Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Navy’

China is challenging ‘dominance’ of U.S in South China Sea, diplomat says

February 19, 2018


MANILA, Philippines — The risks of a “miscalculation” and armed conflict have risen in the disputed South China Sea with a militarily stronger China now able to challenge the United States, which used to be the dominant power in the strategic waterway, the Philippine envoy to Beijing said Monday.

Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana said the balance of power was shifting with the two global powers vying for control of the waters, adding the Philippines should not get entangled in the increasingly tense maritime rivalry.

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China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims, and it has built seven mostly submerged reefs into islands that reportedly could be used as forward air naval bases and have been installed with a missile defense system.

The U.S. Navy has sailed warships on “freedom of navigation” operations near the artificial islands, actions China has protested as U.S. intervention in an Asian conflict.

“Whereas before the South China Sea was dominated by the U.S. 7th Fleet, now the Chinese navy is starting to challenge the dominance,” Sto. Romana told a news forum in Manila. “I think we will see a shift in the balance of power.”

“It is not the case, that the South China Sea is now a Chinese lake, not at all,” Sto. Romana said. “Look at the U.S. aircraft carrier, it’s still going through the South China Sea,” he added, referring to the USS Carl Vinson that recently patrolled the disputed waters and is currently on a visit to the Philippines.

He compared the two powers to elephants fighting and trampling on the grass and said: “What we don’t want is for us to be the grass.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of befriending China has worked, Sto. Romana said, citing Beijing’s decision to lift its blockade around the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippine military could now freely send new supplies to Filipino marines guarding the disputed area.

President Donald Trump’s administration has outlined a security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup and fought for wider influence.

Image: USS Carl Vinson

Fishermen pass by the USS Carl Vinson off Manila on Saturday, February 17, 2018. Bullit Marquez / AP

Washington has no claim in the South China Sea but has declared a peaceful resolution and freedom of navigation are in its national interest.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson on Saturday that the Navy has carried out routine patrols at sea and in the air in the region for 70 years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade and would continue to do so.

“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton warship brimming with F18 fighter jets and other combat aircraft.


China’s military fires up world first in revolutionary rail gun technology

February 6, 2018

Photographs surface of ship-mounted electromagnetic weapon that could one day supersede traditional explosives with greater power, speed, range and accuracy

By Minnie Chan
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 11:54pm

China is believed to be testing the world’s first ship-mounted rail gun, a technology that military experts say has the potential to fire shells with enough force to destroy a warship and precision to shoot down a satellite.

The controversial development comes as China seeks to transform its navy into a blue-water force capable of rivalling the United States and projecting power far from home shores.

Photographs of a rail gun mounted on a warship docked in Wuhan, Hubei province, have surfaced on Chinese military websites in the last week, indicating the People’s Liberation Army Navy is testing the electromagnetic weapon and has been able to make it more compact.

Rail guns fire shells using electromagnetic force rather than traditional explosive propulsion systems. They are designed to fire the projectiles with more accuracy and power and over a longer range, but are also extremely expensive.

 A PLA warship in Wuhan appears to be the first in the world fitted with a rail gun. Photo: Handout

The US has researched and tested rail guns for years, with prototypes firing projectiles at up to 7,800km/hour over a 150km range. The cost of the projectiles was reportedly US$1 million per round.

But the Chinese device appears to be the first mounted on a ship.

The rail gun uses electromagnetic technology known as IEPS that state media confirmed last year would power China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier.

The system was developed by a team headed by decorated PLA naval engineer Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, who told state broadcaster CCTV in July that his ultimate goal was to install weapons such as rail guns on the carrier.

China’s state-run Science and Technology Daily reported on Monday that the cutting-edge technology would be deployed on the Type-055, the country’s biggest guided-missile destroyer designed as part of future aircraft carrier battle groups.

But sources close to Chinese military told the South China Morning Post that the destroyer’s propulsion system and internal design were not suited for the rail gun.

The gun in the photographs was installed on a Type-072 landing ship refitted to house the bulky electrical equipment.

Song Zhongping, military commentator and former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, said future generations of the destroyer could be fitted with the weapon down the track.

Song said China was closing the gap with the US and it was possible that China could eventually abandon explosives in favour of electromagnetic systems.

“China has spared no effort to catch up the US’ electromagnetic technology, to turn the new technology into an all-purpose propulsion system for wide use in ship-mounted weapons and maglev trains and even to replace rockets to launch satellites into the space,” he said.

“The leaked photos show China is now not only catching up to the US in ship-borne rail gun technology, but may surpass the US in next five to 10 years. This is because the US needs more time to approve budgets while China’s political system allows it to put more funding into special projects.”

The US Naval Institute reported last month that the US Navy scrapped plans in 2016 to buy 2,000 rail gun projectiles but would continue to monitor new technologies that could be incorporated into its existing systems.

 Rear Admiral Ma Weiming has spearheaded developments in electromagnetic propulsion. Photo: Minnie Chan

Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said the purchase stalled because of the expensive technology’s low return on investment.

“The US is hesitating because the cost of the new weapon’s development is huge, while its practicability is debatable,” Zhou said.

“Proponents argue that [rail guns] can hit targets several thousand kilometres away guided by the space-based Global Positioning System. But [the US] air force can hit long-range targets easily by dropping cruise missiles from their stealth bombers or fighters, something that is much more cost-effective.”

Military insiders said the high cost of and Ma’s involvement in the Chinese rail gun project also made it contentious.

“The decision to develop the costly electromagnetic rail gun also provoked debate because so far only Ma and his team are the only electromagnetic experts developing it,” one insider said.

“But Ma’s team has the backing of the leadership and that is also the reason why the electromagnetic technology has been developed so fast in China.”

Last year Chinese President Xi Jinping awarded Ma, 57, the country’s highest military honour, the Order of August 1.


US dropped ball on Navy railgun development—now China is picking it up

February 4, 2018
Analysis of photos show a railgun system being installed on a Chinese amphibious ship.

Photos posted by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) observer show what appears to be an electromagnetic railgun being affixed to a PLAN tank landing ship, the Haiyang Shan. The LST is being used to test the weapon because its tank deck can accommodate the containers for the gun’s control system and power supply, according to comments from a former PLAN officer translated by “Dafeng Cao,” the Twitter handle of the anonymous analyst.

