Category Archives: Current Operations

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A Navy Astray: Remembering How the Fleet Forgot to Fight

The following is adapted from remarks delivered at the annual CIMSEC Forum for Authors and Readers, covering the “How the Fleet Forgot to Fight” article series.

By Dmitry Filipoff

The article series covered many topics so I’ll try to narrow it down and focus on what I feel are some of the more important points.

When those two major reviews came out to try to explain why those fatal collisions happened out in the Pacific, one term that got used to describe how the Navy went wrong was the “normalization of deviation.” And this term is the main theme behind this article series, that the Navy is suffering from very serious self-inflicted problems and is deviating in many of its most important efforts in how it prepares for war. 

What specifically inspired these articles was writing published in Proceedings. Specifically, writing on the new Fleet Problem exercises by Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift, and also writing by the Pacific Fleet intelligence director, Captain Dale Rielage, especially an article of his called “An Open letter to the U.S. Navy from Red.” These articles helped spark the series because of how they describe the character of the Navy’s exercises. And given the incredible importance that military exercises have, this issue really sheds light on systemic problems throughout the Navy.

When looking into the Navy’s major exercises, the keywords and themes that kept coming up were traits such as high kill ratios, training one skillset at a time, poor debriefing, and weak opposition.

The structure of training certification in the Navy usually took the form of focusing on individual skillsets and warfare areas – anti-surface warfare and anti-air warfare, and so on. But these things were not often combined in a true, multi-domain fashion. Instead, exercise and training certification regimes often took the form of a linear progression of individual events.

Opposition forces were made to behave in such a way as to facilitate these events. However, a more realistic and thinking adversary would probably employ the multi-domain tactics and operations that are the bread and butter of war at sea. But instead the opposition often acted more as facilitators for simplistic target practice it seems, which is why very high kill ratios were the norm. But more importantly, a steady theme that kept reappearing was that the opposition pretty much never won.

There are so many of these events, so many training certifications that had to be earned in order to be considered deployable that Sailors feel extremely rushed to get through them. And these severe time pressures help encourage this kind of training.

If you are losing and taking heavy losses then you should be taking that extra time to do after action reviews and extensive debriefing to figure out what went wrong, how to do better, and understand why in real war your mistakes would’ve gotten your people killed. The way this kind of conversation plays out is fundamental to the professional development of the warfighter, and it is an important expression of the culture of the organization.

When it comes to debriefing culture within the Navy’s communities you can see a difference in the strike-fighter community, where candid debriefing is a more inherent part of the way they do business, but the opposite was very much true of the surface Navy’s system. And what is being described here also applies more broadly to how things were done for larger groups of ships such as at the strike group level.

But overall the Navy’s major exercises often took a scripted character, where the outcomes were generally known beforehand and the opposition was usually made to lose. Training only one thing at a time against opposition that never wins barely scratches the surface of war, but for the most part this was the best the Navy could do to train its strike groups for years.

So is this common? It looks like all the services have done heavily scripted exercises to some degree, but there is a major difference between what the Navy was doing, and what the Air Force and the Army have been doing for a long time.

Unlike the Navy, the Army and Air Force have true high-end training events that they rotate their people through. For the Air Force this is a major exercise called Red Flag, and for the Army this happens at the National Training Center. They compete against opposition forces that often inflict heavy losses and employ a variety of assets simultaneously. Those forces are composed of units that are dedicated toward acting as full-time opposition for these events, such as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, where units across the Army rotate through the National Training Center to face off against them specifically. The job of these standing opposition forces is to learn and practice the doctrine of foreign adversaries, and then put that into practice at these events to make for a more realistic fight.

But by comparison it seems the Navy doesn’t have a major standing formation to act as full-time opposition for the high-end fight. And as far as the Marines go, it looks like they have a history of issues that more closely resembles that of the Navy’s.

Now when it comes to the Chinese Navy, those public reports that the Office of Naval Intelligence puts out on foreign militaries paint a very different picture from what the U.S. Navy was doing. The Chinese Navy often trains multiple skillsets at a time, they do not always know the composition and disposition of the opposing forces they are facing off against, and they do not always know exactly what will happen when the event is about to go down.

They’ve been training like this for some time now, and with a specific emphasis on high-end warfighting at the very same time the U.S. Navy was focusing on the low-end spectrum of operations. The Chinese Navy has been focused on learning the more lethal skillset. So in very important respects, the Chinese Navy has been training much harder than the U.S. Navy for years.

Recently there have been some major changes for the U.S. Navy. There are the Fleet Problem exercises Admiral Swift started which seem to be the first consistent and truly challenging high-end exercise events the Navy has had in decades. The COMPTUEX exercise ships do before deploying is becoming more difficult, but through more virtual augmentation. The Surface Navy is going through these SWATT exercises which are now some of the most advanced events surface ships experience before integrating with strike groups.

But what all of these changes have in common is that they only began around two or three years ago. The extent to which the Navy will make the most of them is uncertain. What is clear however is that the corporate memory of the modern U.S. Navy is still heavily shaped by decades of quite unrealistic training.

But exercises go far beyond training. At the tactical level, they are the one activity that comes closest to real war. So exercises are supposed to play a vital function as proving grounds for all sorts of concepts, ideas, and capabilities. This goes to the very heart of one of the most important missions of a peacetime military, which is to develop the force for future conflict. The Navy’s exercise shortfall is far more than an issue of operator skill, it is a sweeping developmental problem.

Consider how you could go about exploring a new tactic, a wargame, or an operating concept. You come up with an idea, and refine it as much as possible through simulations or other methods. And then you finally try it out in the real world through an exercise. You make sure to use serious opposition to see where things may go wrong or backfire. You then rinse and repeat until you have a sturdy, resilient concept. And once you have that, you convert lessons learned in that experimentation into new training, you update the training events, and then rotate your people through those events so they have a chance to learn and apply the new thing.

