Tag Archives: U.S. Navy

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Europe’s Role in an East Asian War

Major war in East Asia is a very unpleasant, but not unthinkable scenario. Of course, the US would be involved from day one in any military conflict in the East or South China Seas. However, Europe’s role would be less clear, due to its increasing strategic irrelevance. Most probably, except the UK, Europeans would deliver words only.

Europe’s reactions depend on America

While Asia’s naval arms race continue, tensions are rising further in the East and South China Seas. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any side will lunch a blitz-strike and, thereby, start a regional war. Although China is increasing its major combat capabilities, it is instead already using a salami-slicing tactic to secure its large claims. However, the worst of all threats are unintended incidents, caused for example by young nervous fighter pilots, leading to a circle of escalations without an exit in sight.

Claims in the South China Sea (The Economist)

Hence, let us discuss the very unpleasant scenario that either there would be a major war between China and Japan or between China and South China Sea neighboring countries, such as Vietnam or the Philippines. Of course, the US would be involved in the conflict from day one. But what about Europe? The Old Continent would surely be affected, especially by the dramatic global economic impact an East Asian War would have. However, reactions of European countries would largely depend on what the US is doing: the larger the US engagement, the louder Washington’s calls for a coalition of the willing and capable will count.

The UK would (maybe) go

The Royal Navy undertakes annual “Cougar Deployments” to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the UK still has expeditionary capabilities to join US-led operations in East of Malacca. Disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan by the destroyer HMS Daring and the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious proved that British capability. While Daring is a sophisticated warship, the 34 year old Illustrious with her few helicopters and without fixed-wing aircraft would not be of much operational worth.

Royal Navy SSN in the Suez Canal in 2001 (The Hindu)

Moreover, since 2001, the Royal Navy always operates one SSN with Tomahawk cruise-missiles in the Indian Ocean, probably the most sophisticated high-intensity warfare platfrom the Royal Navy would have to offer for an East Asia deployment. The UK still has access to ports in Singapore and Brunei, although there is no guarantee that these countries, when not involved in the conflict, would open their ports for British ships underway to war. Australia, which is likely to join forces with the US, would be an other option for replenishment at the port of Darwin.

Polar Route (Wikipedia)

Through the Polar Route (a route European airlines used while Soviet airspace was closed) and with aerial refueling or stops in Canada and Alaska, Britain could also deploy some of its Eurofighters to Japan. As such, Britain would be capable of doing, at least, something.

 The question is,if Britain is willing to take action. Surely, UKIP’s Nigel Farage would not hesitate to use the broad public reluctance to expeditionary endeavors for his’ own cause. As in case of Syria, a lack of public support at home could prevent the UK from a military involvement. It would be hard for any UK Government to sell to the British voter to cut back public spending at home while signing checks for the Royal Navy heading towards East Asian waters.

France would not make a difference

Beside the US, France is the world’s only navy with a permanent presence through bases in all three oceans. Although, with one frigate, France’s Pacific presence of surface warships is relatively small. The one Tahiti-based French frigate deployed to an East Asian theater would not make a difference, but be a rather small show of force.

French frigate in Bora-Bora 2002 (Wikipedia)

Like Britain, France permanently operates warships in the Indian Ocean, which it could also deploy to East Asia. Its nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle and SSN would also be able to tour beyond Singapore, however with a relatively long reaction time.

Paris’ main hurdle would be the same as London’s: The lack of public support. Le Pen would do exactly the same as UKIP and mobilize publicly against a French engagement and, thereby, against the government. Moreover, France has not the money necessary for any substantial and high-intensity engagement. In addition, a weak president like Hollande would fear the political risks. Given the operation ends in a disaster for the French, e.g. with the Charles de Gaulle sunk by the Chinese, Mr. Hollande would probably have to resign. Hence, do not expect an active role of France during an East Asian conflict.

No role for NATO and EU 

On paper, NATO, with its Standing Maritime Groups, seems to be capable of deploying relevant naval forces across the globe. In practice, however, any mission with a NATO logo needs approval of 28 member states. Due to NATO’s present pivot to Russia, many members would object any new NATO involvement outside the Euro-Atlantic Area. As the US prefers coalitions of the willing and capable anyway, there would be no role for NATO in an East Asian war.

In addition, there is also no role for the EU. Since 2011, the rejections each year to the EU for observing the East Asia Summit are showing Brussels’ enduring strategic irrelevance in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, neutral EU members, like Sweden and Austria, would never allow any active involvement. It is even questionable, if EU members could agree on a common political position or sanctions – something they have already failed to do often enough.