For nearly a decade, the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) and various contractors worked to develop a railgun system for US ships. A prototype weapon was built by BAE Systems. Testing at the US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia was deemed so successful that the Navy was planning to conduct more testing of the gun at sea aboard a Spearhead-class Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).  The program promised to deliver a gun that could fire projectiles at speeds over Mach 7 with a range exceeding 100 miles. The 23-pound hypervelocity projectile designed for the railgun flying at Mach 7 has 32 megajoules of energy—roughly equivalent to the energy required to accelerate an object weighing 1,000 kilograms (1.1 US tons) to 252 meters per second (566 miles an hour).

But the program has been largely shelved because of the Department of Defense’s ongoing budget problems and the loss of interest at DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office in funding further development. The continued “sequestration” of the DOD’s budget has forced the Navy and ONR to shift development focus away from the long-term goal of the railgun toward the more short-term goal of using the hypervelocity projectile (HPV) the railgun fires within more conventional US Navy gun systems.

US Navy tests of a prototype railgun at Dahlgren, Virginia.

China has clearly been watching the US program with interest, and the PLAN reportedly began working on its own electromagnetic gun system about five years ago, according to Dafeng Cao’s ex-PLAN officer source. Now the PLAN is preparing to take its tests to sea, making the 20-year old Haiyang Shan the first ship to ever be armed with a railgun.

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China Signaling it May Finally ‘Militarize’ the South China Sea Officially — China has Already Built Up Seven Land Formations With or Able To House Chinese Military Installations

January 29, 2018

China may be getting ready to overtly “militarize” its island bases in the South China Sea. After years of counter-accusing the United States of militarizing the region while maintaining that its man-made islands were “necessary defense facilities,” Chinese officials are using a recent transit by a U.S. warship to lay the groundwork for deploying real force projection capabilities to its outposts.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that a U.S. Navy destroyer violated its sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal by sailing within 12 nautical miles of the disputed feature in the South China Sea on January 17th. In an unusual step, China was the first to reveal that the transit occurred and may be using it to signal future military deployments to the bases it has built on reclaimed islands in the Spratly Islands.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the U.S. ship’s passage gravely threatened the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel in the area, but did not elaborate how. He went on to say that China would take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty.

The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by both China and the Philippines. Starting in 2012, China effectively occupied the shoal, using maritime law enforcement and paramilitary Maritime Militia vessels to evict Filipino fishermen. In early 2016 the United States apparently believed that China might attempt to begin land reclamation at Scarborough Shoal as a prelude to constructing military facilities similar to what it has done in the Spratly Islands, prompting the head of the U.S. Navy to voice rare public concern over China’s impending moves. Analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies speculated that China’s intended reclamation efforts were only stymied following intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy and deterrent signaling.

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A Chinese bomber over Scarborough Shoal last year.

Since there are no structures on Scarborough Shoal to support the deployment of military equipment, unless China again tries to build an artificial island on the shoal those “necessary measures” probably just mean a heavier Chinese maritime presence in the area. But other Chinese commentary points to the possibility that China may use the Hopper’s transit as pretext for militarization elsewhere in the South China Sea.

Militarization is a sensitive topic in the strategic waters of the South China Sea. To quell concern about its robust island-construction campaign, China’s President Xi Jinping said that China “did not intend” to militarize the Spratly Islands in 2015 remarks at the White House. Those reclaimed islands are now home to extensive communications and sensor facilities, long runways, and hardened hangars and ammunition storage bunkers. Chinese officials have long explained away this construction as “necessary defense facilities” but not militarization.

As early as 2016, U.S. intelligence assessed that China’s Spratlys bases could, or could shortly, host forces like fighters, bombers, and long range anti-ship or land-attack missiles that were capable of projecting power far beyond any defensive requirements. But to date, China has only deployed short-range missiles and point-defense weapons that cannot project control over the seas or skies around the islands, allowing Chinese officials to sustain a thinly plausible claim to be staying within President Xi’s promise that China would not militarize them. But Chinese officials now appear to be laying the narrative foundation to claim that the strategic situation in the South China Sea will force China to deploy the more robust military capabilities those Spratlys bases can accommodate.

Chinese officials have floated the premise that the United States was forcing it to deploy increasing military capabilities to the region for defensive purposes before. In 2016, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman invoked this explanation when he responded to a U.S. think tank report revealing new defensive weapons on China’s Spratlys bases by saying that “If somebody is flexing their muscles on your doorstep, can’t you at least get a slingshot?”

China’s recent statements signal that deployments could be more imminent.

Following the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ comments, the official People’s Daily newspaper published an editorial saying that the U.S. presence in the South China Sea would “hit a brick wall.” It went on to warn that the United States activities would force China to “strengthen and speed up” its buildup of capabilities in the South China Sea to ensure peace and stability in the region. An editorial in the Global Times tabloid claimed even more explicitly that China had exercised restraint in its responses to the United States’ military presence in the South China Sea and that eventually China would “militarize the islands.”

Claims that U.S. freedom of navigation represents a threat to its islands is more plausibly pretext for militarization. The United States excels at over-the-horizon strike, using long range missiles to hit targets from beyond ranges that they would be subject to easy counterattack. If the United States was going to attack China’s built-up facilities in the South China Sea, there is little reason that its warships or bombers would close within visual range of the islands to do so.

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USS Hopper

It is doubtful, then, that the Hopper’s transit had any effect on China’s plans. China has been building up its islands’ capabilities for some time, with deployments perhaps restrained only by a desire to mitigate backlash from the United States and other countries in the region. It’s also possible that the United States’ 2016 assessments were optimistic about the islands’ readiness to accommodate sustained deployments.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative recently released a report revealing China completed over 70 acres of new construction and facility improvement on its bases in the South China Sea, last year. That construction provides some context to recent reports from Chinese official media about the special facilities and preparationsrequired to support a deployment of fighter jets to the Paracel islands last year. Details on the special accommodations the Chinese military had to make for the tropical conditions in the South China Sea like sealed, thermostabilized airplane hangars, suggests that its bases in the Spratlys are only now reaching a level of completion that can confidently support advanced combat forces, and all China needs now is an excuse to justify the deployments.

China built artificial islands in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.


Iran’s Fast Boats Stop Harassing U.S. Navy, Baffling Military

January 25, 2018

Tehran halts dangerous encounters in Persian Gulf amid tensions over nuclear deal

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The Iranian military has halted the routine harassment by its armed “fast boats” of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military said, a turnabout that officials welcomed but were at a loss to explain.

The boats for at least two years would dart toward the U.S. vessels as they passed through the Persian Gulf, risking miscalculation, but haven’t done so for five months, U.S. military officials said.

