Friday, January 27, 2012

An Open Invitation to Defeat

One consistent truth is the United States never goes into war prepared. One lesser known truth is that very lack of preparedness invites war!  Every military conflict with a foreign power has been preceded by the enemy’s perception that the US is too weak to be a significant threat.  President Obama’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta proposes reducing America’s military preparedness to near crippling levels over the next ten years as a cost savings measure.  Time will tell if his decisions are wise.  History has already sounded the warning.

 What does the military have to say about this?

Uniformed response has been mixed in the hours since the announcement.  Senior military leadership so far seems to be toeing the party line; they are standing behind their civilian leader’s guidance.  If any of them were willing to risk their careers like a few brave legends of the past, much of this foolishness can be avoided.

Yes foolishness.  One of the main points of contention is we will no longer need as many ground forces because most conflicts will be asymmetrical in nature and fought with unmanned drones flying from bases in Europe guided by men in shirt sleeves and ties safely back here in the States.  No need to risk expensive F-22 Raptors and F-117 Nighthawks on deep penetration missions into hostile territory.

DarkStar RQ-3 stealth drone in an early photo when it was still largely unknown to the public.1

Hogwash.  There has never been and never will be a conflict settled without placing armed troops in harm’s way.

Greater faith in technology than in men

Every couple of generations there arises some new whiz-bang gadget from the think tanks if research that is supposed to put an end to war – if not an end to war itself, then the risk to our troops.  The Gatling gun was supposed to make war so costly that wars would not be fought again. Alfred Nobel thought his TNT would do the same.  The atomic bombs would make wars so devastating that no one would dare attack a nation so armed.  There have been hundreds of wars since the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; many between nonnuclear nations fighting nuclear armed nations.

On a smaller scale, the US Air Force was looking for a modern fighter to counter the new breeds of Soviet fighters challenging them in the skies above Vietnam.  The final fly-off was between the upgraded F-8 Crusader from Vought and the MacDonald-Douglas’ F-4 Phantom.  The Crusader was designed to be a dogfighter from the beginning.  It was highly maneuverable and armed with a mix of missiles and machine guns.  In the end the Phantom won because short-sighted officers decided that no modern supersonic fighter needed a machinegun.  They believed air-to-air combat was going to be settled entirely at missile range.

F-8 Crusader onboard the USS Midway in San Diego. Note the machinegun ports below the cockpit.  Two more are on the other side.2

The F-4 Phantom became the main fighter for the US and the only fighter flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.  A moderately maneuverable plane it served with distinction throughout the world. However, it did not become an effective fighter until manufacturers installed a machinegun but that wasn’t until long after the plane had already seen significant combat.

An early model F-4 Phantom II. Note the gun pod strapped under the plane. This was an unauthorized field modification.3

The politics of war required pilots to visually identify the enemy before shooting at them. This negated the range advantage of missiles.  Once the craft closed to visual range then machineguns and maneuverability became important—both of which the Phantom lacked.  The problem was worsened by the high failure rate among the early versions of missile systems.  Training and tactics overcame these problems eventually but too many lives were lost because short-sighted officers and politicians funded the wrong equipment for the fighters.

What does the future hold?

Current combat options depend heavily on American technological superiority. Global Positioning satellites permit unprecedented precision and coordination of forces.  Digital networks permit a superior mix of forces to converge at a critical point at precisely the right time to overwhelm any known enemy force.  Perfect execution like that seen in Desert Storm means a smaller American-led force can destroy a larger, well dug-in force fighting on their home ground.  Such is the logic for shrinking an already small American military even further.

But what happens if the US loses that technological edge?  It is possible that some adversarial nation has already figured that out.  If not I assure you many are diligently pursuing that goal.  The signals from GPS satellites blanket the Earth continuously.  Other nations can study the system at their leisure.  In time one of them might learn how to introduce a timing or logic error into the network.  This could mean long-range missiles hitting the wrong place; a school across town instead of the air force command center.  Worse, an air strike could hit a battle point after the enemy has retreated and the location is occupied by friendly forces.  The resulting chaos will paralyze American command and control leaving the troops in the field outnumbered and unsupported.

