The Deep Ocean: Seabed Warfare and the Defense of Undersea Infrastructure, Pt. 1

By Bill Glenney

Introduction

Given recent activities by the PLA(N) and the Russian Navy, the matters of seabed warfare and the defense of undersea infrastructure have emerged as topics of interest to the U. S. Navy.1,2 Part One of this paper presents several significant considerations, arguably contrary to common thinking, that highlight the challenges of bringing the deep sea and benthic realm into cross-domain warfighting in the maritime environment. Part Two presents three warfighting concepts drawn from the body of work done by the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) that would give the Navy capabilities of value for the potential battlespace.

The Deep Ocean Environment

For clarity the term “deep ocean” will be used to cover the ocean bottom, beneath the ocean bottom to some unspecified depth, and the ocean water column deeper than about 3,000 feet.3 The deep ocean is where the U.S. Navy and the submarine force are not. Undersea infrastructures are in the deep ocean and on or under the seabed for various purposes.

How does the maritime fight on the ocean surface change when there must be a comparable fight for the deep ocean? In the maritime environment, it is long past time for the U.S. Navy to be mindful of and develop capabilities that account for effects in, from, and into the deep ocean, including effects on the ocean floor. Cross-domain warfighting demands this kind of completeness and specificity. As the Army had to learn about and embrace the air domain for its Air-Land battle in the 1980s, the Navy must do the same with the deep ocean for maritime warfare today and for the future.

However, the current frameworks of mine warfare, undersea warfare, and anti-submarine warfare as practiced by the Navy today are by no means sufficient to even deny the deep ocean to an adversary let alone control the deep ocean.  To “own” a domain, a force must have the capability to sense and understand what is in and what is happening in that domain. The force must also have the capability to act in a timely manner throughout that domain.

Today, the Navy and many nations around the world have radars and other sensors that can detect, track, and classify most of anything and everything that exists and happens in the atmosphere from the surface of the ocean and land up to an altitude of 90,000 feet altitude or higher, even into outer space. The Navy and many nations also have weapons – on the surface and on land, and in the air – that can act anywhere within the atmosphere. Some nations even have weapons that can act in the atmosphere from below the ocean surface. In short, with regard to the air domain, relevant maritime capabilities abound, including  fixed or mobile, unmanned or manned, precise or area. Naval forces can readily affect the air domain with capabilities that can cover the entire atmosphere.

But the same cannot be said for the deep ocean. Figure 1 below is based on information drawn from unclassified sources. Consider this depiction of the undersea in comparison with the air domain. Notice that there is a lot of light blue space – space where the Navy apparently does not have any capability to sense, understand, and act. The Navy’s capability to effect in, from, and into the deep ocean is at best extremely limited, but for the most part non-existent. Capabilities specifically relative to the seabed are even less, and with the Navy’s mine countermeasures capabilities also being very limited. What systems does the Navy have to detect unmanned underwater vehicles at very deep depths? What systems does the Navy have to surveil large ocean areas and the resident seabed infrastructure? What systems does the Navy have to act, defend, or attack, in the deep ocean?

Figure 1 – The Deep Ocean

Arguably, the Navy has built an approach to maritime warfighting that dismisses the deep ocean, and done so based on the assumption that dominating the top 3,000 feet of the waterspace is sufficient to dominating the entire waterspace – ocean floor to ocean surface. Undersea infrastructure is presumably safe and protected because the ceiling over it is locked up.

However, the force must have the capabilities to sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean.

While the assumption for dominating the deep ocean by dominating the ceiling may have been useful in the past, it clearly is no longer valid. In the past, it was very expensive to do anything in the deep ocean. The technology was not readily available, residing only in the hands of two or three nations or big oil companies. This no longer holds true. The cost of undersea technology for even the deepest known parts of the ocean has dropped dramatically, and also widely proliferated. If one has a couple hundred million dollars or maybe a billion dollars, they can sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean without any help from a nation or military. Unlike the U.S. government-funded search for the SS Titanic by Robert Ballard, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen independently found USS Indianapolis in over 15,000 feet of water in the Philippine Sea. The capabilities to sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean are available to anyone with a reasonable amount of money to buy them.

Figure 1 is misleading in one perspective. At the level of scale in figure 1, the ocean floor looks flat and smooth. If something is placed on the ocean bottom, such as a towed payload module, a logistics cache, sensors, or a weapon system, could it be easily found?

Figure 2 is a picture of survey results from the vicinity of the Diamantina Trench approximately 700 miles west of Perth, Australia in the Indian Ocean. The red line over the undersea mountain is about 17 miles in length. The water depth on the red line varies from 13,800 feet to 9,500 feet as shown on the right.4

Figure 2 – Diamantina Trench

Consider figure 3. The red line is just under three miles in length. The depth variation ranges from 12,100 feet to 11,900 feet.5 These figures provide examples of evidence that the abyssal is not featureless. The assumption of a flat and smooth ocean floor is simply wrong, and severely understates the challenge of sensing and acting in the deep sea.

Figure 3 – A Closer View in the Diamantina Trench

How hard would it be to find a standard-sized shipping container (8ft x 8ft x 20ft or even 40ft) on this floor? It could be incredibly difficult, requiring days or weeks or even months with many survey vehicles, especially if the area had not been previously surveyed. This is a lesson the U. S. Navy learned in the Cold War and has long since forgotten from its “Q routes” for port access. And it would be harder still if one were purposefully trying to hide whatever they placed on the ocean floor, such as in the pockmarks of figure 3.

Based on reported results from a two-year search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370, approximately 1.8 million square miles of the ocean floor were searched and mapped to a horizontal resolution on the order of 100 meters and vertical resolution of less than one meter.6 Yet, the plane remains unlocated.

Hiding things on the seabed is fairly easy, while finding things on the seabed is incredibly difficult. Unless one is looking all the time, and has an accurate baseline from which to start the search and compare the results, sensing in the deep sea is significant challenge. The next consideration is that of the matter of scale of the geographic area and what resides within it. This is what makes numbers matter.

Figure 4 provides a view of the Gulf of Mexico covering about 600,000 square miles in area and with waters as deep as 14,000 feet. There are about 3,500 platforms and rigs, and approximately 43,000 miles of pipeline spread across the Gulf.

Figure 4. – The Gulf of Mexico (National Geographic)

Of note, the global economy and worldwide demands for energy have caused the emergence of a strategic asymmetry exemplified by this figure. China gets most of its energy imports by surface shipping which is vulnerable to traditional anti-shipping campaigns. The U. S. gets much of its energy from undersea systems in the Gulf of Mexico. While immune from anti-shipping, this infrastructure is vulnerable to seabed attack. In late 2017, the Mexican government leased part of their Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone seafloor to the Chinese for oil exploration.

Figure 5 provides a depiction of global undersea communication cables with some 300 cables and about 550,000 miles of cabling.

Figure 5 – Global Undersea Telecommunications Cables

Figure 6 provides a view of the South China Sea near Natuna Besar. This area is about 1.35 million square miles with waters as deep as 8,500 feet. Recall that in the two-year search for Malaysian Air flight MH 370 they surveyed only 1.8 million square miles, and did so in a militarily-benign environment. 