Dependent on the size and kind of US response, smaller European countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway may join forces with the US Navy and send single vessels through the Panama Canal into the Pacific or replace US warships on other theaters. This is not far from reality, because these countries did already sent warships into the Pacific for the RIMPAC exercise. However, their only motivation would be to use these deployments to make their voices better heard in Washington.

What would Germany do?

First of all, Germany is the enduring guarantee that, when confronted with major war in East Asia, NATO and EU will do nothing else than sending out press releases about their “deep concern”. Being happy that ISAF’s end terminates the era of large expeditionary deployments, Germany’s political class would never approve an active military role in East Asia – left aside that Germany would not be able to contribute much, anyway.

Sino-German Summit 2012 (Source)

Germany would first and foremost defend its trade relationships with China, which is in its national interests. Thus, the much more interesting question is, if the German government would develop the a diplomatic solution. Germany has very good relationships with the US, China, Japan and South Korea. Vietnam and other South East Asian countries have frequently expressed greater interest in deeper cooperation with Germany.

Hence, Germany has the political weight necessary to work for a diplomatic solution. The question is whether German politicians would be willing to work for that solution themselves. Most probably, Berlin’s press releases would call for the United Nations and the “International Community” (whoever that would be in such a scenario) to take action.

What Germany could do and what would get approval at home, is to implement measures of ending hostilities and re-establishing peace – maybe by an UN-mandated maritime monitoring mission or by the build-up of a new trust-creating security architecture.

Europe’s limits

The debate about a European role in an East Asian major war is largely hypothetical. Nevertheless, it teaches us three relevant lessons.

First, we see how politically and militarily limited Europe already has become in the early stages of the 21st century. Given current trends continue, imagine how deep Europe’s abilities will have been sunk in twenty years.

Second, the main reasons for Europe’s limits are the lack of political will, public support and money. Europe’s march to irrelevance is not irreversible. However, it would need the political will for change and an economic recovery making new financial resources available

Third, we are witnessing an increasing European geopolitical and strategic irrelevance beyond its wider neighborhood. In reality, Europe’s role in an East Asian war would be nothing else but words.

Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy).

Follow Felix on Twitter: @SeidersSiPo

C-602YJ-62 long range Anti Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or PLA Navy)

Capabilities-Based Planning for the Specter of Mass Precision

The United States’ Navy is beset by numerous challenges: a growing set of potential adversaries equipped with advanced technologies; a problematic operating environment complicated by long distances, questionable basing access increasingly within range of enemy weapons; contested operating domains; and, a shrinking force caused by budgetary constraints, thus reducing their operational capacity and investment production. All this drastically affects the depth and breadth of operational capabilities.

 A recent report from the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) added to that list of challenges. It found that “one area of relative analytical neglect involves China’s extensive efforts to develop and deploy large numbers of highly accurate antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) on a range of ground, naval, and air platforms.” The report’s assessment of China’s cruise missile ambitions is the latest confirmation that China’s military modernization efforts remain focused on its broader counterintervention strategy.

 The general issue of ‘saturation’ when paired with precision is highly worrisome. In the days of old, mass fires were needed to ensure at least some rounds hit the target. However, with the rise of ‘precision’, sheer numbers were no longer required due to the increased probability of any individual round hitting the desired target. Now that the cost of precision is declining, the specter of mass precision is rising. This threat continues to grow in complexity to the point where we may be approaching or may have arrived at the tipping point whereby the offensive capability of ASCMs outstrips our defensive capabilities. The United States is obviously developing counters to individual precision guided munitions (PGMs); the next challenge will be to counter volleys of PGMs, each arriving at the target along a different path or exploiting a ‘window’ created by a leading PGM.

 In order to address the challenge of mass precision in times of budgetary uncertainty, the U.S. will need to adopt capabilities-based planning. Capabilities are more than individual platforms (such as an aircraft carrier or fighter plane). They include systems—that not just “fight” but also transport, support, and provide intelligence—people, and alliance support that are necessary for projecting U.S. military power to parts of the world where the Navy protects vital American interests. Equally important in evaluating capabilities is both the state of training and readiness of the forces.

 Modernization is an important factor in capabilities-based planning. Here maintaining a competitive technological edge might be one important factor. But it is not the only one. Modernization programs are essential to sustaining the force for three reasons: (1) If the U.S. follows through on existing programs in which significant investments have already been made, it will harvest significant new capabilities that will make the armed forces more effective overall. (2) Maintaining new systems will be more cost effective than maintaining old equipment. (3) The armed forces can retire less efficient systems, such as large surveillance aircraft.

