Tag Archives: US Navy

What You Can’t Find…


Every Drone Can Be a Minesweeper?

A frequently cited fact in my days training to be a naval officer was that the most common weapon for damaging a warship since World War II was the naval mine.  The recently concluded International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), held in 3 distinct OPAREAs throughout the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), demonstrated both the difficulty of mine countermeasures (MCM) operations (detecting and clearing mines) and the potential of new technology to mitigate those dangers.

PBS’ News Hour quotes a retired naval officer and observer of the exercise, Capt. Robert O’Donnell, stating of the 29 simulated mines in the exercise, “I don’t think a great many were found…It was probably around half or less.”

The response from the Navy is a little confusing:

The Navy declined to provide data on how many practice mines were located during the two-week naval drill but did not dispute that less than half were found. However, a spokesman insisted that the figures do not tell the whole story and that the event was “‘not just about finding” the dummy mines.

“We enjoyed great success,” said Cdr. Jason Salata, the top public affairs officer for the 5th Fleet. “Every platform that was sent to find a shape found a shape. We stand by that.” Salata asserted that “there were no missed mines, each platform that had an opportunity to find the mine did so.”

While it is true that a 100% detection rate is not what the exercise was all about, that rate is still an interesting figure.  It could indicate that every mine was found, but perhaps not by every platform – instead as a result of the cumulative MCM effort.  It’s likewise unknown how the success rate broke down by platform and nation – more than 27 international partners operated with U.S. Fifth Fleet as part of the exercise.  What is known is that MCM remains a difficult and deadly business, particularly in the context of some of the most likely future conflict scenarios, including Iran and North Korea. 

While the exercise results will disappoint some (again, we don’t know who or what had difficulty finding what types of mines), they will also serve to reinforce the arguments for recapitalizing the Avenger-class MCMs, outfitting the USS Ponce as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, and placing rigorous demands on getting the LCS MCM mission package right.  As mentioned above, the exercise was additionally an opportunity to test out some new kit.  Before the exercise got underway, NavalDrones provided a preview of some of the Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) slated for testing in the drill, as well as a recap of other drones designed for MCM duties.  Furthermore, a pair of similar threats might spark the development of crossover technology for use in MCM.

In addition to the more traditional types of naval mines, detecting and defeating the waterborne IEDs and enemy drones (AUVs and ROVs) of both state and non-state actors is seen by some as increasing in importance, and may rely on many of the same technologies used in MCM.  Like the land-based IED/counter-IED arms-race of the past decade, we could be witnessing the start of a similar set of opposing innovation escalations.  Foreign Policy earlier this week reported that the creation of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), is executing its own Pivot to the Pacific to focus on the typically lower-tech threats of waterborne terrorists and IEDs.  Meanwhile NavalDrones last week highlighted some of the detection and clearance technologies that could be used against the evolving undersea drone fleets.  The next decade is shaping up to be an interesting time for technology under the waves.


LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.


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. 


SECNAV Reintroduces Grog to the Navy

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny.  Our apologies to those who read this without the warning and mistakenly believed it to be true. 

Secretary of the Mabus and Bill the Goat celebrate the planned return of spirit rations at the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday.

In a surprise announcement yesterday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus reversed a key portion of the initiative known as “The 21st Century Sailor.”  After the fleet-wide failure of his “breathalyzer on every quarterdeck” policy, Mabus announced that the Navy would not only do away with the newly installed devices, but bring back the tradition of alcohol rations.  The announcement was all the more stunning as it came after a period of 24 hours in which no one could seem to find the Secretary.

“Today’s Sailors understand leadership and motivation,” Mabus said to reporters at the U.S. Naval Academy, who filed into Mahan Hall Auditorium for a hastily assembled press conference.  “After spending the evening with the combat-leaders-in-training on the Academy’s Varsity Cheerleading Squad, exchanging ideas at various establishments around Annapolis, I became convinced we need a course change in our policy. We need spirit back in the U.S. Navy!”

Sources close to the Annapolis discussions say the cheerleaders’ original intent was to get Secretary Mabus to seek additional funding for the squad’s upcoming travel arrangements to football away games, but that Mabus seemed to become single-mindedly focused on the effects of alcohol after misunderstanding one cheerleader’s discussion of spirit and Sailors.  

In a rare bit of candor, Mabus acknowledged the unusual nature of the announcement and burdens of naval service. “I understand this is a dramatic shift,” said Mabus at the Academy, “but it is also sensible.  Our Sailors know that we’re separating them for their families or from service, capping their pay, and looking into cutting their benefits.  We need to offer them a new benefit to brighten their day.  That’s why I’m bringing back the daily spirit ration.  It’s time to splice the main brace.  That’s right, Grog is back!” 

