This article is a response to “Atlantic Naval Forces Have a Future,” written on Sept. 10, 2012 by J. Randy Forbes.
The U.S. Navy’s shift in strategic emphasis in recent years provides the impetus for a closer examination of the options for both force structure and basing. These discussions must be frank and driven by strategic realities.
Last week’s assessment by Randy Forbes’ is absolutely correct when arguing that the number of ships available for service remains the most critical issue facing the Navy. An increase of more than 50 percent in operational ship-days combined with the smallest Fleet in almost a century has led to a rash of reports of ships suffering from degraded material conditions. The maintenance facilities in U.S. ports are unparalleled and represent the best answer to reversing those troubling trends. The assertions concerning the need to maintain a credible force in our Atlantic ports are also compelling. Southern Command, West African contingencies, and European Command requirements are all best supported from East Coast traditional homeports. Those arguments, while compelling, do not overcome the limitations of geography and history.
Historically, Middle Eastern contingencies have been well-supported by ships based in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida. Four of the seven aircraft carriers that supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991 deployed from the East Coast. Throughout the protracted confrontation with Iraq that continued over the ensuing decade, the homeports of the deploying naval forces alternated between the U.S Atlantic and Pacific Fleet. While that seems to suggest that continuing the existing basing arrangements would adequately support the needs of Central Command, there are political developments that may affect the deployment calculus. The viability of a strategy based on existing deployment patterns could be dramatically altered should access to the Suez Canal change.
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) participate in a replenishment at sea on Sept. 7, 2012. U.S. Navy Photo
On the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, al Qaeda affiliates staged a series of attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East. Inciting protests against the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” or possibly taking advantage of existing demonstrations, militants with alledged links to Al Qaeda burned the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith and two contracted American security personnel. Within days, violent protests sprung up in over two dozen countries across the Muslim world. In Sana’a, Yemen, protestors forcibly entered the U.S. Embassy compound and burned the American flag, replacing it with a black flag bearing the Islamic shahada.
Since the Benghazi attack, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah have threatened U.S. personnel and facilities. In light of Ambassador Stevens’ death, and remembering the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days by “protestors” in Iran, there is growing concern about the ability of Americans to protect themselves inside diplomatic missions. While Marines from Fleet Anti-Terrorist Security Teams (FAST) have been deployed to Yemen, questions remain as to why Marines or other U.S. military forces have not been sent to other embassies. Before we discuss the operational details of what U.S. forces are available, it is imperative that we understand the political context in which our military is used to protect U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.
Fleet Anti-Terrorist Security Team during an international training exercise. U.S. Marine Corps Photo
First, chiefs of mission, usually ambassadors, are the President’s personal representative to a given country. As such, the chief of mission has authority over every executive branch employee in that country except military personnel assigned to a theater commander. Also, according to the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, “The Secretary of State shall develop and implement policies and programs to provide for the safe and efficient evacuation of United States Government personnel, dependents, and private United States citizens when their lives are Endangered.” So, all activities related to diplomatic security and evacuation are under the purview of the State Department. Any U.S. military forces used to protect/evacuate diplomatic missions must be activated at the request and approval of both the secretary of State and the chief of mission.
As more information comes in from the Sunday attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan more and more news outlets are calling the incursion of attackers dressed as U.S. Army soldiers as a “false flag,” attack. The term, originated in the maritime circles, referrers to a ship that flies a flag other than its own for military advantage. The following is a narrative from a false flag incident in World War II.
Proceedings, March 1953
On December 3, 1941, German Supreme Command announced: “An engagement has taken place fff the Australian coast between the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and the Australian cruiser Sydney. The German cruiser commanded by Fregattkapitan Detmers has defeated and sunk a much more heavily armed adversary. The 6,830-ton heavy cruiser Sydney went down with her entire complement of 42 officers and 603 men. As a result of the damage received in the fierce engagement, the Kormoran had to be abandoned after the victory.”
Behind this laconic statement is hidden one of the greatest dramas known to the annals of sea warfare. Two ships had fought a battle at close range, in which both were so severely damaged that within several hours one of them sank with all hands, leaving no trace, while the other was so badly burned that it had to be abandoned by its crew 140 nautical miles from the safety of land. It was not until 5 days later, when one of the Kormoran’s lifeboats reached the Australian coast, that the world learned what a great catastrophe had been enacted at sea. An air search was begun at once from western Australia, and on the tenth day after the action the exhausted crews of the Kormoran’s remaining lifeboats were saved by the Australian minesweeper, Yandra. Of the 400-man German crew, 300 were interned in Australian prison camps. We can only guess at the tragedies that occurred during these days and nights. The dead are silent, and we, the survivors, can only guess.
