All posts by Mark Munson

The Spanish Civil War at Sea: Limits to Sea Power’s Influence on History?

By Mark Munson

Sea power advocates traditionally justify the role of navies as a national security tool by their function in winning and deterring wars. The U.S. Navy’s current maritime strategy articulates this idea by stating that sea power is “the critical foundation of national power and prosperity and international prestige.”1 However, past wars at sea have been won by states or combatants in spite of significant naval disadvantages. The Spanish Civil War provides one such example of a less capable power defeating an enemy with a bigger navy. A successfully executed strategy can overcome a larger fleet, where victories by smaller navies can be enabled by factors like air power and the active support of willing allies, allowing them to successfully apply sea power in support of national objectives.

Pre-Uprising

In 1936, right-wing Spanish military officers (later referred to as “Nationalists,” an example of successful historical branding as they were actually the rebels in this case) mutinied against the republican government that had ruled Spain since the end of the monarchy in 1931. While the Spanish Civil War is not typically considered one of the major naval conflicts of the twentieth century, control of the seas around Spain, particularly the Strait of Gibraltar, was vitally important at the start of the conflict since most of the rebel troops were based across the strait in Spanish Morocco, where the Spanish Army had been conducting a brutal pacification campaign for decades.

The Spanish Legion (El Tercio, Spain’s attempt at replicating the French Foreign Legion) and Spanish Army units referred to as Regulares (composed of Moroccan natives) were at the core of the Army of Africa that the right-wing Nationalists would rely on in their revolt against the Republic’s Popular Front government. Moving those troops across the strait would require support from the Spanish Navy.

While some historians claim that senior naval officers coordinated with the eventual Spanish dictator Francisco Franco before the mutiny,2 others argue that General Emiliano Mola, the main organizer of the rising, had “made no serious provision for naval commitment to the plot,”3 assuming that “the Spanish Navy would remain impotent and neutral” after Spanish Army officers had rebelled.4 The aristocratic and “strongly monarchist” Navy officer corps was more socially homogenous than its Army counterpart, which had some “liberal pockets.” The mutineers gambled that most Spanish Navy officers would side with them, a move that would be borne out.

Immediately before the rising, however, the Republican government, suspecting a possible coup, had already deployed warships to the strait to deter a potential crossing from Africa.5 The Navy Minister, Jose Giral, had kept ships deployed away from potential strongholds of the mutineers, and more importantly, tasked “loyal telegraph operators” to monitor communications both ashore and afloat.6 Enlisted sailors, meanwhile, had also intuited the rising, holding a secret meeting in Ferrol on 13 July to prepare for a rebellion by their officers.7

That planning was timely. On 18 July, a civilian radio operator working at Navy headquarters in Madrid intercepted a message from Franco transmitted to senior officers encouraging them to rise up in support of the mutiny initiated the previous day by Army units in Morocco. Giral responded to the news by instructing all fleet radio operators to “to watch their officers, a gang of fascists,” and issuing a follow-up command “dismissing all officers who refused government orders.”8

Sorting Sides

Many Navy personnel first learned of the rising that day when they received Giral’s orders to attack rebel Army units.9 Disregarding the pleas of their officers to support the rebellion, crews of many Spanish Navy ships spread word of the rising, deposed their officers, and formed committees to run the ships.10 Onboard the battleship Jaime I, the crew “overwhelmed, imprisoned, and in many cases, shot those officers who seemed disloyal.”11 After the skirmish between officers and their men, the crew had a famous exchange with Madrid:

“Crew of Jaime I to ministry of marine. We have had serious resistance from the commanders and officers onboard and have subdued them by force…Urgently request instructions as to bodies.”

“Ministry of marine to crew Jaime I. Lower bodies overboard with respectful solemnity. What is your present position?”12

A similar series of events reportedly took place onboard the cruiser Miguel de Cervantes, whose officers reportedly “resisted the ship’s company to the last man.”13

Line drawing of the Spanish Republican battleship JAIME I. (Wikimedia Commons)

The captain of the destroyer Sánchez Barcaiztegui, off the shore of North Africa near Melilla, attempted to sway the men to the cause of the mutineers, but after pleading his case he “was greeted by profound silence, which was interrupted by a single cry “To Cartagena!” This cry was taken up by the whole ship’s company.” After ousting their officers and bombarding Nationalist positions in Melilla and Ceuta, the crew returned in command of the ship to port in Cartagena, where the Navy base had remained loyal to the Republic.14 On station near Melilla, the officers of the destroyer Churruca remained in control because of a malfunctioning radio that had left all aboard oblivious to events.15 Once communications were restored, however, the crew seized control of the ship after it had delivered troops to Cadiz.16

Officers not killed during the rising were imprisoned ashore, where many were later executed.17 According to one account, “230 out of 675 naval officers on active service” were killed during the first months of the war.18 After rejecting the Ministry’s command to attack the rebels on 18 July, most naval officers were deposed by the crews per Giral’s orders, with chief engineers assuming duty as new commanding officers.19 By the time the Spanish Navy had sorted itself into two warring factions, the Republic was left with a tiny fraction of the former Spanish Navy’s senior uniformed leadership: only two of the 19 admirals, and two of the 31 commanding officers of large combatants sided with the Republic. According to one estimate, “only 10 percent of the Cuerpo General,” the Navy’s sea-going line officers, stayed loyal to the Republic.20 Those who stayed loyal were often “demoralized by the murder of their comrades and the insecurity of their own position.”21

It is unclear whether their exodus left the Republican fleet a leaderless and undisciplined rabble, or the officer corps’ preference for service with the Nationalists gave it an intangible, war-winning, leadership advantage. Regardless, the workers committees formed by the Republican sailors to replace the officers afloat failed to translate revolutionary zeal into victory at sea. Nikolai Kuznetsov, then a captain serving as the Soviet naval attaché in Madrid, recalled that the shipboard committees resulted in much talk but little action, citing a visit to the battleship Jaime I in which “the phrase ‘conquer or die’ was heard everywhere, but the anarchists neither conquered nor died.”22

The enlisted crews did secure more of the fleet than their officers, particularly most of the newest combatants, including Jaime I, three cruisers, twenty destroyers, and twelve submarines. The Nationalists seized the battleship España from drydock, two cruisers, a destroyer, some gunboats, two submarines, and five Coast Guard vessels. Crucially, they also captured Canarias and Balaeres, two new cruisers under construction in Ferrol at the time of the rising.23

Somewhat mitigating their deficiency in numbers of ships, the Nationalists seized major naval bases on the Spanish mainland in Ferrol, Cadiz, and Algeciras, while the Republic was left with Cartagena and Mahon on the island of Minorca, both of which both had comparatively limited maintenance facilities. Republican control of major civilian ports and shipyards in Barcelona and Bilbao, along with two-thirds of Spain’s merchant fleet, ultimately failed to influence the course of the naval war.24