Figure 6 – The South China Sea

The deep ocean demands that a maritime force be capable of surveilling and acting in and over large geographic areas just like the ocean surface above it. Undersea infrastructure is already dispersed throughout those large areas. In addition, because the components of undersea infrastructure are finite in size, the deep ocean also demands that a maritime force be capable of surveilling and acting in discrete places. While it is arguable that defense in the deep ocean is a wide-area challenge and offense is a discrete challenge, the deep ocean demands that a maritime force be capable of doing both as part of the maritime battle. Therefore, the deep ocean presents an “area” challenge and a “point” challenge simultaneously, and both must be addressed by maritime forces.

In addition, the size of the area and the number of points of interest means that a dozen UUVs or a couple of nuclear submarines are not in any way sufficient to address the maritime warfighting challenge of defending the deep ocean and undersea infrastructure of this scale. Furthermore, the situation is exacerbated by systems and vehicles in the deep ocean above the seabed. The threat is not a few, large, manned platforms, but many small unmanned vehicles and weapons.

The historical demarcation among torpedoes, mines, and vehicles is no longer productive except maybe for purposes of international law and OPNAV programmatics. Operationally and tactically, the differentiation is arbitrary and a distraction from operational thinking. The Navy should be talking in terms of unmanned systems – some armed or weaponized, and some not; some mobile and some not; some intelligent and some not. Torpedoes can easily become mobile, armed UUVs with limited intelligence. Mines can also become mobile or fixed UUVs with very limited intelligence.

In the course of the author’s research and in research conducted by the CNO SSG, there were no situations or considerations where reclassifying mines and torpedoes as UUVs was problematic with regard to envisioning war at sea. Doing so eliminated a significant tactical and operational seam and opened up operational thinking. The systems for the detection and neutralization of UUVs are the same as those needed to detect and neutralize torpedoes and mines, and the same for surveilling or attacking undersea infrastructure.

Conclusion

Ultimately, understanding the deep ocean and warfare in the deep ocean is a matter of numbers and time – requiring plenty of sensors, and plenty of time. Part Two will present three warfighting concepts drawn from the body of work done by the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) that would give the Navy capabilities for the deep sea battlespace.

Professor William G. Glenney, IV, is a researcher in the Institute for Future Warfare Studies at the U. S. Naval War College.

The views presented here are personal and do not reflect official positions of the Naval War College, DON or DOD.

References 

1. This article is based on the author’s remarks given at the Naval Postgraduate School Warfare Innovation Continuum Workshop on 19 September 2018. All information and conclusions are based entirely on unclassified information.

2. See for example Rishi Sunak, MP, Undersea Cables:  Indispensable, Insecure, Policy Exchange (2017, London, UK);  Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers, “Spotlight Falls on Russian Threat to Undersea Cables”, The Hill, 17 June 2018 accessed at http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/392577-spotlight-falls-on-russian-threat-to-undersea-cables;  Victor Abramowicz, “Moscow’s other navy”, The Interpreter, 21 June 2018 accessed at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/moscows-other-navy?utm_source=RC+Defense+Morning+Recon&utm_campaign=314b587fab-EMAIL;  Stephen Chen, “Beijing plans an AI Atlantis for the South China Sea – without a human in sight”, South China Morning Post, 26 November 2018 accessed at https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/2174738/beijing-plans-ai-atlantis-south-china-sea-without-human-sight;  and Asia Times Staff, “Taiwan undersea cables ‘priority targets’ by PLA in war”, Asia Times, 6 December 2017 accessed at http://www.atimes.com/article/taiwan-undersea-cables-priority-targets-pla-war.

3. Based on unclassified sources, manned nuclear submarines can operate to water depth of 1,000-1,500 feet, manned diesel submarines somewhat shallower, and existing undersea weapons to depths approaching 3,000 feet.

4. Kim Picard, et. al., “Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 search data reveal geomorphology and seafloor processes in the remote southeast Indian Ocean,” Marine Geology 395 (2018) 301-319, pg 316.

5. Kim Picard, et. al., “Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 search data reveal geomorphology and seafloor processes in the remote southeast Indian Ocean,” Marine Geology 395 (2018) 301-319, pg 317.

6. Kim Picard, Walter Smith, Maggie Tran, Justy Siwabessy and Paul Kennedy, “Increased-resolution Bathymetry in the Southeast Indian Ocean”, Hydro International, https://www.hydro-international.com/content/article/increased-resolution-bathymetry-in-the-southeast-indian-ocean, accessed 13 December 2017.

Featured Image: Deep Discoverer, a remotely operated vehicle, explores a cultural heritage site during Dive 02 of the Gulf of Mexico 2018 expedition. (Image courtesy of the NOAA/OER)

Pearl Harbor 1941: The First Energy War

This article originally featured in The Foreign Service Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Charles Maechling, Jr.

In the summer of 1941, Japan had been at war on the mainland of Asia for four years. After amputating Manchuria from China proper in 1931, and recreating it as Manchukuo under a puppet regime, she had plunged into a full-scale war of conquest with China in 1937. But although a Japanese army of well over a million men occupied vast stretches of the Chinese mainland, active hostilities showed no sign of diminishing. Despite the installation of a puppet regime in Nanking, and a campaign of intimidation and brutal reprisals to pacify the conquered areas, the drain of manpower and supplies continued unabated.

Just as today, Japan was wholly dependent on outside sources for the minerals, petroleum, and other raw materials necessary to fuel its economy, which in 1941 was already highly industrialized. In fact, the whole aim of Japan’s program of expansion on the Asian mainland was to carve out a continental economic system, insulated from the forces which had caused the world-wide economic depression, in which raw materials from China and Southeast Asia would flow into Japan for conversion into a stream of manufactured goods aimed at the limitless Asian market. The conquest of China—or more accurately, her forced conversion into a compliant economic partner—was the first step in a grand design called the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere which was ultimately supposed to embrace Indo-China, Malaysia, and the Dutch colonies of Indonesia.

The Achilles’ heel of Japan’s economy—and the greatest drawback to military ambitions—was her energy resources. Despite the fact that civilian gasoline consumption was minimal, and the Japanese armies were largely unmechanized, Japanese oil consumption, including military, had since 1931 climbed steadily from a level—unbelievably low by modern standards—of about 21 million barrels a year to over 32 million barrels in 1941. (Japan’s current annual consumption is about 2 billion barrels.) The most imperative defense need, on which the safety of the island empire depended, was to ensure ample reserve stocks for the large and powerful imperial navy, and it was largely to this end that Japan, at great pains to her strained economy, had accumulated a stockpile of around 54 million barrels of which 29 million was reserved for the navy.

In 1941 Japan was just as dependent on outside sources for its oil supply as it is today. Domestic production of synthetic fuel amounted to only three million barrels annually; the rest of Japan’s needs—over 90 percent—were made up by imports. In the late ’30s total imports varied from a low of 30.6 million barrels in 1939 to 37.1 million in 1940, the excess over domestic requirements going into the stockpile. Fifteen percent of petroleum imports of all categories came from Venezuela, the Dutch East Indies, and the Middle East—the vast reserves of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf had not yet been developed. Eighty five percent of imports came from one monolithic supplier—Japan’s own private OPEC—the United States of America. And by 1941 relations with the United States had deteriorated to the verge of war.

