocating the historic July 2015 visit to the United States by Vietnam Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. While many hope that President Obama will fully lift the arms embargo, others argue that Vietnam simply has too many human rights abuses to merit a full lifting. Indeed, his Secretary of Defense recently endorsed lifting the embargo in a Congressional hearing with Senator John McCain, a long proponent of ending the embargo. In early May, right before Obama’s visit, Vietnam hosted a defense symposium to which top U.S. arm corporations, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were invited. This will be more of a symbolic gesture, but in diplomacy, especially in such a historically fraught relationship, symbols matter.

US President Barack Obama and Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in the White House in Washington, DC, July 7, 2015. (AFP). AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB
U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in the White House in Washington, DC, July 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

But even still, limits exist. There are longstanding concerns about selling advanced technology to Vietnam for fear that it will be shared with Russia. Again, human right issues also interfere with the decision. Nevertheless, this is not to say that Vietnam’s purchase of U.S. weapons is impossible.

The one area that does seem ripe for sales is maritime aviation capabilities, something that the U.S. does have a stark comparative advantage in. Vietnam has expressed an interest in a stripped down P-3 Orion. In April 2016, a group of Vietnamese naval officers visited U.S. Patrol Squadron 47 in Hawaii and notably toured a P-3C in order to better understand its capability. Vietnam has also seen the P-3 in action in January 2016 during a joint HADR exercise between Vietnam and Japan. Boeing has suggested that one of its Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) suites would fit Vietnam’s needs.

Despite the regular presence of U.S. Naval vessels, which spend some 700 ship days a year in the South China Sea, and the recent visit by the USS Stennis to the Philippines, and the recent refusal of port access in Hong Kong by China, to date no U.S. vessel has called on CRIP.

Furthermore, Vietnamese rules stipulate that foreign naval vessels, including those of the U.S., can only call on Vietnamese ports once a year. Nevertheless, U.S. logistical ships have visited the port before for repair and maintenance service. In June 2012 USNS Richard E. Byrd, a Military Sealift Command supply ship, stopped at Cam Ranh’s repair facilities, and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave a speech on board the moored ship, promising a stronger relationship between the two nations. The U.S. Navy has used their port call annually since 2009, albeit not at Cam Ranh Bay. Furthermore, when reporting the inauguration of CRIP, Vietnamese official media mentioned the possibility of U.S. aircraft carriers calling on the port by mentioning that CRIP can “accommodate military and civilian ships like aircraft carriers of up to 110,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage).” Hence, it is likely that a U.S. Navy ship will call on Cam Ranh Bay in the near future.

Leon Panetta speaks to the crew of the USNS Richard E. Byrd docked at Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay in June 2012.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to the crew of the USNS Richard E. Byrd docked at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay in June 2012. AFP/Getty Images.

In addition, the U.S. government has awarded Vietnam $40.1 million in FY2015-16 as part of its Maritime Security Initiative in order to “bolster its maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and command and control within Vietnam’s maritime agencies.” The funding will also support the purchase of maritime defense equipment and support training and bilateral HADR exercises to improve interoperability.

The visit by the Singaporean naval vessel should have come as no surprise. ASEAN – for all of its faults and limitations – remains the cornerstone of Vietnamese foreign policy. It works assiduously to counter China’s aggressive moves to divide the grouping, especially ahead of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s expected ruling. Vietnam and Singapore have pledged to deepen ties and have suggested future bi and multi-lateral defense exercises.

Soon after, Vietnamese naval vessels and special forces soldiers participated in a regional counter-terrorism and anti-piracy exercise with Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia. Interestingly, Vietnam sent HQ-381, a BPS-500 type missile corvette instead of its Gepard frigates. The HQ-318 was the first missile corvette built domestically in Vietnam in 1999, and it underwent capability upgrades in 2014. Vietnam has also increased its participation in multilateral exercises, including sending Hospital Ship 561 to the 2016 Komodo naval exercises in Indonesia in April 2016. Vietnam has extended maritime cooperation to entirely new partners as well, including a five day on-shore multilateral course by the Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare School on EEZ enforcement. 

The visit by the French ship capped a week of the re-emergence of France as a player in Asian security, with the agreement in principle to supply Australia with 12 Barracuda submarines; beating out the Japanese Soryu-class. But the presence of one of France’s largest vessels at CRIP also suggests the potential for defense deals with Vietnam, which has hinted that it wants to reduce its dependence on Russia for its advanced weaponry. Vietnam has already purchased military lift planes from the French-led Airbus consortium. SIPRI, in its arm transfer database, shows that Vietnam has taken delivery of Exocet anti-ship and MICA anti-air missiles from France for its Dutch SIGMA-9814 corvettes; yet, as the negotiation for the corvettes seems to have been suspended, the fate of these missiles is uncertain. Reuters also reported that the Vietnamese military is currently in talk with Dassault on the Rafale multirole fighter as a possible replace for its antiquated but numerous MiG-21s. However, the Rafale’s high cost makes this procurement less likely.

But it is the relationship with Japan that portends the greatest potential. There have now been six high level strategic dialogues, and Japanese ships have made some nine port calls, the majority of which happened in the last five years. There are routine high level engagements. Although Japan has not sold any weapons to Vietnam, in 2014 it pledged to transfer six maritime patrol craft; the last were delivered in November 2015.

Japan's Defence Minister Gen Nakatani (R) and his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh (2nd L) talk at the Ministry of Defence in Hanoi, Vietnam November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Japan’s Defense Minister Gen Nakatani (R) and his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh (2nd L) talk at the Ministry of Defense in Hanoi, Vietnam November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer.