Nationalist Operations (The Rebels)

By late July 1936, the two Spanish navies had begun to contest the strait, since control of that chokepoint would prevent any Nationalist attempt to move their troops from Morocco. By early August the bulk of the Republican Navy was operating there, trying to bottle up the enemy Army of Africa25 as Italy began to deploy Savoia Marchetti 81 bombers (SM.81) to Nationalist bases in Morocco.26

An Italian SM.81 like those used to magnify and enable the limited sea power of the Spanish Nationalists. (Wikimedia Commons)

When most of the Republican ships left the strait to replenish supplies in Cartagena on 5 August, the Nationalists immediately seized the initiative. The Italian bombers pounced on the few destroyers left behind, damaging Almirante Valdes and Lepanto, and clearing the way for the sealift of Nationalist troops to Spain.27 The German battleships Deutschland and Admiral Scheer, also operating near the strait at that time, likely deterred the Republican ships from interdicting the convoy of Franco’s troops.28

The Italians scattered the Republican fleet, allowing 3,000 men from the Army of Africa to cross by sea.29 The so-called “victory convoy”30 that sailed on “the day of the Virgin of Africa” was critical at that stage of the war. Those troops would form the bulk of the force that “cut off the Portuguese frontier from the republicans” and joined “forces with the Army of the North,” establishing the Nationalists firmly on the ground for the rest of the war.31

The German Luftwaffe also contributed to saving the Nationalist cause, with German air power playing a vital role in the airlift of troops essential to Nationalist logistics. Hitler reportedly said that “Franco ought to erect a monument to the glory of the Junkers Ju 52. It is the aircraft which the Spanish revolution has to thank for its victory.”32 “The first major airlift of troops in history” transported 1,500 troops in its first week. Eventually the German and Italian air forces transported up to 12,000 soldiers to Spain in the opening months of the war.33 The real impact of the airlift may have been qualitative rather than quantitative, however, with German aviation demonstrating Nazi commitment and thereby stiffening rebel resolve. While the number of men flown by the Nazis was significantly less than the number of troops ferried cross the strait by sea, it “had an enormous influence both on the nationalists’ morale and on the international assessment of their chances of victory.”34 While the airlift may not have been the decisive moment in the war, as “the Army of Africa would have got across eventually,”35 Hitler’s intervention is what turned “a coup d’etat going wrong into a bloody and prolonged civil war.”36

The war at sea was also one of allies, with the Nationalists benefiting from more active support from their German and Italian allies at sea than any aid the Republic received. Germany evaded the Republic’s blockade of their commercial shipping by using vessels registered in Panama, and the Nationalist Navy convoyed in Italian ships.37 The German and Italian navies steadily increased their support to the Nationalists throughout the early months of the war, organizing arms shipments and convoying them through the Republic’s “flimsy blockade,” monitoring the Republican fleet at sea, “openly transmitting periodic position reports,” and establishing formal liaison relationships with the Nationalist Navy.38 The Italian Navy also trained and equipped the Nationalist Navy with submarines and torpedo boats.39

The Italian Navy flagrantly abused the concept of neutrality to justify anchoring warships and landing marines in the nominally-neutral port of Tangier, claiming that they needed to evacuate endangered Italian citizens. By the time thousands of Italians and other third-country nationals had left the city, Italian forces had managed to deter the Republican Navy from entering the port and discouraged Republican loyalists from taking control of that vital haven on the southern side of the strait.40

Map of the Strait of Gibraltar (BBC)

Republican Operations (The State)

In contrast to the straightforward German and Italian support to the Nationalists, the Republic’s reliance on the Soviet Union subjected it to constraints and conflicting objectives. The German and Italian navies prevented the deployment of Soviet warships in the Spanish theater, and Nationalist forces could interdict Soviet-flagged merchant shipping that attempted to transit the Mediterranean.41 Soviet arms shipments to the Republic had to be carried by Spanish shipping, with British-flagged shipping carrying the bulk of “legitimate trade” like “oil, coal, food and other supplies.”42 But despite difficulties, including the lack of sympathy by most of the remaining senior Republican Navy officers for Soviet or Spanish communists, the Republican Navy was able to maintain maritime lines-of-communication with the Soviet Union- “between October 1936 and September 1937, over twenty large, mostly Spanish, transport ships made journeys from the Black Sea to Spain without difficulty.”43

Despite the success of those convoys, critics of the Soviet naval strategy correctly point out that it “was narrowly defensive and was essentially derived from the assumptions of inevitable material inferiority to imperialist navies which could only be defeated by a kind of proletarian guerilla warfare at sea.” This strategy made little sense for a Republican Navy that started the war with every “material and geographical capability to carry the war to the enemy.” Rather than taking the initiative, the Republic ceded use of the sea by limiting their scope of naval operations mainly to escorting Soviet shipping.44

Nikolai G. Kuznetsov, the Soviet adviser to the Spanish Republic and future Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union. (Wikimedia Commons)

Soviet influence had an operational impact later in 1936 as well. On 29 September, the Nationalist cruisers Almirante Cervera and Canarias sunk Almirante Ferrándiz and damaged Gravina at the battle of Cape Spartel,45 in what has been called the “turning point of the naval war.” Afterward “the Republican Navy would never regain the initiative or its confidence, while the Nationalist Navy would never lose them.” Kuznetsov had approved the diversion of Republican ships from the strait, but eventually acknowledged “it was a terrible blunder.”46

It should be noted, however, that the Soviets controlled the Republican Navy in virtually the same manner as they influenced Republican Army operations ashore during the first two years of the war.47 Ironically, the Spanish Communist Party vigorously criticized “the passivity of the Republican fleet,” not realizing that its caution at sea was dictated by a naval strategy crafted by Soviet officers to meet Soviet objectives.48 One assessment of Soviet assistance argues that “Stalin’s material aid kept the Republic temporarily alive, but his military advisers helped dig its grave.”49

Neutral or Complicit Onlookers?

