Category Archives: U.S. Navy

The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

The Future of the Carrier Air Wing

120729-N-ZZ999-001What should the carrier air wing of the future look like? The topic has taken on new significance as a consequence of an article in the July issue of Proceedings by the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” its discussion of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In response, ADM Greenert and his staff have stressed that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35, but instead to stealth in the future.

The F-35 noncontroversy aside, Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power, in general, and the future carrier air wing, in particular. The CNO declared “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive. A payload-centric approach allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.

One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion that the Navy needs to move toward “dependable trucks” is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called “luxury car” platforms is declining Those characteristics include stealthiness, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are those who argue that the combination of advanced sensors, data fusion, high-performance missiles and directed-energy weapons will bring the era of manned fighters and penetrating bombers to an end. It is by no means certain that the U.S. aerospace industry will be able to design an affordable sixth generation manned aircraft with the combination of range, persistence, stealth, ISR, and payload required to operate in such an intensely hostile environment.

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Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Pigeon Holes or Paradigm Shift: How the Navy Can Get the Most of its Unmanned Vehicles

Proceedings, July 2012
The U.S. Navy must combine innovation with tested ideas to make the most of its unmanned aerial vehicles.

110930-N-JQ696-401The process of assimilating a new technology is a complex one for any organization. Besides facing the resistance of those who view it as a threat, the technology’s full potential often remains unrealized because of a failure of imagination. Instead it is forced, at least initially, into existing functions and slotted into established intellectual “pigeonholes.” Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been subjected to this sort of thinking. The U.S. Navy should consider them as more than mere unmanned versions of existing aircraft and take full advantage of this new tool.

In the original version of the film Star Wars , Luke Skywalker piloted an X-wing fighter with his trusty droid R2-D2 in the back. Single-seat aviators of the 1970s noted with some glee the allegorical reference to an automated naval flight officer. It appeared that the function of piloting was inherently human; system management was something a robot could handle. However, even at their current stage of development, the flight of unmanned aircraft is considerably more automated than, say, radio-controlled model airplanes, which indeed must be “flown.” UAVs such as the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk are capable of autonomous takeoff, navigation, and landing. It is the pilot function that has been automated; the naval flight officer function still requires a human to make decisions.

This is the leading edge of a “paradigm shift”: pilotless aircraft operated by pilotless squadrons or perhaps by no squadrons at all. The shift may go further, possibly obviating the need for any kind of winged specialist. After all, the Navy has been operating a large fleet of highly lethal unmanned aircraft since the 1950s, controlled almost exclusively by surface warfare officers. These aircraft are called missiles.

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Arabian Gulf Mine Exercise is Needed Practice for U.S.

Arabian Gulf Mine Exercise is Needed Practice for U.S.

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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.”

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Searching for Nelson's Quote

Searching for Nelson’s Quote

Rising young U.S. Navy officer Stephen Decatur earned famous praise for ‘the most bold and daring act of the age’—or did he?

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Late in the evening on 16 February 1804, the ketch Intrepid , commanded by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, entered Tripoli Harbor. Almost becalmed in the dying breeze, the Intrepid drifted with agonizing slowness toward the captured American frigate Philadelphia , lying under the massed guns of the bashaw’s castle and harbor fortifications. As the Intrepid approached, a Barbary lookout on the Philadelphia spotted the Americans and cried out the alarm. The Intrepid tied onto the frigate. Decatur and 60 men boarded the Philadelphia , scattered or killed her harbor watch, and burned the ship. They then made good their escape in the Intrepid, with only one sailor slightly wounded.

The raid into Tripoli Harbor helped establish the reputation of the U.S. Navy, small as it then was, and is an iconic part of the service’s history. Almost equally known in American naval lore is that Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, upon learning of the raid, called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.” It’s no wonder such a statement has assumed a hallowed aura. Nelson was a brilliant and daring naval officer, perhaps the greatest admiral in the long maritime history of England, and if he said the raid was without equal, his audience (posterity) can accept it as truth. Equally important, there is the sense of a laying-on of hands by Nelson, who died 18 months later in the moment of his greatest triumph at Trafalgar, “blessing” a seminal event led by one of the dynamic officers in the rising navy from across the Atlantic. It’s a dramatic story, loaded with symbolism.

But did Nelson actually call the burning of the Philadelphia “the most bold and daring act of the age”?

No contemporary or near-contemporary biography of Decatur, and no early account of the Barbary Wars, contains the Nelson quote. In what may have been the first attempt to provide the public with an account of Decatur’s life, Washington Irving’s 1813 article in the widely read Analectic Magazine , Nelson’s comment is absent. An 1819 collective biography of early American military and naval officers, written when Decatur was alive, makes no reference to the Nelson quote. The first full-scale biography of Decatur, published in 1821 (just after his death), contains no hint of it, nor does the first great history of the U.S. Navy, James Fenimore Cooper’s, the first edition of which appeared in 1839. 1

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Joint and Coalition Tactical Networking: There's an App for That!

Joint and Coalition Tactical Networking: There’s an App for That!

Proceedings, July 2012

Downloading application software from online stores created by companies such as Apple has radically transformed the market for goods and services around the world. Now, joint and Coalition tactical networking for U.S. service members is benefiting from a similar business model. The Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is expanding competition, reducing costs, and increasing innovation in defense communications by sharing and reusing tactical networking waveform software applications that significantly improve warfighter capabilities.

Recognizing the crucial need for improved tactical interoperability, situational awareness, and informed decision-making, the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated the development and acquisition of JTRS networking capabilities at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2005 the JPEO was established to lead these efforts. To encourage competition and innovation, the JPEO created a new business model to acquire tactical networking capability. The JTRS Enterprise Business Model gives companies without government contracts access to tactical networking waveform software applications, allowing them to develop networking radio products that compete directly with those being developed under government contracts. The new approach is more agile than traditional defense systems acquisition and generates a greater variety of powerful, affordable networking solutions for joint and Coalition warfighters.

By sharing waveform software applications through its own app store, known as the JTRS information repository, JPEO/JTRS greatly expands the number of competitors in its radio hardware market. More competition lowers procurement costs and accelerates innovation.

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USNS Rappahannock Timeline

USNS Rappahannock Timeline

Skiff that was allegedly fired on by the USNS Rappahannock, U.S. Navy Photo

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

Iranian Mines in the Strait of Hormuz not 'Showstoppers'

Iranian Mines in the Strait of Hormuz not ‘Showstoppers’

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.

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.

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America's Small Stick Diplomacy

America’s Small Stick Diplomacy

120503-N-CZ945-496We 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?

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The Great Green (Pierside?) Fleet

The Great Green (Pierside?) Fleet

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.

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