 With the respect to the threat of mass precision, America’s Navy has begun to increase research and development (R&D) efforts in directed energy technology for ASCM applications. The Navy should accelerate these efforts and undertake a program of experimentation to understand their revolutionary potential. Directed energy systems could favorably change the cost-exchange ratio between missile attackers and defenders. Given current budgetary constraints, the US should be looking for game changing capabilities in key areas of competition like missile attack versus defense that could devalue large portions of an opponent’s investments. Although directed energy continues to hold promise, the projected cost in both development dollars and the energy necessary to generate the capability in the field are high. There are also a number of physics-problems to overcome.

 In the event of a multi-pronged attack by China’s People’s Liberation Army, radar will also serve a critical role in keeping the fleet off the bottom of the ocean. For the last 70 years, these systems have provided a means for volume search, tracking, missile discrimination, and missile communications. However, while the Navy has an enduring advantage in radar design, construction, and operations, its current radar technology, SPY-1D (V), is increasingly unable to address existing and emerging strategic capabilities—such as the growing threat of mass precision and China’s often-discussed anti-ship ballistic missile system. It stands to reason that as Chinese offensive missile capabilities mature, so too must our naval radar systems. The Pentagon must invest in improved and integrated radar systems, such as the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), to fill these critical capability gaps and ensure our sailors can meet the ever-changing demands of today’s challenging global threat environment. Significant advancements in threat detection range and discrimination accuracy provided by AMDR’s S-Band radar (AMDR-S) expand our capacity to undermine Chinese strategic capabilities. Modernization on its own, however, should not be viewed as a panacea.

 The qualitative advantage that the U.S. military has long enjoyed is eroding as advanced military capabilities proliferate around the world. The capabilities of U.S. forces are also deteriorating as platforms and systems age and as critical modernization programs are delayed or even cancelled.

Emil Maine is a National Security Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation, where he conducts independent research on U.S. defense posture. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.

Sailors Returning to their Ships After Combat Ashore in Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 3)

Sailors Returning to their Ships After Combat Ashore in Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)
Sailors Returning to their Ships After Combat Ashore in Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

This is the third of a three part series on the American occupation of Veracuz in 1914. The first and second installments can be found here and here.

24 April marked the end of the combat phase of the U.S. invasion of Veracruz, with the “ABC Powers” of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile offering to mediate between the U.S. and Mexico.  President Wilson agreed to participate in these talks and ordered the troops ashore to refrain from offensive operations.

The negotiations proceeded to drag on even though one of Wilson’s original objectives behind the operation was was met in July when Mexican President Victoriano Huerta resigned.  However, negotiations with Venustiano Carranza, the head of the Constitutionalist opposition to Huerta who then took power, proved to be not particularly fruitful either, with the parties only coming to a satisfactory agreement for the withdrawal of American troops in November.

Of note, the other main reason for the invasion, preventing the delivery of the weapons onboard Ypiranga to Huerta’s army, was never achieved and did not matter regardless, as they were eventually delivered (the Americans let the ship leave Veracruz in early May and deliver its cargo at Puerto Mexico), but Huerta resigned before they could have any impact on helping the Army keep him in power. 

Probably the main reason why some history buffs know about Veracruz is the number of medals awarded to the participants, including men like Smedley Butler and John McCloy who each earned one of their two Medals of Honor there.  Members of the sea services earned fifty-five Medals of Honor for heroism or service during the four days of fighting.  One reason for that high number was that Veracruz was the first action in which Navy or Marine officers were eligible for the award.  Butler was embarrassed by his, stating in his biography that

“I received one, but I returned it to the Navy Department with the statement that I had done nothing which entitled me to this supreme decoration.  The correspondence was referred to Admiral Fletcher, who insisted that I certainly deserved the decoration.  The Navy Department sent the medal back to me with the order that I should not only keep it this time, but wear it also.”

Another frequently told anecdote has an admiral conducting an inspection in the 1920s, who upon seeing the medal on the chest of a man that had earned it in the First World War exclaimed “Holy smoke! Here’s a Medal of Honor that’s not for Veracruz!”

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps both learned some lessons from Veracruz.  It marked Naval aviation’s first involvement in anything resembling combat.  It also marked one of the last instances that ship’s company sailors fought ashore as infantry, something that had been relatively common up to that time, with U.S. sailors having recently fought ashore in Latin America, Hawaii, Korea, Samoa, China, and the Philippines.  As for the Marine Corps, the 3,000 Marines eventually assembled and sent ashore was “the largest concentration of Marines in the history of the Corps, to date.”