While France and Great Britain tried to maintain neutrality in their relations with the two sides, the international regime they attempted to implement and enforce at sea actively harmed the Republican cause. The Non-Intervention Agreement of September 1936 not only failed to stop the flow of fighters and materiel to both sides, but one-sided adherence to the agreement by the “genuinely” neutral UK and the “formally” neutral France did little to diminish the flow of German, Italian, or Soviet aid into Spain.50 Franco-British neutrality did not extend to actually ensuring that other European powers behaved as neutrals, as they chose to overlook direct Italian and German naval participation in the hostilities.51

The French left-wing Popular Front government did make some moves to help the Republican government with which it had much ideological sympathy, but on a smaller scale than Italy or Germany aided the Nationalists. On the maritime front, however, even a minimal French commitment in support of the Republic was undercut by a British refusal to cooperate. Overtures by the French Navy’s Admiral Francois Darlan to the British to counter Italian and German naval support to the Nationalists were rebuffed in 1936.52 Lord Chatfield, the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, told Darlan that Franco was a “good Spanish patriot” and that the Royal Navy was “unfavourably impressed” by “the murder of the Spanish naval officers.”53

The British reluctance to support the Republic with Royal Navy operations afloat was not just officer-class solidarity with the Nationalist sympathies of their Spanish Navy peers, however. It also reflected larger geopolitical concerns and diverging imperial interests not aligned with the Anglo-French naval alliance. While fears of “combined Italian-German-Spanish naval operations” in the Mediterranean drove French planning, British desire for a rapprochement with Italy after disputes over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 led to a less aggressive British policy.54

Conclusion

Despite its initial significant naval advantage, the Spanish Republic was ultimately defeated by the Nationalists in 1939. While both sides operated at sea throughout the conflict, the Republic had lost the naval war within the first few months. Historians have justifiably blamed the Republican Navy for its failure to keep the Army of Africa bottled up in Morocco, but it is unfair to attribute this failure to anarchist shipboard committees and the few officers that remained loyal to the government in Madrid. The smaller Nationalist fleet exploited air power and vigorous allied support to more effectively apply sea power in order to win the war. Sea power proved decisive in the Spanish Civil War, just not in the narrow understanding of naval strength typified by measuring numbers of vessels. Ships and other materiel of war are tools, and the Nationalists proved better at using theirs at sea between 1936 and 1939.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval officer assigned to Coastal Riverine Group TWO. 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 U.S. Government.

References

[1] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, March 2015.

[2] Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain (New York: Penguin, 2006), 71.

[3] Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 212.

[4] Willard C. Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” Naval War College Review 38, no. 1, (January/February 1984): 24.

[5] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 24.

[6] Thomas, 204.

[7] Beevor, 71-72.

[8] Beevor., 57, 72.

[9] Ibid., 71.

[10] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 25.

[11] Thomas, 243.

[12] Beevor, 72.

[13] Thomas, 243.

[14] Ibid., 72.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Beevor, 72.

[17] Thomas, 243.

[18] Ibid., 243 (footnote).

[19] Ibid., 227.

[20] Michael Alpert, “The Clash of Spanish Armies: Contrasting Ways of War in Spain, 1936-1939,” War in History 6, no. 3 (1999): 345.

[21] Thomas., 331-332.

[22] Ibid, 549.

[23] Ibid., 331-332.

[24] Ibid., 331-332.

[25] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 25.

[26] Ibid., 28.

[27] Ibid., 28; Michael Alpert, La Guerra Civil Española en el Mar (Madrid: Siglo XXI de España Editores, 1987), 92.

[28] Thomas, 370-371; Michael Alpert, “The Clash of Spanish Armies: Contrasting Ways of War in Spain, 1936-1939,” War in History 6, no. 3 (1999): 334.

[29] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 29; Thomas, 370-371; Beevor, 117-118.

[30] Paul Preston, Franco: A Biography (New York: Basic Books, 1994) 161-162.

[31] Thomas, 370-371.

[32] Hitler’s Table Talk: 1941-1944, trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens (New York: Enigma Books, 2000), 687.

[33] Beevor, 117-118.

[34] Ibid., 117-118.

[35] Ibid., 427.

[36] Preston, 160.

[37] Peter Gretton, “The Nyon Conference – The Naval Aspect,” The English Historical Review 90, no. 354 (January 1975): 103.

[38] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 30.

[39] Sullivan, 10.

[40] Ibid., 9.

[41] Alpert, “The Clash of Spanish Armies: Contrasting Ways of War in Spain, 1936-1939,” 348.

[42] Gretton, 103.

[43] Thomas, 549-550.

[44] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 32.

[45] Beevor, 144; Willard C. Frank, “Canarias, Adiós,” Warship International 2 (1979), accessed at http://www.kbismarck.org/canarias2.html.

[46] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 30-31.

[47] Ibid., 32.

[48] Ibid., 39.

[49] Ibid., 48.

[50] Gretton, 103.

[51] Michael Alpert, “The Clash of Spanish Armies: Contrasting Ways of War in Spain, 1936-1939,” 346.

[52] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 28.

[53] Thomas, 389.

[54] Frank, “Naval Operations in the Spanish Civil War,” 30.

Featured Image: The Spanish cruiser Canarias (Colorized by Irootoko Jr.)

Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Southeast Asia

Richard A. Mobley and Edward J. Marolda, Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Southeast AsiaNaval History and Heritage Command, 2016, 102 pp.

By LCDR Mark Munson, USN

Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Asia by Richard A. Mobley and Edward J. Marolda is the seventh book in the Naval History and Heritage Command’s The U.S. Navy and the Vietnam War series, and addresses the role of U.S. Navy intelligence in the Vietnam War. It serves as useful reference for both students of the Vietnam War and Navy intelligence, illuminating both the drastic technological changes that have taken place over the last 50 years, as well as the unchanging nature of core intelligence principles. Determining what information commanders need, and figuring out how to get them that finished intelligence at the right time and in the right format remains the essence of how to do intelligence right.

Many of the ways in which the U.S. Navy conducted intelligence operations during Vietnam would be familiar to practitioners today, with the Integrated Operational Intelligence Center (IOIC) onboard a Vietnam-era carrier the direct ancestor of today’s Carrier Intelligence Center (CVIC), spaces in which intelligence from a variety of sources, including data from national, theater, and carrier air wing (CVW) sensors and feeds are fused to provide what the Navy calls “Operational Intelligence.”

Demonstrating the continuity of all-source intelligence analysis between then and now, the all-source techniques Vietnam-era analysts used to track illicit civilian shipping had originally been perfected during the Second World War. During Operation Market Time, the U.S. Navy’s interdiction campaign in the South China Sea against trawlers smuggling weapons from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, naval intelligence used what Mobley and Marolda describe as a “sophisticated analytical and interpretive process” and techniques like “pattern analysis,” to achieve “a comprehensive understanding of what routes the infiltrating ships would take and what sites on the coast of South Vietnam they would attempt to reach.”