In 1862 the spirit ration was removed from Navy enlisted messes, but the Navy Secretary at the time, Gideon Welles, allowed “ales, beer, wine, and other non-distilled spirits” to remain in the officer’s messes.  It wasn’t until Secretary Josephus Daniels signed General Order 99 in 1914 that the spirit ration was removed completely.  Since that time Officers and Sailors have been stuck with a “cup of joe” as their beverage of choice.  “Today’s Sailors and Marines are responsible professionals,” said Captain Mike Pussers from the Secretary’s staff, “treating them as such and offering minor and responsible usage just makes sense.  It’s kind of like how you don’t see binge drinking in Europe because they don’t make a big deal of prohibiting kids from having a beer.”

Naval analysts agree that for the majority of Sailors, grog has a calming effect, whether they’re facing German U-boats or a discharge after 14 years in the service and no money towards a pension.

When contacted for comment, the U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command pointed out that this year the Navy has been relearning many lessons from its experiences in the War of 1812.  It makes sense that historically successful leadership techniques might return as well.  However, despite suggestions from a number of captains in the Navy’s surface fleet, the JAG Corps firmly denied that the return of the lash and walking the plank are also on the table.

Responses to Secretary Mabus’ announcement were mixed across the country.  “Sailors are drunks, we all know it,” said Westin Johnson IV, of the Navy League’s Tennessee Chapter, “that’s just the way it is.”  He was supported by Lawrence Sherman of the American Society for Temperance in the Sea Services.  “They simply can’t be trusted,” Sherman told CIMSEC in a phone interview, “I thought Ray understood that when he made them start blowing the tubes.” 

Reached for comment in Annapolis, noted maritime expert Bill The Goat said, “Yes, yes, yes, we do.  We love spirit.  How about you?”  Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), a USNA grad, combat decorated Marine and Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan Administration, agreed.  His staff pointed out that he’s been telling people that Sailors and Marines are responsible professionals for years.  “We do have a really stressed force,” the Senator pointed out when he advocated for a new look at General Order #1 in Afghanistan.  He suggested that sometimes having a drink, in a limited and responsible way, can have a positive impact on Marine’s and Sailor’s lives and can be a leadership and motivation tool.  According to members of his staff, Senator Webb supports the new imitative and is quoted asking, “Man, why didn’t I think of this when I was SECNAV?”

When reached for comment, Secretary Mabus’ office said the details for the grog’s return are still a work in progress.  “Following the model we used to study our allied forces in implementing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the Secretary plans to examine a number of different options,” said spokesman LT Alice Dawson.  Studies are reportedly planned on the wine service aboard French warships, the beer service aboard British ships, and other similar allied methods.  “The Secretary himself has volunteered to lead a select test group among our allies’ vessels to sample their spirits and determine the best way forward.”

“We have to get this right, you know, for the Sailors,” Secretary Mabus told CIMSEC from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, after arriving last night.  “I’m willing to drink as much as I have to in order to make sure we get this right, for the Sailors.” 

A Master-at-Arms involved in the tests told CIMSEC, “Can you imagine, I get to make port calls all over the Med to visit our allies and drink on their ships…now this is real partnership building.”

“This is great,” said a Second Class Petty Officer interviewed by CIMSEC, “not only does it look like SECNAV finally trusts us, but I may get the chance to relax for 12 seconds after rushing between scripted drills that go the same way every time and staying up all night working on computerized admin baloney!”

In an ALNAV message released by the Secretary later this morning Sailors will be required to complete 3 NKO courses prior to consuming each spirit ration.

Mission First, Capabilities Always


My esteemed colleagues Kurt Albaugh and Matt Hipple made some interesting arguments about the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the past two days, although I disagree with each in different ways. At the risk of drowning our readers in the LCS debate, I’m going to make some brief remarks of my own and defer my own full analysis until I’m conflict-of-interest free, just so we can get it out of our system.


Mr. Albaugh highlighted a lot of good points about LCS. LCS is not meant to be the concept vessel formerly known as streetfighter and does a good job fulfilling a lot of low-intensity missions and niche combat roles. A less-threatening platform makes it easier to operate with partners in places like Africa, where cooperative engagement is more law-enforcement focused. And, as the Chinese and Philippine navies demonstrated by pulling out in favor of civilian vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, low-end ships can help ease tense stand-offs and prevent misunderstandings from escalating into conflicts. Few would like to see the U.S. and China in a dust-up, so there are benefits to be gained from the U.S. demonstrating to its partners a commitment to peacefully resolving maritime incidents.


However, I disagree with the argument that forward deploying only weak vessels will prevent China from hostility. As commentor Chuck Hill noted, being inoffensive does not always prevent aggression. In dealing with state actors like China with a “Realist, zero-sum view of the world,” more capability is likely a greater deterrent of aggression than a perception of weakness. While deploying only low capability ships in sensitive areas would limit China’s ability to claim a menacing U.S. naval presence as pretext for action, it would not prevent China from taking that action.