While U.S. memories of Veracruz are almost non-existent today, it had a massive and lasting impact on Mexican attitudes towards its northern neighbor. In Jack Sweetman’s the Landing at Veracruz: 1914, he describes the occupation as “a kind of Caribbean Pearl Harbor.”  Even the Constitutionalists fighting against Huerta opposed U.S. military intervention in Mexican affairs, with Pancho Villa the only leading figure in Mexican politics who did not oppose the U.S. landing, ironic in light of him being the main target of another U.S. invasion a few years later.  Just as the niños heroiques of 1847 entered the pantheon of national heroes, martyred defenders of the Naval Academy like Cadet Virgilio Uribe and Lieutenant Luis Felipe José Azueta are remembered to this day.  A new adjective was added to the title of the Naval Academy, now known as the Heroica Escuela Naval Militar in honor of the cadets’ resistance to the norteamericano invasion.  This year the Mexican Navy is participating in a months-long series of events to mark the centenary of an event that the service actually played little part in.

Whether or not the Veracruz operation was a success is difficult to determine. Huerta was forced from office, but one would be hard pressed to prove that the American attack against Veracruz caused his removal.  It did not end the Civil War, with Mexico undergoing several more years (or decades, depending on when one believes that the Civil War actually ended) of chaos and violence.  A prominent event in Mexican history, it remains mostly a source of obscure service lore to Americans.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

 

 

Sailors Parading through Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 2)

Sailors Parading through Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)
Sailors Parading through Veracruz (Naval Historical and Heritage Command)

This is the second installment in a three part series on the American occupation of Veracuz in 1914.  The first article can be found here.

On the morning of 21 April 1914, Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the U.S. Navy task force offshore Veracruz, Mexico, complied with the order he had received from from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels the night before. Fletcher ordered the landing of 1200 Marines and sailors from his ships to seize the customs house in Veracruz in order to prevent the delivery of the weapons onboard the German freighter Ypiranga to the Mexican Army, even before he was reinforced by ships commanded by his counterpart off Tampico, Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, and the Atlantic Fleet’s steaming from Norfolk. According to John Eisenhower’s Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, the Americans anticipated resistance from the Veracruz garrison of 600 soldiers, and 2000-3000 other Mexican troops in the region that could be augmented by militia and freed prisoners. Fletcher hoped that moving ashore quickly  would preempt a defense by local troops, enable a potential occupation, and allow him to avoid using his ships’ big guns to obliterate the city.

According to another account of the Veracruz operation, Jack Sweetman’s the Landing at Veracruz: 1914, the “Naval Brigade,” commanded by Captain William Rees Rush, the commanding officer of USS Florida, was composed of two regiments: the First Marine Regiment (22 officers and 578 men assembled from Marines onboard Fletcher’s ships) and the First Seaman Regiment (30 officers and 570 sailors from Florida and USS Utah).  They went ashore from their ships anchored in the harbor onboard whaleboats towed by motor launches to Pier Four in the port.

As soon the landings started, the American consul in Veracruz telephoned General Gustavo Maass, the local Mexican commander, encouraging him not to fight back and allow the Sailors and Marines to come ashore unopposed.  Maass, in a rage, instead immediately informed 100 men from a regiment billeted nearby to engage the Americans.  After a conversation with the Minister of Defense, Maass was forced to reverse himself, however, as the Minister instructed him to withdraw his troops ten miles inland to the town of Tejería.  The Mexican Army’s involvement in the fight thus almost immediately ended, with the bulk of resistance over the next few days conducted by Veracruz’s civilian residents, who had some military training and organization as a militia (the “Society of Defenders of the Port of Veracruz”) as part of a program Huerta had implemented the previous year.

That same morning, Ypiranga was sighted steaming towards the harbor and was interdicted by crew from USS Utah.  The master cooperated and provided shipping documents to the boarding team, which ironically showed that the weapons on the ship had not originated in Hamburg, but were Remingtons made in the U.S. that had been routed through Europe to evade Wilson’s embargo on arms exports to Huerta’s army.