The potential for deeper ties is clearly there. A meeting between the respective foreign Ministers in early May 2016 led to calls for deepened defense relations as well as the provision of more maritime patrol craft. As Japan experiences  the loss of the Soryu class vessels sale to Australia, Tokyo still needs a major arms sale to break into the world of the global arms industry. But while Japanese equipment is expensive and r technology transfer is unlikely, the defense relationship, including recent HADR operations, is growing so quickly that it might become a natural byproduct.

Both countries have called for a rules-based system in the South China Sea. Both would like each other to step up their respective operations in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently called on Shinzo Abe’s government to make “effective efforts” in the South China Sea, but there are limits. Vietnam in unlikely to be overly confrontational towards China. And while many have called for Japan to join U.S. FONOPs, that is unlikely, simply as China has the ability to escalate its operations in the contested waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. Intercepts of Chinese planes in Japan’s southwest quadrant alone already account for over 50 percent of overall intercepts of foreign aircraft.   In 2015, there were 571 intercepts of Chinese planes, a 23 percent increase from 2014, taxing the Japanese military.

Despite these improvements and deepening cooperation with new defense partners, it is the bilateral defense relationship with Russia that remains the strongest. Newly elected Minister of National Defense Ngo Xuan Lich made his first overseas trip to Russia, where he reiterated that Vietnam will continue to rely on Russia for much of its weaponry and advanced training. Newly elected Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will also make Russia his first foreign destination in mid-May, ahead of President Obama’s visit. 

Vietnam’s third Gepard class frigate was recently floated in a Russian shipyard, with the fourth to be launched soon and delivered by September. There are reports that Vietnam will order another two, a total of six, while it has increased production of Molniya class missile ships under license from Russia. Five out of six Kilo submarines that Vietnam ordered from Russia have been delivered, and Russia is helping Vietnam construct the submarine base at Cam Ranh as part of the deal. Vietnam’s recent announcement that it was moving the Ministry of National Defense’s Ba Son Shipyard to a new location, increasing its production capabilities to 2,000 dead weight tons, also suggests increased domestic production under further Russian license.

A Gepard-class frigate built by Russia's Gorky Zelenodolsk Plant. Photo credit: Gorky Zelenodolsk Plant.
A Gepard-class frigate built by Russia’s Gorky Zelenodolsk Plant. Photo credit: Gorky Zelenodolsk Plant.

When Vietnam purportedly “invited” Russia back to Cam Ranh, it should not be taken as meaning a reopening of their Cold War era naval base, which closed in 1991, but simply as a commercial user of CRIP facilities. Nonetheless, in 1993 Moscow and Hanoi signed a 25 year agreement that allowed Russia to continue using a facility in Cam Ranh Bay for limited signals intelligence gathering. More recently Russia has deployed aerial refueling tankers from CRIP to support bombers that have flown “provocatively” near US airspace in Guam. U.S. calls on Vietnam to restrict such operations have fallen on deaf ears. Furthermore, in 2014, the procedure for Russian ships calling on Cam Ranh Bay was simplified: they only have to notify Vietnamese authority before doing so.

While there have been occasional reports that Vietnam wants to diversify its sources of advanced weaponry, the reality is Russian equipment is tried and true, very cost effective, and the Vietnamese have long trained on it. Most importantly, the Russians transfer a lot of technology to Vietnam, which produces an array of missiles and ships under license. Vietnam’s relationship with India, also gives it access to the advanced Brahmos anti-ship missiles developed with Russia. This is an enduring strategic defense relationship.

Yet, small diplomatic rifts between Vietnam and Russia have emerged, in particular over Moscow’s support for Beijing over the South China Sea and Permanent Court of Arbitration’s forthcoming ruling. In April 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented in an interview that claimants in the South China Sea dispute should resolve the matter among themselves and not attempt to internationalize the issue. Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately rebutted Lavrov by announcing that the dispute should be “settled by all countries concerned,” not simply through bilateral negotiation. Notably, Lich’s visit to Russia occurred only two weeks after this incident. It should be closely watched whether this diplomatic rift will negatively affect Moscow-Hanoi defense relationship in any way.

In sum, since the 12th Party Congress in January 2016, and the early election of key state leaders to their posts ahead of President Obama’s visit, Vietnam has continued with their defense policy: a cautious attempt to bolster defense relations with regional and extra-regional states, the gradual diversification of its arms suppliers, and partaking in joint exercises. While it has brought a lot of new equipment online, giving the country unprecedented power projection capabilities, it is yet to be seen whether they have developed a corresponding doctrine. While no one should underestimate Vietnam’s will and capability to act in self-defense, that robust strategic culture has faltered at the hands of China’s maritime-militia and Coast Guard sovereignty enforcement operations and island construction. However, as Vietnam’s capability improve, it remains cautious about provoking a harsh reaction from Beijing. Yet, at the end of the day, Hanoi’s primary concern continues to be regime survival. The government responded quickly when environmental protests went national, and the regime seems very concerned regarding its ability to control its very wired and socially active population.

Zachary Abuza, PhD, is a Professor at the National War College where he specializes in Southeast Asian security issues. The views expressed here are his own, and not the views of the Department of Defense or National War College. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbuza.

Nguyen Nhat Anh is a student of International Political Economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter @anhnnguyen93.

Gepard, Molniya class warships in Cam Ranh naval base. 

Diplomatic Dimension of Maritime Challenges for India in the 21st Century

Kumar, Yogendra. Diplomatic Dimension of Maritime Challenges for India in the 21st Century. New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2015, pp. 258, 995 Rs.

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By G. Parthasarathy

While the present discourse in India is largely on its civilizational past and on the contemporary challenges across its land borders, very little attention has been paid to the crucial and indeed imperative role of seafaring trade and maritime security, and indeed the entire spectrum of maritime affairs. Until recently, there has been little realization of the importance of these issues in safeguarding the Indian way of life and ensuring that India emerges as an increasingly influential power, dedicated to peace and cooperation with all. Even school textbooks contain very little information about India’s maritime traditions or the decline of India’s role in maritime trade with the advent of European Power across the world, particularly since the 18th century.