Australian cruiser Sydney
Nevertheless, the experiences of the survivors tell us that time can not only speed in its flight, but can also be frightfully long. Minutes become hours, and hours long days, and in a few days many a man becomes years older.
Editor’s note: The Pentagon is sending additional U.S. Marines to Libya to reinforce existing U.S. security forces following the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, officials at the U.S. Department of State said on Wednesday. The Benghazi attack resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others. Several other reports indicate protests nearby countries have heightened security concerns at American diplomatic missions. Neither the Pentagon nor the Department of State would confirm any additional troop movements in the region.
A Marine assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) fast ropes onto the USS Essex on Feb, 4 2011. U.S. Navy Photo
The U.S. Marine Corps has responded to the attack in Libya with a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST). FAST is an expeditionary group of highly trained rapid-response close-quarter-battle experts capable of significantly enhancing security at U.S. embassies and other government installations worldwide. Each FAST company — about 500 Marines — maintains a high-degree of readiness and is equipped and trains with high-end weaponry and technology.
The Marines established FASTs in 1987 in anticipation of an increased requirement to rapidly project power overseas when necessary to provide security to U.S. citizens abroad. Since their inception, FASTs have been operationally engaged in Panama (1989) in support of Operation Just Cause; in Tanzania and Kenya (1998) in response to the bombing of the U.S. embassies; in the Port of Aden, Yemen (2000) in response to the USS Cole bombing; as well as reinforcing security at American embassies in Liberia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the Syrian civil war escalates and expands, policy makers are increasingly examining proposals to patrol “safe,” “liberated,” or “buffer zones” with military aircraft. Creating safe zones, Turkish officials have argued, could relieve human suffering and hasten the fall of the Assad regime without a more costly direct intervention. Ubiquitous in Western interventions since Operation Provide Comfort in postwar Iraq, and infamous in the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s, safe zones once again appear a straightforward solution to an intractable conflict. Yet the strategic and logistical details present serious challenges. Despite the relatively easy execution of a safe zone around Benghazi in Libya, a comparable effort to protect besieged cities in Syria would be much more costly and difficult.
A previous post outlined the significant aerial and maritime demands for creating a no-fly zone, which would be a prerequisite to creating a safe zone over any part of Syria. Inadequate suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) would be problematic enough for air superiority fighters enforcing a no-fly zone, but would be even more threatening for aircraft performing ground interdiction strikes.
Despite the prominence of attack helicopters and combat jets in discussions of the Syrian conflict, destroying Syrian air power is unlikely to be either decisive overall or sufficient to defend safe zones.
The success of the Libyan air intervention is a historical anomaly. In 1993, NATO’s Deny Flight no-fly zone over Bosnia failed to deter ground forces from attacking designated safe areas, eventually requiring ground bombardment and, more importantly, a massive Croatian ground offensive to defeat Serbian forces. In Iraq after the Gulf War, no-fly zones and years of punitive bombardments did not dissuade Saddam Hussein from repeatedly launching ground attacks into Shia and Kurdish areas. In Libya, it was rapidly obvious that destroying the Libyan ground threat to Benghazi, not simply its air force, was necessary to defend safe zones.
After an arsonist caused $450 million in damage to the USS Miami on March 2012, the U.S. Navy considered scrapping the submarine. The eventual decision to repair the Miami and return it to service in 2015 means that the Navy will not have to add to a rather short but fateful list – ships lost since WWII. Between December 1941 and September 1945, over 350 U.S. Navy warships and patrol craft were sunk or damaged beyond repair. In the nearly seven decades since, fewer than 30 ships have been lost directly due to enemy action or accidents. These are a few of the notable incidents:
On the same day that the city of Hiroshima was reduced to ash by the first atomic bomb, the USS Bullhead (SS-32) became the last U.S. Navy ship sunk by the enemy during WWII. The submarine is thought to have been hit by depth charges dropped by a Japanese plane on Aug. 6, 1945 off the coast of Bali. The wreck of the submarine has never been found.
