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Two Readings, and If You Read It, Why Not Review It?

[by J. Scott Shipman]

One Hundred Days, The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward

For professional reasons, many trusted colleagues have recommended One Hundred Days, and I finally finished it a few weeks ago. They reminded me the Falklands War “was the first modern anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) war, pitting a joint expeditionary force against a regional power with modern land, air, and sea capabilities.” [sourced from Proceedings magazine, May 2012, by Commander Jim Griffin, U.S. Navy—strongly recommended] In other words, the scrap in the South Atlantic in 1982 was the last time a “modern” expeditionary force faced a credible adversary with modern capabilities. 

Admiral Woodward reminds that no one expected Argentina to invade the Falklands, and even if they did, no one expected the UK to respond with force (even the Royal Navy (RN) was surprised, and many had to find the islands on a map). Woodward departed with the two remaining UK carriers, the Hermes and Invincible which were already on the chopping block due to budget problems (sound familiar?). Fighting was such a distant memory for the RN, having not engaged in significant action since WWII, and Woodward recounts that many of his men had difficulty making the transition from “a sea-going job” to fighting, and possibly dying. I wondered as I read if the U.S. Navy has prepared/is prepared for this transition; and truly both officer and rates proved susceptible. The personal nature of Woodward’s account was bit of a surprise, but provides valued insight into the challenges and frequent frustrations faced by naval leaders.

Commander Griffin’s account in Proceedings referenced above has a very good list of lessons learned, and a few observations and questions are added for consideration:

  1. Naval warfare is war of attrition. Attrition can occur as a result of sinking or disabling an opponent. In the case of the Brits, many of their ships sustained non-fatal hits that, for practical purposes, removed the ship from any offensive or defensive action. Many of our enemies, while not sophisticated, understand and plan accordingly. As a result numbers are important; numbers of ships and weapons.
  2. In the age of the missile, response times were/are measured in seconds, so ships and aircraft will be lost…often, quickly.
  3. Are our systems susceptible to electro-magnetic interference (EMI)? 
  4. Could our ships navigate or fight without GPS or other satellite-dependent technologies?
  5. Can sailors onboard fix systems when they break (and they will break, see #6 below)? One RN ship had a contractor embarked who made the difference, which was blind luck. Over the last 20 years, the USN has tended towards “operators” over technicians.
  6. “Murphy” is alive and well. When things can fail (including technologies), they will, at the worst possible time.
  7. Is the theater commander in command? In the Falklands, Woodward had command of ships, but not submarines—which hampered the effectiveness of his battle group.
  8. Ship preservation (preventive maintenance) is often paid for in battle. At least two RN ships were unable to use weapons because of salt corrosion rendering missile hatches inoperable. This is engineering problem, too, to be sure, but also an example of how preventive maintenance can pay-off when it counts.
  9. Damage control training for all-hands; rigorous and often. RN sailors did a masterful job of saving several of their wounded ships.
  10. Anti-missile capabilities on logistic/support ships.
  11. Homefront politics and posturing provides fog in war as does the enemy. One curse of modern communications; having the White House Situation Room second-guessing/micromanaging the war.
  12. The press is often not your friend. On a couple of occasions, the BBC broadcast orders of battle and goals, and the Argentineans planned and acted accordingly.
  13. The motto of Captain John Coward, RN, of HMS Brilliant, “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.”

Woodward’s book is the clearest account we have of naval warfare in the missile age. If it is not already, One Hundred Days should be required reading for every naval officer. Strongest recommendation.

National Security Dilemmas, Challenges & Opportunities, Colin S. Gray

Colin Gray is no stranger to the readers of Zenpundit. I read this title over the Christmas break, and have returned to review with some frequency. In fact, my copy is so littered with underlining and marginalia, these periodic “reviews” can take a couple of hours. As the title suggests, Gray outlines the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers, and in so doing provides an accurate glimpse of our current state of political-military affairs. He encourages policymakers to reacquaint themselves with the importance of the concept of victory, and on how to successfully navigate a transition of our military from our previous focus of regular warfare to the realities introduced by enemies using irregular methods. Gray discusses “revolutions in military affairs (RMA)” and deterrence and the implications of both in our thinking and planning. Gray’s concluding section on preemption and preventative war is exceptionally well-presented.