India’s maritime history began in the 3rd millennium BCE when the Indus Valley established maritime contacts with Mesopotamia. Following the Roman occupation of Egypt, trade flourished with the Roman Empire, not only with India’s west coast, but also with Tamil Pandyan Kings. The Chola Dynasty reached out beyond the shores of what is now Tamil Nadu between the Third and Thirteenth Centuries, extending its domain from Sri Lanka to Srivijaya (Indonesia) in Southeast Asia. Similar trade and maritime contacts flourished between rulers of Kalinga (Orissa) and the kingdoms of South and Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Across India’s western shores, Quilon enjoyed growing trade links with the Phoenicians and Romans. Trade with Mesopotamia and the shores of Africa flourished.  Further north, the Marathas developed a maritime force that could challenge the ships of European powers like the Portugal and Britain until they inexplicably lost interest in maritime power. Trade flourished from western shores across the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean until European dominance of the sea lanes gained ascendancy. From the 18th century onward, India lapsed into a centuries long phase of ‘maritime blindness.’

India and China played a significant and even dominant role in world trade up to that point. India is estimated to have had the largest economy in the medieval world until the 16th century. English historian Angus Madison has estimated that India’s share in world income was then 27%, compared to Europe’s share of 23%. After three centuries worth of European domination, India’s share fell to 3% of the global economy. In 1950, China’s share in world trade was 1% and India’s was 1.9% – virtually double that of China. In 2014, India’s share of world trade had a fallen to 1.7 % while China’s had grown to 12.2%. This falling share of our world trade sadly reflects the relative decline of India’s regional influence in Asia and indeed globally since independence.

The book Diplomatic Dimension of Maritime Challenges for India in the 21st Century, by former diplomat Yogendra Kumar, carries out a detailed analysis of these factors while spelling out the challenges and prospects for a future Indian role in shaping the governance of maritime affairs in the coming decades. In this endeavor, he casts the spotlight on the civilizational dimension of India’s role as a reinvigorated maritime power which, as part of its contemporary diplomacy, aims to subserve the larger Indian foreign policy which finds its inspiration from the lofty ideals of the country’s freedom struggle.  While most diplomats tend to focus primarily on the diplomatic dimensions of maritime security, naval officers focus more on actual maritime power. Having served on the Faculty of India’s National Defence College and worked with the National Maritime Foundation in Delhi, the ambassador has brought his experience to bear on his meticulous research, and his handling, at a senior level in the Indian foreign office, of several multilateral institutions analyzed in his book. His intellectual inquiry not only spans India’s recent post-independence past, especially post-Cold War maritime history, but also offers insightful comments on the capacities and shortcomings of the relevant maritime agencies as they face myriad existing and over-the-horizon challenges to national security. These strategic challenges get compounded, geographically and paradigmatically, as the country charts its course to emerge as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. These challenges are also evaluated from the point of view of failed political power transitions since the end of the Cold War.

In addressing the diplomatic dimension of the country’s maritime challenges, the author holistically examines the evolution and the potential role of all the key maritime agencies in today’s unique circumstances, framed by deep geopolitical turbulence and uncertainty, paying extensive attention to the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard, the Coastal Police belonging to the country’s maritime provinces, the Indian shipping services, and the Department of Ocean Affairs. Whilst the Indian Navy remains the centerpiece of his narrative, the array of these agencies signifies that a favorable maritime order can only be shaped by the breadth of these organizations. Thus, approaching this effort in balance-of-power or zero-sum terms will be counter-productive, even in a shortened time horizon. The ambassador’s thought-provoking analysis of the security paradigm involves an examination of causative factors, ranging from the phenomenon of failed/failing states, the fragility of multilateral institutions, to the whole range of so-called ‘non-traditional’ security challenges induced by revolution of technology, including military technology. The author also, significantly, posits that maritime security is a subset of wider international security, especially of the littoral regions. He points at the deteriorating relations amongst the major powers, creating a worrying, de-stabilizing maritime salience. He analyzes the impact of these rapidly mutating constituent factors on the doctrines and structures of the Indian maritime agencies; introducing an interesting discussion on the recommended role and capacities of the Indian foreign office as well as other government structures. The leveraging of both hard and soft power maritime capabilities in diplomacy would help regional stabilization, resting on India’s benign image and its historically non-disruptive political consolidation model.

Quite naturally, as he discusses the entire threat spectrum of ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ maritime challenges, Kumar focuses on what we have done for the safety of our nationals living in our western neighborhood, where thousands have had to be evacuated from countries experiencing political instability and violence. India’s national maritime policies will also have to cater to the possibility of a much larger scale evacuation of Indian nationals should instability and violence spread to the Arab Gulf countries, where over 7 million Indians live, in addition to catering to the security of our sea lanes from where we get over 70% of our energy requirements of oil and gas. He also focuses on challenges posed by an emerging and assertive China as it proceeds with its ”One Belt One Road” initiative across our shores; in his discussion on naval grand strategy for India, the ambassador offers an interesting take as to how this challenge can be ‘finessed.’ The high seas are, after all, vast areas where powers can both cooperate and contend.