With the Mexican Army out of the fight, one of the main sources of resistance left was from the Naval Academy, where cadets fired at the at the Americans landing at Pier Four.  They emulated the example of the niños heroiques, cadets at the Mexican military academy in Mexico City in 1847 who threw themselves to their deaths from the cliffs of Chapultepec to save the flag and avoid surrender to a previous generation of American invaders.  The cadets defending the Naval Academy in 1914 soon joined the ranks of the honored dead after fire from the guns of Fletcher’s ships silenced their resistance (enabled by Chief Boatswain John McCloy, who drove the motor launch he commanded towards the Academy, fired against it to draw a response, thus allowing the location of the defending cadets to be spotted and engaged by the ships’ guns, an act earning McCloy his second Medal of Honor).

That afternoon Admiral Fletcher cabled Washington with his first report of the landing stating that

“Mexican forces…opened fire with rifle and artillery after our seizure of the Custom House…Ypiranga arrived Veracruz two PM anchored in outer harbor and [was] notified he would not be allowed to leave port with munitions of war aboard.  Holding Custom House and section of city in vicinity of wharves and Consulate.  Casualties two PM four dead twenty wounded.”

The following day on 22 April, additional forces flowed into Veracruz with the arrival of ships and Marines from both Tampico and the Norfolk-based Atlantic Fleet, with the additional Sailors and Marines augmenting the Brigade ashore and expanding the American occupation throughout the whole city by engaging in fierce house-to-house fighting.  The famous Marine hero Smedley Butler, then a Major, described a urban battle scene not particularly different from those in which Marines would fight throughout the next century:

“The sailors who traveled openly through the streets were badly shot up, not only by Mexicans but in at least one instance by their own men, but the Marine casualties were slight.  Two of my men were killed and four or five wounded.  We Marines decided on different tactics than the sailors.  Stationing a machine gunner at one end of the street as a lookout, we advanced under cover, cutting our way through the adobe walls from one house to another with axes and picks.  We drove everybody from the houses and then climbed up on the flat roofs to wipe out the snipers.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan apologized to the German government for the unlawful detention of Ypiranga.  Bryan, like President Woodrow Wilson and Navy Secretary Daniels was well known as a devout Christian with a pacifist reputation and opposition to the military adventurism of the previous Republican administrations in Latin America and the Philippines, but was ironically overseeing the violent invasion of one of the U.S.’s closest neighbors on remarkably flimsy grounds.

By 23 April Admiral Fletcher had transferred his command ashore with most of the resistance having melted away, but, according to Sweetman’s account, was unable to convince any of the local authorities to restore some form of government, as a law passed in the wake of the 1862 French invasion of Mexico made holding “office under a foreign power occupying Mexican soil” a criminal offense.  The official casualty figures by 24 April listed 126 Mexicans killed and 195 wounded (an amount probably significantly lower than the actual total, since these numbers were based only on wounded and dead recorded by local hospitals), with 17 killed and 63 wounded Americans.

Although the Naval Brigade had been reinforced and occupied virtually all of Veracruz, Admiral Fletcher was concerned that the Mexican Army was massing up to 16,000 troops in the vicinity of the city, dwarfing the number of Marines and Sailors ashore, many of whom were also needed back on ship in case of future operations at sea.  Therefore the U.S. Army’s Fifth Reinforced Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Frederick Funston, was dispatched from the U.S. on 24 April, arriving a few days later.  After negotiating the status of the Marines, the Army troops went ashore and took responsibility for the city from the naval units in a ceremony on 30 April (the debate over who “owned” the Marines foreshadowed future arguments over task organization in a joint force.  Ultimately the Marines that were attached to Navy ships returned to their afloat commands, while the rest of the force “chopped” to Army control).  Despite significant support for a broader war with Mexico in the press and segments of Congress, Funston led an uneventful, combat-free, occupation of Veracruz for another seven months as the machinations associated with a diplomatic solution to the crisis were worked out.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of this series, which discusses the aftermath of the occupation.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

100 Years Ago: Veracruz 1914 (Part 1)

Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Sailors Ashore at Veracruz, 1914 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

This April marks the 100th anniversary of one of the strangest episodes in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the mostly forgotten 1914 occupation of Veracruz.

A relatively minor event during the lengthy and violent Mexican Revolution, it is also overshadowed by another American armed intervention in Mexico, the 1916 “Punitive Expedition” led by General John Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa.  The Veracruz occupation is remembered, if at all, for the embarrassingly large quantity of medals awarded to its participants, and as one of the numerous “small wars” conducted by the Marine Corps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The roots for the 1914 occupation of Veracruz started a few years earlier, in the chaos caused by the Mexican Revolution.  Porfirio Díaz had ruled Mexico as a dictator since the 1870s (re-elected as President through periodic sham elections), but was finally forced from office in 1911 in the face of an opposition coalition that represented the whole spectrum from liberals to warlords and bandits.  His successor, the aristocratic but principled liberal Francisco Madero, was soon overthrown and murdered during a 1913 coup led by General Victoriano Huerta, who proceeded to declare himself President.