It had not always been so. The United States had been instrumental in securing a favorable settlement for Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, had been an ally in World War I, and was Japan’s most important trading partner. Despite resentment over the Japanese Exclusion Act, there was a considerable reservoir of good will for the United States among the educated classes of Japan and vast admiration for American education and technological achievement. But since 1931, the United States had been the principal and most outspoken opponent of Japanese expansion in Asia. Under the Stimson Doctrine the United States had refused to recognize the puppet regime in Manchukuo and regarded the program for a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere with hostility and moral disapproval—attitudes reinforced by the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese forces in the course of their slow advance through the Chinese provinces. But, until the late ’30s, isolationist sentiment and the rigid constraints of neutrality legislation not only prevented military assistance from being given directly to threatened friendly countries, but inhibited any form of economic sanctions against aggressor nations that might lead to military confrontation. When these policies were finally reversed, it was owing to the tide of German aggression in Europe and the threat to Britain rather than to events in Asia. Even then President Roosevelt was under pressure at first from the Western European powers to avoid a crisis in East Asia until the Nazi menace could be dealt with.

In late 1939, President Roosevelt took the first step toward economic sanctions by imposing a “moral embargo” on sales of aircraft and aviation material. Over the next year, this was expanded to include a wide range of metals and raw materials—rubber, tin, magnesium, molybdenum, aluminum, etc. But where Japan was concerned the administration was careful to avoid any interference with the flow of the most precious commodity of all, oil—this was regarded as too dangerous. In May, 1939. Ambassador Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo had warned the president that “…if we cut off Japanese supplies of oil…and she cannot obtain sufficient oil from other commercial sources to ensure her national security, she will probably send her fleet down to take the Dutch East Indies.”

The outbreak of war in Europe presented the United States with a policy dilemma that took the form of a conflict of priorities. The attention of the president, the press and the American public was riveted on Europe, and after the fall of France on the plight of Britain. The prevailing view was that the Nazi menace to European civilization was the overriding problem of the time. True, the United States was also committed to a policy of resistance to aggression in Asia and support for the Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai Shek. But while there was a growing consensus for all-out aid to Britain, opinion was divided on how to cope with the Japanese menace. Within the Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau and Secretary of the Interior Ickes. along with elder statesman Henry L. Stimson (soon to become secretary of war) believed that there was “linkage” between all outbreaks of aggression. They pressed for “economic sanctions” against Japan, including the cut-off of scrap iron and oil. But Secretary of State Hull and the State Department, guided by the cautionary warnings of Ambassador Grew, were wary of pushing Japan into an act of desperation that would compound the difficulties of the European colonial powers and divert public attention from Hitler.

The U.S. Navy was even more cautious. Successive chiefs of naval operations had warned the president that until the 1934 naval building program was completed and outlying bases in the Philippines, the central Pacific, and Hawaii were reinforced and fortified, any military confrontation with Japan would find the navy at grave disadvantage. The navy had neither the auxiliary supply vessels nor the carrier air strength to fight its way through the Japanese-mandated Marshall and Caroline Islands, bristling with air bases, to face the formidable Japanese navy in its home waters.

The reluctance of the admirals to risk a military confrontation with Japan became even more pronounced in 1940, after the German submarine campaign to cut supply lines to Britain got underway. Substantial units of the Pacific Fleet, including the destroyers necessary to protect heavy ships from submarine attack, were now being transferred to the Atlantic for patrol and convoy duty. One chief of naval operations, the redoubtable Admiral James O. Richardson, had actually been replaced for pouring cold water on the president’s fantasy of running a cruiser patrol line from the Philippines to Hawaii, and for too outspokenly recommending that the fleet be withdrawn to its West Coast bases because of its vulnerability in Pearl Harbor. When a decision was finally made to give the Atlantic top priority, it made a temporizing stance in the Pacific almost mandatory.

The passage of the Export Control Act in July of 1940, however, gave the president a weapon for retaliating against Japanese expansion without appearing to be punitive. The rearmament program and aid to Britain had produced shortages in some materials and the prospect of future scarcity in others. When in September, 1940, the Japanese moved into bases in the northern region of French Indo-China, President Roosevelt promptly imposed an embargo on the export of scrap iron and steel, citing U.S. defense needs as justification. Soon afterwards he prohibited the export of aviation gasoline and lubricants to all but Britain and western hemisphere countries. But the flow of oil and regular gasoline to Japan continued without interruption. In the embargo year of 1940, Japan’s oil imports from the United States only dropped to 23 million barrels from 26 million the year before.

Meanwhile, Japanese foreign policy had been undergoing reappraisal through a convoluted process which can properly be described as agonizing in the literal sense of the word. The Japanese military—or more properly the army high command—had, since the Manchurian takeover, exercised a baleful influence over civilian cabinets, especially on matters of foreign policy. On several occasions this had reached the point of permitting the assassination, by fanatical young officers, of elderly and conservative ministers who were considered to have “become unworthy” of the Japanese imperial mission. The longer the campaign in China dragged on the more the army high command itself risked loss of face and disgrace in the eyes of the emperor and the people. Fearful of the Soviet menace on the long and exposed Manchurian flank, and frustrated over its inability to settle the “China incident,” the high command was the principal proponent both of closer ties with Germany and Italy and an aggressive move south to achieve the long-promised dream of self-sufficiency in Asia.

On the other side, strong forces were at work for a policy of moderation. These included the nobility, the business and financial leadership, the diplomatic service, and the imperial navy. Though dismayed and resentful over American policies past and present, these circles had a more healthy respect for American industrial might than the insular army and genuinely dreaded the unforeseeable consequences of war with the United States. Compared with the deep geographical, historical and economic bonds that linked the United States and Japan, the new ties with Japan’s far distant allies of expediency, Germany and Italy, seemed somehow flimsy and artificial. In these quarters the unrelenting opposition of the United States to Japan’s program in Asia was upsetting and threatening, but could be tolerated as long as the oil supply remained intact. In the meanwhile, there was always a chance that the “China incident” could be settled, or that the mounting involvement of the United States in the defense of Britain would make some kind of compromise possible.

Before a clean-cut policy could evolve, however, these differences had to be thrashed out within the imperial circle. Although crudely styled “fascist” by American politicians and the press, and lumped in with Germany and Italy as a grinning partner in iniquity, Japan and its political system had little in common with European dictatorships. Except for the predominant influence exercised by the military caste, which was deemed to incarnate the warrior virtues, Japanese society before World War II was no more, or rather no less, “totalitarian” than the “Japan Incorporated” of 1979. Under an overlay of parliamentary forms the Japanese decision-making process was almost morbidly traditional. In all vital questions concerning the future of the empire, decisions were not dictated by an upstart tyrant but reached after a painful process of soul-searching and mutual consultation between the traditional power groups. The resulting consensus, couched in the euphemistic and abstract style unique to Japanese culture, was then given a sort of mystical endorsement by the emperor, after an elaborate ritual called a “Throne Conference” in which all groups were represented.

Predictably, this system often produced policy compromises that embodied fatal contradictions. Typical was the decision reached in the summer of 1940 to install a civilian premier of impeccably conservative stripe, Prince Konoye, to pursue a policy of negotiation with the United States, while at the same time the army was given a limited mandate to obtain bases in French Indo-China. Then in September, 1940, under pressure from the army high command, Japan signed a defensive alliance with Germany and Italy known as the Tripartite Pact. The terms of the pact had no operative effect except in the event of a future attack on one of the parties by an unspecified outsider, but the Axis label it now gave Japan was to have a devastating political effect and prove a serious impediment to negotiations with the United States. It would henceforth be extraordinarily difficult for President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull to make meaningful concessions to Japan without the risk of being called appeasers.