But this isn’t how force development worked in the U.S. Navy.

When it comes to at-sea experimentation, relatively few warfighting ideas were ever tried in the real world to begin with. But if an idea managed to get tested in some sort of combat exercise it often went up against heavily scripted opposition. As a result, it had few (if any) rounds of trial and error.

But if they moved on in spite of that, the idea was perhaps turned into some publication that was then tucked away in a doctrine library somewhere. And there it’ll sit among many other publications that hardly anyone is really familiar with. 

But if they do happen to be familiar with it, they will not often have the chance to actually practice it and learn it in a live training event. But if they do have the chance to actually practice it, it most likely turned into just another check-in-the-box scripted certification event, lost among the dozens if not hundreds of other certification events that are all competing with each other for the time of the extremely busy Sailor. And the Sailors have no real choice but to rush through them and cut corners just to make due and get out on time for deployment.

What’s important to understand is that training is what makes force development stick. Training is what establishes that final connection between the skill of the deckplate Sailor, and all these warfighting concepts that are allegedly trying to evolve the force.

But so much of what the Navy did for force development didn’t go far because this habit of unrealistic exercising and this overflowing training certification system combined to doom so many warfighting concepts to being untested, unrefined, and untaught.  

For another important example on why training has to be linked with other parts of force development, you can look to the Navy’s wargaming enterprise. These wargames are really important to how the Navy thinks about the future, and among many things these wargames can inform war planning. But if you read more into it, these wargames aren’t nearly as scripted or as easy as the training events, and the fleet often takes very serious losses in these wargames. Especially against China. 

So what could be the implications of having a large disparity between the realism of training and the realism in wargaming? For one, it means the war plans the United States has drawn up for great power conflict are filled with tactics and operations for which the U.S. Navy has made barely any effort to actually teach to its people. To paraphrase a certain Defense Secretary, you go to war with the fleet you trained, not the one you wargamed.

Another major implication of the exercise shortfall was in how the Navy applied strategy to operations, or what the fleet was doing on deployment all these years. The Navy not only has the opportunity to work on force development within the work-up cycle, but also once ships are out on deployment. However, once ships deployed, their operations were mostly focused on missions that contributed little in the way of developing the fleet. 

It should be remembered that many of the low-end power projection missions that dominated Navy deployments during these past few decades, things like security cooperation, presence, and maritime security, were at first not seen as overriding demand signals for the Navy’s time. The strategy and policy documents the Navy was putting out just after the Cold War ended characterized the opportunity to do these missions as a luxury, one that was afforded to the Navy only through the demise of a great power competitor.

When it comes to the major campaigns the U.S. was involved in these past few decades, mainly Iraq and Afghanistan, what needs to be understood is that blue water naval power struggles to find relevance in these kinds of wars. A destroyer or a submarine can hardly do much to fight insurgencies or nation-build. So for the vast majority of the fleet’s ships they usually had to find other things for them to do with their time, including numerous missions that were certainly helpful but often optional

But because blue water naval power just cannot do much for counterinsurgency and nation-building campaigns, in the past twenty or so years of insurgent wars, if any of the services could have made the time to work on itself, it is the Navy.

In spite of their own crushing operational tempos the other services made sure to guarantee a large amount of time and forces for large-scale exercise events. Every year, hundreds of aircraft rotate through the Air Force’s Red Flag exercise, and a full third of the Army’s active duty brigades rotate through the National Training Center.

Compared to this the Navy is very different. It looks like for the past few decades the Navy has been spending almost all of its ready naval power on what the combatant commanders want.

So as the Navy looks to strike a new balance between spending its time on force development versus forward operations, this should be seen as an opportunity for the Navy to finally reclaim some of the fleet for itself, to devote ready naval power toward working on the Navy’s agenda and not just what combatant commanders want.

For example, the Navy will soon be standing up a surface development squadron that is exclusively focused on experimenting for force development. That is an example of guaranteeing time and ready naval power to be spent on solving Navy problems.

But overall, the Navy as an institution hardly recognizes force development as a major driver of fleet operations. Things like trying out wargames and concepts of operation in the real world must be recognized as some of the strongest possible demand signals for the Navy’s time and forces. So as the Navy reconfigures itself for great power competition it has to think about how it will strike a new balance between spending time on forward operations, versus spending time on working on itself.

The fleet can start with the strategic guidance the Navy has to align itself with. There is a new national defense and national security strategy that officially make great power competition the main priority. There is a mandate from the Chief of Naval Operations, for high-velocity learning, to learn better and faster. So what does the Navy need to learn about in an era of great power competition? A large part of that is high-end warfighting. So the Navy needs to identify what specific things have the most learning value when it comes to getting better at that specific problem set.

Look at the learning value of a Fleet Problem or a SWATT exercise, and compare it to maritime security missions or doing security cooperation with a third world nation. It should become plainly clear that these exercise events can teach the Navy far more about high-end warfighting than almost any forward operation. 

Some might say the Navy actually did work on itself in forward operations through exercising with numerous partners and allies. But the U.S. Navy often does not like sharing even moderately classified information with those partner fleets. This greatly limits the willingness of the Navy to flex its capability in front of partners abroad. There is also a lot of wariness over being watched by others when exercising in forward areas. 

And this is one of the major arguments that gets frequently raised about why the Navy shouldn’t do these exercises as much, that great power competitors are watching.

However, this is the modern state of competition. Great power competitors have their own satellite constellations, and they are hacking into your systems every single day, and they already know all kinds of things about you that you’d rather they not know. But this kind of heightened transparency between great power militaries is the new status quo. And for what it’s worth, when it comes to their exercises the Chinese realize they are being watched all the time but that doesn’t seem to be stopping them as much.