The U.S. first began creeping towards possible military intervention in Mexico in 1911, with President Taft instructing the Army to create a “Maneuver Division” for use in potential contingencies south of the border.  Madero’s death during the Ten Tragic Days (La Decena Trágica) of February 1913, weeks before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration following his defeat of both Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election, resulted in the deployment of U.S. Navy ships to ports on both the east and west coasts of Mexico to observe the situation and protect American citizens and interests.

A month later, in March 2013, Venustiano Carranza established the “Constitutionalist” opposition to Huerta’s government by bringing together another coalition of liberals, regional leaders, and warlords/bandits.  By the next spring, Constitutionalist forces had made their way to the vicinity of Tampico, where there was a substantial American presence (mostly due to Tampico’s central role in the Mexican oil industry).  Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo commanded the U.S. Navy forces offshore Tampico.

A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)
A Farewell to Grog (and a Hello to Joe)

The direct cause of the U.S. seizure of Veracruz was enabled by the convergence of the U.S. Navy and Constitutionalist army on Tampico.  On 9 April 1914, personnel from USS Dolphin were mistakenly and briefly detained by Mexican soldiers (Federales loyal to Huerta) while buying fuel from a warehouse along the river near the front line between the two opposing Mexican armies.  Although the Mexican General in command of Huerta’s forces quickly released the American sailors and apologized, Mayo would only be appeased by the Mexicans giving a 21-gun salute to the U.S. flag after it was raised ashore in Tampico; a stipulation that would be unacceptable to any Mexican patriot.

In the following days, tensions were also raised by additional minor insults to U.S. honor, including the arrest of a “mail orderly” from USS Minnesota ashore in Veracruz, and the detention of a courier working for the embassy in Mexico City.  In response, on 14 April, President Wilson, whose personal and political distaste for Huerta and his manner of assuming power in Mexico was well known, ordered that the entire Atlantic Fleet immediately proceed from Norfolk to Mexico’s Gulf coast.

By 20 April the stakes had been raised even higher, as the President secretly informed a small group of Congressional leaders that he had been informed by the U.S. consul in Veracruz that a shipment of arms for Huerta’s army was on its way to Veracruz onboard a German cargo ship, Ypiranga.  Although Wilson wished to ask for congressional authorization for the use of force against Mexico, he did not wish to publicly disclose his knowledge of the Ypiranga shipment.

Later that night, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (most historically notorious for outlawing drinking onboard Navy ships) sent a warning order to Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the ships off Veracruz, to “be prepared on short notice to seize customs house at Vera Cruz.  If offered resistance, use all force necessary to seize and hold city and vicinity”   The following morning, Fletcher received the order from Daniels to “Seize customs house.  Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or any other party.”

This is the first of a three part series on the 1914 invasion and occupation on Veracruz.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)

A2AD Since ’73

Wreckage of a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)
Wreckage From a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)

The threat posed by Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) capabilities is at the core of the the U.S. Navy and Air Force’s Air Sea Battle (ASB) operational concept.  However, A2AD weapons are not new,  in particular playing an important role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A2AD and the ASB Concept

The ASB operational concept defines A2AD capabilities as “those which challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces to both get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.”  One of the main capabilities that ASB has been established to counteract and mitigate against is the “new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality” that are increasingly available to states around the world.  Figuring out ways to operate in a world in which missiles are easy to acquire and operate is extremely important to the U.S. military, since A2AD weapons “make U.S. power projection increasingly risky, and in some cases prohibitive,” threatening the very foundation upon which the ability of the U.S. military’s ability to operate at will across the globe rests upon.

Missile Warfare in the Middle East

Using A2AD weapons, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAM), surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), to conduct a form of asymmetric warfare is not a new idea.   In particular, the use of missiles to counteract an enemy’s superiority in the air or on the ground was very much a part of Soviet doctrine by the 1960s.  To protect against the U.S. air campaign during the Vietnam War, Soviet missiles and personnel were extensively used by North Vietnam.  Perhaps the best example of A2AD in action, however, was the Soviet-enabled missile campaign waged by Egypt against the Israeli military during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War or October War).