At about the same time Japan took steps to solve the problem of its oil dependence. Civilian consumption of gasoline was cut from 6-7 million barrels annually to 1.6 million. By diversifying supply she managed in 1940 to reduce the proportion of oil imports from U.S. sources down to 60 percent as compared to the prior level of 80 percent. But the attitude of the United States, combined with disruption of the international oil market and competing demands of the warring powers, made reliance on distant sources imprudent to say the least. The one alternative closer at hand, on which Japan had cast covetous eyes for years, was the Dutch East Indies, now cut off from the mother country by the German sweep through Western Europe.

In June, 1940, immediately after the Nazi occupation of Holland, Japan demanded assurances from the colonial government in Batavia that exports of oil and mineral exports to Japan would be maintained at present levels. This was merely a stopgap, however, taken more out of fear of German intentions than anything else.

In September, 1940, a large Japanese mission was dispatched to Batavia to make “proposals” to the colonial government for access to raw materials on a greatly increased scale. Oil was given top priority: oil imports from the Dutch Indies were 4.5 million barrels a year, and now the Japanese demand was for a guarantee of 22 million barrels annually. This would have represented 40 percent of the annual production of the Indies at that time (55 million barrels) and a figure almost exactly equal to the current level of Japan’s oil dependence on the United States. The Dutch colonial administration, however, though well aware of its vulnerability, proved tough and obstinate. It protracted the negotiations over nearly three months, and when in November an agreement was finally reached, the Japanese were granted 14.5 million barrels annually and no more. Even this amount was made subject to the concurrence of the oil companies and hedged about with escape clauses.

In the winter of 1940-41 the war reached a condition of temporary stalemate with American attention increasingly focused on the plight of Britain. In April, 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece, and inflicted heavy defeats on the British in Crete and North Africa. In May, President Roosevelt proclaimed a state of unlimited national emergency. During this period the pendulum in Japan again oscillated and a new Japanese ambassador, Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura, known to be well-disposed to the United States, was sent to Washington with a fresh set of proposals. In essence these offered a freeze of Japanese military operations in Asia and a promise to negotiate peace with Chiang Kai Shek. In return, Japan requested from the United States a lifting of all embargoes on critical items, resumption of normal trade relations, American assistance in obtaining a continuing supply of raw materials from Southeast Asia, and the exercise of influence on Chiang Kai Shek to force him to negotiate peace terms with Japan in good faith. The State Department agreed to discuss these proposals, but after fifty private meetings between Secretary Hull and Ambassador Nomura in the Spring of 1941, no basis for agreement could be found. The United States clung to its rigid formulations—withdrawal from Indo-China, acceptance of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for the territorial integrity of China as preconditions for negotiations. These Japan could not accept.

In June, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In the same month the United States suspended all petroleum exports to Japan from East Coast and Gulf ports, throwing supply contracts into temporary disarray. The handwriting was now on the wall, even though once again genuine shortages caused by U.S. military demand and shipments to British forces in the Middle East had prompted the action. The new factor was that at long last the Soviet threat along the Manchurian border had been neutralized. Pressed by the army high command, the Japanese establishment again went into conclave, and in a Throne Conference in July it was agreed that the empire now had no choice but to resume the march southward. Planning was ordered for the military conquest of Malaysia, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, to be combined with preparations for war with the United States, Great Britain, and Holland. But no specific deadlines were set. On July 24th the Japanese, with the reluctant acquiescence of the Vichy government, occupied key positions throughout French Indo-China. Two days later the dreaded blow fell.

On July 26th President Roosevelt ordered the freezing of all Japanese funds and other assets in the United States and the placing of all petroleum exports to Japan under embargo subject to license. Britain and the Dutch East Indies quickly followed suit. It was originally intended to use the licensing authority as a lever for further bargaining or to avert a crisis. But it soon became apparent that in the current political climate no licenses could be issued and none ever were. The oil cut-off was now complete and Japan was thrown back on her stockpile. To quote from a leading historian of the period: “There was no way, no uncontrolled source of supply from which Japan could get as much as it would have to use even with the most rigid economy. Ton by ton, it could be foreseen, Japan would have to empty the tanks which had been filled with such zealous foresight…From now on the clock and the oil gauge stood side by side. Each fall in the level brought the hour of decision closer.” (Feis, The Road To Pearl Harbor, p. 244.)

The oil embargo represented a triumph for the hard-liners of the Roosevelt administration who were convinced that an oil cut-off would force Japan to its knees. The navy, however, again stressing U.S. naval inferiority in the Pacific—now outnumbered in aircraft carriers by 10-3—had strongly urged delay at least until air and ground forces of the Philippines could be strengthened. Ambassador Grew had once more cautioned that if pushed to the wall it was in the Japanese character to react violently and without warning. According to the historical records, President Roosevelt believed that although he was running a risk, it was one that did not close off his options or entail serious consequences to the United States. He was reassured in this regard by the virtual unanimity of his advisers that if Japan struck it would be against Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies. The safety of the United States was not considered at issue.

In Japan the freezing of its assets and the embargo on oil was greeted with shock and dismay. Any mitigation of popular feeling against the United States was prevented by sightings of U.S. tankers headed for Vladivostok with oil for Soviet armies. By August, 1941, there was only a 12-month supply of fuel left for the army, and an 18-month supply for the navy.

When the Japanese records and diplomatic cables of the four months preceding Pearl Harbor were published after the war they revealed an atmosphere of desperation. In October a hardline cabinet headed by General Hideki Tojo replaced the now discredited ministry of Prince Konoye. Three more Throne Conferences were held, of which the last, on November 5, 1941, committed the emperor irrevocably to war unless a last minute diplomatic solution could be found. At the same time a final effort was authorized to reach some kind of compromise or modus vivendi that would restore the flow of oil without forcing Japan to totally abandon her acquisitions in Asia. Accordingly, new proposals embodying further concessions were carried to Washington by a special envoy, Saburo Kurusu, who henceforth participated with Admiral Nomura in all negotiations. These went so far as to agree to immediate Japanese withdrawal from Indo-China, renunciation of further expansion in Asia, and withdrawal from most of China upon conclusion of a peace treaty with Chiang Kai Shek. It was made plain that Japan was prepared to treat the Tripartite Pact as a nullity. But in the end, like all previous diplomatic efforts, these proposals foundered on the rock of an irreconcilable conflict. Japan would not totally withdraw from the Asian mainland and return to a pinched and impoverished existence on its overcrowded islands. The United States would not accept a compromise that left Japan in physical domination of any part of China. Under pressure from Chiang Kai Shek, Secretary Hull on November 26th confronted the Japanese negotiators with a reversion to the earlier U.S. demand for complete Japanese withdrawal from China. Repeated Japanese pleas for a summit meeting between Prince Konoye and President Roosevelt were met with stony silence.