During Vietnam the Navy experimented both with methods where imagery collected during airborne reconnaissance missions was exploited onboard the carrier in the IOIC, as well as what is now called “reachback,” with analysts at the Fleet Intelligence Center Pacific Facility (FICPAC) in Hawaii exploiting imagery during Operation Rolling Thunder early in the war, or at the Fleet Intelligence Center Pacific Facility (FICPACFAC) at Cubi Point in the Philippines later during the bombing of North Vietnam during 1972’s Operation Linebacker. Teams of FICPACFAC imagery analysts “operated around the clock processing raw intelligence photography, interpreting it, and using it to prepare targeting lists” during Linebacker. Navy support to targeting efforts during Linebacker played a vital role to operations such as the air campaign that stopped North Vietnam’s conventional invasion of the South, and the mining of Haiphong Harbor.

Unlike today, however, when reachback is enabled by robust wireless and satellite communications, the state of technology at that time meant that unexploited imagery had to be physically couriered from the various sites afloat and ashore in Southeast Asia to Hawaii and back, demonstrating the old intelligence truism that even the best intelligence collection has no impact if cannot get to an analyst who can exploit and then disseminate it to the right decision-maker in a timely and usable form. This dilemma was demonstrated most acutely during Rolling Thunder, which featured rules-of-engagement requiring the Joint Staff at the Pentagon to approve strikes, meaning that wet film of targets like Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites would have to be flown back to the carrier, recovered from the plane, exploited by imagery analysts, transmitted to Washington, and then approved as targets. This lumbering process often allowed the enemy to move their SAM batteries well before an attack was mounted. In this instance the combination of technological limitations and cumbersome command-and-control processes limited the effectiveness of U.S. airpower. It also serves as a reminder for how the current reliance on wireless communications presents vulnerabilities that can be exploited by savvy adversaries that challenge U.S. use of the electromagnetic spectrum by degrading dissemination of intelligence from the analyst to the consumer.

The employment of manned airborne reconnaissance platforms from even before the start of the war demonstrates the desire for better intelligence by both commanders in theater and national leaders during Vietnam, with carrier-based aircraft conducting what is now called Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions being suffering casualties over Laos as early as June 1964. 32 planes from the Navy’s photo-reconnaissance squadrons were eventually shot down during war, with seven pilots killed and five captured. These comparatively heavy losses are possibly the biggest human difference between ISR in Vietnam and the current set of wars prosecuted by the U.S. in the twenty-first century. The extreme risks that North Vietnam’s advanced Soviet air defense network posed to aviators flying manned reconnaissance platforms then contrasts greatly with the virtually threat-free environment that today’s aerial reconnaissance platforms enjoy as they operate with impunity in the skies above places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just like today, signals intelligence (SIGINT) can be collected both in the air and afloat, with support during Vietnam from Naval Security Group cryptologists embarked in Navy ships off the coast, and airborne SIGINT collection conducted from P-3 Orion Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft during Operation Market Time.

Navy collectors of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) in Vietnam included Naval Intelligence Liaison Officers (NILO) serving as part of Naval Intelligence Field Organization (NIFO) in Vietnam’s coastal and riverine zones. Perhaps the most impressive HUMINT success took place in 1969 when Navy collection was able to prove that North Vietnam was moving weapons and personnel into the South via Cambodia. This was a victory against both the enemy as well as the national intelligence bureaucracy. Previous technical collection had failed to prove the existence of a Cambodian transshipment node, and strongly-held assessments by CIA, DIA, and the State Department had rejected suspicions that support to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong was being funneled through Cambodia.

Perhaps some of the most insightful observations made in Knowing the Enemy is when it recounts how the desire for better intelligence on the intentions of the North Vietnamese, Chinese, and Soviet rivals of the U.S. ended up driving both military operations and political events, instead of the reverse. Although the U.S. had been involved in the fight in Southeast Asia since the French had been forced out of its former Indochinese colony in the mid-1950s, the main trigger for the “official” start of the war was actually caused by the push for more aggressive intelligence collection.

By the early sixties, U.S. Navy destroyers were regularly conducting intelligence collection missions called “DESOTO patrols,” typically off the coast but outside the territorial waters of the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. By 1964 U.S. leaders were pushing for more aggressive DESOTO patrols in order to support South Vietnam’s “Operation 34A” commando raids against North Vietnamese coastal targets. Admiral Harry D. Felt, then serving as Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), stated that the “lack of adequate intelligence is a prime factor in the failure of maritime operations,” concluding that Operation 34A needed better U.S. Navy afloat collection to be successful.

The pressure to improve collection by operating U.S. Navy ships closer to the North Vietnamese coast, sometime inside of territorial waters, led directly to the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident in which the destroyers Maddox (DD-731) and Turner Joy (DD-951), were purportedly attacked by the North Vietnamese Navy, providing the justification for the subsequent Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the closest thing to an actual “start” of the Vietnam War. The authors briefly discuss the controversy over exactly what happened in August 1964, and how intelligence reporting and analysis of those events at the time were used by the Johnson administration to justify a greatly expanded role in Vietnam, noting that “it is now clear that North Vietnamese naval units did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy on 4 August 1964.”

Knowing the Enemy highlights heroes such as Jack Graf, a decorated NILO who, after being shot down during his second tour in Vietnam, escaped from captivity but ultimately went missing; Lieutenant Charles F. Klusmann, a reconnaissance pilot who was shot down over Laos in 1964 but was able to escape; and Captain Earl F. “Rex” Rectanus, the Intelligence Officer for Naval Forces Vietnam (NAVFORV) who stood up to CIA and DIA in 1969, proving that enemy forces were being resupplied via Cambodia. It also includes sections discussing more prosaic challenges like those faced by cryptologists located ashore at bases like Danang who underwent frequent rocket attacks from Viet Cong rebels.

Knowing the Enemy provides a rich resource for those interested in U.S. Naval intelligence efforts in Vietnam, covering the war both chronologically and thematically in terms of how intelligence supported Navy operations off the coast, in the air, on the ground, and in the rivers of southeast Asia. It can be downloaded for free from the Naval History and Heritage Command’ website.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval officer assigned to Coastal Riverine Group TWO. 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 U.S. Government.

Featured Image: Ben Cat, South Vietnam, Sept. 25, 1965 by french photographer Henry Huet. The soldiers in the photo are paratroopers of the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade. (Colorized by Wayne Degan)

ONI and the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922

By LCDR Mark Munson, USN

Introduction

Between November 1921 and February 1922, representatives from nine nations assembled in Washington, D.C. to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific region and naval disarmament.1 The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) played a vital role for the American organizers of the conference by collecting information and publishing intelligence products that supported the U.S. negotiators and enabled them to achieve American diplomatic objectives. While the Conference has a poor historical reputation because it failed to prevent a naval arms race leading up to the Second World War, its more modest achievements provide a case study in successful diplomatic intelligence, with ONI’s support to the negotiating effort demonstrating the importance of intelligence expertise in maritime issues.

