All posts by Guest Author

Gardening in a “Barren” Officer Corps

This piece by Benjamin Armstrong – author, pilot, and patriot – first appeared at War on the Rocks. It joins the defensive line with Joe Byerly’s piece at The Bridge and Matthew Hipple’s piece here at CIMSEC.

A recent opinion piece at The American Conservative had a number of military officers scratching their heads. In “An Officer Corps that Can’t Score,” William Lind purports to discuss how careerism in the military breeds “habits of defeat.”  He tells us that:

Defeat in Vietnam bred a generation of military reformers, men such as Col. John Boyd USAF, Col. Mike Wyly USMC, and Col. Huba Wass de Czege USA, each of whom led a major effort to reorient his service. Today, the landscape is barren. Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change.

This is quite a claim, and rather damning of today’s officer corps with a very broad brushstroke. But is it true? Based on my personal and professional experiences in the U.S. Navy, I would say no. Lind errs on the side of being insulting to some of the dedicated men and women in uniform, but that does not really worry me. They have thick skin. More seriously, he leads his civilian readers astray, leaving them with an inaccurate depiction of a military completely unused to debate.

One needs only to start here at War on the Rocks to see that there is debate by active duty and reserve personnel about the present and future of our armed forces and the use of military means in the 21st century. True, one publication certainly does not indicate a healthy state of discourse. But one need only look around a bit to find one.

CLICK TO READ THE REST AT WAR ON THE ROCKS…

BJ Armstrong is a naval officer, PhD candidate in War Studies with King’s College, London, and a member of the Editorial Board at the U.S. Naval Institute. The opinions and views expressed are those of the author alone. They do not represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) – the Heart of Surface Warfare

By Captain Charlie Williams, U.S. Navy 

Since the end of the Cold War, the Surface Navy has supported contingency operations around the globe, and done so exceptionally. Even so, some would argue that these operations have drawn us away from our basic warfighting skills – skills that have defined the United States as the world’s elite Surface Navy over the past 70 years.

In the area of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community must recapture that professionalism and intensity that drove us to become the premier ASW force in the 1970s and ‘80s — demonstrated time and again against the Soviet threat. We must dominate our Inner Screen while also correctly expanding our reach in the undersea domain.

Honed by years of experience and technological leaps, first in World War II and then again during the Cold War, ASW tactics and technology aligned with Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) as the focus of the destroyer force. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the submarine threat diminished and the Surface Warfare community shifted our focus from ASW to support other emerging mission areas. The Surface force created VBSS boarding teams and manned crew-served weapons out of hide, and also honed our ability to execute Tomahawk strike missions to a fine and precision art form, while other nations instead determined to field a credible undersea force invested in capability and capacity.  

As a result, our ASW proficiency suffered, as our ASW experience-based knowledge dwindled to the point where the Navy would have been challenged against a modern-day subsurface threat. We lost our foil and also our operational training opportunities that presented themselves every time our ships got underway. We no longer had the opportunity to train in real world track and trail events against a YANKEE, NOVEMBER, or VICTOR Class Submarine from the moment we left the sea buoy. Those opportunities were especially important in maintaining our complex skills required in the ASW arena, such as passive target motion analysis and active Convergence Zone (CZ) search and detection.

Today, with our renewed emphasis and shift to the Pacific, the Surface Navy must reclaim the ASW battle space if we are going to be successful in this new era.

The Evolving Threat

Recognizing the disruptive challenge submarines pose to our aircraft carriers and other high value assets, China, North Korea, and Iran have invested in a significant undersea capability and capacity. Real world events in the Western Pacific and in the Persian Gulf serve as regular examples as to why the United States must maintain the resolve to invest in our Surface Navy to maintain a preeminent ASW capability. From the Surface ASW perspective, quieter submarines, emerging submarine tactics, and advanced weapons are potential challenges to our Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) operational concepts – and to the Surface force’s ability to own the Inner Screen and defend the Strike Group. To meet this evolving threat and maintain our naval dominance — We Must Adapt.

Surface ASW Response

Recognizing the need to counter the emerging threat, the Surface Navy began using a method similar to the commercial sector allowing for timely and affordable modernization of our ASW capability with Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware systems and Open Architecture (OA) software. We recognize our ASW operators require the best and most advanced tools available – and we have invested heavily in every aspect of that ASW kill chain.