The most significant aspect of Mr. Kumar’s book on maritime challenges is his focus of attention on what needs to be done for restructuring institutions and building maritime capabilities in shipyards and research institutions,to meet the forthcoming challenges and opportunities in coming decades. With its ambitious plans for more Aircraft Carriers as well as both attack and ballistic missile submarines, the Indian navy has fortunately been more far-sighted that the other armed services in realizing that military power cannot be built primarily on imports of crucial defense equipment. Yogendra Kumar has quite appropriately noted that for the foreseeable future, India’s concentration will be on the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. He also notes that in maritime affairs, there is need for both regional and global institutions in order for trade across the high seas remains unaffected. While institutions are being built for trade and cooperation across the Indian Ocean, India cannot ignore that over 40% of its exports are routed through the South China Sea, now the focus of escalating rivalries over maritime boundaries. As he reviews these governance mechanisms, the author makes concrete suggestions to make them, especially those concerning the Indian Ocean, capable of multilateral efforts and of thought leadership to stabilize and buttress the maritime order for salutary effect on the global security paradigm as a whole. His approach of ‘fore grounding’ the ‘non-traditional security’ agenda for these institutions over that of ‘traditional security’ agenda in their activities offers considerable food for thought for the proponents of hardcore security doctrines.

For that last-named reason, Yogendra Kumar’s meticulous study of maritime institutions, strategies and diplomacy is “essential reading,” not just for scholars and lay readers, but also for every young officer who wishes to make the Navy a fulfilling career.

G. Parthasarathy is a strategic analyst and columnist. He last served as the India‘s High Commissioner to Pakistan. He has also been Indian Ambassador to Myanmar and High Commissioner to Australia and Cyprus, with  earlier diplomatic tenures in Moscow, Washington and Karachi. During his diplomatic career, he has been Adviser to both India‘s Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Navy Perspective on Joint Force Interdependence

This piece was originally published by the National Defense University Press. It is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Admiral Jonathan Greenert

Looking ahead to the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) fiscal prospects and security challenges in the second half of this decade and beyond, the Services and their partners will have to find ever more ingenious ways to come together. It is time for us to think and act in a more ecumenical way as we build programs and capabilities. We should build stronger ties, streamline intelligently, innovate, and wisely use funds at our disposal. We need a broader conversation about how to capitalize on each Service’s strengths and “domain knowledge” to better integrate capabilities. Moving in this direction is not only about savings or cost avoidance; it is about better warfighting.

Airmen working on Distributed Ground Station–1 Operations Floor at the U.S. Air Force’s 480th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing (U.S. Air Force)
Airmen working on Distributed Ground Station–1 Operations Floor at the U.S. Air Force’s 480th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing (U.S. Air Force).

The DOD historical track record shows episodic levels of joint deconfliction, coordination, and integration. Wars and contingencies bring us together. Peacetime and budget pressures seem to compel the Services to drift apart, and more dramatic fiscal changes can lead to retrenchment. While Service rivalries are somewhat natural, and a reflection of esprit de corps, they are counterproductive when they interfere with combat performance, reduce capability for operational commanders, or produce unaffordable options for the Nation. Rather than expending our finite energy on rehashing roles and missions, or committing fratricide as resources become constrained, we should find creative ways to build and strengthen our connections. We can either come together more to preserve our military preeminence—as a smaller but more effective fighting force, if necessary—or face potential hollowing in our respective Services by pursuing duplicative endeavors.

Figure. Smart Interdependence Improves Warfighting and Fiscal Responsibility


Unexplored potential exists in pursuing greater joint force interdependence, that is, a deliberate and selective reliance and trust of each Service on the capabilities of the others to maximize its own effectiveness. It is a mutual activity deeper than simple “interoperability” or “integration,” which essentially means pooling resources for combined action. Interdependence implies a stronger network of organizational ties, better pairing of capabilities at the system component level, willingness to draw upon shared capabilities, and continuous information- sharing and coordination. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey notes, “The strength of our military is in the synergy and interdependence of the Joint Force.” Many capstone documents emphasize greater interdependency between the Services’ structures and concepts including the Chairman’s Strategic Direction to the Joint Force, which calls for “combining capabilities in innovative ways.”

These concepts ring true for the maritime Services. The Navy–Marine Corps team has operated interdependently for over two centuries. Symbiotic since their inceptions, Marines engaged in ship-to-ship fighting, enforced shipboard discipline, and augmented beach landings as early as the Battle of Nassau in 1776. This relationship has evolved and matured through the ages as we integrated Marine Corps aviation squadrons into carrier air wings in the 1970s, developed amphibious task force and landing force doctrines, and executed mission-tailored Navy–Marine Corps packages on global fleet stations. Land wars over the last decade have caused some of the cohesion to atrophy, but as the Marines shift back to an expeditionary, sea-based crisis response force, we are committed to revitalizing our skills as America’s mobile, forward-engaged “away team” and “first responders.” Building and maintaining synergy is not easy; in fact, it takes hard work and exceptional trust, but the Navy and Marine Corps team has made it work for generations, between themselves and with other global maritime partners.

The Services writ large are not unfamiliar with the notion of cross-domain synergy. Notable examples of historical interdependence include the B-25 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo from the USS Hornet in 1942 and the Army’s longest ever helicopter assault at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom from the USS Kitty Hawk. The Navy has leaned heavily on Air Force tankers for years, and B-52s can contribute to maritime strikes by firing harpoons and seeding maritime mines. Likewise, other Services have relied on Navy/Marine Corps EA-6B aircraft to supply airborne electronic warfare capabilities to the joint force since the 1990s—paving the way for stealth assets or “burning” routes to counter improvised explosive devices. Examples of where the Navy and Army have closely interfaced include Navy sealift and prepositioning of Army materiel overseas, ballistic missile defense, the Army’s use of Navy-developed close-in weapons systems to defend Iraq and Afghanistan forward operating bases, and the use of Army rotary- wing assets from afloat bases. Special operations forces (SOF) come closest to perfecting operational interdependence with tight, deeply embedded interconnections at all levels among capability providers from all Services.

