Sunday, March 10, 2013

Musings on the Navy

 aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are in port at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. US Navy Photo

This week saw the sequestration kick in and all manner of cutbacks were announced. The sea services immediately announced cutbacks that would affect deployments and the deferral of maintenance which will affect readiness. How might this announcement be taken in foreign capitals who have found themselves on the other side of cordial relations? Seventy two years ago, one country observed the United States mired in economic doldrums and focused on an isolationist policy and went on to plan a strike that they thought would lead to a limited war, where the United States would assume the role of the punished dog, and whimper off to our corner of the world, leaving the Empire of Japan in possession of the Western Pacific region. History records the result of their miscalculation.

Today, we have as our President is fond of saying, "a teaching moment." If we ponder the current situation, alongside the open book of the past, we will find the rhymes of history written between the lines of tomorrows news.
Last week, Feb 28-March 1st, marked the 71st anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea which saw 10 American and Allied ships sunk, with the loss of over 2,173 sailors. The date was marked by two excellent posts. The first, a reflection of the battle by Cdr. Salamander tells of the ships and the sacrifice of the men, now mostly forgotten, except by historians and history buffs. I cannot improve on his words, so I will send you back 71 years to read more, Fullbore Friday.

To help understand the lessons of this battle, Robert Farley, Assistant Professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce wrote this article on how the lessons of the battle are relevant for today's Navy.
America is in the throes of yet another debate about grand strategy, with terms like “deep engagement” and “offshore balancing” coming to characterize complex sets of policies towards allies and antagonists alike. Although the precise nature of the terms varies along with the preference of the author, Deep Engagement advocates tend to prefer robust, forward deployed U.S. military capability of the sort that we currently enjoy. Advocates of offshore balancing argue that the United States can significantly draw down its military and political commitments and rely on normal balance of power politics to ensure that no state gains complete control over the Eurasian landmass...

...The most likely future for the USN lies in some mix of predominance and retrenchment. The USN will continue to be the most powerful player, but will need to rely on its allies for an edge against the PLAN, its most likely peer competitor. The United States should perhaps look to something more akin to “offshore engagement,” which preserves opportunities for robust engagement while still giving allies sufficient reason to take care of themselves...
Read the whole article: History Lesson: The Battle of Java Sea

Taken alone, the lessons learned and forgotten in the warm waters of the Java Sea might never cross our national path again. But when one ponders the debate currently raging over who should get their share of the shrinking defense pie, this thoughtful post by Bryan McGrath on Information Dissemination should trigger some amount of pondering of how past planning intersects with the current pathway.
Professor Jim Lacey of the Marine Corps War College gets one thing right in his National Review Online post entitled "Why Armies Matter". Well, maybe two things. The first is his view that "....Around the Pentagon, the budget cutters have put away their knives and are reaching for axes. In times like these, every service naturally circles the wagons around its share of the budget pie." On this, he is correct. I have been sounding the alarm for several years now as the tea-leaves pointed to lower defense spending, that the role of American Seapower in defending our national interests should be privileged...

...Professor Lacey takes us on an interesting and fascinating tour of history, recounting the (unchallenged) record of land-battle as war-winner. Therefore, one should surmise, since Seapower does not win wars, it is and should necessarily be secondarily considered. Or as a former CIA Director once stated, "this one is a slam dunk." This view adequately considers 100% of 50% of the question, leaving the other 50% completely unanswered, unquestioned, and un-valued. That is, what function does military power perform when it is not actively engaged in combat? Or put another way, do we invest in our Armed Forces to do things other than fight and win wars?

The answer of course, is yes, we do. Chief among them is that we invest in our Armed Forces to look after our far-flung national interests, to deter emergent threats to those interests, and to assure our friends and allies in an effort to create an reinforcing architecture aimed at--yes, protecting and sustaining our national interests...
Bryan makes a sensible rebuttal to the suggestion that in order to win wars we need to maintain a massive land force capable of defeating all comers. As Bryan aptly notes, deterring emergent threats before having to engage in costly wars as the past 11 years have tolled is the one of the prime missions of the Navy-Marines. So how might the events of history played out in 1942 begin to rhyme with sequestration and arguments that having a strong navy is not as relevant as a massive army play out in the eyes of our potential adversaries? This post from the insightful founder of ID, Galrahn, might give one pause, when pondered in the light of past histories of strategic miscalculations based on a perception of weakness.
What happens today, March 11, 2013, local time off the Korean Peninsula could become a historic event, so I want to make sure it is noted what happened. This was the threat as reported by BNO.
My sense is North Korea is looking for a small skirmish, some kind of clash that raises tension on the security situation, but only a limited battle not a full war. After 2010 it is unclear if they can maintain escalation control though, which may explain why they are message traffic heavy to the locals. The key here is that North Korea wants to change the dynamics of the security situation for the purposes of negotiation, because apparently they have calculated the security situation is too comfortable for everyone else for security to be used in negotiation as a concession. If that is truly the case, then if a skirmish or something breaks out North Korea would need to get hit harder than they hit the South in order to keep the security situation from being a concession in negotiation, but that isn't easy to do unless we feel you have control over escalation and deescalation of the situation.

All of this is good timing for North Korea though. The Navy has 4 destroyers in the area, but no available aircraft carriers anywhere in the Pacific and the nearest is a few weeks away. USS George Washington (CVN 73) is in a 6 month availability window that began in February. The Navy is probably saying otherwise, but if something happens they are not in a very good position to react quickly - not even close. O&M budget shortages due to sequestration and the continuing resolution probably make it difficult for the DoD to react based solely on rhetoric, although the DoD has other, more legitimate means of evaluating the legitimacy of threats from North Korea.

I do not believe North Korea is looking for a major war, but I do think the North is looking for an incident. From their point of view, they have honored every legal requirement regarding any direct attack against any target beginning March 11, 2013 is not some random act of violence. That is what really bothers me, basically North Korea has positioned their nation to be legally at war on purpose, but the specific purpose is yet to be revealed.
Read the whole post:North Korea Scraps Armistice Today (Again) 

The next few weeks will reveal whether the North Koreans continue to master their strategy of coercion to gain rewards, or prove to be bumblers who end up getting their nose not just bloodied but broken in an exchange fof tit for tat. The bigger issue to be resolved is how the United States projects its power, in lieu of having a strong naval presence as a deterrence. This on a local level is like inviting the burglar to break the glass, because the cops are back in the station house counting their bullets and practicing report writing.

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