Improvements include hardware and software upgrades to kinetic weapons such as the advanced Mk 54 Lightweight Torpedo that integrates with the MH-60R multi-mission helicopter; sensors, such as the Multi-Function Towed Array and the SPQ-9B Periscope Detection and Discrimination kit; advanced processing and display capabilities to increase operator recognition while leveraging the skill sets already developed in our Sailors; as well as the high fidelity trainers being delivered to the fleet today.

Today, 30 SQQ-89 A(V)15 ASW Combat Systems have reached the fleet and by 2020 there will be 64.   That steady increase in capacity requires an equally steady application of financial resources, through which the Surface community has approached development of the ASW Combat System in a similar fashion to the continuous development and improvement of the AEGIS Combat System.

With the emergence of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the fleet, ASW operations will expand beyond the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG) and Ticonderoga-class Cruiser (CG) in both an individual and additive manner. LCS, well suited to succeed in challenging littoral environments with its ASW Mission Package, will also support ASW escort missions. The combination of LCS and CRUDES ASW capabilities will significantly expand the reach of the ASW force, allowing it to operate in distinctly different environs in the open ocean and littorals while also enabling the DDG or CG to engage in other mission areas without sacrificing an ASW asset. The ASW capability realized by combining a Variable Depth Sonar with a Multi-Function Towed Array, plus the processing and display functionality of the A(V)15 system and the engagement capability of the onboard helo, provides a return on investment many times over.

Providing the US Navy with ASW capability takes more than hardware and software. Essential to successful ASW is the shipboard team that can exploit the capability being delivered as well as understand the environment affecting their system. This has always been true – but given the technologies being employed in today’s systems, and the threat we face at sea, our Sailors must be more technically and operationally savvy than ever before.

This requirement demands more time, both in port and at sea, to train in the skillsets unique to ASW. High fidelity unit level and shore based trainers delivered to the fleet facilitate this training, and add an element of at-sea realism to challenge even the most experienced operators. For the first time, the Navy can conduct high quality training both underway and in-port thru the A(V)15’s high fidelity Surface ASW Synthetic Trainer (SAST). SAST is also being integrated into a new shore based trainer to allow realistic watch team in-port training tailored to the specific skillset needed.

Understanding how the environment impacts your craft is critical to successful employment of your systems. Our schoolhouse training is being tailored to more effectively deliver basic and advanced operator and employment training. The Navy is also reinvigorating the Afloat Training Groups (ATG) with knowledgeable experts – they will be the key enablers, helping our young operators translate the schoolhouse training into operational experience with the necessary skills of this core competency.

ASW Command & Control and Today’s Inner Screen

An important element of owning the inner screen has been our partnering with other communities in the more distant ASW fight. The DESRON Sea Combat Commander embarked in the aircraft carrier (CVN) owns the Strike Group ASW problem, and they work that challenge in company with the Theater ASW Commander to coordinate what has become a broader definition of that inner screen’s boundary. Previously defined by the torpedo danger zone and our own acoustic detection ability, today’s inner screen has expanded based on the evolved submarine and longer range threats, and also a more diverse and more capable portfolio of our own CSG assets. This theater level of coordination requires a modernized set of tools including the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS), and also a more agile and ready surface ASW force. Surface Navy’s continued investment in ASW is integral to furthering that coordination and enabling our success at sea.

Conclusion

Tactical ASW superiority is a critical enabler to maintain Forward Presence and Sea Control, and support Power Projection and Deterrence. This begins with owning the CSG’s Inner Screen, and enabling the broader ASW environment through coordinated operations with the Theater ASW Commander. Surface Warfare is perfectly postured to lead, plan and execute that Inner Screen, and use our capacity, on-station time, and command and control ability as enablers in the larger, theater ASW fight. Our investments in systems, training, and people have positioned us to reassert our mastery of this critical warfighting capability. The time is now for the Surface force to rededicate itself to this most central of missions. After all, the world’s most lethal power projection Navy cannot do its job if the water it operates in is threatened from below.

Captain Charlie Williams is the Deputy for Weapons and Sensors, Surface Warfare Directorate (N96). He commanded USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), USS STETHEM (DDG 63) and Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15). As the Commodore in CDS-15, he served as the GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group Sea Combat Commander and Strike Force ASW Commander, and subsequently served as the Seventh Fleet Chief of Staff.

America Should End Mercenary Contracts (Part II)

This feature is special to our Private Military Contractor (PMC)’s Week – a look at PMCs’ utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

By Tim Steigelman

Assume America’s vital interests are threatened by a distributed network of tribal insurgents Country Orange. The American government needs to close with and engage the enemy. The Orange government agrees to either openly willingly allow or silently cooperate with American military actions in Orange.