Opportunities exist to build on this foundation and make these examples the rule rather than the exception. We must move from transitory periods of integration to a state of smart interdependence in select warfighting areas and on Title 10 decisions where natural overlaps occur, where streamlining may be appropriate and risk is managed. From my perspective, advancing joint force interdependence translates to:

  • avoiding overspending on similar programs in each Service
  • selecting the right capabilities and systems to be “born joint”
  • better connecting existing tactics, techniques, procedures, concepts, and plans
  • institutionalizing cross-talk on Service research and development, requirements, and programs
  • expanding operational cooperation and more effective joint training and exercises.
USS Freedom, Littoral Combat Ship 1 (U.S. Navy/Tim D. Godbee)
USS Freedom, Littoral Combat Ship 1 (U.S. Navy/Tim D. Godbee).
USS Independence, Littoral Combat Ship 2 (U.S. Navy/Carlos Gomez)
USS Independence, Littoral Combat Ship 2 (U.S. Navy/Carlos Gomez).

The Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, and the capabilities that underpin it, represent one example of an opportunity to become more interdependent. While good progress has been made on developing the means, techniques, and tactics to enable joint operational access, we have much unfinished business and must be ready to make harder tradeoff decisions. One of the principles of ASB is that the integration of joint forces— across Service, component, and domain lines—begins with force development rather than only after new systems are fielded. We have learned that loosely coupled force design planning and programming results in costly fixes. In the pursuit of sophisticated capability we traded off interoperability and are now doing everything we can to restore it, such as developing solutions for fifth-generation fighters to relay data to fourth-generation ones. ASB has become a forcing function to promote joint warfighting solutions earlier in the development stage. For example, the Navy and Army are avoiding unaffordable duplicative efforts by teaming on the promising capabilities of the electromagnetic railgun, a game-changer in defeating cruise and ballistic missiles afloat and ashore using inexpensive high-velocity projectiles.

Additional areas where interdependence can be further developed include the following.

Innovative Employment of Ships. The Navy–Marine Corps team is already developing innovative ways to mix expeditionary capabilities on combatants and auxiliaries, in particular joint high speed vessels, afloat forward staging bases, and mobile landing platforms just starting to join the force. We see opportunities to embark mission-tailored packages with various complements of embarked intelligence, SOF, strike, interagency, and Service capabilities depending on particular mission needs. This concept allows us to take advantage of access provided by the seas to put the right type of force forward— both manned and unmanned—to achieve desired effects. This kind of approach helps us conduct a wider range of operations with allies and partners and improves our ability to conduct persistent distributed operations across all domains to increase sensing, respond more quickly and effectively to crises, and/or confound our adversaries.

Mission-tailored packages for small surface combatants such as the littoral combat ship, and the Navy’s mix of auxiliaries and support ships, would enable them to reduce the demand on large surface combatants such as cruisers and destroyers for maritime security, conventional deterrence, and partnership- building missions. We cannot afford to tie down capital ships in missions that demand only a small fraction of their capabilities, such as contracted airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) services from Aegis destroyers. We are best served tailoring capability to need, interchanging platforms and their payloads suitable to the missions that they are best designed for. At the end of the day, it is about achieving economy of force.

To make these concepts real, the Navy would support an expanded joint effort to demonstrate roll-on, roll-off packages onto ships to create a set of specialized capability options for joint force commanders. Adaptive force packages could range from remote joint intelligence collection and cyber exploit/attack systems, SOF, modularized Army field medical units, humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief supplies and service teams, to ISR detachments—either airborne, surface, or subsurface. Our ships are ideal platforms to carry specialized configurations, including many small, autonomous, and networked systems, regardless of Service pedigree. The ultimate objective is getting them forward and positioned to make a difference when it matters, where it matters.

Tightly Knitted ISR. We should maximize DOD investments in ISR capabilities, especially the workforce and infrastructure that supports processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED). SOF and the Air Force are heavily invested in ISR infrastructure, the Army is building more reachback, and the Navy is examining its distribution of PED assets between large deck ships, maritime operations centers, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. While every Service has a responsibility to field ISR assets with sufficient “tail” to fully optimize their collection assets, stovepiped Service-specific solutions are likely too expensive. We should tighten our partnerships between ISR nodes, share resources, and maximize existing DOD investments in people, training, software, information systems, links/circuits, communications pipes, and processes. To paraphrase an old adage, “If we cannot hang together in ISR, we shall surely hang separately.”

ISR operations are arguably very “purple” today, but our PED investment strategies and asset management are not. Each Service collects, exploits, and shares strategic, anticipatory, and operational intelligence of interest to all Services. In many cases, it does not matter what insignia or fin flash is painted on the ISR “truck.” Air Force assets collect on maritime targets (for example, the Predator in the Persian Gulf), and Navy assets collect ashore (the P-3 in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom). Yet each Service still develops its own particular PED solutions. We should avoid any unnecessary new spending where capability already exists, figure out dynamic joint PED allocation schemes similar to platform management protocols, and increase the level of interdependency between our PED nodes. Not only is this approach more affordable, but it also makes for more effective combat support.

We can also be smarter about developing shared sensor payloads and common control systems among our programmers while we find imaginative ways to better work the ISR “tail.” Each Service should be capitalizing on the extraordinary progress made during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in integrating sensors, software, and analytic tools. We should build off those models, share technology where appropriate, and continue to develop capability in this area among joint stakeholders.

USNS Lewis B. Puller, Mobile Landing Platform–3/Afloat Forward Staging Base–1, under construction at General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard
USNS Lewis B. Puller, Mobile Landing Platform–3/Afloat Forward Staging Base–1, under construction at General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard.
Artist’s conception of MLP/AFSB with departing V-22 Osprey (U.S. Navy/Courtesy General Dynamics NASSCO)
Artist’s conception of MLP/AFSB with departing V-22 Osprey (U.S. Navy/Courtesy General Dynamics NASSCO).