Throughout these events, the highest circles of the Roosevelt administration were at all times aware of Japan’s sincere desire for a negotiated settlement. Since August, 1940, the president, Secretary Hull, and the civilian and military heads of the army and navy had followed every twist and turn of Japanese policy through the secret cable and radio traffic of the Japanese themselves. Cryptographic experts of the United States Army Signal Corps, headed by the legendary William E. Friedman, had broken the Japanese diplomatic code, styled PURPLE. Thereafter, intercepts of messages from Tokyo to its overseas embassies and consular posts were on Secretary Hull’s desk within a few hours of receipt. After the oil cut-off in July 1941 the president and his advisers not only knew of Japan’s desperation, but of its intention to take drastic military measures unless the embargo was lifted. All indicators pointed to an outbreak of war on either the weekend of December 1st or December 7th, with Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines to be the immediate objectives. But partly owing to the indirection employed by the Japanese in communicating with each other, and partly to the tight security imposed by the Japanese military—whose codes were still unbroken—there was no certainty precisely when and where the first blows would fall. On November 27, 1941 a general war warning was sent to the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, the army’s Hawaiian department, and General MacArthur in Manila. Not a hint of impending war was given to Congress, the press, or the American public.

The Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941—the “date that will live in infamy”— lives in history as the military catastrophe that plunged America into World War II. But for the Japanese naval staff, the attack was essentially a sideshow introduced out of excessive deference to the “worst case scenario.” Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese naval commander, had convinced himself, in the teeth of all the evidence of American naval inferiority in the Pacific, that only if the U.S. battle fleet was dealt a knockout blow would his convoys be secure from interception and time afforded to build a defensive ring around the new conquests.

That the attack on Pearl Harbor was a strategic and political blunder of the first magnitude became apparent only later. Instead of trapping underarmed battleships far from their home base, they were sunk in shallow water where they could be raised and modernized to fight again. Instead of confronting President Roosevelt with the dilemma of how to persuade a refractory Congress to declare war on Japan in defense of the British and Dutch colonial empires, while resisting the Nazi menace across the Atlantic, the attack brought a unified America headlong into war.

What followed can properly be called the first energy war. Oil was not the primary cause of the steady deterioration of relations between the United States and Japan, but once employed as a weapon it made hostilities inevitable. Historians continue to debate endlessly about the extent to which President Roosevelt provoked the attack, but two lessons stand out: Regardless of the legal and moral rectitude of its position, the United States recklessly cut the energy lifeline of a powerful adversary without taking due regard of its own preparedness and the predictably explosive consequences. When the victim struck back he blundered badly and thereby unleashed forces of incalculable fury.

It could all happen again—but in reverse!

Charles Maechling, Jr., Washington lawyer and former State Department officer, was on the secretariat of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1943-1944. 

Featured Image: The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. USS-Arizona (BB-39) is in the center. To the left are USS Tennessee (BB-43) and the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48). (Naval History and Heritage Command NH: 97378. Colorized by Irootoko Jr.)

Why Turkish F-35s are a Threat to the United States and NATO

By Duncan Kellogg

Introduction

Imagine, for a moment, a hypothetical country rapidly spiraling towards autocracy, illegally arresting American citizens, imprisoning journalists, and attacking American-supported forces. Now imagine that same country actively purchasing Russian surface-to-air missile systems and erecting missile defense sites around its territory. In such a hypothetical, it would be difficult to assume that the United States would ever support or even arm such a country. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario. Not only is the U.S. treaty-bound to an alliance with such a country, it is actively engaged in efforts to sell fifth generation attack aircraft to it. The country in question, Turkey, and its drive toward acquiring a fleet of F-35s represents a serious threat to American national security and technological superiority. Fortunately, this threat has not been ignored by American policymakers, though more can be done to secure American aerial supremacy. 

Two main factors combine to make the sale of F-35s to Turkey a credible threat to American national security. First, on the immediate and kinetic front, Ankara’s continued efforts to acquire and deploy Russian-made integrated surface-to-air missile systems could give Russian engineers and radar systems operators key insight into the radar cross section and signals signature of the F-35. Second, on a broader and more strategically oriented scale, further supporting Turkey’s military advancement could backfire should the country slip further toward authoritarianism.

The first of these issues has thus far garnered the most attention on the Hill, due largely to its immediacy and clear outcome. Put simply, should the Turkish Air Force operate the F-35 in the vicinity of Russian S-400 missile systems Turkey will receive in 2019, Russian engineers could gain valuable insight into the aircraft’s detectability and flight profile. This would greatly hinder American aerial superiority and could jeopardize some of the most critical capabilities of the new aircraft should conflict with Russia arise. Lawmakers were quick to recognize the signals intelligence threat posed by Turkey linking the Russian missile system to the fleet of F-35s it is scheduled to receive in 2020. Last fall, Congress put a halt on the sale of F-35s to Turkey pending a report from the Pentagon on the implications of Ankara’s acquisition of the 100 F-35s it originally planned on purchasing. That report was delivered in November and Congress has yet to formally announce its conclusions on whether or not the sale will go ahead as planned.

Unfortunately, Congressional concern over Turkish F-35 acquisition might come too late to have a strong impact on Russian examination of the aircraft. Indeed, as President Erdogan continues to develop a stronger relationship with Moscow, pilots of the Turkish Air Force are training to fly American-made F-35s out of Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base. Moreover, the Turkish Air Force has already received its first F-35 and, though the plane remains in the United States, as Sebastien Roblin wrote in early September, it cannot be legally confiscated by the U.S. government. Should this specific aircraft successfully make its way to Turkey, it would likely be exposed to the prying sensors of the S-400.

The problems do not stop there. Beyond the immediate concern of compromising the classified capabilities of the F-35, fifth generation fighter sales to Turkey represent a strategic and ethical threat to both the United States and the NATO alliance as a whole. In the past few years, President Erdogan has successfully solidified himself as a modern autocrat in all but name. After 2016’s failed coup attempt, Erdogan has directed the arrests of tens of thousands of political opponents, journalists, teachers, and activists. He has illegally detained American citizens and threatened American-supported forces on the ground in Syria. These hardly represent the actions of a dedicated ally and should cause grave concern for export control professionals engaged in the sale of any advanced weapons systems, let alone the F-35, to Ankara.

Moreover, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to leave the NATO alliance as a response to the growing tensions between Turkey and the United States. This comes at a time when the alliance faces increased Russian aggression on its borders and Russian interference in the political spheres of member nations. Indeed, Erdogan’s actions hardly support an image of a united alliance against Russian aggression. Rewarding such threats and rhetoric with the delivery of F-35s, regardless of Turkey’s investment in the program, is hardly a sound strategy. Indeed, as the leader of the world’s largest alliance of liberal democracies, it would behoove Washington to distance itself from Ankara’s rapid descent towards despotism. This argument is only compounded further when recognizing that not only American F-35s would be put at risk by Turkish acquisition, but the F-35 fleets of NATO allies like the UK and Norway as well.

While diagnosing the risks associated with selling F-35s to Turkey is an easy task, treating them is far more difficult. Largely, this is a result of Turkey’s deep industrial involvement in the development of the aircraft. To date, ten separate Turkish firms have engaged in significant support efforts in the F-35 program ranging from the integration of the plane’s new precision-guided Stand-off Missile to direct production of the F-35s weapons bay doors. Beyond the private sector, President Erdogan has repeatedly brought up the fact that the Turkish government has spent, in total, almost a billion dollars on the procurement of F-35 airframes. Such an immense level of sunk cost and existing investment means that Ankara will not simply roll over should Congress decide to cancel the sale of further F-35s. The White House must then determine whether fraying military ties with Turkey is worth preserving its new fifth generation fighter.

Conclusion

In light of Turkey’s increased relationship with Russia, commitment to purchasing Russian weapon systems, and rapid devolution into a modern autocracy, Washington’s best interest lies in denying the sale of further F-35 airframes to Turkey. The F-35 is critical to the future of American and NATO air superiority. It cannot be used as just another political chip on the global chessboard. Should it be sold to Turkey without Ankara’s cancellation of the S-400 deal, the F-35 could be compromised before it even takes flight as America’s primary strike fighter.