If the fact they are watching is enough to stop you from doing these events, then you will have allowed them to deter you from carrying out a vital learning experience. And if your forces are pushing hard in these exercises and defeating some serious opposition while competitors watch, then that could end up deterring them and working in your favor. But if they do happen to learn something from spying on your training then at least recognize that one thing they can never hack or steal is the skill of the warfighter. 

What the Navy has to do is break away from this tunnel vision-like focus it has had on forward operations for these past few decades, and do more to feed the colossal demand signal that is coming from the needs of force development. There are two elements that can drive this demand signal. One is the force development of competitors, and the other is the ever-evolving nature of disruptive capability surprise.

Looking at China, it is critical to understand that the Chinese military is an organization that is completely focused on its force development. They have no significant overseas operations that draw their attention elsewhere. And you can see the aggressiveness of their force development in the scale of their reforms. A few years ago they overhauled their theater command structure, created a new branch in the form of the Strategic Support Force, and cut several hundred thousand troops to shrink the size of the force for more even modernization. So it is important to recognize that the Chinese Military has made sure to retain enough decision space to make significant changes to its force development.

Looking at the Chinese Navy today, because their force has very few overseas commitments, the operating posture of their fleet has far more in common with the interwar period U.S. Navy than the modern U.S. Navy does. This can make them quite dangerous, because like the interwar period U.S. Navy (the Navy that would of course go on to win WWII) their operating posture allows them to spend most of their time on working on themselves.

Going to a second major demand signal of force development, that is disruptive capability surprise. Look at WWI, the machine gun, the trench, and big-gun artillery. When they finally put all these new capabilities together, it created a type of warfare that nobody had really seen before. Because of new technology the nature of tactical success had changed so much, but their peacetime force development failed to detect that. The surprise that came from those new weapons and the deadly tactics they produced was so disruptive that it ripped apart the operational and strategic plans of nations caught in great power war. 

So how to get a sense of that burden, of how much real-world experimentation needs to go into modern force development? Look to how networked combat between great power militaries has never happened before, or how fleet combat between great powers hasn’t happened since WWII. Look at everything that’s evolved since then. Electronic warfare, cyber, missiles, satellites, so much has changed, and our ability to truly know how all of that will actually come together to produce specific tactical dynamics and winning combinations is very difficult to know for sure.

Exploring the cross-domain nature of modern warfighting will be fundamental to understanding this problem. Consider the battleship, how if something is set up to where it’s gun line versus gun line, battleships will rule those engagements. But once other platforms are included, platforms that can act through other domains such as carriers, submarines, and land-based air, you can start to see how the tactics of one can rule out the tactics of another. So how could modern cross-domain interactions play out and reveal what’s decisive? This will drive up the resource burden for force development since it will demand experimenting with many different kinds of opposition at the same time, such as joint forces.

A lot of these questions are already being looked at by organizations within the Navy, but the furthest the analysis is able to go is often limited by virtual simulations. Some months ago we published an excellent piece on CIMSEC where people from the Naval Postgraduate School, mainly wargamers and operations research folks, discussed doing tens of thousands of simulations and models to discover tactics and operating concepts for a new unmanned surface ship. Those kinds of people certainly learn a lot about new tactics. But they will also tell you that they are absolutely craving more real-world experimentation.

Even so, it is still not enough to do realistic warfighting experiments and simulations. What is necessary is the candor and the will to act on their results, and the understanding that if a weapon is failing in the context of its application, then recourse must come through innovating its tactics. And if no tactical innovation can preserve a weapon’s utility, then it must be discarded. However, all the services and not just the Navy have some history of scripting their wargames and exercises in order to satisfy preexisting prejudices. But the politics of programmatics, the industrial base, and service identity should never be allowed to trump responsible force development. What is programatically comfortable today can easily cost lives and wars tomorrow. 

Whether it be the Navy’s paltry offensive firepower, its seriously degraded surge capacity, or poor standards for its vaunted Aegis combat system, the fleet is in dire need of course corrections. Now the U.S. Navy finds itself locked in great power competition against a rising maritime superpower, but only major change can ensure the American fleet will still command the seas. 

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2018) – An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin M. Langer/Released)

The Role of Public Affairs in U.S. Seapower, Pt. 2

By LCDR Arlo Abrahamson, USN

This is a continuation of Part 1, where we introduced the topic, discussed external influences on maritime strategy, and talked about the effects of transparency. Here, in Part 2, we will explore how to synchronize information power to enable maritime strategy, along with several counter-arguments and perspectives.

Synchronizing Information Power to Enable the Maritime Strategy

Another key factor in optimizing public affairs to best support the U.S. maritime strategy is through its synchronization with other aspects of U.S. information power. This is not to assert that synchronization efforts do not exist and are not sporadically effective. While structures are in place to routinely coordinate public affairs actions with both military information operations and public diplomacy, more cross-functional collaboration is imperative in the dynamic information environment where target audiences are increasingly blurred and overlapping.1  

The Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment manual affirms the lack of coordination between government information disciplines to achieve a fully holistic harnessing of information power, which involves informing the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of both friends and foes while minimizing the undue influence from adversaries.2 Many operational staffs already have procedures in place that assign public affairs planners to the information operations working group.3 While these working groups enable greater situational awareness of all information functions, it does not necessarily render more holistic strategic communication efforts.4 There is a necessary doctrinal separation that preserves the credibility of public affairs as a broker of truth while information operations may seek more aggressive influence campaigns.5 However, Duane Opperman points out that a significant portion of information operations is legislated in providing factual information to adversary audiences, which provides a nexus for coordination and de-confliction activities with public affairs.6

Within the maritime security sphere, synchronization efforts are particularly important when examining informational attacks from near-peer nations such as China or Russia on the U.S. maritime strategy. For example, the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda wing, which publishes the Global Times, routinely characterizes U.S. forward naval presence as dangerous and destabilizing for the Indo-Pacific region.7 These stories and narratives by Chinese propagandists make their way into domestic and international press, including U.S. allies and partners, potentially shaping public opinion through specious messaging that can degrade the credibility and perceptions of U.S. naval presence.