The officials said they hoped the respite would continue. “I hope it’s because we have messaged our readiness…and that it isn’t tolerable or how professional militaries operate,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East this week. Iranian officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The fast boats, typically armed with .50 caliber machine guns and rocket launchers, have come within shooting distance of American naval vessels, encounters that grew routine even though each one presents potential dangers to American vessels transiting through international waters.

In some of the more serious incidents, Iranian crews have directed spotlights at ship and aircraft crews, potentially blinding pilots as they conduct operations, according to U.S. military officials. In one case, an Iranian boat pointed a weapon at an American helicopter flying off a Navy vessel, officials said. In the most serious incidents, U.S. vessels have fired warning shots in return.

The Iranian boats are typically crewed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, U.S. military officials have said. The IRGC is Iran’s elite military unit and reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Since January 2016, there has been an average of more than two “unsafe or unprofessional” incidents each month, according to the U.S. military. There have been 50 such incidents in the last two years, officials said.

A video grab from the U.S. Navy shows an Iranian vessel heading toward the USS Thunderbolt in the Persian Gulf in July, 2017.Photo: US NAVY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

But in response to a query, U.S. military officials said there have been no such incidents since August 2017.

The apparent shift in Iranian behavior comes as an international nuclear agreement with Tehran is teetering as President Donald Trump threatens to end U.S. sanctions relief provided to Tehran under the deal, signed under President Barack Obama.

Washington’s European allies are discussing ways of heightening sanctions against Iran for actions not directly related to the country’s nuclear program.

Gen. Votel said that the abatement in the Persian Gulf didn’t alone signal a broader “strategic shift” by Iran, noting activities such as Iran’s support of Houthi rebels in Yemen. “I think we have to look at Iran in totality,” Gen. Votel said.

Read More

  • In Common Occurrence, Iranian Boats Veer Close to U.S. Warship
  • Trump to Extend Sanctions Relief to Iran, Keeping Nuclear Deal in Place—For Now
  • Navy Images Show Iranian Boats in Incident Involving Top U.S. General

The U.S. has publicly criticized what it says is Iranian backing of the Houthis. Iran also has sent forces to Syria and backs militants operating there on behalf of the Assad regime.

Military officials noted that while Iranian harassment in the Gulf had declined, the country’s forces weren’t idle. Iran has been observed by the U.S. conducting activities that approach but stop short of what would be considered harassment, a U.S. military official explained.

Officials at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, in Manama, Bahrain, were loathe to guess the reasons behind it.

“We are not going to speculate on the reason for this recent positive trend in interactions, though we hope it will continue in the future,” said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, in Manama, Bahrain.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, said the decrease in harassment is part of a broader pattern by Tehran to refrain from provoking the U.S. and providing fodder for the Trump administration to blame them for regional instability.

“I think they understand the administration’s policy at this stage is to put the spotlight on Iranians and portray them as the source of all evil in the region,” he said. “The Iranians are certainly part of the problem in the region, but they’d like to be portrayed as part of the solution, not just the problem.”

The lull in harassment coincides with an internal directive last summer in which Mr. Vaez said Tehran’s Supreme National Security Council had ordered the IRGC to stand its ground in the region, but not to harass U.S. Navy ships. The council is presided over by President Hassan Rouhani but Mr. Khamenei has the final say.

Capt. Urban said the U.S. Navy hadn’t modified its operations in the region and would continue to operate “wherever international law allows.”

The last incident, in August, occurred when an Iranian drone flew in the vicinity of aircraft conducting night operations on the USS Nimitz.

Capt. Urban expressed concern about Iranians’ use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, to harass American vessels.

“Even with the decreased incidents, we remain concerned with the increased number of Iranian UAVs operating in international airspace at night without navigation lights or an active transponder as would be expected according to international norms,” he said. “We continue to advocate for all maritime forces to conform to international maritime customs, standards and laws.”

The U.S. military currently is participating in a joint exercise called Native Fury with the United Arab Emirates, designed for training in ways to get essential supplies into the Gulf region over land if the Strait of Hormuz was ever blocked, as Iran has threatened to do in the past. Some military experts see Native Fury as a message to Iran.

It is “a demonstration of our resolve,” Gen. Votel said. The Iranians also are conducting a two-day exercise in the Strait of Hormuz.

Write to Gordon Lubold at and Nancy A. Youssef at

US Navy says it received Iran broadcast about naval exercise

January 23, 2018

Iranian ships on the Gulf (AFP/File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The US Navy says it only received a radio message from Iranian naval vessels about an ongoing Iranian exercise in the Strait of Hormuz, countering Tehran claims of a tense encounter between the two fleets.

Lt. Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, says an American warship in the Gulf of Oman heard the message on Monday.
Morgan said on Tuesday that the American vessel “continued to execute its mission and did not alter operations as a result of the radio transmission.”
Iranian media had alleged its navy either “warned off” or fired “warning shots” at Saudi or American vessels during an ongoing two-day annual drill in the strait.
The US Navy and Iranian forces routinely have tense encounters in the Arabian Gulf.

China Accuses U.S. Navy of Encroachment in South China Sea

January 20, 2018

U.S. warship sailed near disputed Scarborough Shoal, damaging Chinese sovereignty, Beijing says

BEIJING—China criticized the U.S. Navy for sailing a guided-missile destroyer close to a disputed outcrop in the South China Sea, adding to tensions between the two governments already strained over trade and North Korea.

China’s foreign and defense ministries, in separate statements Saturday, criticized the USS Hopper for encroaching on what Beijing regards as Chinese territory, saying the ship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday without permission.

The Chinese frigate Yellow Mountain identified the U.S. vessel, warned it to leave and then drove it from the area, the Defense Ministry said.

“The U.S. ship’s actions damaged Chinese sovereignty and security interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement. He said China would take “necessary action” to safeguard Chinese territory.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet declined to comment specifically on the USS Hopper but said the U.S. conducts routine “freedom-of-navigation operations” designed to challenge excessive maritime claims. The spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, said the operations “are designed to comply with international law and not threaten the lawful security interest of coastal States.”

Scarborough Shoal, which is also claimed by the Philippines, is a collection of rocks, sandbars and coral reefs roughly 120 nautical miles from the Philippines that sits near valuable fishing grounds and is a flashpoint for contesting claims. China seized control of Scarborough Shoal, also known as Huangyan Island, from the Philippines in 2012—one of a series of maneuvers by Beijing to assert its control and sovereignty claims over the South China Sea.

As a consequence, the U.S. military mounted periodic operations to sail or fly near the disputed areas to challenge what the U.S. sees as China’s excessive claims in strategically and commercially vital seas.