Eventually, some country will test American resolve once more.  Iran might be that country, or it could be China.  Ships will be hit and might sink; planes shot out of the sky by surprisingly fast and accurate missiles.  Men will die.  What remains to be seen is if we can hold out long enough to regroup.  The US military will be unprepared when the first strike hits home and civilians will wonder how this expensive, mighty machine could be so unprepared. 

They need look no further than today’s White House and Pentagon.  Let us also not forget that the drastic cuts in the military budget is a result of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s failure to craft a budget for the nation in over 900 days, closer to three full years as of this writing.  When the oddly named Super-committee proved to be anything but super, the cuts to defense became automatic.  Failure of the main stream media to place blame where it belongs makes them willing accomplices to weakening of the military.  The military of today is being designed and funded (or not funded as it were) by those in power today.  One can only hope it will be enough.

Understand this final point, you go to war with what you have; not what you should have built, or delayed building - you have exactly what you have and no more.

2. Photo by Jeff Kubina at Flickr:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

21st Century Gunboat Diplomacy

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; and you will go far.”

Theodore Roosevelt said this maxim originated in West Africa.  He applied it to his method of global diplomacy wherein he negotiated in kindness and generosity but backed up the American position with the threat of military prowess.  President Roosevelt (1901 – 1909) was a military veteran and a well-traveled adventurer.  He knew well the role military power played in a nation’s perceived role in international diplomacy.  A nation that is unable to protect its interests beyond its borders has very little influence with which to bargain.

America emerged from the Spanish-American War as a new player on the international stage. Few in the world expected the distant Americas to be able to defeat a significant European power.  The victory was all the more striking in that much was accomplished on a global scale using modern naval vessels.  The turn of the century marked America’s debut as a top tier military power.

Roosevelt extended this influence through a naval tour de force dubbed the great White Fleet1.  From 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 a flotilla consisting of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia around South America to San Francisco, California. It then turned west to Hawaii, Asia and up to the Suez Canal.  Emerging into the Mediterranean the fleet took the opportunity to assist Italy after a devastating earthquake in early 1909.  The entire civilized world had witnessed the brute power and prowess on the United States by the time the ships returned to their home moorage in Hampton Roads.

Few American presidents have since failed to learn the lessons of the Great White Fleet.  The US Navy became the single most effective instrument of diplomatic pressure available to the American government.  That this is true is no accident; the navy is by all accounts the single most powerful military force on the planet.

The planes of just two aircraft carriers can destroy the entire air forces of most of the countries on earth—and we have at last count 12 of these super-carriers. Yes, they are super carriers.  Any nation that claims to have carriers knows well the difference between the Nimitz-class and their tiny flat tops.  I remember walking to the edge of the USS ENTERPRISE and looking down on the deck of allied carriers on several occasions.

(Note: the ship in the image is misidentified as the USS Nimitz. It is not. The numbers on deck are 66; the USS AMERICA (CV-66) which was still shorter and smaller than the Nimitz-class.)

Additionally, the Navy operates a fleet of nuclear submarines capable of devastating most of the habitable surface of the planet and sinking every ship anyone can build while remaining all but undetectable in the waterways and oceans of the world until it is too late.  Other surface ships carry missiles and guns capable of fighting most navies to a standstill without air support from carriers or submarine assistance.

I went to the bridge of the USS ENTRPRISE before I flew off her deck for the last time.  I spoke to the captain during a lull in operations.  I asked, “What was the single most important thing to know about aircraft carriers?”  Captain “Rocky” Spane answered that the carrier and its battle group controls the politics within a thousand mile radius; not influences, controls.  I agreed with his statement given the events I witnessed on that and many other cruises over two decades.

I recall a comment from a group of civilians I met in France. We were anchored off shore well in sight of Toulon, the home of France’s largest naval port.  Two of their carriers were in port and a third, their largest now called the Charles de Gaulle (R91) was yet under construction.  I sat in a cafĂ© overlooking the harbor chatting with the locals on a beautiful Riviera day (are there any other kind?)  These young people didn’t know I was an American; because of my barely accented French they took me for an African colonial.  They looked at the massive silhouette of the Big ‘E’ and told me that France only thought it had aircraft carriers.  Seeing the Enterprise redefined the term in their minds.