As a result, it is essential for military public affairs operations, in pursuit of credible messaging strategies, to collaboratively analyze narratives across the spectrum of U.S. information power to ensure important context and facts are optimized to counter misinformation from strategic competitors and adversaries.8 Kevin Petro, Chief of the Strategic Effects Division on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes that commanders can deter and even discredit adversary behavior when credible information and important factual data is messaged holistically.9 For example, in 2017 when a Russian fighter jets flew dangerously close to the destroyer USS Porter while operating in international waters in the Black Sea, the commander and crew presciently documented these unsafe maneuvers and transmitted the imagery to the U.S. European Command, where the imagery was used in diplomatic and media channels to demonstrate Russian aggression and violations of international law.10 As such, the actions of one tactical unit, combined with the synchronization of information by the U.S. government, enabled the misinformation campaigns and misdeeds of an adversary to be countered through multiple prongs of information power and thus maintain the credibility of U.S. forward naval presence.   

Counter Arguments and Alternative Perspectives

There are notable alternative perspectives regarding military applications of the information environment, the balancing of transparency with operational security, and synchronization of U.S. information power. National security leaders are increasingly aware of the impact of misinformation campaigns waged against the U.S. via social media and adversary propaganda, which is compelling some commanders to advocate for more latitude to leverage influence operations.11 Brigadier General Dennis Crall, the former Chief Information Officer of the Marine Corps, advocates for a more pointed response to adversary misinformation campaigns while noting influence campaigns should not be taboo to military information professionals:

“When it comes to influence, simply understanding the cognitive domain isn’t enough – you’ve got to do something about it. The ability to influence our adversaries – and, again, in a way of our time and choosing – is critical.”12

Moreover, Opperman contends that credibility concerns in waging influence operations are relative to a given situation.13 Opperman further posits that public affairs functionality concerns of maintaining credibility by shying away from overt influence activities are over emphasized and argues that members of the press and other external stakeholders should understand that “all operations, including public affairs and communications, are part of an overall military strategy.”14 

Regarding transparency, a notable cadre of security advocates including Henry Irving and Judith Townend argue that during World War Two, strict government control of military information in otherwise open societies enabled operational success in both Britain and the U.S., and contemporary applications may be appropriate today.15 Irving and Townend contend that operational security has waned via adversaries taking advantage of Western systems of openness in government and military institutions.16 Moreover, Tim Hsia argues that competing goals of secrecy to generate surprise versus transparency create natural friction and mistrust of journalists that compels some commanders to seek caution and avoid press engagements.17 Other analysts attribute a perceived trend toward political punditry and eroding journalistic standards caused by the diffusion of media actors in social media and online web forums as the primary cause of mistrust in relationships with the media.18

There are also ranging philosophical debates about the synchronization of public affairs and information operations with some advocates arguing for extremely limited interaction between the disciplines to those who believe that the two fields should be fully integrated. One theory posits that if public affairs professionals participate in counter information campaigns from adversaries, it would give legitimacy to the enemy’s propaganda and delegitimize public affairs information.19 Conversely, Tad Sholtis argues that public affairs and information operations functions should be more than synchronized, but rather integrated operational functions with the combined capability to reach the audiences of allies, partners, and foes alike.20

The synchronization of military public affairs with public diplomacy functions also invokes debate. Steven Stashwick notes that the size of the Department of Defense and the Navy with their vast resources often creates “mission creep” into traditional State Department functions, to include public diplomacy communication.21 He argues that the State Department, which manages holistic and long-term relationships with a given country, should be laying the groundwork for the initial phases of security cooperation engagements contending that “military access and partnerships all require engagement beyond the parameters of the Department of Defense.”22 Noting the U.S. maritime strategy is primarily executed abroad, all of the aforementioned arguments and alternative perspectives must be addressed and reconciled for the strategy to have long-term success.

Conclusions

Admiral John Kirby contends that when the DoD and the Navy fail to communicate consistently, authentically, and with credibility, the U.S. effectively cedes the narrative to its adversaries.23 Moreover, Davis maintains the best way to counter misinformation and disinformation campaigns is to not act in the same coercive and manipulative manner of U.S. adversaries, but to “double down on our values” – values of truth and transparency that strengthen the U.S. position and ultimately allow its strategies to prevail over time.24 

While influence campaigns should not be taboo for information operations, commanders must carefully analyze how any such campaign affects the public domain where their public affairs officers will be operating to ensure long-term credibility and trust are not degraded. This is particularly important in supporting prolonged initiatives such as the U.S. maritime strategy. 

Additionally, operational security and promoting U.S. values of openness and transparency do not have to be a point of conflicting goals. Stavridis notes that commanders can speak comprehensively about the U.S. Navy’s capabilities, strategic presence, and partnerships without giving away tactics, techniques, and procedures: 

“Without in any way revealing secrets, it is possible to engage the global media to showcase U.S. military capabilities. All that helps create real deterrence by giving potential enemies pause. It also encourages allies to stay on our team.”25   

Moreover, while one might argue that reporters are difficult to work with and sometimes do things the military does not like, the same may be said for external relationships of all kinds to include U.S. allies and partners, but commanders still engage with them, as they understand that relationships with allies and partners impact operational success. 

