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
U.S. Navy photo
The USS Porter, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, collided with a Panamanian flagged bulk oil tanker M/V Otowasan in the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 1 a.m. local time Sunday, according to U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Raytheon Missile Systems, prime contractor for the ship- and submarine-launched Tomahawk land-attack missile, is moving into production of a new order of Block IV all-up round missiles under a new contract, valued at $337.8 million, awarded by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in June. Deliveries are set to start in 2013.
Meanwhile, the company is awaiting a NAVAIR decision on a sole-source award for development of an offensive antisurface weapon that would adapt Tomahawk subsystems to convert missiles to that new configuration. The plan is contingent on congressional approval and availability of funding.
Tomahawk, the Navy’s primary long-range land-attack missile, is deployed to some 140 ships including Ticonderoga -class cruisers and Arleigh Burke –class destroyers, as well as Ohio -class guided-missile submarines and Los Angeles – andSeawolf -class attack subs. It also is fielded by the Royal Navy’s Astute – and Trafalgar -class submarines. The U.S. Navy plans to field Tomahawk aboard the three Zumwalt -class land-attack destroyers now under construction and on Virginia -class attack subs. The cruisers and destroyers launch Tomahawk from the belowdecks Mk-41 vertical-launch system; the SSGNs launch the missile from vertical missile tubes and the attack subs from torpedo tubes.
Block II and Block III Tomahawks were employed extensively during Operation Desert Storm, with ships and submarines launching about 290 missiles. Tomahawks subsequently were used during Operation Southern Watch in 1992, Enduring Freedom in 2001, and Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
The sprawling Russian defense apparatus has some of the world’s biggest braggarts. You don’t need to look very hard to find examples in the Russian defense ministry or the military-industrial complex stating the impossible. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, for example, said that by 2013 “production capacity [at Russian shipyards] will allow us to build six submarines and an aircraft carrier every year.” Serious Western analysts of Russian military procurement reacted with derision. Not only does the Russian Federation currently not have any shipyards large enough to build a carrier, they noted, the shipyard that built earlier Soviet carriers is in the Ukraine, and the Russian navy doesn’t even have a finalized design that would allow construction of a carrier to begin. Rogozin’s statement was so self-evidently fraudulent that he was forced to retract it.
The Russians have an extensive and well-documented history of making incredibly bold and aggressive statements only to quietly retract those statements (with much less fanfare) a few days later.
The latest tempest in a teapot got started on 27 July when VADM Victor Chirkov, the commander in chief of the Russian navy, made the following remarks in an interview with RIA Novosti:
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visits the wreckage of the Korean ship Cheonan in April, 2011
[U.S. Navy Photo]
Living next to a touchy neighbor can be trying. When that neighbor has enough emplaced artillery pieces in range to level your capital city, managing those relations is a matter of life and death. This situation has vexed South Korea for decades, and North Korea is its only concern. With its northern border effectively closed and half its GDP generated through exports, The Republic of Korea (ROK) is heavily reliant on maritime trade. That, coupled with a neighborhood of aggressive fishing fleets backed by technologically advanced militaries and economically powerful nations make it easy to see why South Korea seeks to expand its naval defenses. Over the past month, the ROK moved forward with plans for two new installations that have respectively set its northern neighbor and southern most citizens on edge.
The first is a tiny new facility in the region just south of the disputed maritime border with North Korea — or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — established in 1953 by the United Nations Command as the Northern Limit Line (NLL). In late June, ROK announced the construction of an installation for up to 100 troops, featuring a small dock, barracks, and training grounds on the island of Baengnyeong. Baengnyeong is one of five islands west of the Korean peninsula in the area that saw the sinking of the ROK Navy (ROKN) warship ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) by North Korea in 2010, killing 46 South Koreans. While the islands are not themselves claimed as part of North Korea’s own Inter-Korean Maritime Demarcation Line, they are often targeted as the outposts upholding the NLL; the DPRK in 2010 shelled another of the islands, Yeonpyang, killing four.
When an obviously lost tourist approached Arthur Rubenstein on a Manhattan street and asked how to get to Carnegie Hall, the piano virtuoso replied: “Practice, practice, practice!”
So it is for the U.S. Navy and partner navies’ mine countermeasures (MCM) forces operating in the Arabian Gulf in mid-2012. Hosted by the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT), the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12) is an international symposium and associated afloat exercise of mine countermeasure capabilities, scheduled for 16 to 27 September at multiple locations in the USNAVCENT area of operations. MCM assets from more than 20 countries on four continents will participate, making it the largest MCM exercise to date.
The operation is “a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in international waterways in the Middle East,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. Washington has warned Tehran not to mine the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which the Islamic republic has threatened to do unless international sanctions against its nuclear program are pulled back.