A few years later the Navy knocked another embarrassing event off the world’s headlines.  Rebels in Mogadishu, Somalia shot down an American helicopter in an incident immortalized in the book and movie BLACKHAWK DOWN.  The local mobs celebrated their success by dragging the dead American soldiers through the streets before global news cameras.

The celebrating ended a few nights later when the aircraft carrier USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN arrived off shore in the wee hours of the morning.  F-14 Tomcats delivered a non-lethal but unavoidable wakeup call to the locals at 4 am.  Coming in at low altitude and 400+ knots, the aviators yanked back the stick and kicked in the afterburners in a steep climb. The sudden blast of noise could be heard for miles.  The Somalis instantly recognized a new power in the region; one for which the entire nation had no answer.  Direct violence against the American Army stopped.

Naval diplomacy continues right up to today’s headlines.  I wrote about the tensions between Iran and the United States over the naval presence of carriers in an earlier blog (“Iranian Military Threatens US Carriers in the Gulf” 1/3/2012).  The Navy today is no less intimidating than Roosevelt’s fleet more than a century ago.  Direct military conflict with the US has been a fatal error for several nations in the region in the past decades so this threat seemed designed to garner local political points rather than a true challenge.  More likely the Iranians were testing the resolve of the president of the United States as to whether he had the courage to use the power he had at hand.  However, President Obama’s lack of response caused an instant spike in the price of oil as the markets were rattled by the Iranian threat.

The Navy improved the situation without direct orders from the White House by adhering to its principles and following established maritime practices.  Ships of the USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN-74) battle group came to the aid of Iranian sailors for the third time on Wednesday January 18 in waters in and around the Persian Gulf.  Their dhow became disabled, according to a Navy spokesperson, and had been taking on water for days.

Earlier on the 6th of January the USS KIDD (DDG-993) rescued 13 Iranian fishermen from Somali pirates who had captured their dhow and held them hostage for an unspecified amount of time.  On the 10th of January an American Coast Guard cutter rescued six Iranian fishermen 50 mile off the coast of Iraq.

All of the rescues reveal Iran needs to do more work in ship construction and maintenance and they need to improve their maritime emergency response.  Without the American presence in the area almost two dozen of their men would have perished at sea and several boats lost.

More importantly, these humanitarian gestures in the face of Iranian military posturing have created an opportunity for diplomacy.  The Iranians can back down without losing (too much) face. At least for the time, US Navy compassion creates a tangible narrative in direct contrast to the official Iranian government position that America is the Great Satan.  Few of the Iranian mariners now safely at home would agree with that assessment.  What remains to be seen is whether the Obama Administration will squander the diplomatic opening his ships created.


fig 1. Photo "Battleship on the target range" courtesy of:

fig 2. Image courtesy of:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Scorched Earth

Sometimes a nation’s leader finds himself in a position of having to destroy his own people’s resources to keep them from being of use to an advancing enemy army.  He must order crops burned, weapons smashed, and especially, fuel burned in the mechanized age.  Josef Stalin did this against Hitler’s army at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.  This is the scorched earth policy.

Sometimes the attacking army uses the scorched earth to deny resources to the defenders to support a siege or, in the case of General William T. Sherman, to weaken the enemy’s ability to sustain their war effort.

Then there is the third type of destruction; the punitive program.  A leader under pressure from his own people orders military or police force against the population and damages the economy and possibly destroys critical resources.  This is an angry, bitter person—a narcissist would does not think the people deserve to live without his or her leadership.

President Barack Obama is such a person.  He has shown a tendency to throw anyone and everyone under the bus to avoid even the slightest taint of failure attaching to him.  No one is sacred to him, no one worthy of his persona loss.  If Obama feels rejected by the proletariat he will unleash hell on America in the final weeks he is in office.

What kind of damage can a lame duck president do?

That question requires considering another question; what does a sitting president have access too?  Almost everything important to the safety and security of the United States is tied to the Oval Office.  The president is chief law enforcer and head of the military.  He is the caretaker of the nation.  Up until now, we have not had a president willing to purposefully hurt the nation.  Up until now, we have never had such a man as Barack Obama.

