Please join us for February’s DC meet-up at the District Chophouse in D.C., 1 block from the Chinatown metro. Join us at this informal gathering to participate in a short discussion on the U.S. Navy’s Distributed Lethality concept and CIMSEC’s upcoming week on the topic, meet some interesting people, or just grab a beer.
The recent incident of two U.S. Navy riverine boats crossing into Iranian territorial waters around Farsi Island and the subsequent arrest and detention of their crews has sparked a debate on a number of related issues, including the behavior of the officers and crew to the larger geopolitical issue of America’s relationship with Iran and the recently concluded nuclear “deal”. CAPT Steven Horrell has suggested that much of this debate is really “partisan vitriol” and “a litmus test of opposing camps of foreign policy.” He argues that the OIC submitting to a video recording of his “apology” was “quite possibly his best course of action.” He rightly counsels that we do not yet know all of the relevant facts regarding this incident, and one hopes the Department of Defense investigation is swiftly conducted and made public. While he acknowledges that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) was wrong in its “initial treatment of the crew and propagandizing of the apology video,” he argues that the time for debate or calls to action are “not when the personnel are still on foreign soil …” He suggests that this may have been an attempt by the IRGC to “seize an opportunity” to use this incident to bolster their domestic political standing in Iran. At the end, however, CAPT Horrell seems more concerned about the “behaviors of our polarized body politic” than the long-term consequences to American power, prestige and yes, honor.
Why might scenes of Navy Sailors on their knees, hands on their heads, surrendering to IRGCN forces and later apologizing on camera cause such a visceral reaction among Americans? The answer may be found in antiquity, and was best articulated by Thucydides. More than 2,500 years ago, he identified “three of the strongest motives” that explained relations between states were “fear, honor and self-interest.” While he is considered the “father” of the “realist” school of international relations, his point about notions of honor and prestige are often overlooked. The eminent Yale historian and classicist, Donald Kagan, carefully articulates why, despite being considered antiquated by some academics and elites, “the notion that the only thing rational or real in the conduct of nations is the search for economic benefits or physical security is itself a prejudice of our time, a product of the attempt to treat the world of human events as though it were an inanimate, motiveless physical universe. Such an approach is no more adequate to explain behavior today than it ever was.” From this vantage point, Americans perceive that the systematic humiliation of American Sailors was a blow to our honor and prestige. Historically, Kagan notes, “when the prestige of a state wanes, so, too, does its power — even if materially … that power appears to remain unaffected.” Perhaps this is why, even coming on the heels of the Vietnam War, the Ford Administration reacted so assertively to the Cambodian seizure of the U.S.-flagged merchant vessel Mayaguez, as noted by retired Navy Captain and professor Jerry Hendrix. Even at a point in U.S. history where American power seemed at its weakest, the Khmer Rouge thought twice about taking on a superpower. The Farsi Island incident today seems to suggest that despite being a much stronger power than in 1975, the U.S. engenders much less fear, let alone respect, from its adversaries.
CAPT Harrell and others consider the capture and release of American Sailors a “larger diplomatic success.” He specifically notes that the release was “due almost wholly to the existing relationships between Presidents Obama and Rouhani and Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. This, in turn, is due to having achieved their nuclear agreement.” He suggests that when an incident occurs between two potential adversaries, “the first phone conversation better not be after the crisis has started.” This implies that prior to the current administration, there were no mechanisms for direct or indirect communication. However,the previous administration held 28 separate meetings with Iranian officials of ambassadorial rank, including 15 direct U.S.-Iran meetings. Clearly, there was someone to have a conversation with prior to President Obama taking office, and the U.S. and Iran had open diplomatic channels, if a cool relationship. Whether the release was due to an “existing relationship” or simply because the Iranians got what they wanted (a taped apology, propaganda videos and pictures of American military personnel surrendering) is hard to say. The Middle East Media Research Institute suggests it is more likely that Tehran did not want to delay the lifting of economic sanctions and to ameliorate the negative impression left from the burning of the Saudi Arabian embassy and consulate. In any case, focusing on the release of the Sailors ignores the larger question – what emboldened the IRGCN to feel like they could capture two U.S. Navy vessels in the first place? There seemed to be no reticence on the part of the Iranians to risk a confrontation, and therefore they could act with impunity – at least that is how it appears.