A Bold Proposal

When the Harding administration’s Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes opened the Washington Conference by announcing the dramatic reversal of the U.S. Navy’s expansion, which had dated back to the beginning of the turn of the century and accelerated during the First World War, his statement “shocked the delegates by calling for a ten-year naval construction ‘holiday,’ with force ratios fixed at a level of 10-10-6 for the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. This proposal meant scrapping large portions of the American fleet, constructed as part of the 1916 expansion program, and the mid-construction cancellation of all ships funded by the 1918 Navy expansion bill.”2

By announcing a willingness to slash the American fleet, Hughes hoped to use diplomacy at the conference to further U.S. aims in East Asia and Western Pacific, with goals including “naval disarmament; a new security structure that replaced the Anglo-Japanese alliance; and the enshrinement of the Open Door policy into international law.”3 Hughes’ “surprise” proposal stunned even the head of the British delegation, former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, forcing him “to define his country’s policy literally as he sat waiting to reply.”4

Despite being surprised by Hughes’ opening remarks, the U.K quickly saw the conference as an opportunity to realize its own strategic objectives. By the early 1920s, much of the Royal Navy, built during “the burst of warship construction before and during 1914–18, and the limited construction of the 1920s,” was now “obsolete and needed to be replaced.”5 Unlike before the war, when the Royal Navy only had to maintain superiority against the Germans, continued supremacy afloat would require a fleet “equal to that of the Japanese navy plus the next largest European navy.” With a decrease in British shipbuilding capacity eroding its status as the global maritime hegemon, a pause in the naval arms race would help the Royal Navy’s keep its numerical advantage.6

Fusing Intelligence and Diplomacy on Naval Arms

ONI was founded in 1882 and already served as “the main provider of data on foreign fleets” for U.S. policymakers on the eve of the conference.7 Just as with the rest of the U.S. Navy, the First World War had led to a significant expansion of ONI manpower, swelling to 306 reservists and 18 civil servants by 1918.8 ONI’s mission was to collect “political, military, naval, economic, and industrial” information, to “analyze, classify, summarize, and make available” that information, and to disseminate it “systematically throughout the naval service.”9

Following the war however, ONI was quickly reduced to a force of 42 by 1920.10 With funding allocated to the naval attaches providing the bulk of ONI’s reporting which was now “ridiculously small” and insufficient to support diplomatic life abroad, “appointments were often based on personal wealth rather than qualifications.” In spite of this reduced attaché force, however, headquarters was still faced with a “mass of undigested and unclassified material that started to accumulate.”11 Even “the few attaches left after postwar demobilization” were still diligently able to “interview local officials, peruse public papers, and assemble newspaper clippings” in quantities great enough to leave piles of information unexploited.12  ONI’s struggle to perform its core duty of collecting and analyzing data on foreign navies after the war was also exacerbated by its assumption of additional domestic duties including “monitoring subversive activities that alien nationals were planning to undertake on American territory.”13

To support U.S. negotiating efforts at the conference, “ONI was assigned to provide numerous statistics, graphs and charts on the comparative tonnage of the world’s navies.”14 ONI anticipated this tasking, with the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, having ordered “all attaches to collect local opinion concerning a possible naval limitations conference” to drive analysis in which “ONI staff prepared specifics on foreign naval expenditures, building programs, and existing warships.”15 Commander William W. Galbraith of ONI explained “it is desirable to know, as far in advance as possible, the probable plan of action on the part of the other representatives together with some insights into the instructions given to the delegates by their governments.”16

U.S. Navy attaches swung into action. The former DNI, Rear Admiral Andrew Niblack, then serving as the naval attaché to Great Britain, mailed back press clippings and even met King George V, “but characteristically found the conversation disappointing” as “the Prime Minister is the important factor in the upcoming conference.”17 Despite being close allies during the war, Anglo-American tensions were barely concealed as the conference began. British leaders had wanted a preliminary session before the main event to coordinate diplomatic aims between the two allies, but were left disappointed by U.S. reluctance. The international acclaim that had hailed President Harding from around the global after he announced the conference also irritated British leaders.18

Other ONI-sponsored intelligence collection took place elsewhere in Europe. The attaché in France provided “French disarmament data and photographs of prospective Gallic delegates,” and U.S. Navy personnel in Berlin “polled members of the Inter-Allied Control Commission, discovering a common fear of Japanese militarism.”19

With the conference agenda focused on East Asia, the U.S. Navy and conference negotiators particularly valued intelligence on the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). U.S. naval attaches in Tokyo relied heavily on open source collection, including the English and Japanese-language presses, and the Japanese Navy’s professional publications or speeches by naval officers when available. When possible they “cultivated a variety of personal sources who often supplied valuable information on Japanese naval affairs out of friendship or after consuming too much alcohol,” including “Japanese friends, foreign technical experts, or travelers who might have passed through a sensitive area,” or what they could trade from foreign services such as French or Chinese intelligence.20 Their reporting addressed topics such as “the future of China, Pacific fortifications, naval ratios, and Japanese claims to formerly German territory.”21

American collectors in Tokyo supported the negotiators with “reports by telegram at a rate of over one thousand pages per month,” complementing the efforts of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, who sent the American delegation at the conference a “daily ‘Confidential’ report of Japanese press discussions, analyses of political leaders, and detailed commentaries.”22

The intrepid naval attaches also reported on Japanese politics, an arena in which liberal groups advocating “pacifism, anti-militarism, and support for disarmament” were increasingly active.23 Understanding these fractures in Japanese political life was important, as they would drive “the degree of autonomy” that Admiral Kato Tomosaburo, Japan’s lead negotiator and Navy Minister, would have during the negotiations. After Prime Minister Hara Kei’s assassination “by a right-wing activist” on the eve of conference, U.S. Army intelligence reported to the State Department that “the confused political situation” would leave Kato “essentially operating without significant oversight from Tokyo.”24 This corroborated reporting that U.S. naval attaches had derived from open source information depicting “hardline Japanese naval officers as politically isolated,” therefore limiting their ability to resist “a stronger American position on naval force ratios.”25 