Duncan Kellogg is a developing naval analyst studying nuclear defense posture and maritime security at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Duncan has been writing about the intersection of deterrence theory and maritime security since 2015. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his fish Maverick.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 17, 2018) An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VFMA) 121 takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) during carrier qualifications and flight deck certifications. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)180717-N-JW440-0037

Fight the Next Fleet Problem in the Solomons

By Ryan Hilger

“There’s a good chance…we’d lose the opening stages of this war,” remarked one high ranking official at a recent conference on Multi-Domain Operations.1 Many senior officials are rightly worried that our potential adversaries have spent the last fifteen years developing capabilities tailored against us as while the U.S. military has been focused on Afghanistan, Iraq, a plethora of other low-intensity operations occurring all over Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and perpetually overdrawn budget. Staffs in the Pentagon and at the systems commands fret over how we will maintain, much less expand, our competitive advantage as these countries undertake very public campaigns to develop capabilities such as hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence.

Lost in the moment it is easy to forget that we have been in a similar situation before in the 1930s and 1940s. During the interwar period, the Fleet Problems were strategic proving grounds and tactical classrooms, incubating revolutionary tactics such as carrier warfare. The Navy refined those strategies in the crucible of World War II, and the lessons from those campaigns, not just the battles, are key to maintaining operational superiority in a new era of great power competition. Admiral Scott Swift, while the Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, reinstituted Fleet Problems to prepare the Navy for the high-end fight using the tools on hand today.2 Taking the Fleet Problems to the next level by including our joint forces will yield greater dividends and prepare the Navy for fighting campaigns, not just battles—something we haven’t done since World War II.3 Conducting the next one in the Solomons will reinforce the lessons of the campaign there in 1942 and stress the harsh, indiscriminate effects of geography on prolonged maritime campaigns.

Maritime Parallels and Analogues

China, like Japan in the 1930s, seeks to be a major regional, if not global, power. China continues to expand its presence and capabilities in the South China Sea, recently established a naval base in Djibouti, and begun making overtures to Vanuatu in the South Pacific.4 The Chinese, always with the long view, have embarked on a campaign to protect their global supply lines which are needed to fuel their industrializing economy. The Philippines, traditionally an American stalwart, openly denounced ties with us and moved directly toward Beijing.5 This sounds familiar. As early as 1931, the Japanese began pushing out into the same waters, seeking natural resources for their growing economy. By 1941, the Japanese had secured their western and northern fronts with campaigns in China and Manchuria, signed a pact with Russia, and established strong naval bases in the Marshall, Marianas, and Caroline Islands.6 Japanese naval power grew stronger by the day.

The conditions were becoming ripe for further expansion to secure their sea lines of communications and expel all western influence in Asia. After the war, the Japanese told an American survey team that their strategic plan for conducting the war against the Western powers was initially to be a “series of simultaneous and overwhelming surprise attacks on all of the Pacific bases of the western powers.”7 They succeeded brilliantly. The Japanese push to the their second island chain—both through the Marshalls and Gilberts toward Samoa, and through the Solomons with the capture of New Guinea as the final stroke—was predicated on the strategic desire to interdict supply lines between the United States and Australia, provide a defense-in-depth for maritime resource flows back to Japan, and to fight the remnants of the American Navy far from their shores. The same is true of Australia and its pivotal relationship to a Pacific campaign today.

The geographic conditions are eerily similar to China’s expansion today, and the “range, lethality, and sophistication of [their] new anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities constitute an unprecedented array of A2/AD capabilities that threaten the U.S. model of power projection and maneuver.”8 Additionally, today’s fiscal constraints, aging force structure, and readiness issues lends credence to the fear that the United States and its partners could be overrun in the opening phases of a conflict, just as it was almost eighty years ago with near-simultaneous defeats at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, and the Java Sea. The subsequent campaign through the Solomons provides many lessons to inform maritime strategy today. Understanding these lessons requires a shift away from celebrating Mahanian naval battles, like Midway, to embracing the need to fight prolonged, joint campaigns to deter aggression or regain access.         

Island Chains and the Maritime Siege

Nowhere is the tyranny of distance felt more than in the Pacific. This was true in 1942 and it is just as relevant today. Coming from Asia, both the Japanese in the 1940s and the Chinese today have a number of stepping stones to project power, are able to create overlapping barriers to deter and attrite forces moving west, whether as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the 1930s or the Chinese Nine-Dash Line claims today. Captain (Ret.) Sam Tangredi identified these attritional operations as one of the central elements of an anti-access strategy.9 To this he adds four more: perception that the attacking force is superior; the maritime domain is the dominant conflict space; information, intelligence, and deception are critical and; unrelated events elsewhere have a decided impact.10 The Pacific theater, then and now, has many of these elements in abundance. 

The Japanese followed up on their successes of December 1941 with a series of rapid offensives through the south-central Pacific, sweeping aside nearly all allied garrisons in the process. At the outset, Admiral Yamamoto believed the American Navy was superior and needed to be reduced before giving in to a decisive battle. Lawrence Freedman notes that the Americans knew that an early attack was probable, but only looked to “the Philippines as a target and had underestimated Japanese capabilities. They had assumed that the strength of the Pacific Fleet would serve as a deterrent.”11 

In late January 1942, the Japanese pushed through the Bismarck Archipelago in the southern Pacific and seized a major objective at Rabaul.12 The development of Rabaul would be critical in flowing forces into the region to extend Japanese power into the Solomons and threaten allied supply lines to Australia.13 Subsequent Japanese Army operations in the region developed mutually supporting bases. Chinese movement toward Vanuatu today appears quite similar to the Japanese moves in 1942. Chinese port infrastructure projects in Vanuatu will be able to support warships once complete and the development of Chinese naval presence there would represent a major threat to both intercontinental supply lines and any naval forces moving through the region—the foundations of an anti-access strategy. However, in War Plan Orange, Miller notes that distance, so onerous for the United States to overcome, would prove a fickle mistress for the Japanese should Americans penetrate the barriers and establish advanced bases, giving it the ability to “sever Japan’s trade lifelines, neutralize its outlying stations, overwhelm its fleet in battle, and bombard its homeland. Defeat would follow inevitably.”14 The same could be said in a protracted conflict with China today.         

Joint Maritime Campaigns

The Battle of Midway brought the American Navy its first true victory of the war, but it was not the decisive battle of the war. As both navies recovered from the losses sustained, Admiral Nimitz knew that the Japanese buildup in the Solomons had to be stopped and that the course of the next campaign would decide the war. The allied forces had to take the offensive to gain the initiative. In just over one month’s time, American forces planned, organized, and executed Operation WATCHTOWER, or as it was better known given the dearth of resources afforded it, Operation “Shoestring.”15 The next four months following the amphibious landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on August 7, 1942 would prove pivotal and decisive. 