While we can all be thankful for the Sailors safe release, many have a much less sanguine view. This incident seems to embody a recent, growing perception of American weakness and decline. That belief is held here in America and around the world – especially among our adversaries. The fact that American honor is so easily besmirched and violated without fear of retribution only exacerbates this view. This is more than just “partisan vitriol” in my opinion, but a real and growing problem that should concern us all, regardless of party, as Americans.
LT Robert “Jake” Bebber is an Information Warfare officer assigned to U.S. Cyber Command. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Cyber Command or the Department of the Navy. He welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
Week Dates: Feb. 22-28 2016 Articles Due: Feb. 21 2016 Article Length: 800-1800 Words (with flexibility) Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org
By Ryan Kelly
Since we last discussed the Surface Navy’s operational concept of Distributed Lethality (DL) in July 2015, there has been a tremendous amount of progress on the topic. Distributed Lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power and defensive hardening of individual warships and then employing them not only in traditional roles, but also in different ways than has been the practice in the past few decades. Distributed Lethality enables Naval Surface Forces to provide forward, visible and ready combat power for the nation. Operating forward, Naval Surface Warships execute military diplomacy across a wide geography, building greater transparency, reducing the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promoting a shared maritime environment. Maintaining a persistent visible presence, Naval Surface Warships assure allies and partners and promote stability by deterring actions against U.S. interests. Providing credible combat power, Naval Surface Warships are ready to respond when called upon in times of crisis providing operational commanders’ options to control increased ocean areas and hold potential adversaries at risk, at range, whether at sea or ashore.
More recently, as highlighted at the Surface Navy Association’s annual Surface Navy Symposium, we were introduced to a deeper and more holistic update on Distributed Lethality, in terms of its value as both an organizational and operational concept. Organizationally, we heard that Distributed Lethality involves a comprehensive effort (much of VADM Rowden’s remarks discussed), that is focused on Tactics, Training, Talent and Tools (i.e., weapons, sensors and platforms; “if it floats it fights…,” of which the Director of Surface Warfare RADM Fanta’s presentation revealed). Operationally, we learned that Distributed Lethality involves harnessing 3 key initiatives to ensure we can fight and win in any environment: those initiatives are “to Deceive, Target and Destroy.”
There has been a significant investment in thinking about the problem throughout the past year. More recently, the approach to understanding the concept has been largely twofold: first, we’ve worked to understand what value DL could bring to the Surface Force and a step further, to the larger Fleet. We’ve approached this through three primary lines of effort: wargaming, analytics and operational experimentation. Studying the results of more than 15 wargames in 2015 alone, substantial analytics from multiple sources and operational experimentation deepened our understanding of the value that a distributed and more lethal Naval Surface Force can provide across a number of scenarios and ranges of conflict. We are training now for our first Adaptive Force Package deployment this Spring.
During the final week of February, CIMSEC will host a series focused on the next chapter of Distributed Lethality. The theme of the next chapter gravitates around the question of “how we fight” as a more lethal and distributed force. As such, we’ve listed some of the key issues that we seek to better understand. For example: How should the upcoming Adaptive Force Package be employed: including Tactical Situation (TACSIT) execution, organic and inorganic targeting, fielding of modified weapons, and improved integration with Amphibious Forces and Expeditionary Marine Corps units in support of sea control operations? What role does Distributed Lethality play in other joint concepts such as the DOD Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC)? How will the utilization and fielding of the F-35 (Navy and Marine Corps variants) contribute to the effectiveness of Distributed Lethality? What effect will cyber warfare have on the surface forces in the context of Distributed Lethality, both offensively and defensively? How can we better utilize the signature spectrum in a complex Anti-Access/Area Denial environment? How will the addition of a long range surface-to-surface missile affect both the deterrent and warfighting ability of the Surface Navy in the various phases of conflict? What are the legal implications of arming MSC ships, both for self-defense and for a more robust offensive role? How and to what extent should the Surface Navy incorporate other nations into Distributed Lethality? What are the risks of Distributed Lethality across the various phases of conflict?
Contributions can focus on the aforementioned key issues, or can explore Distributed Lethality in a broader strategic and operational context. Submissions should be between 800 and 1800 words in length (with flexibility) and submitted no later than February 21 to the CIMSEC editorial team at Nextwar@cimsec.org.