The equation is no different with the relationships with the press. Difficult relationships are not an excuse for transparency to wane.

While there are numerous arguments about how public affairs can synchronize efforts with information operations and public diplomacy channels, the principal function of public affairs as a trusted intermediary between the military and the media is imperative for maintaining a credible voice in press coverage that impacts the success or failure of U.S. naval strategies. In an era where truth is often blurred by adversary misinformation and disinformation campaigns, there is even more precedent for public affairs to function as the primary purveyor of credible information that the Navy’s public stakeholders can trust. Accordingly, the value of thoughtful, factual, and contextual messaging that deters adversaries and helps maintain the support of allies and partners affects the ability for naval forces to effectively operate at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.   As Navy ships in particular are sovereign representations of national power, the public perception of deterrence and confidence in U.S. capabilities impacts even one U.S. ship operating in a forward operating environment. 

Notwithstanding, it is imperative that public affairs professionals cooperate and synchronize factual messaging with information operations and public diplomacy nodes of U.S. information power. And yes, there are times when it is more appropriate for public diplomacy personnel to lead communication on various aspects of military operations as it relates to nation-to-nation relationships. Yet none of this rationale precludes the impact and requirement for a credible intermediary that an optimized military public affairs function can provide for the Navy to pursue its maritime strategy. 

As such, the best way to ensure that public affairs programs can support the maritime strategy is to ensure the Department of Defense and the Navy remain a credible and trusted arbitrator of information, to promote transparency in an authentic and balanced manner with operational security, and to synchronize information yet maintain distinctly separate lines between public affairs and information operations.  This modality for public affairs must be standard across the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to be effective.  It will require commanders, public affairs officers, and operators to understand and align their public affairs programs in a unified and consistent manner.  Communicating consistently and thoughtfully must be a priority and leaders must lean forward and take some of the same calculated risks with public communications as they do in other military operations when opportunities are presented to enhance strategic narratives. In this approach, public affairs can be optimized to effectively support the U.S. maritime strategy and the long-term viability of the U.S. Navy.

Lt Commander Arlo Abrahamson is a recent graduate of the Naval War College and a career Navy public affairs officer. He has served globally supporting strategic communication, security cooperation, and public diplomacy initiatives for the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U. S. Government or the Department of Defense.

Endnotes

1. John Kirby,  “The Information Environment Today,” lecture filmed May 2016 at the Naval War College, Newport R.I., video, 30:58, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYyoRo5_Alw

2. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Operations in the Information Environment, (Washington, DC: GPO, July 25, 2018), 1-4.

3. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations, (Washington DC: GPO, November 2012).

4. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Operations in the Information Environment, (Washington, DC: GPO, July 25, 2018), 1-4.

5. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs, (Washington DC: GPO, November 17, 2015),1-14.

6. Duane Opperman, “Information and Public Affairs: A Union of Influence,” U.S. Army War College Strategy Research Project Paper, (March 22, 2012): 7, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a561834.pdf.

7. Junshe Zhang,  “U.S. Meddling Disrupts Peace in South China Sea,” Global Times, July 25, 2017, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1057993.shtml.

8. Duane Opperman, “Information and Public Affairs: A Union of Influence,” U.S. Army War College Strategy Research Project Paper, (March 22, 2012): 5.

9. Kevin Petro, Colonel, U.S. Army, Joint Staff, email correspondence with author, April 17.

10. Ivan Watson, Sebastian Skukla, “Russian Planes Buzz U.S. Warship in Black Sea,” CNN, Feb 16, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/us/russia-us-ship-fly-by/index.html.

11. John Kirby, Rear Admiral (ret), email correspondence with the author, April 16, 2019.

12. Gidget Fuentes, “Marine CIO: Don’t Fear Deception in the Information Warfare Mission,” USNI, Feb 27, 2107, https://news.usni.org/2017/02/27/marines-cio-dont-fear-deception-information-warfare-mission.

13. Duane Opperman, “Information and Public Affairs: A Union of Influence,” U.S. Army War College Strategy Research Project Paper, (March 22, 2012): 9 https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a561834.pdf.

14. Ibid, 6.

15. Henry Irving, Judith Townend, “Censorship and National Security:  Information Control Second World War and Present Day,” History and Policy.Org, February 10, 2016, 1-4, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/censorship-and-national-security-information-control.

16. Ibid.

17. Tim Hsia, “The Uneasy Media/Military Relationship,” New York Times At War Blog, June 15, 2011, https://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/the-uneasy-media-military-relationship/.

18. Margaret Sullivan, “More Facts, Fewer Pundits: Here’s how the Media can Regain the Public’s Trust,” Washington Post, Jan 17, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/more-facts-fewer-pundits-heres-how-the-media-can-regain-the-publics-trust/2017/01/29/9c0232ba-e4a7-11e6-a453-19ec4b3d09ba_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1d0ec7dc854e.

19. “Information Operations and Public Affairs,” Small Wars Journal, Aug 2012, https://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/public-affairs-and-information-operations

20. Tad Sholtis, “Public Affairs and Information Operations, a Strategy for Success,” Air and Space Journal, (Fall 2005):10-14.

21. Steven Stashwick, “The Militarization of Foreign Policy: The Military Mission drives Foreign Engagement,” EastWest Center Forum, Jan 31, 2017, https://www.eastwest.ngo/idea/militarization-foreign-policy-military-mission-drives-foreign-engagement-part-i.

22. Ibid.

23. John Kirby, Rear Admiral (ret), email correspondence with author, April 15, 2019.

24. Jeff Davis, “Retirement Remarks – The Future of Public Affairs,” Linked In, Oct 2019, https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-davis-07624a76/.

