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American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

The Last Lion, Winston Spenser Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 — finally released!

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

The Last Lion, Winston Spenser Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, by William Manchester and Paul Reid

In the 1980’s, William Manchester wrote two of three planned volumes on the life of Winston Churchill. He had notes for the final volume but illness prevented him from completing. Instead, he brought in Paul Reid to finish his masterpiece. While it took 25 years, the wait was well worth it; Reid thus far (I’m halfway through) has channelled Manchester’s style and presenting a seamless connection to the first two volumes.

Strongest recommendation.

Cross posted at To Be or To Do.

A Strategy for the Pacific – Will the US have the $$$ and the courage for a credible and survivable one?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

[by J. Scott Shipman]

To have an executable strategy, a nation needs the wherewithal to pay for it. This applies the United States, too. 

As the United States heads into an election year with rising unemployment, a double-dip recession threatening, and deep cuts to defense on the horizon (even as we continue to prosecute the war on terror) a controversy continues to brew in the South China Sea. China has increasingly heated up the rhetoric. On 30 September the Taipei Times reported on an opinion article in the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times (the original article is here), calling on the Chinese to declare war on Vietnam and the Philippines over their intransigence with respect to China’s claim of the South China Sea as being part of China proper. While this tantrum might be a saber-rattling “fire for effect” exercise aimed at intimidation, the writer surmised the position of the United States:

“The US has not withdrawn from the war on terrorism and the Middle East … so it cannot afford to open a second front in the South China Sea,” he wrote…“[Military] action by a big country in the international arena may result in initial shock, but in the long run, regional stability can be achieved through great power strategic reconciliation.”

“It cannot afford” is writ large. What, indeed, would the US do if China followed the advice of this hot-headed pundit? The US Navy is operating at about 283 ships, and the op-tempo is wearing out both ships and crews—fast. A recent article in the Atlanta Constitution reported the USN is investigating extending the typical six month deployment for fast-attack submarines. As I wrote earlier, we are retiring our submarines faster than we’re replacing them. With the US defense budget under the axe for even further cuts, what is the proper course of action? And do we have a strategy supported by an adequate budget? Are we strengthening our relationships among allies, or are we neglecting relationships that will be vital if hostilities break out? I would submit the US refusal to Taiwan’s request to purchase modern F-16 C/D variants, offering instead upgrades for A/B sends a message of waning US resolve to honor the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). (A rumor within the Beltway is the upgrades were a first step, with what the administration hopes will be a request by Taiwan for the troubled and increasingly costly F-35.) The TRA requires the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character”, and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” We may have that “capacity” today, but what are we doing to insure we sustain the capacity to maintain open sea lines of communications? Can we afford it?

Our friends in the South China Sea environs aren’t feeling the love. India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have all expressed concern about China’s increasingly belligerent actions with respect to the South China Sea areas. All of these nations rely ultimately on the USN to keep the sea lanes of communication open. Most have modest defense budgets, but they’re beginning to realize the new reality and are acting and good for them—we could learn something in the reality department. Vietnam has ordered six Russian Kilo Class diesel boats (very good subs, btw), and the Philippines are shopping. Singapore has a pretty impressive sub fleet (six reasonably modern hulls) and national defense given her size. Taiwan has two 20-plus year old subs and two WWII era US boats that are 60 years old!

If we look at numbers, our strategy seems pretty puny. As our fleet continues to atrophy in numbers, the Chinese continue to build. An inventory of submarines in the area shows that between China and North Korea there are about 128 hulls compared to a total of 42 among the aforementioned nations. Our friends in the area will continue to need US submarine support in the area for the foreseeable future as subs are long lead time platforms.