American surface forces had yet to meet their Japanese counterparts in battle. The ferocious fighting in and around the Solomons, a true back and forth affair, shows the grind of the campaign and the absolute necessity for the campaign to be joint. The American Navy could not have won it alone then, nor, as Admiral Swift asserts, will we be able to do so in a future conflict.16 Taking a solely naval perspective of the Solomons campaign would fall into Rear Admiral Joseph Wylie’s strategic trap, in that “[t]oo often the first or blue-water phase of maritime strategy is regarded as the whole process rather than no more than the necessary first half.” The second phase, after adequate sea control is established, is “the exploita­tion of that control by projection of power into one or more selected critical areas of de­cision on the land.”17 Our fleet must necessarily remain aligned with our national objectives, supporting other operational campaigns by our joint partners, which force a decision of our adversary on land—neither the Japanese nor Chinese navies can capitulate on behalf of the national government should they choose to continue resisting. Thus, the success of the Marine and Army effort to secure Guadalcanal rested directly on the joint maritime campaign to keep them from being overwhelmed.

Solomon Islands map. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese held a formidable position in the South Pacific. The Solomon Islands were within range of land-based aircraft and naval forces from Rabaul, Buka, and other bases, which could all be quickly reinforced from Truk. Combinations of these forces could deny the seas around Guadalcanal nearly around the clock. American land-based airpower—Army B-17s based at Espiritu Santo, Efate, and Port Moresby—could only provide marginal support, and the aircraft carriers had to steam within range of Japanese air power to effectively use their air wings.  The amphibious forces of Task Force 62 under Admiral Kelly Turner, which needed several days of continuous unloading operations, would be exceptionally vulnerable until the airstrip on Guadalcanal could be made operational. Admiral Frank Fletcher, commanding Task Force 61, believed that he could only risk the carriers that close to Guadalcanal for three days at most before the likelihood of Japanese attack was too great to continue. Events forced them to withdraw after only two.18

The Japanese, though surprised, responded rapidly. American surface forces patrolled the waters to the north of Guadalcanal near Savo Island, protecting the landing forces. On the night of August 8th, Samuel Eliot Morison writes:

“Sailors onboard the cruisers were still talking of their performance during the two days past. They had helped the Marines to land by chasing Japs into the hills with 8-inch shells; they had protected the transports with anti-aircraft fire. But they were dog-tired after two days of incessant action and excitement…It was a hot, overcast and oppressive night, ‘heavy with destiny and doom’ as a novelist would say, inviting weary sailors to slackness and to sleep.”19

The American technical edge, radar, was ill understood by the senior leadership and ineffectively employed. The Japanese forces, on pins and needles, passed by the radar-equipped Blue around 0143 and surprised the heavy cruisers in the Southern Force when the shutters of their searchlights flicked open. At that same moment, HMAS Canberra shuddered from two torpedoes and the first of 24 shell hits. Her war would be over in less than five minutes. U.S. ships “replied at first only with their antiaircraft batteries and with machine guns. Subsequently a few main battery salvos were fired.” The Japanese, well trained in night surface gunnery, poured a steady stream of shells into the surprised cruisers. The Southern Force was finished as an effective fighting force in less than six minutes as Admiral Mikawa’s forces sighted Vincennes and the Northern Force.20 In less than an hour, Quincy and Vincennes were on the bottom. Astoria, gravely wounded, would succumb hours later. One can imagine a modern day onslaught with anti-ship cruise missiles in the opening engagement.

Photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. USS Quincy (CA-39), seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action. (Wikimedia Commons)

By August 11th, the American position was critical. The Marines had been able to offload less than half of their supplies. Already exhausted Marines were put on half rations. “The 1st Marine Division was virtually a besieged garrison.”21 Admiral Fletcher’s aircraft carriers had been withdrawn hours after the defeat at Savo Island, much to Marine General Vandegrift’s alarm. None of the Marine defense battalion’s 5-inch coastal defense guns, surface search radars, or fire control radars had made it ashore. Those radars and coastal defense guns, coupled with the Army B-17s in the region, may have helped tip the scales of sea control in the waters north of Guadalcanal at a crucial juncture. Just as Admiral Fletcher’s forces were ordered to protect the landing forces moving ashore, so too the Marines and Army could have assisted the Navy in setting the conditions necessary for their continued survival and success on land.

Geography dictates, according to Tangredi, the need to tailor forces and “that modern counter-anti-access operations need not be the sole province of naval and air forces.”22 Today, the Army, Marines, and Air Force are all investing in maritime warfare systems that can support the Navy. The Army is retooling its Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) for anti-ship missions out to 186-nautical miles.23 The Marines are exploring similar capabilities from their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).24 The Air Force recently completed several test firings of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) from B-1B bombers, indicating that they want to play a part in sea control as well.25 Sea control in and around expeditionary advanced bases, which the Marine Corps is reviving, needs to be a joint affair.

In a statement just as relevant today, especially when considering cruise missiles, Admiral Ghormley, commander of the South Pacific Area, foresaw the need for truly joint operations and communicated this to his task forces in the Solomons: “What we wish to achieve is the combination (no matter where the enemy may strike) of our shore-based aircraft and our carrier aircraft against the following targets in order of priority: Carriers, transports, battleships, cruisers, destroyers.”26 

The Navy should fully integrate the other services into its Fleet Problems and other exercises to develop the joint capabilities needed for maritime warfare. As Miller notes, despite the hasty tactical planning for Guadalcanal, the Allies “had a broad and well-established base in the doctrines governing landings on hostile shores which had been developed during the years preceding the outbreak of war.”27 We should do the same again, starting by conducting the next Fleet Problem in the Solomons as a joint force on a campaign timescale.

Campaigns Require Sacrifices

By November 1942, three more major naval battles and countless skirmishes would rack up painful losses for both sides, from aircraft carriers down to destroyers. Each side knew that the final decision for the island, and potentially the war, was drawing near and continued to pour every available asset into the area to sway the outcome. The lessons from those previous battles had been learned, and the new, fiery leadership of Admiral Halsey reinvigorated American forces.

On November 12th, reconnaissance indicated another Tokyo Express run headed to the Solomons to reinforce the Japanese garrison, shell Marine positions, and put Henderson Field out of action—this time with battleships. Admiral Halsey, desperately short on forces but having no other choice, ordered Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan and Rear Admiral Normal Scott to the area in two groups consisting of a few cruisers with a handful of destroyers—a pickup force—against a Japanese force of two battleships, half a dozen cruisers, and a dozen destroyers. Morison remarks that the Japanese force was “obviously too large a bite for Callaghan’s two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers. Yet, with Kinkaid’s carrier-battleship force too far away to help, there was nothing else to be done but for Callaghan to block, and block hard.”28 Captain Cassin Young of the San Francisco remarked to Admiral Callaghan, “[t]his is a suicide mission.” Callaghan replied, “Yes I know, but we have to do it.”29 The Marine position on the shore, and the fate of the campaign, had to be protected at all costs.

Helena first detected the Japanese force at 27,000 yards and immediately sent warnings to Admiral Callaghan in San Francisco. That was the first and last thing to go completely right. San Francisco’s inferior radar left Admiral Callaghan with an incomplete tactical picture, and he was unable to discern whether the returns were his ships or the Japanese. In the ensuing melee, both Admirals Scott and Callaghan and twelve of the thirteen American ships were sunk or damaged. But the desperate action saved Henderson Field from bombardment by two Japanese battleships and kept the airfield in service. Admirals Callaghan and Scott and Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless, who assumed command after Admiral Callaghan was killed, would all receive the Medal of Honor for their actions that night.