In 2016, the Philippines won an international arbitration case that effectively invalidated Chinese claims to all of the South China Sea. Beijing rejected the ruling, but also moved to cool tensions with Southeast Asian nations, seizing an opportunity after a new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, said he would put the ruling aside to pursue better relations.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, while continuing military operations in the South China Sea, has shifted the focus with China to the trade imbalance and to enlisting Beijing’s help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons.


  • As China Courts Neighbors, New Images Show More Building in Disputed Waters (Dec. 14)
  • Japan Is Building Missile Bases to Confront Rising Threat From China (Dec. 20)
  • Philippines’ Duterte Says He Will Raise South China Sea Dispute With Beijing (Nov. 8)
  • China, Asean to Test Waters on South China Sea Talks (Aug. 6)
  • Philippines’ Duterte Says Chinese Leader Raised Threat of War Over South China Sea (May 20)

The specific purpose of the Hopper’s sail-by this week wasn’t clear. The destroyer entered the Asia-Pacific region, overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, on Jan. 4, according to a Navy press release.

China respects freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but rejects violations of its sovereignty in the name of freedom of navigation, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“We strongly urge the U.S. to rectify its mistake immediately and cease this kind of provocation so as not to harm Sino-U.S. relations and regional peace and stability,” the statement quoted him as saying.

Write to Josh Chin at


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

7th Fleet collisions raise questions about U.S. military readiness in the Pacific

January 18, 2018


The United States Navy’s largest overseas fleet is coming off a troubling year: five accidents, 17 sailors killed, leaders summarily dismissed. And on Tuesday, a military spokesperson said the Navy will convene court-martial proceedingsagainst sailors tied to two deadly collisions last year.

The spate of collisions involving the 7th Fleet, based in the Japanese port of Yokosuka, has alarmed allies, emboldened adversaries and raised urgent questions about American military readiness at a time of heightened tensions in the Pacific, experts say.

“What we have done is discourage our allies, who have always looked up to the U.S. Navy in the post-World War II era as the competent professionals in the Pacific,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst. “That reputation has been damaged significantly, and we have to rebuild it.”

In a report issued last November, the Navy concluded that the two fatal crashes were avoidable, stemming from pervasive failures by crews and commanders alike.

The incidents have come at a particularly perilous moment in the Pacific, where U.S. armed forces confront a belligerent nuclear-armed North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.

Related: Navy ship collisions occurred amid budget woes, sailor fatigue

Japan-based experts said the collisions have left hard-to-shake worries about the U.S. Navy’s ability to push back against the North Korean regime and its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un. Notably, two of the warships involved in incidents last year, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, are destroyers tasked with defending against ballistic missiles fired by Pyongyang.

“Now they are out of service so we have to wonder whether the U.S. can maintain an effective missile defense position in this region,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a maritime security researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

The rapid expansion of Chinese military power, particularly its fast-strengthening navy, represents another challenge for the beleaguered U.S. Navy command. The U.S. is particularly concerned about the Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, which U.S. officials see as an attempt by China to assert military dominance over the region.

“When viewed in the context of the larger shift in the balance of forces and influence in the region and beyond, the accidents are unhelpful,” said retired U.S. Marine Col. Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.

Image: USS Fitgerald

Damage to the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald is seen as the vessel is berthed at its mother port in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, on June 18, 2017. Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP – Getty Images file

Newsham added he did not expect that the accidents would damage relations between Washington and Tokyo, “except to the extent they add to Japanese concerns that the U.S. is being outdistanced” by China.

The collisions led to the commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, to be relieved of his post. Rear Adm. Charles Williams, the commander of Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, were also relieved of their duties.

The embattled 7th Fleet has been strained by unrelenting demands and insufficient training, leaving it vulnerable to mishaps, lawmakers and outside experts have said. In recent years, as the U.S. armed forces scrambled to keep up with high-stakes challenges in the region, naval leaders apparently did not speak up when they discovered deficiencies with ships, according to Stavridis.

“It’s incumbent upon leaders to turn around and say that a ship is exhausted or needs some downtime,” said Stavridis, who is currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “And leaders pushed their officers too fast, in a way that didn’t allow them to develop basic seamanship and navigational skills.”

Navy leaders and members of Congress, alarmed by the state of the Pacific fleet, have also pointed to nearly a decade of budget constraints. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last September, some members pinned responsibility for the accidents on Congress, which has leaned on stopgap spending measures over the last eight years.

Stavridis said he was heartened by the action the Navy had taken to address the issue, saying the department had “applied ruthless accountability.”

“But we never should’ve gotten here,” Stavridis added.

The U.S. Navy Lowers Its Sights — Donald Trump pledged the biggest U.S. Navy build-up since the Reagan administration

January 18, 2018

Has Trump given up on expanding the size of the fleet? If so, there’s still time to reverse course.

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The U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that it will court-martial the officers who commanded the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain last summer when they collided with other craft in the Pacific Ocean. They will face charges of negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel. In response to the collisions Navy Secretary Richard Spencer ordered a fleetwide review of strategic readiness. An independent team of civilian executives and former senior military officers delivered their sobering report last month.

The episode should serve as a wake-up call to military and civilian leaders alike. The U.S. has entered a new age of peer and near-peer competition for which the Navy is unprepared, according to the review’s findings. A much diminished fleet has been overloaded with tasks in recent years, yet the number of ships deployed around the world has remained constant. The Navy has managed this by increasing the time that ships and their crews spend at sea. “The net result has been a dramatic increase in the operating tempo of individual ships, and accompanying reductions in the time available to perform maintenance, training, and readiness certification,” according to the review’s authors. “The growing mismatch between the supply and demand of ships taxed fleet personnel and consumed material readiness at unsustainable rates.”

Accidents are inevitable under these circumstances. While enlisted sailors are spending more time away from their home ports, junior officers are spending less time at sea than is necessary to develop what the review calls “deep maritime operating skills.” Sailing a desk on a headquarters staff has became a path to timely career advancement. The review recommends freeing up officers from staff requirements so they can spend more time honing their war-fighting skills. It also urges a better fiscal balance among the operation of ships, equipment maintenance and personnel training—all vital, all expensive.

The most problematic recommendation requires acknowledging a difficult political reality. The Navy must communicate to political leaders “that the higher cost and time to achieve established readiness standards will mean less Navy presence worldwide.”

In September, the Government Accountability Office told the House Armed Services Committee that more than a third of the ships in the Navy’s Japan-based Seventh Fleet had expired warfare-training certifications. The review calls this a “normalization of deviation,” a problem that will persist so long as the Navy lacks the resources to fulfill its obligations.