Truly Interoperable Combat and Information Systems. The joint force has a shared interest in ensuring sufficient connectivity to effect information-sharing and command and control in all future contingencies. We cannot afford to develop systems that are not interconnected by design, use different data standards/ formats, come without reliable underlying transport mechanisms, or place burdens on our fielded forces to develop time-consuming workarounds. We still find DOD spending extraordinary time and effort healing itself from legacy decisions that did not fully account for the reality that every platform across the joint community will need to be networked.

Greater discipline and communication between planners, programmers, acquisition professionals, and providers for information systems at all classification levels are required. We must view all new information systems as part of a larger family of systems. As such, we should press hard to ensure convergence between the DOD Joint Information Environment and the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise initiatives. Why pay twice for similar capabilities already developed somewhere else in the DOD enterprise? Why would we design a different solution to the same functional challenge only because users live in a different classification domain? Ensuring “best of breed” widgets, cloud data/storage/ utility solutions, advanced analytics, and information security capabilities are shared across the force will require heightened awareness, focused planning, inclusive coordination, and enlightened leadership for years to come.

In the world of information systems, enterprise solutions are fundamentally interdependent solutions. They evolve away from Service or classification domain silos. We are not on this path solely because we want to be thriftier. Rationalizing our acquisition of applications, controlling “versioning” of software services, reducing complexity, and operating more compatible systems will serve to increase the flow of integrated national and tactical data to warfighters. This, in turn, leads to a better picture of unfolding events, improved awareness, and more informed decisionmaking at all levels of war. Enterprise approaches will also reduce cyber attack “surfaces” and enable us to be more secure.

In our eagerness to streamline, connect, and secure our networks and platform IT systems, we have to avoid leaving our allies and partners behind. Almost all operations and conflicts are executed as a coalition; therefore, we must develop globally relevant, automated, multilevel information-sharing tools and update associated policies. This capability is long overdue and key to enabling quid pro quo exchanges. Improved information-sharing must become an extensible interdependency objective between joint forces, agencies, allies, and partners alike. Improving the exchange of information on shared maritime challenges continues to be a constant refrain from our friends and allies. We must continue to meet our obligations and exercise a leadership role in supporting regional maritime information hubs such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Center, initiatives such as Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) designed for counterpiracy, and other impromptu coalitions formed to deal with unexpected crises.

Other fields to consider advancing joint force interdependence include cyber and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities, assured command and control (including resilient communications), ballistic missile defense, and directed energy weapons.

To conclude, some may submit that “interdependence” is code for “intolerable sacrifices that will destroy statutory Service capabilities.” I agree that literal and total interdependence could do just that. A “single air force,” for example, is not a viable idea. Moreover, each branch of the military has core capabilities that it is expected to own and operate—goods, capabilities, and services no one else provides. As Chief of Naval Operations, I can rely on no other Service for sea-based strategic deterrence, persistent power projection from forward seabases, antisubmarine warfare, mine countermeasures, covert maritime reconnaissance and strike, amphibious transport, underwater explosive ordnance disposal, diving and salvage, or underwater sensors, vehicles, and quieting. I cannot shed or compromise those responsibilities, nor would I ask other Services to rush headlong into a zone of “interdependence” that entails taking excessive risks.

Newest naval platforms include Joint High Speed Vessel, Mobile Landing Platform, and Landing Craft Air Cushion (U.S. Navy)
Newest naval platforms include Joint High Speed Vessel, Mobile Landing Platform, and Landing Craft Air Cushion (U.S. Navy).

Joint interdependence offers the opportunity for the force to be more efficient where possible and more effective where necessary. If examined deliberately and coherently, we can move toward smarter interdependence while avoiding choices that create single points of failure, ignore organic needs of each Service, or create fragility in capability or capacity. Redundancies in some areas are essential for the force to be effective and should not be sacrificed in the interest of efficiency. Nor can we homogenize capabilities so far that they become ill suited to the unique domains in which the Services operate.

Over time, we have moved from deconflicting our forces, to coordinating them, to integrating them. Now it is time to take it a step further and interconnect better, to become more interdependent in select areas. As a Service chief, my job is to organize, train, and equip forces and provide combatant commanders maritime capabilities that they can use to protect American security interests. But these capabilities must be increasingly complementary and integral to forces of the other Services. What we build and how we execute operations once our capabilities are fielded must be powerful and symphonic.

Together, with a commitment to greater cross-domain synergy, the Services can strengthen their hands in shaping inevitable force structure and capability tradeoff decisions on the horizon. We should take the initiative to streamline ourselves into a more affordable and potent joint force. I look forward to working to develop ideas that advance smart joint interdependence. This is a strategic imperative for our time. JFQ

Admiral Jonathan Greenert served as the 30th Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy from 2011-2015. 

CIMSEC Interviews Captain Mark Vandroff, Program Manager DDG 51, Part 2

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC sat down with Captain Mark Vandroff to solicit his expert insight into the complex world of acquisition and the future of the U.S. Navy’s destroyers. CAPT Vandroff is the Program Manager (PM) of the U.S. Navy’s DDG 51 program, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which is the most numerous warship in the U.S. Navy. In Part One, CAPT Vandroff discussed the differences in warship design between the Flight IIA and Flight III destroyer variants, acquisition best practices, and the Navy’s Future Surface Combatant Study. In the second and final part of our interview, CAPT Vandroff goes into depth on his publications Confessions of a Major Program Manager published in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, and An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower, published on USNI News and coauthored with Bryan McGrath. He finishes with his thoughts on building acquisition expertise in the military and his reading recommendations.