American military planners can either send in uniformed military, or PMCs. Preferring to privatize this operation, the government hires (the fictitious) “Mercenaries ‘R Us” to handle the job. To maximize its profits, Mercenaries ‘R Us declines to armor its contractors’ wheeled vehicles or aircraft, obviates back-up communications devices, decides against individual body armor, and arms its mercenaries only with pistols and long guns. They keep a light footprint and send small teams out into known hostile territory. The inevitable happens, and the enemy successfully ambushes the contractors, with many killed and wounded.1

If the injured PMCs were instead American servicemembers, they would be given medical treatment and rehabilitation through military medicine. The VA, for all its flaws, would attempt to help the wounded recover and restart their life after their injuries. If the fallen were uniformed military, their survivors would be taken care of with survivor benefits. All of these benefits were enacted by Congress to support the men and women who go abroad to do the nation’s work in harm’s way.

In our example, Mercenaries ‘R Us sent its employees downrange to do America’s bidding. That is where the similarities to the uniformed military members end. PMCs are not entitled to use military medicine.2 There is no VA for contractors. Death benefits are limited to whatever Mercenaries ‘R Us has arranged for its employees and their survivors—likely very little.3 As long as the stock price stays high and the dividends keep coming, the shareholders are unlikely to have very much concern for the human toll of warfare.4 Battles fought in the name of the American people may not be watched particularly closely by a group of investors primarily concerned with the bottom line.

In other words, by hiring Mercenaries ‘R Us to fight its battles, America has externalized the cost of war, particularly caring for its combat wounded and the survivors of the fallen. No congressional committees to answer to, no pictures on the nightly news honoring the fallen, no unpleasant reminders of the horror of war. The policymakers get to conduct their military expedition, and the economic cost is borne by the shareholders of Mercenaries ‘R Us.

But even on the economic front, hiring PMCs may not be wise in the first place, as contractors may not cost any less overall than uniformed servicemembers.5 Nor does outsourcing insulate the government from responsibility for its actors, because when the government contracts out to private actors to perform public services, those actors become agents for the state.6 Moreover, contract warfare seems to skirt at least the spirit of mandatory Congressional oversight of the nation’s military.7 For all these reasons and as the hypothetical above shows, the inherent tension between public, military service and private ends is fraught with peril.

Private military contractors are one facet of the military-industrial-congressional complex that ought to be dismantled. The profit motive is out of American prize courts, and letters of marque have fallen into disuse. The modern renaissance of PMCs seems an anachronism, perilously like the “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries” that so offended the founders. As disparate personalities as Machiavelli and Washington well understood, mercenaries introduce a host of problems that outweigh their seeming availability as ready, armed manpower. America should get out of the mercenary business.

Tim Steigelman is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, Maine. He practices business law and admiralty at the Portland firm Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman, and is a reserve naval officer. The opinions above are solely his own, and do not purport to express the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor any agency or department of the United States, nor any other organization or client.

1. This hypothetical is drawn from Burke v. Air Serv. Intern., Inc., 685 F.3d 1102 (D.C.Cir. 2012).

2. Out of necessity, injured contractors do receive medical care from military doctors when in theater, which is both a cost driver to the government and a point of contention.  Once stabilized and sent home, the gratis health care ends and the injured mercenary is left with private medical insurance.

3. Citing Jimmie I. Wise, Outsourcing Wars: Comparing Risk, Benefits and Motivation of Contractors and Military Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan (2009–2011), MBA Professional Report, Naval Postgraduate School (2012), available here.

4. A private company is generally required to maximize return for its shareholders, and corporate officers who make decisions at the expense of shareholder returns may face liability. Corporate oversight, such as it is, is exercised by shareholders.

5. See Isenberg, “Are Private Contractors Really Cheaper?”.

6. See, e.g., West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, nn. 14-15 (1988).

7. See U.S. Constitution, Article I § 8 (requiring biannual reauthorization for the raising and supporting of armies).

America Should End Mercenary Contracts

This feature is special to our Private Military Contractor (PMC)’s Week – a look at PMCs’ utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

America Should End Mercenary Contracts

By Tim Steigelman

Over the course of the last decade or more, scholars and pundits have debated the feasibility and legality1 of employing private military contractors2 (“PMCs”) in lieu of uniformed American military forces. What follows will be a two-part post looking at the historical antecedents and contemporary problems with mercenaries.