The use of missiles formed an essential part of the plans of Egypt and Syria to win back the territories lost so precipitously during the 1967 Six Day War.  In his book the Arab-Israel Wars, historian and former Israeli President Chaim Herzog noted that:

“the Egyptians had meanwhile studied and absorbed the lessons of the Six Day War: with the Russians, they concluded they could answer the problem of the Israeli Air Force over the battlefield by the creation of a very dense “wall” of missiles along the canal, denser even that that used in North Vietnam.  The problem posed by Israeli armour was to be answered by the creation of a large concentration of anti-tank weapons at every level, from the RPG shoulder-operated missile at platoon level up to the Sagger missiles with a range of some 3000 yards and the BRDM armoured missile-carrying vehicles at battalion and brigade level.”

As part of Operation Caucasus, the Soviet Union “deployed an overstrength division” of air defense forces, with eighteen battalions each composed of SAM batteries, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and teams equipped with Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).  Although technically identified as instructors, the Soviet troops actually “were dressed in Egyptian uniforms and provided full crewing for the deployed SAM systems.” Using lessons learned in Vietnam, the air defense forces along the Suez Canal were capable of  “relocating frequently and setting up ambushes for Israeli aircraft using multiple mutually supporting batteries.”  Syria also procured Soviet SAM batteries to support their part of the planned surprise attack.  In Herzog’s words, the overwhelming array of SAMs and AAA “would provide an effective umbrella over the planned area of operations along the Suez Canal” and “to a very considerable degree neutralize the effects of Israeli air superiority over the immediate field of battle.”

Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)
Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)

The Egyptians pursued a similar effort in their efforts to combat Israel’s ground forces.  Per Herzog, Israel’s “armoured philosophy” emphasizing “massive, rapidly deployed, armoured counterattack” would be faced by an Egyptian Army that had crossed the Suez Canal “equipped to the saturation point in anti-tank weapons and missiles in order to wear down the Israeli armour.” The Arab leaders were not just concerned with achieving missile dominance inside the expected battlefield along the canal, however, but also that Eyptian and Syrian aircraft could not match their Israeli counterparts “outside the range of missile surface-to-air defence systems.”  Therefore, the Soviets also provided surface-to-surface FROG and SCUD missiles capable of directly striking at Israel itself, with the hope that they could deter against Israel’s ability to attack their own capitals.

Egypt and Syria’s employment of A2AD weapons had a significant tactical impact on the war.  Estimates of the losses of Israeli aircraft vary.  Herzog stated that 102 Israeli planes were shot down (50 during the first three days), with half shot down by missiles and the other half shot down by AAA.  According to other articles, “Israeli public claims are that 303 aircraft were lost in combat,” crediting SAMs with shooting down 40 and “between four and 12 to Arab fighters.”  This means that although most Israeli aircraft may have been shot down by AAA, the “missile wall” can be credited with “denying the use of high and medium altitude airspace, driving aircraft down into the envelope of high-density AAA.”

One can argue that the lessons learned from employment of A2AD in 1973 can be overstated (after all, Israel eventually won the war, at great cost).  However, Herzog’s claim that it was “a war of great historic significance” is merited, as it “was the first war in which the various types of missiles – surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and sea-to-sea – were used on a major scale,” and that “the entire science of military strategy and technique has had to be re-evaluated in the light of” its lessons.  In particular, the Egyptians in 1973 executed what the Air-Sea Battle concept identifies as an important objective of A2AD, in which “an aggressor can slow deployment of U.S. and allied forces to a theater, prevent coalition operations from desired theater locations, or force friendly forces to operate from disadvantageous longer distances.”

Evolution of Air-Land Battle and the Influence of the 73 War

If the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1970/1980s can be seen as an intellectual precursor to Air-Sea Battle in its emphasis on “degradation of rear echelon forces before they could engage allied forces,” then the link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Air-Sea Battle is clear.  General William DePuy was the first commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) upon its establishment in 1973.  In particular, “DePuy had taken an intense interest in the reform of tactics and training, in line with tactical lessons drawn from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.”  During the tenure of DePuy’s successor, General Donn Starry, TRADOC formulated AirLand Battle and laid the doctrinal framework for the modernization of the U.S. Army and inter-service, joint operations.

What is the Answer?

How and why Israel won the war in 1973 entails a much longer discussion possible in this particular blog post.  The solution to A2AD that the Navy and Air Force  have proposed through Air-Sea Battle “is to develop networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces.”  The reader can decide whether those are just buzzwords and whether the A2AD threat faced by the Israelis forty years ago was an easier challenge to  overcome than what could be faced by the U.S. military today and in the future  What is clear, however, is that the notion of A2AD is not new, and was very much an important part of Soviet-supported military operations during the Cold War.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

"Is America thinking about how it would fight us making war more likely?"