The Japanese battleship Tosa at Nagasaki on 31 July 1922. Designed by Yuzuru Hiraga, Tosa was envisioned as the lead ship of a class of two 39,900-long-ton (40,540 t) ships, but she was canceled the day before Japan signed the Washington Naval Treaty. Tosa was then used for various ordnance tests before being scuttled on 9 February 1925. (Shizuo Fukui/Kure Maritime Museum) [Colorized by Irootoko Jr.]
Despite the large volume of reporting, ONI faced significant difficulties in assembling an accurate assessment of the Japanese Navy. Before the conference, “ONI admitted that it was unable to determine the numbers of vessels which the Japanese were constructing” and its 1920 assessment  “only speculated on how many ships could become available in future years.”26 U.S. Navy intelligence “was often unable to determine the exact tonnage of Japanese vessels” due to deceptive statements by Japan’s navy ministry, but “could not calculate the extent of the misinformation.”27  ONI was faced by qualitative as well as quantitative challenges in its assessments, as it was unaware of Japanese “successes in devising doctrines for employing its vessels” that would prove deadly when applied twenty years later in the Pacific.28

ONI’s reporting and assessments on the Japanese Navy also included some particularly embarrassing examples of how bias can hinder analysis, with racist assumptions often prominent in its products. Delegates to the conference had “unusually high morals for a Japanese” and “unusual reasoning powers for an Oriental.”29  “Widespread inefficiency” in the Japanese fleet was caused by “a lack of mechanical genius,” a “low level of initiative and a corresponding inability to deal with unexpected situations.”30 Any threat posed by future Japanese naval aviation was unlikely according to ONI analysis, as “the Japanese is naturally unfitted for any mechanical pursuit, and for this reason great difficulty has been experienced in training aviators.”31

The Five-Power Treaty signed at the conference formalized the “5:5:3 ratio limit” which restricted total capital ship tonnage for the U.S. and Royal navies to 500,000, Japan to 300,000, and both France and Italy to 175,000 tons. The Treaty was perceived as a success at the time because the Japanese allocation was less than their initial desire for 70 percent of American/British tonnage. It also “recognized the status quo of U.S., British, and Japanese bases in the Pacific,” “secured agreements that reinforced its existing policy in the Pacific, including the Open Door Policy in China and the protection of the Philippines,” and limited “the scope of Japanese imperial expansion as much as possible.”32 

Despite achieving success at the negotiating table, the U.S. did not fully exploit the pause in the naval arms race enabled by the Washington conference. Although the Treaty limited naval expansion by its British ally and potential Japanese rival, “the American Congress consistently refused to spend enough to bring the U.S. Navy up to tonnage parity with the Royal Navy.”33  Despite being allowed by the Treaty to build as many battleships as the cash-strapped Royal Navy, the actual ratio of ships built between the Royal, U.S., and Japanese navies ended up closer to 5-4-3 between the wars.34

The traditional narrative of the Washington Treaty has been that it left the U.S. Navy unprepared for the Second World War.35  Influential mid-century naval thinkers like Samuel Eliot Morison and Dudley Knox argued that the “treaty navy” was “barely prepared for war” in 1941 in terms of fleet size, and that the treaty allowed political leaders to justify neglect of U.S. bases in the Western Pacific like Guam and the Philippines.36

Regardless of whether the Treaty resulted in a small, crippled navy at the start of the Second World War, the efforts of ONI and its attaches “successfully accomplished an important intelligence task,” particularly against Japan, and “reduced uncertainty for American decision makers at a key moment in international relations.”37  ONI’s quantitative work was particularly important, driving negotiations focused on “the comparative tonnage of warships and strengths of navies.” However, even at the time, ONI’s experts cautioned “that relative naval power could not be measured in exact mathematical terms nor equitable naval ratios by simple formulas.”38

Naval intelligence collectors, particularly the attaches in Japan, made use of their language training, applied both “to translate written evidence such as government documents and press sources, as well as to conduct conversations with their hosts” in the course of their daily lives. Information was collected by “visits to naval facilities and dockyards” when possible, “private U.S. citizens, who were either based in Japan or paying temporary visits,” or occasional “intercepts of radio communications.” While clandestine Human or Signals Intelligence collection may have been particularly prized, naval intelligence ultimately collected “95 percent of the information it sought” in Japanese-language open source publications.39

Despite the success ONI’s collection mission achieved against Japan, it was always hindered by “the Japanese government’s stringent restrictions on the activities and movements of foreign intelligence personnel.”40 This “shortage of reliable intelligence” resulted in an overemphasis on quantitative reporting (numbers and tonnage of Japanese Navy ships), at the expense of understanding “operational doctrine and the performance of its equipment.”41 To be fair to those collectors, the Japanese Navy’s “tight veil of secrecy” would have hindered any collection efforts,42 but the emphasis on fleet size and tonnage may have led ONI analysts to underestimate “the Japanese Navy’s determination to achieve supremacy in the western Pacific through qualitative one-upmanship.”43

The aftermath of the conference left ONI with a clear mission and requirements for future intelligence collection and production. Savvy analysts at ONI quickly realized that the Washington conference and a series of successive conferences in Geneva and London aimed at limiting the construction of smaller classes of naval vessels “blinded Americans to the need for continued naval defenses, concluding that ONI must be the vehicle to spread the warning.”44 Their task was to uncover treaty violations, assuming “that all signatories would circumvent the settlement and try to deceive the other powers.”45

Conclusion

ONI support to the conference shows the continued importance of Open Source and Human intelligence (OSINT and HUMINT, respectively), particularly when enabled by expertise in foreign languages. While much of the information that the U.S. Navy’s attaches in Japan collected was openly available, it would have remains uncollected and unexploited if the Navy had not invested in language training for those officers. Even in a digital age where information is freely available over the internet, OSINT collection may still require a properly trained collector to have physical access to freely available data and media.

The U.S. Navy’s main intelligence challenge against its future Japanese foe was not determining how many ships they had, but rather, how to develop a detailed understanding of Japanese naval doctrine and how they planned to fight a future war at sea. While the Treaty made counting the Japanese fleet a straightforward task, Japanese secrecy, a lack of effective HUMINT placement and access (a task almost impossible for the segregated U.S. Navy’s largely all-white officer corps in pre-war Japan), and technological barriers preventing SIGINT collection stopped ONI from achieving “penetrating knowledge” of the Japanese Navy.46

Finally, ONI’s efforts in support of the conference show the importance of expertise in maritime issues to naval intelligence. Ultimately, the U.S. Navy is the only arm of the U.S. government that will always prioritize intelligence on foreign navies and the global maritime system. While maritime intelligence is not always valued by government leaders and the intelligence community as whole, when a situation arises in which maritime expertise is needed by national decision-makers, they will expect naval intelligence to have the answers they need immediately.

The Washington conference may have proved a long-term failure in terms of curtailing the growth of the navies that fought in the Second World War, and a low point in terms of American isolationism and the abandonment of sea power as a national security strategy. For ONI however, it provided an opportunity to apply a variety of intelligence disciplines in support of national diplomatic objectives. 

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval officer assigned to Coastal Riverine Group TWO. 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 U.S. Government. 