25. James Stavridis, “It’s been over 300 days since a Pentagon Press Briefing: That should concern all Americans including the Military,” Time Magazine, April 16, 2019, http://time.com/5571643/pentagon-press-briefings/.

Featured Image: NORFOLK, Va. (June 13, 2019)–Capt. David Murrin (left), UNSN Comfort’s ship’s master, Capt. B. J. Diebold (center), USNS Comfort’s mission commander and Capt. Kevin Buckley, USNS Comfort’s medical treatment facility commanding officer address members of the media during a press conference, at Naval Station Norfolk, prior to the hospital ship’s deployment to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, June 13.(U.S. Navy photo by Shevonne Cleveland/released)

Admiral, I Am NOT Ready For War

The following article originally published on gCaptain and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Captain John Konrad (gCaptain)

“It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.” -John F. Kennedy

As has been the case before every major world conflict a majority of citizens believe that peace will persist indefinitely and, as a civilian myself, I tend to agree that a large-scale war with a major superpower like China or Russia is unlikely. Regardless of my views, the United States military is spending billions to prepare for war against China in the hopes that being fully prepared for war is the most effective means of preserving peace.

This article is not intended to support or speak out against the U.S. military’s efforts to prepare for a war against China and it is not to discuss the wisdom of my nation’s military decisions. It is only written with one purpose. That purpose is to acknowledge two absolute facts today: that the U.S. Military is preparing for war and I, an American merchant ship captain, am not ready. 

What Is The U.S. Merchant Marine

“The U.S. Merchant Marine is in every war plan that I review, I guarantee you, because you’re going to be the fourth arm of defense.” -Former U.S. Secretary Of Defense James Mattis.

Members of today’s United States Merchant Marine (USMM) do not wear uniforms, they do not cut their hair short, they are not active duty military, and only a few are in the U.S. Navy Reserve. They do not get veterans benefits, special privileges, government healthcare or retirement pay. They have no special right to carry weapons on land or enter most military bases without special permission. They are civilians. 

Some members of the merchant marine wore uniforms while they attended maritime academies that must, by federal statute, follow military traditions. Others have never worn a uniform of any kind. Yet the importance of the merchant marine in past military successes is undeniable and all of today’s military flag officers admit they play a central role in all future war plans

But what is the Merchant Marine?

The truth is that despite having worn the uniform of a U.S. Merchant Mariner in college, despite having been a proud member of the U.S. Merchant Marine for over 20 years, and despite having risen to the rank of Captain… I’m still not sure what the Merchant Marine is. Yes, I have a strong understanding of its role in commerce and national defense, but I only have the foggiest of clues what the U.S. Merchant Marine is. 

As a journalist I have asked this very question (what is the U.S. Merchant Marine?) to our nation’s leadership, I have asked our Merchant Marine Veterans, award-winning historians, and the highest ranking U.S. military officials. Each has answered my question with a slightly puzzled look and vague statements about our role in national defense. 

In 1938 congress established the United States Maritime Service (USMS) to answer that question and established uniform standards, training requirements, and structure. Those regulations still exist and the USMS lives on today. We have a Commandant, we have Admirals and Commodores, and we have our own service academy, but not much else. 

Am I a Captain in the U.S. Merchant Marine? Absolutely! What is my role or rank in the US Maritime Service? Am I allowed to wear a uniform? If so, can I wear my navy medals on it? Do I salute? Does anyone salute me? Where do I report if war breaks out? Who at the USMS can I call with questions? 

Answer: I haven’t got a clue.

Equipment Versus People

“Remember, terrain doesn’t wage war. Machines don’t wage war. People do and they use their mind!” –Col. John Boyd, USAF

While the status of mariners in the USMM and USMS is vague and nebulous the status of ships is well-defined. Currently 81 U.S.-flagged ships sail internationally and our fleet of reserve ships are battered, old, and wholly insufficient for war. “Our sealift fleet is able to generate only 65 percent of our required capacity” said Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), last month. “And is rapidly approaching the end of [its] useful life.” 

U.S. Maritime Administrator (and USMS Commandant) Rear Admiral Mark Buzby has made no secret of our need to build new ships and refurbish our fleet. The problem is that ships are expensive, take years to design and build, and do not capture the nation’s imagination like a new destroyer does. Most merchant ships are ugly but absolutely essential because there is simply no other way to move equipment and materials into theaters of war overseas. 

Nearly everyone in the United States military and Merchant Marine, including myself, readily agrees that we need to do more to support domestic shipbuilding. That said, everyone secretly knows another fact that few are willing to admit publicly. The fact is that in a large-scale war against China the United States can take the ships we need or demand them from our allies.

What we can’t demand is that foreign sailors man these ships and sail them into combat. For that we will need strong allies and highly competent and well-trained American sailors. 

Today’s American merchant sailors are well-trained and experienced but we are lacking skills in the latest technology and, as the number of U.S. flagged ships decreases, so do our numbers. According to Adm. Buzby the USMM is about 1800 mariners short of the numbers needed to do sustained sealift operation using today’s reserve assets (which are also insufficient).

If we can’t fully crew the ships we have available, how can we crew the ships we need? The answer is, I don’t know.

Are Mariners Prepared For War?

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”–Archilochos

During WWII the USMS invested enormous resources in training merchant mariners for war. Large training facilities were built across the nation and both naval and civilian instructors worked together to teach sailors how to survive the dangers of war. 

Not long ago USMM officers could enroll in basic classes on subjects like avoiding mines, joining a convoy, and secure communications. Then MARAD shut down the last school that offered these courses. Today a small percentage of U.S. Merchant Mariners receive basic military instruction as part of the Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officer program. This program however, lacks a cohesive structure, objective, and scope. And it is only open to those willing to join the Navy Reserves. 