If the elections go as predicted, Obama will have full presidential power from early November until mid-January.  He has shown no shyness about using executive orders to alter the legal balance in the country.  He has refused to enforce laws he doesn’t like and created laws out of thin air to do his own will despite the voters and Congress.  He single-handedly shut down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico – American drilling, that is.  He is fine with Chinese and Brazilian oil rig pumping out of these same sensitive waters.

Nothing will stop him from exercising full authority for spite or personal gain in his last days.  A few of the most damaging efforts he might well do are:

·         Issue blanket pardons to cronies he has placed in key government offices who will be actively undermining their departments – mostly collecting secret files and destroying vital documents.

·         Sell pardons to whatever person is willing to shell out big payoffs to him personally; no crime would be off limits for a pardon if the money is right.

·         Create favorable regulations for any big donor to give them an unfair competitive edge.

·         Issue blanket amnesty to all illegal aliens currently residing in the United States. Since no one knows who is here now or where they are, it will create an open-ended floodgate for a long time.

·         America’s covert operations, military units and security programs can all go up for sale. The Chinese and Russians would pay him billions for the stuff he has in his iPad. He will make Wikileaks seem like amateur hour at the Ritz.

·         He doesn’t even have to sell secrets directly. He can give away passwords and access codes, even our procedures for just as much money.

We could be looking at instant economic and security chaos.  The new president will be busy for weeks or months trying to find all the leaks and compromised data.  Meanwhile the economy might already be in a tailspin because of the new regulations, taxes and executive orders kicking in.  Add in the sudden influx of millions of new and unemployed citizens (and their families) and the Recession could become a Depression almost overnight.

There is not much we can do to prevent these actions.  The Founding Fathers never envisioned we would have a man like this one, a man who seems to genuinely hate the American people, the American way of life and their Constitution, serving as chief executive.  The powers Obama is so fond of misusing were intended to let the president do important things while Congress was out of session and the members weeks or months away in their home states.  They had no idea about jet flights or instant communication via the Internet or telephone.  There is almost no need for him to sign “out of session” orders anymore.

The only reason Obama does it is because he can.  He is acting within the letter of the Constitution but not in the spirit as it was intended.  Like the true lawyer he is, Obama is stretching the law to fit his purposes.  All we can hope for is a staff of bureaucrats who will not be a party to the destruction of the country.  And do something Obama hates more than this country; get down on our collective knees and pray to the LORD above that his efforts fail – that One Nation Under GOD shall not perish from the Earth.

Obama image courtesy of: Kathy Willens, AP

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Media's Problem with Tim Tebow

The Denver Bronco's rookie quarterback presents a unique problem for the reporting media.  He seems too good to be true, and the fear is, he might be as good as he seems.  Not “good” in terms of being a premier athlete in a high-dollar sport but simply as a role model.  The media in America has seen it as their duty to tear down (male) heroes from their pedestals and to rip off their mask of superiority.  But their problem here is they cannot get a handle on Tim Tebow.

How do you humble a man who is already on his knees? How do you silence a man who is already silent?

Every time some media pundit reaches up to grab Tebow they miss because he is not on that pedestal , and he refuses to put himself up there.  He gives credit for his performance to the LORD of his faith and to the other men on the team who help him complete the big plays.  How refreshing in an age of chest-thumping bravado where players cannot wait to yank off their helmet and mug for the cameras after every play no matter how minor.

Tim Tebow is an old-fashioned hero—one who is humble, not a braggart; who is gentle, not blustering and profane; decent not a skirt chaser.  That last part is impressive as he attended college in Florida with arguably the best looking coeds in the nation!

Therein lies the problem for the media.  Many of them chortled with glee when Tiger Woods finally came crashing to Earth after more than a decade of a squeaky clean image and sport superstardom.  Bringing down the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was an even bigger prize.  But Tim, humble Tim – horror of horrors, he might really be sincere in his faith!  That is the greatest fear; that the hidden illicit affair, the groped groupie, or molested maid will never materialize.

When you examine this iconoclastic obsession you have to ask what is so bad about having heroes.  Apparently nothing is wrong with a hero – as long as that hero is female, Gay, not Christian or non-American.  The only problem is with straight males who want to be a good father and represent strong values. 