 References

[1] The U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and China participated in the conference. The “Nine-Power Treaty” dealt with the interests of western nations and Japan in China. The treaty addressing naval arms control was the “Five-Power Treaty signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, France, and Italy. The “Four-Power Treaty” was signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, and France, replacing the 1902 alliance between the U.K. and Japan, and attempted to accommodate those nations’ interests in East Asia. See “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, accessed 28 July 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/naval-conference

[2] Eric Setzekorn, “Open Source Information and the Office of Naval Intelligence in Japan, 1905–1920,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 27, (2014): 379.

[3] Paul Welch Behringer, “‘Forewarned Is Forearmed’: Intelligence, Japan’s Siberian Intervention, and the Washington Conference,” The International History Review 38:3 (2016): 368-369.

[4] John Ferris, Issues in British and American Signals Intelligence, 1919-1932 (Fort Meade: NSA Center for Cryptologic History, 2015), 44.

[5] Joseph A. Maiolo, “Anglo-Soviet Naval Armaments Diplomacy Before the Second World War,” English Historical Review 123:501 (2008): 352.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Douglas Ford, “U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet During the Washington Treaty Era, c. 1922-36,” The Mariner’s Mirror 93:3 (August 2007): 284.

[8] Wyman H. Packard, A Century of Naval Intelligence (Washington: Department of the Navy, 1996), 13.

[9] Ford, 284.

[10] Packard, 14.

[11] Ford, 284.

[12] Jeffery M. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983), 20.

[13] Ford, 284.

[14] Ibid., 285.

[15] Dorwart, 20.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Erik Goldstein, “The Evolution of British Diplomatic Strategy for the Washington Conference,” in The Washington Conference, 1921-22: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John Maurer (Ilford: Frank Cass, 1994), 18-19.

[19] Dorwart, 20.

[20] Setzekorn, 373-374.

[21] Ibid., 377.

[22] Ibid., 380.

[23] Ibid., 378.

[24] Ibid., 379.

[25] Ibid., 369.

[26] Ford, 285.

[27] Ibid., 292.

[28] Ibid., 290.

[29] Dorwart, 20.

[30] Ford, 281.

[31] Ford, 293.

[32] “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” United States Department of State.

[33] Maiolo, 355.

[34] Ferris, 44-45.

[35] Michael Krepon, “Naval Treaties,” Arms Control Wonk, accessed 28 July 2017, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/403364/naval-treaties/.

[36] John Kuehn, “The Influence of Naval Arms Limitation on U.S. Naval Innovation During the Interwar Period, 1921-1937” (PhD diss., Kansas State University, 2007), 17-18.

[37] Setzekorn, 382.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ford, 286.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 281.

[42] Ibid., 285-286.

[43] Maiolo, 375-376.

[44] Dorwart, 22.

[45] Ibid., 24-25.

[46] “Navy Strategy for Achieving Maritime Dominance: 2013-2017,” 7.

Featured Image: Scene at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, December 1923, with guns from scrapped battleships in the foreground. (Wikimedia Commons)

Advancing Information Warfare and Reforming Naval Intelligence

By Mark Munson

Earlier this year, Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, released his Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, articulating a vision for how the Navy intends to both deter conflict and conduct “decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.” Some of the factors it identifies as making the maritime system “more heavily used, more stressed, and more contested than ever before” include expanded trade, the impact of climate change opening sea lanes in the Arctic, increased undersea exploitation of the seabed, and illicit trafficking.

As U.S. Navy operations afloat take place within a more contested maritime system, the need for better “Battlespace Awareness,” one of the three “Fundamental Capabilities” identified in the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance, is clear. Battlespace Awareness requires a deep and substantive understanding of the maritime system as a whole, including tasks such as the “persistent surveillance of the maritime and information battlespace,” “an understanding of when, where, and how our adversaries operate,” and comprehension of the civil maritime environment.

The U.S. Navy operates across a spectrum ranging from simple presence operations, maritime security, strike warfare ashore in support of land forces, to potential high-end conflict at sea and even strategic nuclear strike from ballistic missile submarines. These operations do not occur in a vacuum, but in a highly complex and dynamic international environment that continues to require real expertise, particularly in its uniquely maritime aspects.

Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)
Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)

To execute these operations the U.S. Navy needs an intelligence arm employing experts that understand the details of the maritime system and how it can impact naval operations at sea. Three ways to move towards achieving real expertise in the maritime environment include:

  • Fielding better analytic tools and using advanced analytics to assist in collection, exploitation, and all-source fusion
  • Deploying intelligence analysts and tools to lower echelon units closer to the fight
  • Training intelligence personnel in vital skills such as foreign languages

Task 1: Improve Use of Advanced Analytics and Sophisticated Tools

The Design portrays a world in which rapid technological change and broadened access to computing power have narrowed the distance between the U.S. Navy and potential competitors. Wealthy states no longer have a built-in military advantage simply by having access to immense sums of money to invest in military platforms and weapons, including communications and information technology.

The Design notes that this advantage has been eroded as new technologies are “being adopted by society just as fast – people are using these new tools as quickly as they are introduced, and in new and novel ways.” Virtually anyone now has the ability to access and analyze information in ways that were previously only the preserve of the most advanced intelligence agencies. Indeed, today’s “information system is more pervasive, enabling an even greater multitude of connections between people and at a much lower cost of entry – literally an individual with a computer is a powerful actor in the system.”

This story of rapid technological change does not necessarily have to be one where the leader in a particular field inevitably loses ground to more nimble pursuers. The explosion of “Big Data” gives the U.S. Navy opportunities in which to better understand the maritime system, provide persistent surveillance of the maritime environment, and achieve what the Information Dominance Strategy describes as “penetrating knowledge of the capabilities and intent of our adversaries.”

In addition to an explosion of social media across the planet that provides readily exploitable data for analysis, the maritime environment has its own unique indicators and observables. One example of the ways publicly or commercially available data can be used to develop operationally relevant understanding of maritime phenomena was a 2013 study by C4DS that detailed how Russia has used commercial maritime entities to supply the Syrian government with weapons.

DigitalGlobe's Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)
DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)

Nation-states and their agencies no longer control the raw materials of intelligence by monopolizing capital-intensive signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT) collection platforms or dissemination systems. Anyone can now access huge amounts of potentially informative data. The barrier to entry for analytic tools has drastically declined as well. An organization that can develop analytic tools to exploit the explosion of data could rival the impact that British and U.S. experts in Operations Analysis achieved during the Second World War by improving Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) efforts in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The navy that can successfully exploit the data environment and make it relevant to operations afloat will be better positioned to formulate responses to challenges fielded by potential adversaries often characterized by the now discouraged term “Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD).” With the barrier to entry for advanced analytics and use of statistical techniques so low, it would be criminal to not apply cutting edge methods to the various analytic problems faced by intelligence professionals.