Others that sail on ships contracted by the military take some basic classes including firearms and CBRD (Chemical Biological Radiological Defense) but the scope of these classes is limited to basic self defense.

Personally I attended four years of school at a merchant marine academy, sailed on ships for ten years, spent thousands of hours studying for U.S. Coast Guard Examinations, sat in hundreds of hours of post-graduate classroom instruction and demonstrated my knowledge and experience in  myriad of ways before earning a license to master the world’s largest ships.

Yet in all those years of study there are some questions I never learned the answers to:

How do I join a military convoy?

How do I share information with Naval Intelligence?

How do I contact a naval vessel on a secure line?

How do I navigate a minefield?

Will zig-zagging help me avoid modern submarines?

What do I secure for radio silence?

How do I darken ship to naval standards?

The answer to all these questions (and countless more) is, again, I don’t have a clue.

In recent months the U.S. Navy has been honest in telling mariners that, in the event of a major war with China or Russia, the U.S. Navy is going to be busy with combat operations and we can not expect naval escort. What they don’t tell us is that they also have no plans to train us to defend ourselves. 

Am I, as a captain in the USMM ready to sail my ship into contested waters? 

The answer is I am fully ready to sail my ship anywhere, even into conflicted waters, everywhere except into large-scale war. 

Will I Take Command Of A Ship During War?

“American needs to do its best for all our veteran families” –R. Lee Emery

I am convinced the nation will need the help of my fellow American ship masters but how many of us will join the war effort?

Based on historical evidence and the level of patriotism and will of today’s Merchant Marine most experts believe that, in times of war, a majority will answer the call. 

But is this true? During WWII President Roosevelt made a promise to all Merchant Mariners that they would receive full veteran status after the war. WWII mariners, however, did not receive any official veteran status for 40 years after the war and are still fighting for full veteran status today

Personally I can not answer for my fellow merchant mariners. I can only answer for myself. As an American I believe it’s my duty to serve my nation during a major crisis and I would absolutely sail into harm’s way. But why? The reason is I am a father and I want my children and grandkids to grow up in a free country and have the opportunity for a happy life. But that’s also the rub.

If war broke out tomorrow and I was killed or injured in the service of my nation who would take care of my family? Would my children be able to go to a Veterans Hospital if they got sick? Would they be eligible for any scholarships? Would they receive any financial compensation from the government?

Would they even be able to fly the gold star with a blue edge flag outside their house? The flag that represents a family member who died during military operations? Would my wife even be eligible to join veteran family support groups?

The answer to these questions is…I don’t know.

And so is the answer to the question of my willingness to captain a merchant ship into the next war… I don’t know.

A Message To Commandant Buzby

Commandant Buzby, many thanks for your tireless and continual effort over the last year to support the U.S. Merchant Marine. We American merchant mariners are truly grateful. Personally I would like to thank you for inviting me to Washington to review my criticism of MARAD’s efforts. Your efforts are making a difference and I thank you. 

That said, the next fight will not be about the number or condition of our ships or the strength of our enemy. We can not out build the new manufacturing nations. We only have one option to win the next war and that is by focusing on people.

To prepare this nation please prepare me and my fellow mariners. Let us train with the navy at no cost, ask the nation to subsidize not just ships but officer training, bring back the USMS, and let us know we are wanted by issuing DD214’s to all U.S. mariners who served in combat zones.

If the Navy continues to marginalize and ignore our needs then our nation will lose, but convince the military to help us train and make us feel like part of the team…and we will help the country win. 

Time is not on our side, we must do this now. 

A Message To Admiral Moran

To Admiral Moran, as our soon-to-be Chief of Naval Operations, do not let war be the reason we start working together. We can’t wait that long. Admiral Buzby and MARAD are working tirelessly to prepare the USMM for war but they do not have your budget, your influence, or your ability to mandate immediate change… and the civilian companies our Merchant Mariners work for today are just not going to prepare mariners for a full-scale conflict. Most don’t believe a full-scale conflict will ever take place. 

The ball is in your court. Please help us so that when you need our help we are ready. 

Captain John Konrad is the founder and CEO of gCaptain and author of the book Fire On The Horizon. John is a USCG licensed Master of Unlimited Tonnage, has sailed a variety of ships from ports around the world, and is a distinguished alumnus of SUNY Maritime College.

Featured Image: Atlantic Ocean (Oct. 17, 2005) — The Military Sealift Command (MSC) underway replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO-198) underway in the Atlantic Ocean. (Wikimedia Commons)

Easter Terrorist Carnage and Revitalizing Counterterrorism in Sri Lanka

By Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage

Dust is settling in Sri Lanka after one of the most devastating and heinous terrorist attacks against Christians and foreign visitors (civilians) on 21st April 2019. It was supposed to be a day of glory and celebrations for Christians the world over. However, it turned out to be a day of horror and repugnance for Sri Lankans. The security forces and the police are doing a commendable job in taking follow-up action and are in the process of arresting large numbers of radicalized persons, criminals, and recovering large quantities of illegal weapons, explosives, detonators, vehicles, communications equipment, and forged passports and National Identity Cards. There were even several follow-on gun battles and explosions.

There is now country-wide fear and psychosis with many people staying at home unless it is really essential for them to go out. Schools and other educational institutions have been closed and all types of fanfare, musical shows, and festivities have been stopped. The print and electronic media is trying their best to keep the population informed of the developing situation as well as advising on precautions to be taken. Religious leaders of all denominations led by His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith are sending message after message appealing to their followers to practice tolerance and requesting them not to take the law into their own hands, which has prevented the escalation of violence against the innocent Muslim populations.