In your U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article Confessions of a Major Program Manager, you used an elaborate metaphor to illustrate your responsibilities. What are the various stakeholder pressures in your program and how do you manage them?

I have great stakeholders, each of whom are great at doing their job, which is part of the challenge, and part of the fun. A program manager is responsible for turning money and a requirement into a product. Each of the other stakeholders is responsible for making sure a specific part of that process happens properly. I have been totally blessed in my five years as PMS 400D. I have had excellent contracting officers. When my contracting officer signs the contract, she is responsible to ensure what we do complies with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and all the other regulations governing contracting. I compete for the resources of the NAVSEA contracting directorate with every other program that NAVSEA has to support. There are more programs with more good ideas of things we could do than we have contracting officers to go execute them. I have a pressure there where I am trying to get a contracting officer to either move at the speed I want to move, or to be flexible for things I want to do for the program, but he or she’s got a responsibility to make sure that the contract bears scrutiny.

In SEA 05, our technical directorate, the Navy has a technical warrant holder for ship design called the ship design manager who brokers all the other technical requirements. I have one each for both Flight IIA and Flight III. They are responsible for a safe and effective design that meets the requirement, but not necessarily for the full range of mission accomplishment. So when it comes to funding I might say “I know that’s a requirement, but its really not going to deprive us of a critical capability, and I need the money somewhere else in the program to do something else.” That is the classic program manager to ship design manager tension. The classic PM to tech warrant friction is when we want to do something different. If I think it makes sense to do something different, and if the technical community thinks it doesn’t make sense, we spend time resolving it.

So why did I write that article? People who want to be program managers, they spend their time building those relationships so you can have good communication and understanding. When you get there, I know what my contracting officer, ship design manager is going to be worrying about. I understand my supervisor of shipbuilding, who is responsible for the quality of the shipbuilder’s product. I know what they are responsible for and what their concerns are.

January 15 2009, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Pascagoula, MS, shipbuilders add the 160-ton bow section of William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) to the guided missile destroyer. Photo by Bill Gonyo.

Every time we make a Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) or Contractor Furnished Equipment (CFE) decision; if that decision is GFE usually it means the Navy has another program manager. So I don’t buy computers or communications systems for a DDG 51 directly, I send money to SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) and they deliver the program those products. They’ve got their own set of challenges. I am trying to fit them into the schedule and the budget that I need to get a DDG 51 delivered on time and on cost. They have got their own challenges and it is not easy what they are trying to do with  MOUS (Mobile User Objective System) or CANES (Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services). That is hard on their part because they are trying to deliver the very best technology possible for those IT systems in a short amount of time. A good program manager spends his or her time building those relationships so you always know what is going on with all those different players so you can get people together and get agreement.

When I went to the Naval Academy I majored in engineering, and I became an engineering duty officer, and then I became a program manager, and then I end up as everyone’s psychologist. “The therapist is in” is what you end up doing in order to get a ship built. The end of that article is that you can be frustrated with it, but after a while you can find that you love it. I don’t know if psychology is my next career after the Navy or not, but the point of the article is that you have to spend your time building relationships with all those different stakeholders because each of them is part of a puzzle to get something as complicated as a ship built and built properly.

In the article published on USNI News, An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower, that you co-authored with Bryan McGrath, how did you come up with your recommendations for reform?

I wanted to state the problem right. Let’s think about acquisition from the perspective of a program office.

Requirements: This is the JCIDS (Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System). This is the hardest of all of them, and it is the least regular. It is the most unbound because this is the one that is threat based. Your enemies in the world come along at irregular intervals and give you undefined or hard to define problem sets. And they don’t do that when Congress is ready to appropriate money, or when you’ve decided you’ve engineered a really good solution. They show up with new problems for that. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs runs this. 

Tasking: At the end of tasking a product appears. All the taskings together add up to a product. This was written by USDAT&L (Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics), DOD 5000 on how do program offices spend their money? Whether that’s contracting, the FAR, or whether that’s the way one part of the government tasks another part of the government, all of that is apart of the DOD 5000 and its regulations, and the service regulations under that. The Navy has the Navy 5000. So this is your milestone, milestone B-C, or in the Navy this is two pass-six gate. This is your system for how you do tasking, whose permission do you need to do the tasking, how do you write the contract, the statement of work, and design reviews.

This was written by engineers. If you go to Exxon today and ask Exxon to share their system on how they decide when to explore for oil, once they’ve explored and found it how do they make a decision on how to get it out, once it’s out how do they get it into production, and then how to get it to people who want to buy, it will look a whole lot like the Navy’s two pass-six gate system, and not by accident. It’s the way any engineer would approach a problem. You start by defining the problem, what do you need. Can I go buy that yes/no, what do I need to invent to have it, if I invent it I better test it to make sure it works, how do I build it efficiently, how do I put it into production, and how do I dispose of it safely. It is the exact same life cycle whether it’s a tank, airplane, warship, or oil rig. It is the way an engineer approaches a problem. Notice this is not how the requirements or appropriations folks approach their problem, they have their own cycles.

A visualization of the acquisition system from the perspective of a Program Office.

Resources: What system controls the money? PPBE (Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution) controls that. It was written the way it is to service Congress. The events in here are coordinated to the schedule of the Congress of the United States i.e. when does the budget go, when do the committees mark, etc. All of these things sync up in time with how Congress appropriates money. If Congress appropriated money monthly or in five year increments, the PPBE would be different. The tasking and who runs the PPBE is the OSD Comptroller. The OSD Comptroller writes it because of the way Congress does their business.

The biggest point to my article is that you are not going to get all of these perfectly synced because the tasking is an engineering based process, the PPBE is a congressional appropriation based process, and the requirements process is threat based and our ability to react to that.