In this theater alone, cutting our defenses seems nuts. Rather than cut line units, perhaps DoD should begin to improve/streamline our antiquated procurement and acquisition processes. Our acquisition process is so complicated we have a Defense Acquisition University (DAU)! At an estimated $124M for FY012, perhaps we should cut DAU first. Last year at Boyd & Beyond 2010, Dr. Ray Leopold shared the contrasts in commercial contracting versus government contracting. Commercial contracts are built on the presumption of trust, government contracts are written on the presumption of distrust. Rather than use normal legal remedies to hold mischievous and unscrupulous contractors to account, DoD has erected mind-numbing processes that attempt to eliminate any risk a contractor could successfully rip-off the government. And when a contractor does rip-off the government, the contractor pays a fine and continues to do business with the Pentagon. If someone steals from you, do you continue to do business with them? Not me. This would be a good place for DoD to begin true accountability—you can bet one defense company out of the market would send a message to the others. The sad truth is the revolving door between the military and the contractor community has created a incestuous and inbred swamp of rules and processes only the participants understand that are so impenetrable DoD has no idea how much money it is spending (never mind tracking waste)—so fiscal irresponsibility continues in an increasingly dangerous world with budget cuts guaranteed. What’s the strategy again? This madness is fast becoming an issue of national security. On our current track we could well be incapable of defending ourselves, much less our allies.

Here are few other ideas for consideration before touching a single line unit:

  • DoD should lay-off every nonessential employee. Whenever there is a snowstorm in the DC area, nonessential personell are instructed to stay home or “liberal leave” is in effect. We need to disabuse ourselves of the luxury of the nonessential employee. Regular businesses don’t operate like this, neither should DoD. Every employee should be integral, essential, and necessary; if they’re not essential, we can’t afford them—not while we have troops in harm’s way.
  • Stop double-dipping on 1 January. If a member retires from the military, they shouldn’t be able work for the government (often in the same office where they separated from service) and draw two salaries. If the member wants to work for the government,  pick one, but not both. We can’t afford it and this contributes to the ongoing inbreeding in defense. And here’s a cruel truth: why should we pay a member who could not continue advancing in the military a military pension and a government civil service salary?
  • Flag officers and members of the Senior Executive Service should have a minimum five year ban on working in the defense or defense lobbying industry. Stop the revolving door. Our current mess was created by many of these folks (even if well-intentioned), they should take a five-year time out and give others a chance to fix the mess they’ve helped create.
  • Abandon the current acquisition process and close DAU. Hire commercial attorneys at a commercial rate to write contracts based on trust, but contracts with teeth. This would be cheaper than the bloated and incestuous bureaucracy we now carry.  If a contractor defrauds the government, ban that company for 10 years from doing business with the government, and put the offending members in jail. Word will get around, and folks will behave.
  • Allow contractors to earn 8-10% on their work and stop nickel-diming them on fee. Businesses are in business to make money.
  • The government should assume more technical oversight/intimacy in procurement programs. We have too many generalist contracting officers who can be misled by an unscrupulous contractor, or perhaps worse, have no idea “what” they’re buying. The government needs to get engaged and informed and know “what” they are buying and know real costs.
  • Develop a promotion system based on merit, not time in grade. Our promotion system breeds risk averse officers who focus on punching career tickets instead of doing. Following John Boyd’s “to be or to do” maxim, the promotion system should reward officers who think and take risks, not poster-boy/cookie cutter conformists. “We’re warriors, dammit!” was a phrase my old CO used—let warriors be warriors! Scrap time in grade and promote based on performance, and if folks don’t perform well enough to be promoted, separate them from service.

Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors; well a good deterrent makes good neighbors, too—but fences and deterrence costs money. DoD can and must do better; business as usual is becoming a death of a thousand paper cuts for us, and our allies. We need a real strategy and the budget to make it happen—that won’t happen with our current acquisition rules. The axe should fall on the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy before it touches a single line unit.

America is better than this, we must raise the standard by bringing DoD into the real world of fiscal responsibility and contract law, so whatever our strategy it can have a sound fiscal and legal foundation.

Diesel Boats Forever! or ever?

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

German and Italian Type 212

Modern German Diesel Electric Submarines (Type 212)

by J. Scott Shipman (diesel electric submarines, naval strategy, Taiwan, Republic of China, submarines)

David Trombly at the new Fear, Honor, and Interest blog posted a thought provoking article on Taiwan, sea denial, and the bounding of US dominance.