Terrorism and Counterterrosim

The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change described terrorism as any action that is “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

In short, terrorism could be described as basically indiscriminate violence against non-combatants to achieve political, religious, or some other objective. While terrorism is a tactic that cannot be entirely eradicated, steps can be taken to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat organizations that use terrorism. Counterterrorism is defined in the U.S. Army Field Manual as “Operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism.” This definition is more concrete but has its strengths and weaknesses.  First, it correctly states that counterterrorism is an all-inclusive doctrine including prevention, deterrence, preemption, and responses, which would require bringing to bear all aspects of a nation’s power both domestically and internationally.  Second, this definition includes everything but essentially differentiates nothing, which is a problem. 

Counterterrorism is a difficult concept to define, especially in democracies.  There is no universally applicable counter-terrorism policy since every conflict involving terrorism has its own unique characteristics. Democracies must make respect for civil liberties and the rule of law, a staple in their counterterrorism strategies. While this ambition for liberal democracies is admirable and complies with championed democratic principles, it does not always amount to a counterterrorism strategy – these should be simply highly valued principles meant to guide counterterrorism. Counterterrorism (also called anti-terrorism) incorporates the practice, military tactics, techniques, and strategy that government, military, police and other organizations use to combat or prevent terrorism. It must be remembered that human rights and individual freedoms are good, but the right to live is most important. The Easter Bombings took away the right to live from nearly 250 innocent civilians.

The Easter Bombings have created a major problem in Sri Lanka. A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims is a terrorist. A terrorist was originally seen as a person from an underprivileged community, less educated, less economically sound, lower social status, victimized, and motivated for a cause. However, in the 21st bombing the terrorists are reported to be highly educated, both locally and in abroad, from rich families, economically sound, exposed to the world and believers of a religious sect, and highly motivated for a cause even against the mainstream religion of their culture. This showcases a significant degree of indoctrination, facilitated either locally or by foreign influence.

Lessons to be Learned from the Easter Bombings

The Easter Bombings have clearly displayed the vulnerability of Sri Lanka, its community, and installations to a terrorist attack. It reveals that almost any target could have been selected by a terrorist and been attacked. These incidents also prove that national security has been quite at the bottom of the country’s agenda despite the fact the country experienced a protracted conflict against a very formidable terrorist organization for nearly three decades. In simple words, there was a lack of security culture in the country. We have not been able to take effective, timely counter-action to prevent, deter, or detect these perpetrators despite credible intelligence warnings. Insufficient attention was given to intelligence warnings due to a lack of security culture.

It must be remembered that intelligence is not mere information. Many strands of information need to be gathered, collated, and evaluated in order to derive effective actionable intelligence. Thereafter it must be disseminated to the necessary agencies and personnel. It must be remembered that intelligence means different things to different agencies based on their own expertise and the domain they focus on. The multiple intelligence organizations in the country need to be integrated, a practice we developed and effectively used toward the end of the civil war which devastated the country. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the full picture only comes together when the pieces are effectively combined. However, we need to look beyond the picture and link, evaluate, and identify trends, both locally and internationally, which would enable us to predict with certain accuracy and make intelligence actionable. The sharing of intelligence, taking prompt action, and then follow-up action are all key to successful counter terrorism operations.

Even then, unless there is a positive national security culture, this actionable intelligence will not find its due place in the hands of decision-makers. Sri Lanka is a small island state geo-strategically located at arguably the most critical location in the Indian Ocean, among competing spheres of influence of major powers. Furthermore, the country has come out of a prolonged conflict. Therefore, all our actions, our foreign relations, the development of infrastructure, and the development of economy must give due consideration and priority to national security. 

The Way Forward

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka, which prided itself on being the only country in the contemporary world to completely defeat terrorism on its soil, is bleeding again. It is believed that with a proper national security culture the Easter carnage could have been prevented or the impact minimized. Unfortunately, it was not the case. Terrorists achieved what they wanted – to create fear and psychosis by mayhem and death of large numbers of innocent civilians, and earning worldwide media coverage. This dastardly act will not quickly fade given how the suffering of the people has been immense.

But we need to move on. We need to keep national security as our upper-most priority and create a culture of security. Countering terrorist activities cannot be done by government forces alone. It has to be a comprehensive effort and a whole-of-nation approach, similar to what we had toward the end of the separatist conflict. Not only did Sri Lanka finally overcome the most ruthless terrorist organization in May 2009, but we were not caught in the conflict trap as no major terrorist event took place for nearly ten years until the Easter Bombings. We had the best models of rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconstruction during the post-conflict period.

We must rise above the radicalized elements and evil forces that are waiting to destroy us. We are in desolation but not in despair. There is hope in humanity. Together we will survive but divided we perish. The choice is ours, but we owe it to the country and future generations.

Admiral (Dr.) Jayanath Colombage is a former chief of the Sri Lanka Navy who retired after an active service of 37 years as a four-star admiral. He is a highly decorated officer for gallantry and distinguished service. He is a graduate of Defence Services Staff College in India and Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. He holds a PhD from General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. He also holds MSc on defence and strategic studies from Madras university and MA on International Studies from Kings college, London. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo, Defence Services Command and Staff college (Sri Lanka), Kotelawala Defence University, Bandaranaike Center for International Studies and Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute. He was the former Chairman of Sri Lanka Shipping Corporation and an adviser to the President of Sri Lanka on maritime affairs. He is a Fellow of Nautical Institute, London UK. Admiral Colombage is currently the Director of the Centre for Indo- Lanka Initiatives of the Pathfinder Foundation. He is also a member of the Advisory council of the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka. He is also a Guest Professor at Sichuan University in China.

Featured Image: Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine a day after the series of blasts, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)