For example, Gray’s section on Achieving Decisive Victory includes:

  1. Better armies tend to win.
  2. No magic formula for victory.
  3. Technology is not a panacea.
  4. The complexity of strategy and war is the mother of invention.
  5. Know your enemies.

This book is imminently quotable, so I’ll share a few with my highest recommendation.

The idea that strategy has an essence is deeply attractive. Strategy sounds incredibly rare and valuable, like something that could be bottled and sold. Unfortunately, American understanding of and sound practice in strategy is desperately rare. Strategic thinking and behavior are endangered activities in the United States. This is hardly a stunningly original insight. However, familiar though the criticism should be, it loses none of its bite for reason of longevity. Much as the U.S. defense community periodically is prodded by irregularist anxiety to worry about insurgency and terrorism, so from time to time it remembers the value of strategy. Though American defense professionals do not know what strategy is or how it works, they know that it is a matter of grave importance. The pattern has been one wherein a politician or a senior official with a personal interest has lit the fire of genuinely strategic discussion. The fire briefly flare brightly but then dies away for want of fuel. The fire is not fed, because there is not much demand for the heat and light of truly strategic argument in the United States. Although America is not quite a strategy-free environment, such a characterization would err in the right direction. (page 169 of paperback edition)

Since, inter alia, warfare is a competition in learning between imperfect military machines, fortunately one need only be good enough. (page 178; this is a personal favorite of mine)

There needs to be a continuous, albeit “unequal,” dialogue between civilian and soldier. War and warfare are permeated with political meaning, and consequences. A competent supreme command knows this and behaves accordingly. However, this relationship carries implications for civilian participation in military decisions in wartime that run contrary to the traditional American way in civil-military relations. If the strict instrumentality of force is not to be neglected, there has to be a constant dialogue between policymaker and soldier. Policy is a nonsense if the troops cannot perform “in the field,” while the troops may be so effective in action that policy is left gasping far behind unexpected opportunities by events. (page 179, emphasis added)

Gray’s National Security Dilemmas is a must read for policymakers and practitioners. [btw: it has been my custom to provide selected referenced works in book reviews. Gray’s bibliography is so excellent and comprehensive, I could not make a list that would do it justice.]

That said, I’ll close with more questions, and an apology: Does anyone read anymore? I’m rereading Manchester’s classic American Caesar after an absence of 30+ years, and I’d forgotten how much time both MacArthur the Elder and MacArthur the Younger (Douglas) spent reading. That said, how often do we see military leaders review the books they recommend? A reading list is one thing, explaining why the book made the cut another. With blogs, the internet, and social media, there are no barriers to entry. Recommendation to senior officers, including the General Officers and Flag Officers who post required reading lists: let your folks know why, write it down, explain it—the exercise will do you good, and give your subordinates insights into your thinking.

Now for the apology: there are four of us here at Zenpundit, but I’ve been the anchor man. This is my first post in too long, and I apologize to my colleagues and you, the reader. I’ve been on a tear reading naval stuff, mostly associated with my business endeavors. That said, I’ll endeavor to eat my own cooking and review what I read/have read with greater frequency.

18 Responses to “Two Readings, and If You Read It, Why Not Review It?”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    “… the last time a “modern” expeditionary force faced a credible adversary with modern capabilities.”  Maybe not “last”; maybe: “most recent.”  Both of these books sound excellent.  The Woodward has been on my “list” for many years.


  2. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Good point, though I chose “last” because it has been over 30 years. And Lord, the weapons have gotten better and our ships, fewer in number. 

  3. zen Says:

    Superb post Scott!  
    Gray is correct “Strategic thinking and behavior are endangered activities in the United States. the problem is that in a joint/ interagency/NSC/DIME/”whole-of-government” setting(s) genuine strategic thinking has a way of inevitably challenging the assumptions, status relationships, institutional prerogatives and career options of the people who got us into a jam where strategy suddenly appears valuable and that is seldom tolerated.  This I think is a truism, but our current generation of leading politicians and policymakers in their fifties and sixties are acutely allergic to having to accept any responsibility, any at all, for making choices (“accountability is for the little people”) or more often, refusing to make any. How can any kind of rational strategy be constructed by ppl who insist on keeping all options open to pursue undefined but limitless goals?