If implemented, the review’s recommendations would restore the Navy’s readiness to respond to threats and flare-ups as they present themselves. But how, and at what price?

One option—a bad one—is for the Navy to reduce its global presence. As the review’s first sentence acknowledges, the Navy’s global primacy “is being challenged as it sails into a security environment not seen since before the collapse of the Soviet Union.” If achieving naval readiness requires ceding control of the seas to aggressive rising powers like China, Russia or Iran, it won’t be worth it.

A better alternative is to increase the size of the fleet so that necessary maintenance, repairs and training can ensure America’s ability to project naval power from the Western Pacific to the Eastern Mediterranean, from the Arctic to the Arabian Gulf, and to other areas of current—and future—competition with rivals. At the top of this list must be the Baltic and Black seas, where Russian influence is expanding.

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to increase the size of the Navy from approximately 275 combat vessels to 350 or more. But in December the administration’s national security strategy document signaled a shift in the president’s thinking. While the document claims the Trump administration supports modernization, acquisition reform, improved readiness and a “full spectrum force,” it does not call for a 350-ship fleet. When it comes to sea power, the U.S. is lowering its sights.

A flexible Navy that retains the ability to respond to threats as they emerge and a fleet large enough to defend vital U.S. interests are not mutually exclusive. But the Trump administration appears to have concluded that since lawmakers are unlikely to pay for construction of a large number of new warships, it won’t even ask them to. It’s a different vision for America’s naval future from the one Mr. Trump outlined on the campaign trail. He was right then; he is wrong now. There’s still time to reverse course.

Mr. Cropsey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he directs the Center for American Seapower. He served as an officer in the Navy and as deputy undersecretary in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and is author of “Seablindness” (Encounter, 2017).




A Larger Fleet Is Not Enough

Expanding the navy is a good idea, but only in service of a strategy to ensure U.S. dominance at sea.

Published on: March 14, 2017
Seth Cropsey served as a naval officer and as Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations. He is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and director of Hudson’s Center for American Seapower.

Trump’s Seapower Contradiction

By Bryan McGrath

President Trump made many promises on the campaign trail, including one to greatly increase the size of the Navy. However, there is a “say/do” contradiction at work between Trump and expansion of American Seapower, one that manifests itself in his view of the role of the U.S. in the world, his key personnel choices, his view of the Russia threat, and his notable lack of public leadership necessary to build support for a larger fleet.The CampaignThe centerpiece of candidate Trump’s call to rebuild American military power was his call for a 350-ship fleet built around 12 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Trump fleet represented an increase in size of over 25% compared to the 276 ships in the fleet on Election Day and was fully 15% larger than the 308 ships called for in the final Obama fleet plan. He distinguished himself among GOP hopefuls in calling for a larger fleet, as both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were similarly inclined. Trump’s victory in November caused a great deal of anticipation among Seapower advocates who consistently called for a larger fleet, giving the Navy political cover necessary to release its December 2016 Force Structure Assessment calling for 355 ships, an increase of 47 ships from its 2012 review (which had been the basis for the 308-ship fleet).

There was little in the way of a strategic narrative to support an increase in fleet size in Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and given the much-reported lack of policy staff preparation within the campaign, there is little reason to believe such justification existed. Additionally, given candidate Trump’s positional flexibility and propensity to make things up on the fly, it was difficult to discern where a naval buildup fell among the many promises he made on the campaign trail, or even whether it was important to him at all. Nevertheless, as 2017 dawned, a President came to office who ran on a larger fleet, the Navy had promulgated its larger (355 ships) fleet force structure, and three Congressionally mandated fleet architecture studies reached the consensus view that the Navy’s planned fleet of 308 ships was insufficient. All the cosmic tumblers were clicking into place to support a significant fleet buildup.

Nearly a year later, there is little evidence to suggest that a fleet expansion beyond the Obama Administration’s number is underway, or under serious consideration. A careful reconsideration of facts in evidence leads to the conclusion that at best, the “350-Ship Navy” claim was a meaningless campaign promise, and at worst, was an opportunistic lie deeply at odds with the rare ideological underpinnings Trump possesses.

Seapower and Globalism

Globalism, and the expansion of free trade that underpins it is responsible for much of the growth of the global economy in the past quarter-century, as well as the dramatic decline in world poverty. The fall of the Warsaw Pact was the precipitating security event that contributed to this economic dynamism, but global freedom of the seas, over which most international trade travels, is what has kept the party going, freedom provided by a preponderant United States Navy. In fact, protecting global freedom of the seas is the most important mission of the U.S. Navy, mostly because no other element of military power has even a minor role in providing it, and how utterly dependent our prosperity is upon it. America is an outward-facing trading nation that still possesses the world’s largest and most vibrant economy. Our prosperity is directly tied to global free trade, and global free trade depends on freedom of the seas. There is only one Navy on Earth with the forces and basing structure to act as the global guarantor of freedom of the seas, and it does so because the nation’s economy and security demand it. Others prosper because of global trade carried over free and open seas, but no nation prospers more than we. Our future prosperity could be at risk without free and open seas, and no nation has a greater interest in guaranteeing them.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s dictum that “…whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself” has animated America’s naval strategy since World War II, although it has done so in a manner enriching the entire world. That strategy is under increasing pressure, and nowhere more so than in the South China Sea, where China’s naval and missile buildup is designed to challenge America’s ability to provide unimpeded movement for its commerce and that of others, enabling China to exercise de facto dominance over a region of great importance to the United States.

Finally, the U.S. Navy’s global posture provides the catalytic spark for U.S. led regional security in areas where our interests are most notable, and most threatened. Because the U.S. Navy is strong and forward deployed, smaller, less powerful nations are incentivized to join with us in cooperative maritime security efforts and can do so without fear of retribution from other powerful, regional actors (see China, Russia, Iran). Were the U.S. Navy less forward and less strong, regional powers could exert more pressure on these weaker nations resulting potentially in either destabilizing arms races or painful accommodation of the regional power in ways antithetical to our security interests. In other words, it is in our interest to be there, and it is in these lesser powers’ interest to be there with us.