 I. Historical View of Private Warfare

 Historical Mercenaries

Mercenaries long predate modern PMCs. Perhaps the best known example from European history is the condottieri, the soldiers for hire who would fight for one prince or another as their paymaster dictated. One well known Florentine had quite a bit to say about condottieri, blaming them for failing to defend Italy against the invading French led by King Charles in the late fifteenth century. He explains the underlying problem:

“if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure . . . . Mercenary captains are either excellent soldiers or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, since they will aspire to their own greatness . . . but if the captain is without skill, he usually ruins you.”3   

Nevertheless, the title condottieri lives on today as part of a PMC trade name.4

Mercenary soldiers in America predate the republic itself. Hessian soldiers were famously dispatched from their German homeland to fight George III’s war against the rebellious colonists. This use of mercenary force was such an affront to the political wing of the Continental resistance that it declared King George had transported “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat [sic] the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”5 Having fought the “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries” himself, George Washington echoed Machiavelli and “warned that ‘Mercenary Armies . . . have at one time or another subverted the liberties of almost all the Countries they have been raised to defend.’”6

 The American Civil War saw its share of the private hiring of soldiers, albeit not in a classic mercenary context. Previous mercenaries like the condottieri and Hessians were complete units that would be hired to go into combat as a unit. The Enrollment Act of 1863 established a draft for military service, and permitted conscripts to hire a substitute, a person who, for a fee, would take that draftee’s place, allowing the paying customer to avoid the draft.7 The Civil War system of substitutes kept the essence of the mercenary relationship—soldiers for hire, paid under a private agreement to fight—but these were retail, rather than wholesale mercenaries. Although the draft was reinstituted for several decades of the 20th century, it is telling that the substitute system was never reintroduced.8

 Privateers Profiting from War at Sea

The profit motive once enjoyed a prominent if relatively small role in American military power. At the founding, Congress was (and arguably still is) empowered to issue letters of marque and reprisal.9 While no match for a ship of the line, privateers were effective at least as an irritant to British commerce during the revolution.

A privateer was not a pirate because a sovereign nation issued a letter of marque allowing the privateer to take the enemy’s commercial vessels and keep them as prizes.10 Perhaps surprisingly to a modern audience, the earliest versions of American prize law even allowed American naval officers to retain some of the proceeds of prizes taken by commissioned American warships.11 That profit motive is no longer on the books.12

Even so, private, for-profit companies like Blackwater (now Xe), Triple Canopy, and others have provided contract military and related services to the United States. While proponents will point to their successes and opponents point out failings, their efficacy or lack thereof is beside the point. America should not use mercenaries because it distorts the relationship between an elected government and the people by privatizing inherently governmental services.

With this predicate the next post will examine more closely contemporary problems with mercenaries and war for profit.

Tim Steigelman is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, Maine. He practices business law and admiralty at the Portland firm Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman, and is a reserve naval officer. The opinions above are solely his own, and do not purport to express the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor any agency or department of the United States, nor any other organization or client.

1. See, e.g., Theodore T. Richard, Reconsidering the Letter of Marque: Utilizing Private Security Providers Against Piracy, 39 Public Contract Law Journal 411 (2010); see also Claude Berube, Contracts of Marque, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine, 2007 Vol. 133.

2. The term “contractor” or “military contractor” has been long used in defense circles to encompass much more than the subset of commercial mercenary armies, to include private people and entities of all kind providing goods and services to the DOD under a contract, differentiating “government contractors” from civilian government employees. Take, for example, Edward Snowden, widely and properly reported to be an NSA contractor at the time of his heroic and/or infamous acts. For purposes of this piece “contractor” will be used in the narrower sense of armed private forces, and interchangeably with PMC.

3. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Peter Bondanella & Mark Musa, eds. & trans.) Penguin Books, 1979, pp. 116-17.

4. Condottieri Contractors. http://www.condottiericontractors.com/

5. The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).

6. Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 , n.43 (1957)(quoting 26 Writings of Washington 388 (Fitzpatrick ed.)).

7. http://michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-54463_19313-125416–,00.html, a Michigan state government website with a good introduction and access to records of principals and substitutes from the Civil War.

8. While the availability of deferments during Vietnam was much debated and reeked of much of the same inequality as directly hiring substitutes, the deferment process at least had the sparing virtue of eliminating private commercial transactions from the process.

9. U.S. Constitution, Article I § 8. The arguable part comes from international treaties and state practice—or rather, lack of practice.

10. See, e.g., The Schooner Adeline, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 244 (1815)(a prize proceeding brought by a privateer).

11. See Little v. Barreme, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 170 (1804).

12. 10 U.S.C. § 7668.