Although IMCMEX 12 is taking place in the Arabian Gulf, it won’t be conducted in the Strait of Hormuz, said Lt. Greg Raelson, Commander Fifth Fleet public affairs in a 20 July telephone interview. “The exercise focuses on a hypothetical threat from an extremist organization to mine the international strategic waterways of the Middle East, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.”
Skiff that was allegedly fired on by the USNS Rappahannock, U.S. Navy Photo
It took three minutes for the embarked security team of the USNS Rappahannock to dispatch a suspicious skiff that strayed within a 100 yards of the 40,000 ton refueling ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
According to a U.S. Fifth Fleet report obtained by the U.S. Naval Institute, the skiff ignored several warnings before sailors onboard opened fire with a .50-caliber machine gun.
Fisherman onboard claimed they received no warnings, according to press reports.
The following map illustrated the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s account.
View July, 16 USNS Rappahannock Incident in a larger map
A version of this story originally appeared in June. It has been updated by the author to reflect recent events.
Iran threatens to mine the Strait of Hormuz, petroleum markets react, world economies take notice, and more U.S. and allied naval forces are sent to the region, upping the ante for Tehran and the U.S. Navy.
Iran’s top naval commander, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, late last year warned that closin the strait would be “easier than drinking a glass of water.” The Obama administration publicly dismissed the threat as “aber rattling,” but also privately informed Tehran that attempting to close the strait would trigger a U.S. military response.
U.S. Navy photo of the USS Enterprise and USS Cape St. George transitioning through the Strait of Hormuz on May 11.
“The laying of mines in international waters is an act of war,” Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, said in a Feb. 12 interview.
“We would, under the direction of the national leadership, prevent that from happening. We always have the right and obligation of self-defense and this falls in self-defense. If we did nothing and allowed some mining,” he noted, “it would be a long and difficult process to clear them.”
Whether an “act of war” or not (the international rules — admittedly more honored in their breach than observation— do allow for peacetime mining of high-seas areas under certain strict conditions. Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to U.S. and international sanctions over its nuclear program.
We might rephrase Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying about “big stick” diplomacy thusly: Speak softly and carry a small stick, and you will go far—provided you have a big stick handy. That maxim has yielded good results for China in Southeast Asia. It could do so for the United States as well—if it manages its alliances and partnerships well and arranges its forces to match purpose with power.
Overpowering military might opens up new strategic vistas for the strong, letting them get their way while looking inoffensive if not magnanimous to foreign eyes. China has brandished a small stick in recent months, using unarmed ships from nonmilitary government agencies like China Marine Surveillance as its political implement of choice in the Scarborough Shoal imbroglio with the Philippines, and in its war of words with Vietnam over oil and gas exploration rights within Vietnam’s offshore exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. The EEZ is a 200 nautical mile belt (more in some cases) adjoining a coastal state’s shores. The coastal state holds exclusive rights to natural resources in those waters and the seabed underneath. Control of resources is critical to economic development—hence the passions expanses like the resource-rich South China Sea rouse.
Gunboat diplomacy without the gunboats sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here’s how small-stick diplomacy works. A country whose armed forces decisively outmatch a competitor’s can afford not to openly display those forces in international controversies. It can make the weak an offer they can’t refuse, and they have little recourse. It can hope to win without fighting—and get its way without even looking like an aggressor before the court of world opinion. Why unlimber the big stick when virtual coercion or deterrence promises the same results?
Proceedings, July 2012
On 14 October 2011, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus shared his vision of the “Great Green Fleet” at the Naval Energy Forum in McLean, Virginia. The Honorable Mr. Mabus remarked that “in the drive for energy reform the goal has got to be increased warfighting capability.” Increased warfighting capability through energy reform? Is this really possible under the secretary’s timeline of the next ten years, or will warfighters be left with another constraint on their way into the combat zone?
Secretary Mabus effectively communicated how energy reform in the Department of Defense could immediately reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. But at what cost? For many in the armed services, “energy efficiency” might conjure images of turning down the thermostat, putting on a sweater, and learning to enjoy cold showers. For the surface Navy, an effective way to cut fuel consumption would be to remain pierside. While fighting wars, however, cutting corners and decreasing underway training time can cost lives. Metaphorical sweaters and cold showers decrease the Navy’s capability and do not meet the secretary’s intent.
The important distinction in the secretary’s remarks is that he established himself as a champion of energy efficiency, not conservation. Although military professionals may be masters of doing more with less, energy efficiency on board our warships will instead involve doing the same with less. Or, alternatively, doing more with the same: increased warfighting capability through energy efficiency.