What Trump Believes

Donald Trump’s political views have been flexible over the years. He has been both pro-life and pro-choice. He has been a gun-control supporter and guardian of the second amendment. He has been stridently anti-immigrant while stocking his resorts with foreign guest workers. Some of Trump’s supporters believe that this positional flexibility is a good thing, which the lack of ideological moorings leaves him free to “make deals.” And while the record is clear that Trump does not have many deeply held principles underlying his politics, one consistently held and vocally expressed strain of thought is that the United States is overextended, that allies are not paying their share, and more recently, that free trade often works against American interests. By way of evidence are two articles covering Trump nearly thirty years apart. The first was a recent piece looking back on a younger Donald Trump who took out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Boston Globe on September 2, 1987. Here is how a portion of it went:

“For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States… “The saga continues unabated as we defend the Persian Gulf, an area of only marginal significance to the United States for its oil supplies, but one upon which Japan and others are almost totally dependent….why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests…the world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.”

Nearly thirty years later while running for President, Trump said the following during a campaign speech in April 2016:

“Secondly, our allies are not paying their fair share, and I’ve been talking about this recently a lot. Our allies must contribute toward their financial, political, and human costs, have to do it, of our tremendous security burden. But many of them are simply not doing so. They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us. In NATO, for instance, only 4 of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense. We have spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia. The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.”

Thirty years apart, these statements bespeak the consistent view of a man with little understanding of how much the United States benefits economically from its forward-deployed military posture, and even less of an understanding of the choices those nations face in their regional security environments especially were we to abandon our alliances. Additionally, given that a naval expansion on the order of what he promised on the campaign trail would cost upwards of $40B a year in total costs, it begs credulity to believe that he would advocate doing so given the laggard performance of our friends and allies in paying for their own defense. If the Administration does begin to assert the need for a larger fleet, Congress must require it to explain the role of this dramatically expanded force, in light of the President’s clear disdain for forward operations.

The Russia Question

The Navy’s 355 Ship Force Structure assessment and each of the three congressionally-mandated fleet architecture studies shared an underlying threat assumption that contributed to their broad consensus on force levels. That assumption was that Russia posed a significant and growing threat to our interests in the North Atlantic, the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact, in the CSBAstudy in which I participated, we considered the Russian threat to be more serious in the near term than the China threat, and our recommended naval force posture reflected it (see pp. 53-59)

Putting aside for the moment ongoing questions of Russian meddling in the 2016 Election and potential Trump campaign collusion therein, it is not at all clear the degree to which President Trump views Russia as a military threat to American interests. If Russia is not a threat, the Navy likely does not have to be 350 ships. If Russia is a threat requiring a Navy that large, the President should be required to say so—something he has not authoritatively done, but which would have to be made clear in a coherent justification for a naval buildup. The impending release of the Trump Administration National Security (NSS) Strategy should provide some indication of what the President believes, but Congress should not rely solely upon the NSS. It should insist that the President name a resurgent Russia as a clear national security threat to the United States and that the threat warrants additional buildup in U.S. forces.

Personnel is Policy

Perhaps the most obvious sign of Trump’s less than arduous attachment to his promise to grow the fleet was his selection of former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) as his Director of Management and Budget. Originally elected with the Tea Party Class of 2010, Mulvaney earned a reputation for opposing the more hawkish elements of the GOP in the House. Clearly, Mulvaney works for the President and will carry out the President’s wishes, but in the absence of Presidential leadership, Mulvaney will be an unlikely supporter of increasing the size of the Navy. In fact, the original FY 18 budget submission to Capitol Hill in the spring of 2017 accounted for no additional ships above what the Obama Administration had planned for that year. A furor from the Alabama and Wisconsin Congressional delegations added a second Littoral Combat Ship to the budget—presumably against Mulvaney’s wishes.

The selection of retired Marine General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense has also put a chill over the warm talk of naval expansion, as one of his initial acts upon taking office was to issue budget guidancethat made growing the force his third priority, behind current readiness and replenishing weapons stocks, and that more detailed plans for force growth would be held in abeyance pending the White House issuance of a National Security Strategy and the Defense Department’s submittal of a National Defense Strategy—neither of which is expected until early next year. It is difficult indeed to find anything other than generalized statements of support for a larger Navy from Mattis, a situation of some irony given his propensity as the U.S. Central Commander to demand the near-continuous presence of two aircraft carriers.

Finally, the only evidence we have thus far of the top-line management of the Department of Defense budget is the President’s 2018 Budget Submission, which represented only a 3% increase over the Obama projection for 2018. Three percent does not a massive military buildup make.

Presidential Leadership

The final evidence offered for the lack of priority afforded a naval buildup under President Trump is that he has done almost nothing to make it happen, and historically speaking, nothing is as important to growing a Navy as Presidential support. As stated earlier—building a larger Navy is an expensive proposition, and while Congress appears ready to provide the Navy with more resources, it will not do so in the absence of a clear plan of how that money will be spent and the sense that the President is dedicated to following through on it. A campaign promise is insufficient reason for the expense. A clearly articulated, consistently reinforced statement of need is central to the persuasive case that must be made for the American people to allocate massive resources in peacetime to a naval building program. That case has not been made, and the President must be the one to make it. Thus far in his Presidency, we have not seen active Presidential support for policies the President was believed to be personally invested in (see Health Care, tax reform), so it remains to be seen whether he will muster the effort to get behind a larger Navy.

Is All Hope Lost?

Given the conflict between the benefits of dominant American Seapower and the consistency of Donald Trump’s most long-standing national security belief, the dubious nature of the President’s view of the Russian threat, his appointment of senior subordinates not likely to be committed naval expansionists, and his own lack of leadership on the issue—the 350 ship Navy appears to be just another broken campaign promise.

The way forward is clear; Congress must assume a greater share of the lead in moving forward with a naval expansion. Uniformed Navy leadership must step forward and relentlessly reinforce the strategic benefits conferred by preponderant American Seapower. For the first time in its history, the nation must attempt to increase the size of its Navy in the absence of Presidential leadership or attention.




Donald Trump pledged the biggest U.S. Navy build-up since the Reagan administration

Donald Trump has pledged that he’ll lead the biggest U.S. Navy build-up since the Reagan administration, but the details on what’s likely to be an expensive and potentially decades-long effort remain to be seen.

Trump vowed to build the 350-ship fleet Republican defense hawks have long sought and reverse decades of fleet contraction which has yielded today’s battle force of 272 ships. And while the politics of large increases to the defense budget are dicey in the best of times, Trump sees a naval build-up as part of his agenda to create jobs, according to an October internal Trump campaign memo obtained by Navy Times.

The plan, if enacted, would aim to restore the Navy to a size it hasn’t been since 1998, and would mean tens of thousands of new sailor jobs. So far, it remains unclear what mix of ships the incoming administration wants to build more of, from $10 billion Ford-class carriers or $3 billion Virginia-class attack submarines to $500 million littoral combat ships, and how that fleet composition is connected to a strategic vision.