Non-Linear Effects

The next day, Enterprise, the only remaining carrier in the theater and not fully capable of sustained air operations because of previous battle damage, flew off some of her air wing to operate from Guadalcanal under General Vandegrift.30 Over the next few days, U.S. joint air forces in the region, including the B-17s, would ravage Japanese surface forces. The crew of the battleship Hiei, whose ship was hit more than 85 times the night before and marooned near Savo Island with a jammed rudder, would scuttle their ship on the 13th after a prolonged day of repeated aerial assaults from Marine, Army, and Navy air forces.

B-17s of the 11th Bombardment Group based at Espiritu Santo bomb the damaged Japanese battleship Hiei north of Savo Island on November 13, 1942. Hiei, which was damaged in a naval battle off Guadalcanal hours earlier, appears to be trailing fuel. (Wikimedia Commons)

On November 14th, Enterprise steamed within range and launched coordinated strikes against Admiral Tanaka’s transport force, which was still steaming south to land reinforcements at Guadalcanal. The Americans launched a combined twelve sorties from Enterprise, Henderson Field, and Espiritu Santo, sinking seven of the eleven transports, with Enterprise pilots flying sorties from both Henderson and the aircraft carrier in the same day—the joint force operated fluidly to achieve a higher sortie rate than Enterprise alone could have generated.31 The remaining transports, though heavily damaged, continued on to Guadalcanal attempting to unload while being constantly harassed and further damaged by Marine fighters and B-17s. Admiral Halsey knew that the carriers could not be readily replaced and thus shepherded the platforms carefully. Air power was the critical capability, but the aircraft and aircrews were expendable. In this three-day battle, Admiral Halsey showed the novel fighting concepts of disaggregating the air wing and how effectively using the joint force in the maritime domain could reduce the risk to irreplaceable forces that needed to defend the objectives on land.

After four months of vicious, close-in fighting on land and sea, the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30th brought the initial campaign to a close. The United States had penetrated the Japanese barrier and gained a foothold in the region—the anti-access strategy had been broken. A captured Japanese document, reflecting on the campaign, put the case plainly: “It must be said that the success or failure in recapturing Guadalcanal Island, and the vital naval battle related to it, is the fork in the road which leads to victory for them or for us.” President Roosevelt would note, “It would seem that the turning point his this war has at last been reached.”32 Admiral Nimitz and his forces had gained the initiative only through a joint campaign.

Conclusion

As the Navy returns to conducting Fleet Problems and increasing readiness, the lessons from the campaign in the Solomons should be imbued into them.33

Geography reveals cold, hard truths about the ability to sustain a fleet beyond a single engagement. Campaigns at a distance require good stewardship of resources, national level commitment for support, and demands well-founded strategies at the strategic and operational levels to succeed. It drives how battles and wars are fought and won.

Resources will never be as plentiful as you would like. Learn to operate on a “shoestring” budget and still achieve your objectives. It requires tactical and operational level innovation and the freedom to experiment to prevail. Sometimes precious resources—ships and Sailors—must be sacrificed to protect the greater good. Do not forget the desired strategic outcome that put you there in the first place.

The pace of technological advancement and deployment is accelerating, but it cannot be allowed to drown our ability to fight. Officers and Sailors, on ships and shore alike, must embrace and thoroughly understand these technologies, and marry them with well-rehearsed, innovative doctrine to stay ahead of the enemy and prevail.

Maritime campaigns are fundamentally a joint effort at the strategic level. Failing to practice more creatively without joint (or even interagency) partners will harm combat effectiveness as a nation. Well-honed, integrated doctrine and tactics will deliver the non-linear effects in combat capabilities that we need to successfully deter aggression in the Pacific.

Our Navy plies the historic waters off the Solomons now; we need learn to fight there again. Send the joint force there now to figure it out.

Ryan Hilger is a Navy Engineering Duty Officer with the Strategic Systems Program in Washington, DC. His views are his own and do not reflect the opinion of the Department of Defense.

References           

[1] Sydney Freedberg, “Generals Worry US May Lose in Start of Next War: Is Multi-Domain the Answer?” Breaking Defense, May 14, 2018, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/05/generals-worry-us-may-lose-in-start-of-next-war-is-multi-domain-the-answer/

[2] Scott Swift. “Fleet Problems Offer Opportunities.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 144, No. 3, March 2018, https://www.usni.org/print/92920

[3] Scott Swift. “A Fleet Must Be Able to Fight.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 144, No. 5, May 2018, https://www.usni.org/print/93518

[4] David Wroe, “China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications,” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2018, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/china-eyes-vanuatu-military-base-in-plan-with-global-ramifications-20180409-p4z8j9.html

[5] “Duterte: Philippines is separating from US and realigning with China,” The Guardian, October 20, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/20/china-philippines-resume-dialogue-south-china-sea-dispute

[6] Naval Analysis Division, Marshalls-Gilberts-New Britain Party. The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific), 1946, p. 5.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Michael Hutchens, William Dries, Jason Perdew, Vincent Bryant, and Kerry Moores. “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons: A New Joint Operational Concept.” Joint Forces Quarterly, Volume 84, 1st Quarter 2017, p. 135.

[9] Samuel Tangredi. Anti-Access Warfare. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013), p. 13.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lawrence Freedman. The Future of War: A History. (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2017), p. 65.

[12] John Miller. Guadalcanal, The First Offensive. (Washington, DC: Department of the Army Historical Division, 1949), p. 4.

[13] The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, p. 7.

[14] Edward Miller. War Plan Orange. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007), p. 32-33.

[15] Elmer Potter. Nimitz. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976), p. 177-179.

[16] Scott Swift, A Fleet Must Be Able to Fight.

[17] Joseph Wylie. “On Maritime Strategy.” United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 1953, p. 468.

[18] John Miller, pp. 20-79.

[19] Samuel Eliot Morison. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942-February 1943. Volume V. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Co., 1949), p. 32.

[20] Ibid, p. 40.

[21] John Miller, p. 81.

[22] Tangredi, p. 16.

[23] Jeremy Hsu. “The Army Gets back in the Ship-Killing Business.” Wired, March 1, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/03/army-converting-missiles-ship-killers-china/

[24] Sydney Freedberg. “Marines Seek Anti-Ship HIMARS: High Cost, Hard Mission.” Breaking Defense, November 14, 2017, https://breakingdefense.com/2017/11/marines-seek-anti-ship-himars-high-cost-hard-mission/

[25] Ben Werner. “Pentagon Tests Next-Gen Anti-Ship Missile from Air Force B-1B Bomber.” USNI News, December 14, 2017, https://news.usni.org/2017/12/14/pentagon-tests-next-gen-anti-ship-missile-air-force-b-1b-bomber

[26] James Steele. “Running Estimate and Summary, 7 December 1941 – 31 August 1942.” War Plans and Files of the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet. American Naval Records Society, 2010.  Vol. 1, p. 605.

[27] John Miller, p. 58.

[28] Morison, 235-6.

[29] James Hornfischer. Neptune’s Inferno. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2012, p. 254.  

[30] John Miller, p. 186.

[31] Morison, pp. 264-269.

Naval Analysis Division, Marshalls-Gilberts-New Britain Party. The Campaigns of the Pacific War. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific), 1946, p. 126.

[32] Morison, p. 287.

[33] Swift, Fleet Problems.

Featured Image: STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Dec. 21, 2018) An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71 takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during a transit through the Strait of Hormuz, Dec. 21, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Grant G. Grady/Released) 181221-N-OM854-0135

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.