Task 2: Employ Intelligence Tools at the Tactical Edge

For a variety of historical and technical reasons, all-source intelligence fusion for the U.S. Navy has generally taken place at the “force” or “operational” levels; typically by an afloat Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), or numbered Fleet staff, rather than with the forward-most tactical units. Since at least the Second World War, the U.S. Navy has emphasized the importance of deploying intelligence staff with operational commanders to ensure that intelligence meets that commander’s requirements, rather than relying on higher echelon or national-level intelligence activities to be responsive to operational or tactical requirements.

Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit's requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)
Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit’s requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)

Since the Cold War, technological limitations such as the large amounts of bandwidth required for satellite transmission of raw imagery had limited the dissemination of “national” intelligence to large force-level platforms and their counterparts ashore. The need to exploit organic intelligence collected by an embarked carrier air wing, coupled with the technological requirements for bandwidth and analytic computing power, made the carrier the obvious location to fuse nationally-collected and tactical intelligence into a form usable by the Carrier Strike Group and the focal point for deployed operational intelligence afloat.

With computing power no longer an obstacle, however, only manpower and the ability to wirelessly disseminate information prevents small surface combatants, submarines, aircraft, and expeditionary units from using all-source analysis tailored to their tactical commander’s needs. The Intelligence Carry-on Program (ICOP) provides one solution by equipping Independent Duty Intelligence Specialists onboard surface combatants like Aegis cruisers and destroyers (CG/DDGs) with intelligence tools approaching the capability of those available to their colleagues on the big decks.

The next step for Naval Intelligence in taking advantage of these new technologies is to determine whether it is best to train non-intelligence personnel already aboard tactical units to better perform intelligence tasks, or deploy more intelligence analysts to the tactical edge of the fleet. Additionally, Naval Intelligence must advocate for systems to ensure that vital information and intelligence can actually get to the fleet via communications paths that enable the transmission of nationally-derived products in the most austere of communications environments.

There is an additional benefit to pushing intelligence analysis down-echelon. The potential for an enemy to deny satellite communications means that the ability of a tactical-level commander to make informed decisions becomes even more important. The Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority argues that “one clear implication of the current environment is the need for the Navy to prepare for decentralized operations, guided by the commander’s intent.”

The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)
The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)

Five of the six steps of the “Kill Chain” or “Dynamic Targeting” process of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess (F2T2EA) involve intelligence. These include tasks such as detecting and characterizing emerging targets (Find), identifying potential targets in time and space (Fix), observing and monitoring the target (Track), the decision to engage the target (Target), and assessment of the action against the target (Assess). Decentralized operations require the ability to apply more or all steps of the Kill Chain at the tactical edge meaning forward units need an organic intelligence capability.

Enabling tactical units to perform intelligence tasks essential to the Kill Chain at the tactical edge through trained manpower and better intelligence tools could greatly enhance the ability of afloat forces to operate in a what are sometimes described as Disrupted, Disconnected, Intermittent, and Limited bandwidth environments (D-DIL). Potential adversaries have developed a wide variety of capabilities in the information domain that would deny the U.S. military free access to wireless communications and information technology in order to “challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces both to get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.” In a possible future war at sea where deployed combatants cannot rely on the ability to securely receive finished national- or theater-level intelligence, the ability to empower tactical-level intelligence analysts is a war-winning capability.

Task 3: Develop Widespread Language and Cultural Understandings

One of the Design’s four lines of effort is to “Achieve High Velocity Learning at Every Level” by applying “the best concepts, techniques, and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams, and organization.” It also calls for a Navy that can “understand the lessons of history so as not to relearn them.” The irony here is that Naval Intelligence continues to ignore one of its most successful education efforts in history: the interwar program that detailed dozens of officers to study Japanese language and culture in Japan (with others studying Chinese and Russian in China and Eastern Europe) during the inter-war years.

LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort's intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked "well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out." (Image: 'Midway - Dauntless Victory' by Peter C Smith)
LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort’s intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked “well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out.” (Image: ‘Midway – Dauntless Victory’ by Peter C Smith)

Emphasizing the importance of language training and regional expertise would seem obvious goals for Naval Intelligence in light of the Information Dominance Strategy’s call for “penetrating knowledge” and deep understanding of potential adversaries. The direct result of sending men like Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton to Japan to immerse themselves in that society was victory in the Central Pacific at Midway in June 1942.

While there are language training programs available to the U.S. Navy officer corps as a whole (such as the Olmsted Scholar program), they are not designed to provide relevant language or expertise of particular countries or regions for intelligence purposes. If Olmsted is the way which Navy Intelligence plans to bring deep language and regional expertise into the officer corps, it has done a poor job in terms of ensuring Intelligence Officers are competitive candidates as the annual NAVADMIN messages indicate that only eight have been accepted into the program since 2008.

There has been much debate in recent years, particularly heated in the various, military blogs, over the relative importance of engineering degrees versus liberal arts for U.S. Navy officers. What has been left out of that debate is the obvious benefit associated with non-technical education in foreign languages. A deep understanding of foreign languages and cultures is not just relevant to Naval Intelligence in a strictly SIGINT role. Having intelligence professionals fluent in the language of potential adversaries (and allies) allows deep understanding of foreign military doctrine and the cultural framework in which a foreign military operates.

Foreign language expertise for a naval officer is not a new concept. In the late nineteenth century prospective Royal Navy officers had to prove they could read and write French in order to achieve appointment as a cadet, and officers were encouraged to learn foreign languages. Interestingly, the U.S. Naval Academy does not require midshipmen majoring in in Engineering, Mathematics, or Science to take foreign language courses.

Conclusion

Naval Intelligence is vitally relevant to the U.S. Navy’s afloat operations, but can be significantly improved by taking advantage of the current technological revolutions in data and data exploitation. While the Design uses new terminology and does not address intelligence’s role specifically, the core missions and tasks of Naval Intelligence remain the same as they were in 1882 when Lieutenant Theodorus Mason started work at the newly established Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Maritime experts can provide the decisive edge in combat operations through more advanced and sophisticated tools, by pushing intelligence expertise to the tactical edge to advise front-line commanders and mitigate new high-end threats, and by applying more detailed knowledge of the languages and cultures of potential adversaries in the most challenging environments.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval intelligence officer assigned to United States Africa Command. 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 U.S. Government.

Featured Image: 140717-N-TG831-028 WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (July 17, 2014) Operations Specialist 1st Class Brian Spear, from Senoia, Georgia, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100), stands watch in the combat information center. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released)