This post caught my eye for several reasons, not the least of which is that in another life I rode submarines (ballistic missile subs: USS VON STEUBEN (SSBN-632) and the commissioning crew of USS PENNSYLVANIA (SSBN-735). Another is I attended on behalf of a former employer in 2001/2002 an industry day event soliciting interest in the US production of diesel electric submarines for the use of Taiwan (Republic of China, or ROC). US production was authorized (see background: here) because the ROC was having difficulty purchasing through European diesel boat manufacturers. Germany, Sweden, and France have proven platforms, as do the Russians and their KILO class. All of these nations export submarines, but few want to antagonize the ROC’s increasingly global neighbor China.

The industry day event was well attended, but as I sat there I had little confidence there would ever be a diesel electric submarine produced in a US shipyard. Here’s why: the US Navy is heavily vested in nuclear powered submarines which are incredibly expensive, with the most modern VIRGINIA Class coming in at around $2B a copy. When compared to modern diesel boats which run between $200-$300M, Big Navy understandably wants to avoid any possible comparisons—or for the question even to be raised. The industry event was more a public show of supporting Congress and the president than a serious inquiry, and nothing more than slides were produced (which is often the case in Washington, btw).

The USN is overextended by almost any measure, our national shipbuilding infrastructure is perhaps at its lowest point and our Fleet has less ships (about 283) than any time since WWI. We have about 70 submarines (18 OHIO Class of which 4 are guided missile submarines, 7 VA Class, 3 SEAWOLF, and about 43 older Los Angeles Class). These boats spend about half their time deployed, which drives up maintenance costs and cost to crew separated from family [the OHIO Class ships rotate crews about every 90 days] Our submarines are built exclusively in Groton, CT, and Newport News, VA. We have naval shipyards for heavy modifications, nuclear refueling/overhauls in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bremerton, and Pearl Harbor (though I don’t believe Portsmouth or Pearl are authorized refueling facilities).

In this environment of increased op-tempo, and low numbers of ships/boats we have continuing challenges to the maritime domain, including China’s increasingly muscular approach in the South China sea and that age old naval scourge, piracy. (H/T Feral Jundi at Facebook)

These realities, combined with an ally in need (and perhaps many more potential customers) seem to form a perfect storm of need for a small fleet of stealthy, American-made diesel electric submarines. If the Obama administration wanted to strengthen it bonafides in East Asia and with the American public, it would reengage on the Taiwan submarine issue and this time, instead of a deal neither side could abide (our side the very thought and insane requirements, their side appropriating the funds). If Taiwan is willing to pay for R&D, allow the building shipyard to keep the design, and find an American suitor, that all translates into that three letter word Joe Biden is so fond of: jobs. Jobs that would have little to no reliance on the increasingly precarious federal government and shrinking defense budgets. Taiwan and the region would gain stealthy deterrents to potential Chinese mischief, the US could invigorate a fairly inbred shipbuilding industry with new talent, new ideas, and new competition, and maybe, just maybe we could build a few boats for those missions too mundane or cost-prohibitive for our nuke boats (like the piracy problem for a starter).

Postscript: As a former nuclear navy submariner, I am intimately familiar of the many positives nuke boats offer (I once spent 82 days submerged). My musing here is not a call for replacement, but rather to point out yet again (see this analysis), that our navy should have room for both in our increasingly complex world.

Please read my exchange with David at the Fear, Honor, and Interest post, as some innovative ideas not included in this post are presented. But I thought I’d share with the zenpundit audience as we spend a great deal of time talking strateegery here, but rarely naval issues, and I don’t post often enough…

Saturday, September 1st, 2007


Props to Curtis for his altruistic act of blogospheric historiography in creating an online 5GW Timeline. It will be highly useful to know exactly who said what/when before writing any more 5GW posts. Thanks, Curtis!

Dreaming 5GW is on a roll lately. Check out Shane Deichman’s xGW Evolution: Purely Reactionary” and Subadei’sHammes 5GW Redux:Via Phil” ( original post by Phil at Pacific Empire is here, plus Phil’s previous ““Fourth-generation warfare expert to speak in Wellington on Monday”).

Great work, gentlemen.

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