Church service in the torpedo room of the USS Bullhead while on patrol in the Pacific, 1945
Commissioned in 1943, PC-815 would go on to earn the name “The Jinxed Sub-Chaser”. Lt (j.g.) L. Ron Hubbard (the future founder of Scientology) was the first man to take the helm, only to be relieved of command three months later following a series of embarrassing incidents (including the shelling of Mexican territory) that caused his superiors to lose faith in his ability. The next few years were uneventful for the PC-815 until Sept. 11, 1945 when it collided with the destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), burst into flames and sank.
PC-815 running trials on the Columbia River in Oregon, 1943
Naval History Magazine, August 2008
The War of 1812 was a conflict between two very different naval powers, a pattern that is far more common in naval history than tends to be appreciated. Aside from a fundamental contrast in their strength—Britain had the world’s leading navy while the United States lacked a battle fleet—the opposing sides used their navies for very different purposes. Because no large-scale naval clashes unfolded on the high seas, it is all too easy to underrate the crucial strategic dimensions of naval power and its importance for the character and development of the war.
A Libya-style military intervention in Syria could take up to six times as many combat aircraft as last year’s Operation Odyssey Dawn, according to a recent analysis from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.The analysis comes as calls are increasing to intervene in the escalating civil war in Syria.
USS Barry (DDG 52) fires Tomahawk cruise missiles in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. U.S. Navy Photo
When Odyssey Dawn began in March 2011, it appeared to hail a new model for military interventions. The relatively swift, painless and low-cost application of offshore and aerial power against a hostile regime to protect a rising hub of Libyan resistance in Benghazi began the military unraveling of the Gadhafi regime. Today, as Syria’s own civil war intensifies and officials such as Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman call for military action, might another aerial and offshore campaign effectively establish a haven for the Syrian opposition and topple the Syrian government?
Brian Haggerty, doctoral candidate at MIT, recently released an extensive open-source analysis of what an aerial campaign to suppress Syrian air defenses and establish a safe zone would entail. While the operation is feasible, mitigating its significant risks would require a major campaign—one requiring at least 191 strike aircraft, at least six times the number of comparable aircraft in the opening phase of Odyssey Dawn, and perhaps several times more bombers and cruise missiles.
Discerning the capability of Syria’s integrated air defense system (IADS) is critical to that question. American officials, such as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stress the sophistication of Syria’s IADS relative to other countries in the region and particularly in comparison with Libya. Syria has faced American air power before, while the embarrassments of Israel defeating of its air force in the 1982 Lebanon War and destroying a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 left it acutely aware of the need to deter and defeat hostile air power.
On August 15, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that Vietnam would take delivery of its first Kilo-class submarine by the end of the year. Vietnam has another five Kilo submarines on order and is expected to take delivery at the rate of one submarine a year. According to Vietnam’s defense Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnam will develop a modern submarine fleet in the next five to six years (2016-2017).
Kilo class submarine Yunes
In the late 1980s Vietnam sought to acquire its first submarine from the Soviet Union. A crew was selected and it trained on a Project 641 diesel submarine attached to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. The program was suspended by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev out of concerns about riling China. Vietnam’s hopes to acquire submarines went into abeyance with the collapse of the USSR.
In a 1997 guns-for-rice barter, Vietnam acquired two Yugo-class mini-submarines from North Korea. These were berthed at Cam Ranh Bay where they underwent repair and overhaul. For the next 13 years analysts were uncertain about their operational status. In January 2010, Tuoi Tre newspaper dramatically revealed the existence of M96, Vietnam’s secret submarine service, with a photo of a Yugo submarine and its crew. The Yugos were used for diver related operations. According to a Western defense attaché stationed in Moscow, “The mini-sub experience provides a basic foundation for understanding submarine operations and maintenance.”
Associated Press File Photo
The Pentagon and the Navy have denied it, but this month’s report that a Russian attack submarine prowled near the U.S. without being detected has turned attention back to the art and science of anti-submarine warfare.
The story, which appeared in the conservative “Washington Free Beacon,” reported that “U.S. officials” said the Akula-class sub loitered in the Caribbean for a month without being detected, and this “exposed deficiencies” in the Navy’s ASW capabilities.
The story did not contain enough detail to know what to make of that assessment – whether, for example, the Navy searched for the sub and didn’t find it, or whether it visited and left without a trace. The “Free Beacon” story said American commanders only learned of the sub’s patrol after the fact, but it did not explain how they could learn of it given that they hadn’t been able to detect it in the first place.
The incident is similar to 2009 reports in which the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) confirmed that two Akula boats patrolled off the Eastern U.S. seaboard.