Trump’s camp believes generally that if you have more ships and more capabilities, you give the government more options in a crisis to deter conflicts and defeat enemies. That’s what top Trump advisers told Navy Times’ sister publication Defense News in October ahead of the election.

“I think at this point in history with the credibility of president of the United States eroded, were they to suspect that the United States is abandoning its defense spending,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., in the interview. “It takes more than a speech to turn this around.” 

Trump has pledged to build a much larger fleet that experts say will cost many billions more per year, as state-of-the-art technology raises the price of new ship classes.Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin”Trump’s plans are actually to build more ships and maintain a higher number of troops and aircraft. It will go a lot further than words to convince the world that we remain strong. It will help us to maintain the peace.

In the campaign memo, sent by a senior aide to Rep. Randy Forbes, an outgoing Virginia congressman and a top contender to be Trump’s Navy secretary, Trump promises to fund modernizing “a significant number of the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers,” some of which the Obama administration has sidelined for months or years until they get their modernization overhauls.

The memo also lays out a plan to invest heavily in new submarines and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and to revitalize the shipyards and get warships the maintenance that has been deferred in the last few years because of across-the-board budget cuts.

“Mr. Trump’s plan will require a significant partnership with a defense industrial base that has been strained by years of significant cuts to shipbuilding and ship repair,” the memo reads. “The nationwide infrastructure of yards, depots, and support facilities that created and sustained the World War II and Cold War-era Navy has been largely dismantled.”

The solution, the memo says, is to find places where old shipyards went out of business and have the ability to restart, an effort that would be led by the incoming Navy secretary. Trump also wants to build a robust training pipeline for skilled workers in the shipyards to increase the support base for the growing Navy.

Growing the fleet

Expanding the fleet is an idea that has gained currency both in the current administration, which is trying to boost the fleet to 308 ships up from 272, and among conservative defense proponents who have advocated for a much larger fleet.

The fleet could be grown to the size advocated by Trump, or at least close to it, by the 2030s, said Bryan Clark, a former senior aide to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

would need to start building three Virginia-class attack submarines per year and continue to pump out LCS and its follow-on frigates starting in 2019 to do low-end missions. The submarine build-up would need to continue even as the nation begins on the next-generation of ballistic missile submarines, which are estimated to cost at least $5 billion per hull.

The Navy, he said, could also accelerate the production of the aircraft carriers to get the fleet up to 12 by the 2030s. That buildup would get the Navy from an end strength of about 330,000 sailors today to more than 380,000 in Trump’s Navy.

One idea that wouldn’t work, Clark said, would be to bring ships out of the mothball fleet the way the Reagan administration did. Reagan famously recommissioned the World War II-era Iowa-class battleships to try and meet his 600-ship Navy goal.

“The difference between the ships in the fleet and the ships in mothballs is the technology is two or three generations removed from what’s in use today,” Clark said. “In the 1980s, the ships you could pull out of mothballs, the combat systems were not that far removed from the systems of the day. It wasn’t that dramatic.”

Clark said the modern-day equivalent would be to modernize all the existing cruisers to keep them in the fleet through the 2030s, an idea that has gained traction in the incoming Trump administration.

Now they just have to find a way to pay for it.

Navy and defense spending isn’t the only thing Trump wants to spend money on, and figuring out the winners and losers among Trump’s policy agenda is going to be a challenge, experts warn.

“There are going to have to be lot of trade-offs,” said Dan Palazzolo, a professor of political science at University of Richmond.

Donald Trump wants a lot of things: Big tax cuts, big infrastructure spending, doesn’t want to touch entitlements, defense spending. There are tensions here that are going to have to get unwound.

“Really this is going to be the challenge of Trump’s presidency: How do you translate these broad policy proposals into policies, and defense in that mix. It’s going to be on Congress to help him figure that out.”





Does the US Navy have a strategy beyond hope?

The U.S. Navy begins the new year in crisis. By its own admission many of its ships and aircraft are in poor condition. Training is not where it should be, its ships can’t maneuver properly around other ships, and Navy leaders for years have complained the service is overstretched, constantly struggling to meet requirements and falling short in any number of areas. It is by no means clear that new ideas and concepts are being implemented to counter ever-growing military rivals.

Worldwide challenges abound. China is effectively moving the U.S. out of the western Pacific positions of influence held since the 1940s — ironically using a fast-growing and evermore effective naval force modeled on that of the United States. Virtually every country in the region is re-evaluating political and military realities as China’s influence grows. Russian sea power is reasserting itself in the Mediterranean, Black and Baltic seas and most disturbingly in the undersea arena, where a growing threat could compromise or destroy the undersea cables upon which the internet relies. The Middle East remains problematic — stability in the region is threatened by the war in Yemen, eternal squabbling among Arab states and a restless Iran. Terrorist groups, humanitarian crises and natural disasters all increase instability. The list of potential conflict areas widens virtually every week. Above all, the very real threat of armed conflict with North Korea —nuclear or conventional —has many smart people convinced that some sort of clash is rapidly nearing.

Is the U.S. Navy ready? Is it up to the task? Do we see evidence that it is? In a word, no. Aside from resting on past laurels, there seems little reason to persuasively argue otherwise.

Looking for more on the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet? Get the latest here.

The world’s media abounds with stories, videos and images of the growing military capabilities of those who would challenge the U.S., much of them put out directly by those governments or with their support. Check out YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and it’s no problem to get an impressive and often detailed picture of what the other guys are doing.

Where is the U.S. Navy in all this? Pretty much nowhere. Sure, there’s lots of product coming from Defense Department sources, but increasingly it’s watered down, devoid of much real content. By decree, information about operational movements and war-fighting capabilities is largely stripped from official content — certainly whatever remains is a shadow of what was only a couple years ago a robust picture of U.S. military might.

The independent media, of course, would love to take up the slack, but it’s become harder as the Pentagon and service leadership — led by the Navy — warn against giving away too much information. The resulting desire to err on the side of caution means real information has all but dried up.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, noted in a March 1 memo to department personnel that public communications should be done to “communicate with purpose” — but, he added, “very often less is more.”

“Sharing information,” the CNO wrote, “even at the unclassified level, makes it easier for potential adversaries to gain an advantage.” Should there be doubt about a message, he continued, “bias on the side of caution. I am not asking you to throttle back engagement with the media or with the public.”

But make no mistake, the flow of information has indeed been throttled back. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis continued the clampdown in an Oct. 5 memo warning against leaks and divulging classified information. “We must be vigilant in executing our responsibility to prevent disclosure of any information not authorized for release outside the Department of Defense,” Mattis wrote.

