Why calling out Russia matters

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, from the Jacksonville Coast Guard Website

In the midst of all the impeachment news was a Maritime Safety Information Bulletin issued by the Coast Guard concerning the Russian vessel Viktor Leonov, an intelligence surveillance ship that has been prowling the East Coast. The vessel has been in international waters, which while annoying to the United States is in fact very legal. However, unlike in previous years, this year it decided to behave in an unsafe manner. The bulletin spelled it out pretty clearly:

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has received reports indicating that the RFN VIKTOR LEONOV (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner while navigating through USCG Sector Jacksonville’s Area of Responsibility. This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel.

Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, U.S. Coast Guard

The VIKTOR LEONOV’s operations should be a lesson as to why we build and maintain a Navy and Coast Guard. Navies aren’t cheap…the 2019 budget for the Navy alone is $194.1 billion dollars. In comparison, the United Kingdom spent about $79 billion on their entire military. The cost of not building a Navy is far worse though. The VIKTOR LEONOV is only a surveillance vessel, but she is likely preparing the battlespace for any future conflict in the Atlantic. The only credible deterrent to her operations is a solid response from a Navy, which she has received since entering the Western Atlantic.

Countries without Navies can’t enforce their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Every country is given exclusive rights over resources within 200 nautical miles of their coast. While that sounds nice in theory, in reality other countries are quick to take advantage of any countries inability to patrol their EEZ. China is exploiting EEZs to illegally fish in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far away as South Africa. Small nations are struggling to keep out the hoardes of Chinese fishermen, who bank on China’s use of economic power to stop any action against their illegal fishing. China has also shown its willingness to illegally drill in another countries waters for oil, which it did in Vietnam in 2014. Even the United Kingdom illegally used waters for fishing, fighting three different “Cod Wars” with Iceland before recognizing Iceland’s EEZ.

A Navy isn’t cheap, but its cheaper to have one than watch another nation plunder your resources. It’s better to fight in waters far away from the Western Atlantic than on your own door step. As tensions continue to rise between the US and peer competitors, the Navy and Coast Guard will be the first to push back against any attempts at aggression on our shores.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, or any other government agency.

Does Russia even need a carrier?

Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov on fire. Image from Reddit.

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is on fire, and not in a good way. A large fire spread throughout the ship during recent welding work, and has so far killed one crew member (likely more, due to the extent of the fire). Anyone that has seen the fires aboard Forrestal can’t help but make an eerie connection.

Fighting the fire aboard the Forrestal. By Official U.S. Navy Photograph – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID USN 1124794 1124794#mw-category-media.

You would think this would be big news, but its barely scratched the Google News feed. Given that its Russia’s only carrier, you’d think this might change their Naval strategy or ship building priorities. For Russia though, this might prove to be overall a good thing.

Unlike the United States, Russia doesn’t have nearly the amount of foreign interests around the world. Most of Russia’s interests are right next door to them, in Eastern Europe and the South and Central Asia. These nations don’t require a Navy to reach. When war broke out in Syria and the Kuznetsov couldn’t launch and recover planes, Russia shifted to using other nearby airbases.

This is quite different from the United States, which uses aircraft carriers to project power around the world. The U.S. has multiple islands, two entire states and a number of Caribbean and Pacific territories to defend. Additionally, there are a significant number of Americans overseas, as well as a number of American owned companies that do business around the world. The U.S. needs a Navy to protect all these interests.

Russia’s Navy, in contrast, exists to foil the U.S. Navy. The small Russian economy can’t produce 11 supercarriers. Instead, Russia builds small, extremely capable vessels (such as the Buyan) that are fast, difficult to track and yet carry capable weapons such as the Yakhont anti-ship missile. Russia also builds an extensive and capable submarine fleet, with anti-ship missiles for use against carrier strike groups and fast attack submarines against U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

Remember too that Russia doesn’t need an outright win in any U.S. conflict. It’s sufficient for Russia to slowly take back former Soviet Union territory and keep the U.S. out of a conflict. Georgia and Ukraine are prime examples of Russia “nibbling on the edges of NATO” but keeping the U.S. at bay. In a possible large conflict, Russia would need a quick strike that would hurt the U.S. and convince them to do nothing. A strike on a carrier strike group from a Russian submarine, or an exchange of fire from a small Russian vessel against a NATO surface group, might be sufficient.