There are no strong male role models in movies, on television (except Leroy Jethro Gibbs) or even in commercials.  The father is always the dumbest guy in the house and totally subservient to the dominant female – she who is more than a mere “wife.”  He knows nothing, cannot fix anything and is helpless without his surrogate mother hovering over him.  Unsupervised he will invariably do something immature.  One is forced to wonder why she even puts up with this man in her house.

Women applaud this national trend of putting men in their place while celebrating every accomplishment of every female child ever born.  Then sit wringing their hands wondering “where have all the good men gone?”  Ladies, these things are related.

If we do not teach boys how to be strong men, they will not be strong men.  If you laugh in front of your sons and agree with the television that “all men are boobs/dunces/dogs” then that is what your son will be.  If there are no positive, strong male role models permitted in our society, then there will be no positive, supportive males in our society.  There will be no men.

Thankfully, for the present we have Tim Tebow.  Who knows what horrible accusation we will hear tomorrow or the day after, or whether it will be true.  But for now, we have a man who speaks loudest in silent prayer and stands tallest while on bended knee.  For that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iranian Military Threatens US Carriers in the Persian Gulf

One prevailing lesson of international diplomacy is it does not matter what your enemies say, what  matters most how you respond.  Failure to respond firmly and in a timely manner will breed greater danger and greater difficulty in years or even generations to come.

Iranian Army chief Ataollah Salehi said “the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.”1  Can any nation legally claim control of such a large body of water?  If so, what can America do in response?

The Persian Gulf is a flashpoint for many of the world’s problems.  Much of the oil flowing from the Middle East passes through the Straits of Hormuz and most of the trade between Europe and Asia takes the shortcut through the Suez Canal.  Now Iran is trying to play gatekeeper; deciding who may or may not use “their” pond.

Maritime law is largely settled law.  For centuries it has been based on the right of free passage.  No nation can claim unlimited control over the waters of the world.  The International guideline is a 12-mile territorial extension from the nearest sovereign land.

Some may recall in 1973 Muammar al-Quaddafi had his 200 mile claim out into the Mediterranean Sea marked by the “Line of Death.”  He dared the US Navy ships to cross it at their peril.  For a number of years the US Navy conducted Freedom of Navigation exercises down to the 12 mile limit.  In 1981 two US Navy F-14 Tomcats downed two Libyan Su-22 Fitters after they were fired upon in disputed waters.  That incident eventually died down but the Libyan leader never relented.  He spent much of his country’s oil wealth trying to build a stronger defense against American incursions. In 1986 He asserted himself again.

United States President Ronald Reagan gave little time or service to the Arab leader’s saber-rattling.  He order the services to launch a combined strike of Air Force FB-111’s and Navy carrier strike aircraft to hit those defenses, shoot up his air forces and personally slap him around.  On April 15th Quaddafi found out what our tax dollars bought.  He quickly found a hiding place while several of his palaces took serious bomb damage.

A few weeks later I was onboard the USS ENTERPRISE (seen here conducting UNREP2 in the Persian Gulf) steaming in the Med.  A few cross words from Quaddafi and we turned south along with another carrier.  About 2 AM on a clear moonlit night Libyan observers saw both carriers launching strike packages halfway to the horizon.  We didn’t actually hit anything that night but Quaddafi got the message; we could come back at any time we wanted.

Fast forward to January 2012.  How will the United States respond to the Iranian threat?  Don’t look to the White House for leadership.  The man in the big chair now is no Ronald Reagan.  He has never shown decisive leadership and is largely unwilling to take forceful action on the international stage, especially against Muslims.

If the United States (or other significant naval power) fails to challenge the Iranian claim to sovereignty over access to the Persian Gulf in a timely manner then it will be a de facto recognition of the claim and become legitimized.  The fact that no other nation has a fraction of the naval resources as the US means it generally falls to us to enforce the Right of Navigation. Only time will tell if our president has the will to act. I am not holding my breath on this one. I expect it will be in 2013, after the next election before we see anything definite done in the region.

2.      UNREP: Underway replenishment, one of several ways a ship at sea gets needed fuel and supplies while on station far from land.   Fuel passes through the hoses, dry goods can come over in pallets across guy wires.