In addition to soft power missions like Pacific Partnership and America’s commitment to its value system, the influence the U.S. maintains in the Asia-Pacific region is in large part derived from its partners’ perceptions of defense assistance credibility. In a region with a rising power with uncertain intentions, purposefully choosing weakness lessens the United States’ influence with friends and potential foes alike.


Two of a kind of a sort.


The good news is I continue to disagree with Mr. Albaugh. LCS can actually be used as an offensive asset, clearing the way for power projection. And I disagree with Mr. Hipple that the ship was designed without a purpose or strategy in mind. The very example of China’s focus on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities are what drove LCS’ design. The three official mission packages – anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, and mine-countermeasures – are all meant to fill counter-A2/AD capability gaps. And the ship itself, with its shallow draft, is meant to open access to U.S. forces in precisely that area of congested waters, the littorals, where most hostilities are expected to take place. This is the reason just purchasing multiple HSVs, as Juramentado and Mr. Hipple suggested, would not work. It is the same reason the National Security Cutter would not work.


This is not to say LCS can perform every mission of a destroyer or frigate – but that’s okay, that’s not what the Navy meant it or needs it to do. Nor is LCS perfect. Rather than risk-averse organization Mr. Hipple portrays, if anything, the Navy took too much risk on immature technologies for LCS’ mission packages, as Juramentado suggested. Budgets and politics also played a role in the program’s history. And sure, I would love to see a better anti-ship cruise missile, but this is a failing across the entire U.S. Navy, not confined to LCS. Learning from experience, capitalizing on feedback, and tweaking things like manning and mission package equipment will help.


There are still wrinkles in the LCS program, but a question of the role of LCS within the U.S. fleet remains only if the technologies that enable the originally intended missions do not come to fruition. That is no small wrinkle, but it is a different one than finding a strategy. 

Strength in Weakness?

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) just completed her acceptance trials today. Though a small step in itself, it is yet another reminder that this class is coming soon to a fleet near you. Just considering the Freedom-class variant, LCS-5 and -7 are under construction and funding for LCS-9 and -11 was approved in March. Though any fresh news about this class roils the waters of debate in the naval blogosphere, let’s step back and examine where the class has been, and where it is going.

LCS is not streetfighter. This much is true. Critics point to the ship’s fitness to defeat anti-ship cruise missiles and other anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats, small crew size and its resulting effect on damage control, lack of proven mission modules, and a host of other design and cost factors as reasons to reduce or discontinue the LCS program.

These critics rightly identify tactical weaknesses inherent in the LCS platform. Why do we need to reconsider their analysis?

One good reason is that strategy should drive tactics. LCS is a poor power-projection platform, but is that the strategic role we want or need to ask of it?

The fact that states are often unsure about the intentions of others drives foreign policy and strategy-making. The same tools we produce to defend our interests could also be used to attack. Many smart people think this uncertainty is the reason why wars occur. Whether this is actually the case or not, it’s clear that China believes in a Realist, zero-sum view of the world. So, you ask, what does this have to do with LCS?

The persistent uncertainty that things-that-go-boom produce can be resolved in part if military technologies can be clearly identified as either offensive or defensive. A rifle is a pretty poor example of this principle: it is equally suited to attack enemy forces as it is to defend friendly forces. A tomahawk missile, on the other hand, is designed primarily to attack. So it is with many missile systems. It makes me think back to The Hunt for Red October: “Would you characterize this as a first strike weapon, Dr. Ryan?” Think of it another way: if I drove the pickup truck I recently bought (used, of course) down your street, would you believe that it’s only for self-defense?

LCS is a defensive technology – it is defensively useful by allowing the United States to secure the seas from lawlessness and engage with allies and partners to help prevent China from expanding their influence through “soft power” means. Months ago, Rear Admiral Rowden called this idea “flags on halyards. LCS is therefore the ideal platform to park near China – it allows us to maintain influence in the region while preventing China from claiming that the US Navy is a menace to their security. LCS would indeed be a poor choice if the US strategy against China was one of power projection. However, it’s not immediately clear to this humble blogger that’s true. Other strategies have been proposed which rely less on our ability to “kick down the door” and fight China a la WWII. This latter strategy would incur huge costs in lives and treasure. LCS represents an alternative strategic vision – one that paradoxically transmutes tactical weakness into strategic strength.

Streetfighter was designed to aid the Navy in it’s power projection role – a role that dominated strategic and force planning in the late 1990s. Rather than compare LCS to an idea designed for a different strategic era, the first consideration should compare it to the strategic requirements of today. LCS fills a niché for a forward-deployed vessel that can advance American interests and influence without undue provocation. The United States can and should provide naval forces for sea control and power projection, but LCS may help ensure that we don’t need to place the entire battle force in harm’s way.

Tactical strength does not always translate into strategic usefulness. We would do well to remember that, as the “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power” says: “preventing wars is as important as winning wars.”

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