  4. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Zen,
    Many thanks! Concur on our current generation of leaders.
    On the military side, perhaps the lack of intellectual rigor is also a culprit? I don’t know, but we have as well-educated (on paper) group of military leaders in history, but you’d never know it… 

  5. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Woodward’s book is excellent.  The Falklands war was really the first Area Denial War (not really Anti-Access–If it was AA, Argentina would have been doing things to prevent the battlegroup from showing up in the first place, but I digress).  I have it on good authority that the Chinese military leadership have read that book.  They then took the battlefield, turned and turned it 90 degrees to the right.  That is how, in my opinion, the Chinese view their military problem vis-a-vis America.
    We would do well to heed the lessons of the book, not the least of which is that it is Sailors who keep ships afloat, that your ships will be hit, and damage control is therefore crucial.  (So much for Littoral Combat Ships!  Ha!  One salvo and those boats are toast!)
    Very good book, indeed!

  6. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Did you see where LCS-1 had to be towed back to Singapore after only eight hours underway? Zen’s comment about the paucity of responsibility and rational choices stands out in our navy’s decision to build these “ships” in the first place. One shot. One kill. (and the missile doesn’t care if you can do 40+ knots — assuming the propulsion plant is available…

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “The Falklands war was really the first Area Denial War (not really Anti-Access–If it was AA, Argentina would have been doing things to prevent the battlegroup from showing up in the first place, but I digress).”

    “One shot. One kill. (and the missile doesn’t care if you can do 40+ knots — assuming the propulsion plant is available…”

    So obviously the LCS are built for Anti-Access instead of Area Denial War. I suppose we can consider them one of those Toyota pickups you see insurgencies running around the Middle East in, very vulnerable, but nobody really wants to take them out because of the resources generated by their presence in the environment.

    It really does seem like the US military fights the last war today and not the future one tomorrow, but is that always bad? 

  8. carl Says:

    “…many of his men had difficulty making the transition from “a sea-going job” to fighting, and possibly dying.”  That has been a problem forever.  That was a factor in the Battle of Savo Island, Bull Run and even on a national scale, the Phony War.  I wonder how much it will affect a navy composed of mixed sex crews?  We shall see someday.

  9. zen Says:

    I wonder how much it will affect a navy composed of mixed sex crews?”
    I will put my money on a self-sustaining Navy population 

  10. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi carl, 
    Mixed sex crews are here to stay on all ships of the navy, save fast-attack subs—and they’re coming. Zen may be right on the self-sustaining part, as stories of pregnancy in theater have become well-known—-whether true, or not, I don’t know.
    The comment in the review was offered because no one in today’s navy has fought at sea against a peer/near-peer competitor. The thought of dying, or being aboard a sinking ship probably isn’t part of the cognitive make-up of many sailors. It has been so long, the institutional reality has faded to stories. The learning curve was steep, and thankfully, the RN sailors acquitted themselves with distinction…I’m reasonably certain our sailors will as well. That said, leaders need to keep the possibility alive and well and part of training and education—the surprise of combat will be enough all alone, the actuality will be enough to convince.

  11. carl Says:

    All sailors should watch The Cruel Sea on occasion, especially the part where the Compass Rose has to depth charge allied seamen in the water and the part where a torpedo hits the forward berthing compartment and Ericson can hear the trapped men screaming through the voice pipe as they die. Then the officers should say this will, not might, will happen to some of us when the ballon goes up. That might be a bit melodramatic but maybe it would be good.

  12. carl Says:

    J. Scott Shipman:

    It isn’t education nor intelligence nor rigor that our senior political and military leadership lack. It is honor and character. If they don’t get it before the next big confrontation or war comes along, we will lose. And I am damned if I know how to give it to them.