So for Russia, it would come as no surprise if they scrap their carrier. It doesn’t fit their naval strategy, and the cost to repair would be far better used building more submarines and smaller, more capable surface vessels. While we might laugh at them for this, given our wasting of money on stealth destroyers that can’t deploy or small ships that can’t fight, perhaps we have something to learn from the Russian Navy.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

That Such Men Lived

At the Doris Miller Memorial in Miller’s native Waco, Texas.

by baldilocks

Doris “Dorie” Miller has always been my favorite Pearl Harbor hero. Is it because he was black? Partially.

Simply, it’s impossible to separate his race from his heroism, considering that the US. Military was segregated back then, that black servicemen and women were mostly assigned to segregated units, and that most were tasked with servant and “menial” jobs. Miller, himself, was a cook — Messman Third Class and Ship’s Cook Third class — aboard the USS West Virginia. Way back when I was in kindergarten, he was the first war hero to enter into my consciousness.

Miller was the recipient of the Navy Cross – at that time, the third highest award behind the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal  — for the following:

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Miller was doing laundry below decks on the USS West Virginia. When the alarm called the ship’s crew to battle stations, Miller headed a gun  magazine amidships [sic]. A torpedo had damaged the magazine, so the physically strong Miller began carrying the wounded to safety. Among those he attended to was the ship’s commander, Capt. Mervyn Bennion, who was mortally wounded. Miller then manned a .50-calibre antiaircraft gun, for which he had no training, and continued firing on the enemy until he ran out of ammunition and received the order to abandon ship.

Admiral Chester Nimitz himself pinned the Navy Cross to the young man’s chest. Miller died in 1943 when his subsequent ship, the USS Liscome Bay, was sunk by the Japanese. He was 24.

There was a Navy destroyer escort/frigate named in Miller’s honor – the USS Miller, service date 1973 to 1991.

What I love about Doris Miller’s existence is that the man was here for only a short time and was merely playing the cards that life dealt him when he performed the action that will long outlive him. When the challenge came, he stepped to it and met it — something intrinsic in heroes and heroism.

And this may seem like a change of topic, but it isn’t. Back when Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV; ironically) passed away in 2010, I remembered writing — prior to his passing — about his actions during WWII:

Byrd refused to serve in World War Two due to blacks being a part of the force, even in their lowly status before the desegregation of the US Armed Forces in 1948.  I cited that here using Wiki, but the reference has been cleaned up.

If, by some chance Byrd got to go to Heaven, I hope he gets to be Dorie Miller’s butler.

Whoever Miller’s Heavenly Cook and Messman is, I’m sure he’s just happy to be there serving a great man and is doing so with a smile.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

Follow Juliette on FacebookTwitterMeWePatreon and Social Quodverum.

Hit Da Tech Guy Blog’s Tip Jar !

Or hit Juliette’s!

Investing in Active Shooter training

From Twitter

It’s been a bad week for the Navy. The bad news of two dead in a shooting in Pearl Harbor, HI, followed by three dead from a Saudi flight student in Pensacola is simply devastating. In a less publicized case, a Sailor died after a person ran a gate, traveling 81 miles per hour before he slammed into Petty Officer Oscar Temores’ car, killing him. This follows a string of other shootings in previous years, from the NOSC at Chattanooga, TN in 2015, to the USS Mahan (in Norfolk at the time) in 2014. These aren’t particularly dangerous areas of the country, so what, exactly, is going on?

First, some militarizes in the cases. Most don’t involve legal private firearms. They are either US Navy firearms (Pearl Harbor, Mahan) or illegally obtained weapons (Pensacola). And in all cases, its still illegal to have private firearms on a Navy installation.

Second, there were some warning signs that weren’t followed. The Pearl Harbor shooter was about to go to Mast (equivalent of a court hearing), but was issued a firearm for his watch station. The Virginia Beach gaterunner had multiple law violations before he ran the Little Creek Gate. I’m guessing we’ll find the Pensacola shooter had mental health issues as well.

Lastly, where were the Navy’s police (called Master at Arms)? In all cases, they responded pretty quickly. Nobody can respond instantly though. The Pearl Harbor shooting was over in less than 60 seconds. Police quickly engaged the Pensacola shooter, limiting his damage to 11 people, but if you’re in a big auditorium space with hundreds of people and no instant police, the sad reality is it will take time to lock down, time a shooter can use to murder more victims.