There is no question that divulging military secrets would be a mistake, and the great majority of the media doesn’t seek to do so. But one of the goals of putting out information is deterrence, to portray expertise, capabilities, readiness and commitment to deter an enemy from provoking or prompting armed conflict. Mere pronouncements of strength — and the U.S. military leadership has become stridently adept at substituting clichés and slogans for substantive content — don’t deter anyone.

Media requests have become routinely stifled, delayed or denied. Interviews no longer take two or three weeks to arrange — two or three months has become the norm, if at all. A recent development, according to many reporters, is for interviews becoming qualified at the last moment. “We can’t talk about XXX,” officials tell reporters, sometimes a day or less before an appointment, “but we understand if you’ll want to cancel the interview.”

Another tactic to delay or avoid responding to questions is for officials to claim: “We don’t want to get out ahead of leadership,” meaning a topic or program can’t be discussed until higher-ups explain their position. But the higher-ups repeat the assertion, and the request is kicked up multiple levels to the point where executives don’t discuss such things because it’s simply beneath their level.

This information chill is not just about securing defense secrets. It is also about not attracting unwanted attention, particularly from congressional overseers. Heaven forbid some poor program manager mentions a problem and the next day several congressional offices want answers. Sure, no one likes people looking over their shoulder telling them what to do, but that’s exactly what oversight committees are charged with. It’s their job, and the system of checks and balances is a fundamental principal of our government.

Trust and confidence stem from sharing information and having faith the information bears something close to the truth. It is difficult these days to have much faith and confidence that the Pentagon and the Navy can deter war or successfully prosecute an armed conflict. One hopes so, but as someone once said, hope isn’t much of a strategy.

Christopher P. Cavas is a naval analyst and commentator. He was formerly the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.




U.S. Navy to File Negligent Homicide Charges in Two Asia Ship Collisions

January 17, 2018

The ex-commander of the USS Fitzgerald will face charges of negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel

The USS John S. McCain with a hole in it following a collision off Singapore in August.
The USS John S. McCain with a hole in it following a collision off Singapore in August. PHOTO: DESMOND FOO/THE STRAITS TIMES/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON—The commanders of the two U.S. guided-missile destroyers involved in collisions that killed 17 sailors in Asia last year will be court-martialed on charges including negligent homicide, the Navy said Tuesday.

In total, the Navy is filing criminal charges against six sailors, officials said. Another eight will face nonjudicial punishment, a Navy official said, which could include reductions in rank and pay loss.

The former commander of the USS Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, will face charges of negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel, as will three of his lieutenants, the Navy said. Cmdr. Benson was seriously injured in the June collision with a commercial vessel near Tokyo.

The former commander of USS John S. McCain, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, will face similar charges, and a chief petty officer from the McCain has already been charged with dereliction of duty. The ship collided with a commercial tanker off the coast of Singapore in August, killing 10 sailors.

The officers couldn’t be immediately reached through the Navy for comment and efforts to locate attorneys for the men weren’t successful.

In July, the USS Fitzgerald sat in a Japanese dry dock following a June collision.
In July, the USS Fitzgerald sat in a Japanese dry dock following a June collision. PHOTO: SPC. 1ST CLASS LEONARD ADAMS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Those facing criminal charges will be subjected to a military proceeding known as an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian preliminary hearing or grand jury. That hearing will determine how subsequent proceedings play out.

The collisions involving the Fitzgerald and McCain made for the deadliest year of noncombat deaths in the U.S. military since 1989, defense officials said.

After the collisions, a series of reports and investigations revealed that crews had been forced to work for hundreds of hours on ships that bypassed required checks and inspections for months at a time.

Also, in the case of the USS Fitzgerald, the officer on deck failed to comply with rules governing the speed at which the ship was operating, its ability to maneuver and requirements to notify other ships of potential danger, a report released in November said.

Some of the sailors who were assigned to be on watch on deck at the time of the McCain’s collision had been temporarily assigned from another ship, the USS Antietam, and may have been unfamiliar with the McCain, the report concluded.

Both collisions were avoidable, the Navy concluded, saying many of the contributing factors had been long documented.

Before the charges were unveiled Tuesday, the Navy had removed the commodore of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 and the commander of the U.S.’s Seventh Fleet.

Adm. Scott Swift, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, said he was retiring in September. The U.S. Navy’s top surface warfare officer, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, is also expected to retire, officials said.

However, no Navy admiral is facing criminal charges, even though several left their posts or were removed following the collisions.

Cmdr. William Speaks, a Navy spokesman, said the criminal charges were lodged against those who had “a direct causal link leading to the collisions.”

Appeared in the January 17, 2018, print edition as ‘Naval Commanders Charged in Crashes.’


Navy files homicide charges against commanders of 2 ships in deadly crashes

Two Navy commanders face negligent homicide charges related to the deadly crashes of two ships off Asia last year, the Navy announced Tuesday.

Former Cmdr. Bryce Benson of the USS Fitzgerald and former Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez of the USS John S. McCain are among those charged, according to USNI News. Additionally, two lieutenants and one lieutenant junior grade of the Fitzgerald also face charges, the Navy said.

Among the charges are dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide.

A Chief Petty Officer on the McCain also was charged with dereliction of duty. And administrative actions — including non-judicial punishment — will be taken for crew members of both ships, the Navy said.

The decision to file charges was made by Adm. Frank Caldwell, who was given the authority and examined the evidence of what caused the collisions, according to Navy spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks. The charges are to be presented at what the military refers to as an Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether the accused are court-martialed.

The USS Fitzgerald collided with a commercial ship in waters off Japan in June, killing seven sailors.

Officials tell Fox News that two navigation teams on the Fitzgerald failed to speak up about possible risk before a cargo vessel ripped a hole in the side of the ship, killing seven sailors who were trapped in flooded compartments

At the time, the Navy said the collision between the Navy destroyer and the Philippine-flagged container ship, the ACX Crystal, “was avoidable” and occurred because “of smaller errors over time, ultimatly resulting in a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices.”

The Navy continued, “Specifically, Fitzgerald’s watch teams disregarded established norms of basic contact management and, more importantly, leadership failed to adhere to well-established protocols put in place to prevent collisions.”

USS John McCain collides with merchant ship

On Aug. 21, ten sailors were killed after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asia.

The Navy’s guided-missile destroyer collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC. No one aboard the oil and chemical tanker was injured, the Singapore government said at the time.

The Navy said in a release that the crash could have been avoided, adding that it “resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.