  13. carl Says:

    I am sorry if I am wearing out my welcome but something occurred to me about mixed sex crews and I would like opinions.  It is something I never realized in just this way.  The South Vietnamese Army had a terrible time in 1975 with the ‘family problem.’  Troops would leave their units not because they were afraid, but because they were concerned about the immediate safety of their families who often lived right by the military outpost.  If there is a man and woman on a ship and she gets pregnant, you have an incipient family.  The Navy I imagine will strive to immediately remove any pregnant woman from the ship but what if their isn’t time before battle or what if they don’t tell.  Will this result in a family problem and how might it play out?

  14. T. Greer Says:

    I appreciate the reviews. Mr. Gray’s books are well known around here – though I must admit that I have not read a single one of them. The problem is that there are so many (at least 24). I am not sure which of Mr. gray’s books on strategy is the best place to start. What do the Zenpundit authors/readers recommend? 

  15. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    If you must read one, read War, Peace and International Relations: An introduction to strategic history. If you must read two, re-read War, Peace and International Relations: An introduction to strategic history. If you must read three, Modern Strategy isn’t bad.

  16. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi carl,
    Hard to say what system is in place, and the navy has done a good job of either (a) getting things under control or (b) doing a good job keeping it out of the press. My guess is they’d helo mom off and keep steaming (of course, unless it was LCS, and she could just walk across the brow:))
    “honor and character,” sadly, too often I’d agree at the GO/FO level. A retired 2-star friend told me when he was selected for admiral, a captain buddy called and invited him to the club for a drink to celebrate and “to tell him a few things…” My friend knew this colleague wasn’t a a drinker and was curious—the friend said, “after you put that star no one will ever be able to tell you anything again.” My friend said he struggled to prove the captain wrong, but failed all too often. The perks of the job and the promise of a cushy industry job on retirement snag too many of these guys. I know of a half-dozen full birds who would have made splendid FOs, but didn’t get selected. Their “to be or to do” answer was “to do.”
    Hi T. Greer and LCR,
    T. Greer, Nat’l Sec Dil might be a good place to start (though LCR would know better than me). I’ve also read his essays in his edited work, Seapower and Strategy (pretty good) and have been hacking away at War, Peace, and Victory. WPV is sourced before the fall of the USSR, so it has the flavor of deterrence, but Gray’s thinking wrt the subject of his latest couple of books, namely, “the strategy bridge” is prevalent. Strategy Bridge and the follow-on are on my list.
    LCR, I’ve not read the first reference, but have the second. It is a textbook and reads as such—which isn’t all bad. One reason I enjoyed NSD is the narrative style. Gray also channels Clausewitz often. It took me some time to read, as I had my copy of On War close by and would read Gray’s references.

  17. Ralph H. Says:

    The Falklands War was interesting in many regards.  Argentina had a relatively modern military establishment but its senior leadership had long viewed their military as a tool for domestic control rather than for genuine warfighting.  Once they occupied the islands, why didn’t they go “all in” to defend adequately against what would surely be a careful, well-planned British response?  Why didn’t they lengthen the Port Stanley airstrip & base a couple of squadrons of modern fighter-bombers there, able to project airpower to a greater radius and challenge the UK Harriers on something like even terms instead of having only minutes of combat time at the end of a 400 nm flight?  Their situation was not unlike the Japanese at Guadalcanal, in that they could not maintain local air superiority.  Except for the Air Force fighter & fighter-bomber squadrons there was a distinct lack of military professionalism.  Every bit as much as the First Gulf War, the Falklands War demonstrated the difference between a third-world military and a first-world military.

  18. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Ralph H., 
    Good question, indeed. Argentina’s air force was pretty capable, but they didn’t have enough refueling capability, so your point on the airstrip is spot-on. Nor did they have enough Exocet missiles—they had a total of 5. At least one found the target and did not detonate, though the burning fuel made the hit a mission kill.
    After General Belgrano was sunk (by a nuke sub), the fleet retired and didn’t play a role. I’ve not read of the ground campaign, but have been led to understand some units fought, others did not.
    The difference and the lesson is: with a few more missiles and a couple of subs, the semi-professional Argentinean military would have sent the RN home. Woodward confessed, the loss of a carrier would have probably reduced the will of the UK government to persist.

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