It doesn’t help that the Navy is struggling to recruit young MAs (see the low 2019 numbers here), most of whom are doing the day-to-day “beat” jobs. Less young MAs in cars and at gates, less police presence, and increased police response time. MA jobs have decent promotion chances compared to other ratings, but part of this is likely due to a lack of candidates.

The Navy is spending a lot of effort in conducting active shooter exercises. They’ve become more frequent and more realistic. However, they are always focused on training the police force. But past experience shows a shooting might not last very long, and most people are injured or killed in the initial seconds to minutes. In that case, the quick response by bystanders makes or breaks the encounter. Attacking the shooter in those critical first few seconds may mean the difference between a mass shooting and a few injuries.

Shootings will continue to happen, and given the number of weapons on a base, we can’t stop them. But we can out-think shooters. They’ll expect passive victims that don’t fight back. We shouldn’t give them that.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Was Secretary Spencer any good?

At Sea – Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, right, speaks with Carrier Strike Group 8 Command Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Bates in the in-port cabin during Spencer’s visit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Feb. 25, 2018. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann

Now that Secretary Spencer is officially no longer the Navy Secretary, I’m able to openly ask the question: why is everyone up in arms about him being fired? People (military and non-military) were hot and bothered by it on Facebook. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I’ll ask what should be the most important question: what, exactly, did Secretary Spencer do as SECNAV for two years?

If we judge his tenure by the shape of the Navy, it isn’t pretty. US Ship Force levels have been relatively flat. This is made worse by the continued deployment of ships to respond to, basically, everything around the world. The Joint Staff uses a process called “Global Force Management,” where each Combatant Commander requests presence of different forces. Aircraft Carriers in particular are the subject of much discussion, and when one breaks (like the Harry S. Truman), you have people arguing over how to surge another carrier out, rather than discussing whether a carrier is even needed in the first place. This causes our carriers and other ships to wear out, and given we can’t build them fast enough, we are left with a Navy full of worn out ships and crews.

Secretary Spencer had to have seen this, and yet in two years, we haven’t had any change. His long range ship building plan put us at 355 ships, maybe, in 2030. We’re building 10 ships a year…maybe. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, China is set to overtake the US in ships by 2020. Numbers don’t account for crew readiness and weapon systems, but here again, the US is using relatively expensive weapons while China and Russia crank out increasingly cheaper missiles. Quantity becomes its own quality, and bankrupting the country to win the future fight isn’t a good option.

We could tackle this problem in a lot of ways. Building different ships, for example smaller carriers, would help get more ships to meet global requirements while saving higher-end ships for the big fight. Building a better shipyard infrastructure (getting away from having only a few places we can build Navy ships) could help lower the cost. Sharing ship designs with allies, similar to the F-35 program, could lower cost and make overseas repairs easier. Or perhaps we add in diesel submarines to help bring more submarines to the fight. Or we could build some smaller vessels, like the PCs of old, but with advanced striking power, to get a cheaper vessel that can fight in the littorals (the Littoral Combat Ship is anything but small or cheap).

But we have no innovation. The Long Range Shipbuilding plan sticks to traditional platforms, just calling for more of them. The one different platform, SSGN (converted ballistic submarines that shoot Tomahawk missiles and deploy SEAL teams) are going away, to be replaced by smaller Virginia submarines with specialized modules. Slightly innovative, but not enough to deal with China and Russia, who are designing very different Navies to fight very different wars in the future.

And how is that new carrier catapult working out? Even Bob Work was able to get LCS module price back on track.

We didn’t get much with Secretary Spencer. Our Navy isn’t in great shape, and ground wasn’t laid to make it much better. When the Secretary then decides to openly disagree with his boss, what did he expect would happen? If your boss is telling you to do something, and its not illegal, you get to disagree in private, but if he insists, then you get to resign.

For everyone mad about Secretary Spencer, I have to ask why. Is it because it was Trump that fired him? Did you really think Spencer was doing a good job? Because while I have some issues with Secretary Mattis leaving (I would prefer he stay on), I don’t see how Secretary Spencer was making our Navy great again.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.