The problem is that there is no unified decision making in any of this. There is supposed to be, and certainly lots of senior DoD officials try. The Vice Chiefs are constantly inviting Secretary Kendall to their reviews, and vice versa. They try and piece themselves together. The point of our article is, it would really help to find someone, for a given set of programs or capabilities, to tie all these people together. One entity, somewhere. Some people say it’s the service chief, some say the service secretary, some say for a given program make an entity within OSD. My point is that for the program office, the influx of requirements, the influx of money, and the outflux of tasking need to be drawn together. It needs a single unified purpose behind it, or they will be at cross-purposes. How do you see these cross-purposes? It’s taking more time, costing more money, and all the things that can happen in a program that are undesirable. Of course human error is an inherent part of this.  

I would like people to be working in a system at the center of all this, where the inputs and the outputs are coordinated and synchronized to the best possible level. When you read the article, you may see requirements and tasking getting synchronized to appropriations. This is part of the constitution. You synchronize to your appropriations cycle, and you need to put one entity in charge of this. You need someone to be responsible for the process in its entirety whether a service chief or a service secretary, but it needs to be at an appropriate level of seniority and who can do all of this for a set of programs. That was the point of the article.

What do you think about the current state of acquisition expertise in the military and how can it be improved?

We have had a lot of talk about that and it goes back and forth, if you’re going to have military people doing acquisition. That’s an “if,” not a “must.” Unlike fighting in combat which is a uniquely military mission, buying stuff for the military could be done and is done often, and done very well, by government civil servants. You do not necessarily need uniformed military although all four services like to have military personnel at some points in the process.

The challenge there is finding the right balance between acquisition experience and operational experience. Different services and different subcommunities within services have explored different paths for that. I think the Navy continues to look at that, and continues to try and ask ourselves “are we getting it right?” For leadership positions in acquisition there is the current DAWIA (Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act) policies that we are implementing, I believe it is now eight years of acquisition experience and four years in a program office to be a major program manager.

I think a program manager needs to understand how a program office works. For someone in the military, you don’t want to make them a program manager if they have never served in a program office. I think program managers also need to understand their product, and that can take a lot of different forms. In shipbuilding, for example, we usually want someone to have done a tour as a supervisor of shipbuilding to understand how the product gets built. For some of the weapons systems that can be how the product gets built or how it gets certified at a place like NSWC Dahlgren, or how it gets supported in-service at a place like Port Hueneme, or maybe out at Raytheon in Tucson where we have people on-site managing Raytheon’s missile production. You have to have some experience in the field and see how it happens. A program manager also needs to have lived the aforementioned acquisition processes. If you add that up, that amounts to about nine years worth of work. That is what is recommended for a military program manager as the standard.

Employees work on missile production at Raytheon Missile Systems's facility in Tuscon, AZ.
Employees work on missile production at Raytheon Missile Systems’s facility in Tucson, AZ. Photo: Raytheon.

The next question is how much operational experience do you want on top of that. We have a couple models in the Navy. In my case I am an engineering duty officer. I have two operational tours, about six-seven years of sea duty. I have served in multiple program offices, different tours at supervisor of shipbuilding, so I have a breadth of experience there. There are folks in the unrestricted line community who may only have the minimum of the acquisition experience but have more operational experience, maybe five or six more years of sea duty than me. That may have included command at the commander level, an O-5 command, and that gives them a different perspective. I think the Navy continues to go back and forth and figure out what the right balance between those two models is, and to make sure we identify folks to grow their talent early enough and give people those experiences so by the time they are running a program they have built those relationships I mentioned. They understand the people and understand what that other stakeholder’s job is like because they dealt with it before and know their legitimate concerns and motivations across all those different competencies that go into building a ship.

It takes a while. We can roll that nine year minimum into an unrestricted line officer’s career and come up with a certain kind of officer, you can roll it into someone who has had more acquisition experience and less operational and come up with a different person. I think either one can work, and the Navy keeps going back and forth and tweaking what that sweet spot is. But if we are going to have military officers doing acquisition, we have to balance acquisition experience with operational experience. If the PM does not bring much operational experience, then it might be more efficient to have a civilian doing it. The benefit of the military is to bring operational experience into the acquisition world.

What books do you recommend?

The best book I read in the past year and a half is General Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Teams. I cannot recommend it too highly. It is a fabulous book on leadership and thinking through problems, especially in today’s highly networked world. That’s the newest book I recommend, the oldest book I recommend is Aristotle’s Ethics. In his very first paragraph, he makes the famous statement “All human activity aims at some good.” The different activities he lists include, and I am paraphrasing here, “the purpose of medicine is to bring health,” that “the purpose of economics is to bring wealth,” and that the purpose of “strategy is to bring victory.” He also adds “and the purpose of shipbuilding is to build a ship.”

Why did Aristotle say that? Aristotle lived in a unique society. He lived in a democracy that was a maritime power which depended upon that maritime power for both its security and trade prosperity. What is the United States? It is a democracy, it is a unique society, and it is a maritime power that depends upon its maritime power for economic prosperity and its security in the world. That is why I think, although written almost 2500 years ago, what Aristotle has to say is still relevant to us in the United States today. He was worried about shipbuilding as an informed citizen, and I think informed citizens should still be worried about shipbuilding today for the same reasons they worried about it in Aristotle’s Athens.

Thank you for your time Captain.

My pleasure.

Captain Vandroff is a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. With 10 years as a surface warfare officer and 16 years as an engineering duty officer, he is currently the major program manager for Arleigh Burke – class destroyers.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact the CIMSEC editorial team at

Featured Image: CAPT Vandroff at the Keel Authentication Ceremony of USS john Finn DDG 113 at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. 

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