"No Majesty. But it is a great compliment to be so respected militarily."

Why Does Air-Sea Battle Need a Strategy?

Some of the criticism that the Air-Sea Battle Concept receives spawns from its developers not articulating what higher-level strategy it supports. Of course they cannot, because operational concepts are not operational plans! If Air-Sea Battle could be linked to a strategy, then either it is not actually a concept or the strategy it was being linked to was a terrible and inadequate strategy.

"Hey, you got air in my sea battle." "No, you got sea in my air battle."
“Hey, you got air in my sea battle.”
“No, you got sea in my air battle.”

Creating a good strategy is hard. Strategy must be tailored to a specific situation and as the situation continues to evolve, so must the strategy. Effective strategy is based in the current geo-political situation, looks at what you want the end result to be, and determines how to utilize all elements of national power (political and diplomatic, informational and social, economic, and military) to accomplish this.

Though a strategy can be simple and elegant, like the Anaconda Plan of the American Civil War, figuring out the correct strategy can be complex and messy. Before figuring out how to fight a war you have to figure out why you are fighting it and how you want it to end. Clausewitz may have said it best that “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” No one should fight a war without knowing the strategic aims to be gained from it. Every complex aspect of strategy is compounded by the fact that the enemy always gets a vote in every strategic assumption made.

"To make this work multiple services are going to have to work together." "No one is going to like that concept."
“To make this work multiple services are going to have to work together.”
“No one is going to like that concept.”

Air-Sea Battle, like all operational concepts, has no business trying to be “linked to a strategy.” It is simply one tool we have to confront a potential threat and nothing more. The danger does not come from what Air-Sea Battle is; the potential danger comes if we ever try to make it more than it is. If we find ourselves in a conflict with a peer or near-peer adversary employing anti-access / area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and the only tool in the toolkit that we have prepared fully to utilize is Air-Sea Battle, we are in trouble. Air-Sea Battle in its entirety or key aspects of it absolutely might be the right answer in a future war, but it also might unnecessarily escalate the conflict or we may find it too limited in scope. The challenge is that we will never know this answer until actually faced with conflict. There will never be one golden operational concept with all of the answers and is all encompassing for all needs. Our danger with Air-Sea Battle is not a lack of it being linked to a strategy. Our danger is with our whole strategy being “the war has started; time to throw Air-Sea Battle at it.”

General Eisenhower felt that “plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Similarly, a concept itself may not be that useful, but the new ideas created as a result of developing the concept can be very useful. We may never use the concept of Air-Sea Battle, but in developing and writing it we will learn much about potential A2/AD threats and possible ways to address them. That is the entire point of concepts. Operational concepts are not operational plans. They are high-level ideas on how you could operate. But the ideas within them can and should influence operational planning when it is applicable.

Some could argue that the most likely scenario would be that we never go to war with the People’s Republic of China or that if we did we would never project power inland like described in Air-Sea Battle. Though it is good to know which scenarios are the most likely, strategic thinkers and planners must never limit themselves to the most likely. The most famous colored war plan developed prior to WWII was Plan Orange because it was the one which was ultimately utilized. But what is lesser known is all of the other developed plans that were never tested in combat. For example, War Plan Red-Orange was a scenario where the United States fought against a United Kingdom-Japanese alliance. This scenario seems ridiculous in hindsight and not the most likely scenario when it was being developed, but strategists and planners do not have the luxury of just ignoring certain scenarios which seem unlikely. If it is not an impossible scenario, it should at least be thought about. We know war plan Red-Orange was never used, but its analysis revealed that the United States was not prepared to support simultaneous operations in two major theaters. And though the U.S. did not go to war with the United Kingdom, those lessons were applied to actual operations in World War II.

"Is America thinking about how it would fight us making war more likely?" "No Majesty. But it is a great compliment to be so respected militarily."
“Is America thinking about how it would fight us making war more likely?”
“No Majesty. But it is a great compliment to be so respected militarily.”

The fact that we are thinking about Air-Sea battle is good, and the fact that we are debating the merits of it is even better. Air-Sea battle cannot be a flawed plan because it is no plan. It cannot support a strategy because operational concepts do not support strategies. We are not in trouble because we are thinking about Air-Sea Battle, but we could find ourselves in trouble if it is all we think about.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer who has deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.