Monthly archive

February 2019

Salty Goes to Admiral’s Mast

in Leadership

The following is an excerpt from the non-judicial punishment proceedings of The Salty Millennial as a result of his failed attempt at satire.

ADMIRAL: Salty Millennial, you stand accused of…

SALTY: The…

ADMIRAL: Excuse me?

SALTY: THE Salty Millennial

ADMIRAL: This is gonna be fun. You are accused of using non-humorous jokes and miserable attempts at satire in two social media postings in which you poke fun at two Four Star Admirals.

SALTY: <mutters under breath> Never said it was satire.

ADMIRAL: First, you shared a post from the official U.S. Navy Facebook account, apparently attempting to mock the PAO’s decision to share a “pro-Big Navy” War on the Rocks article on the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions from an independent analyst. Yes, there are ongoing legal proceedings, and granted, the Navy is already facing unlawful command influence allegations in the CDR Benson court martial, but the PAO has repeatedly stated “RT ≠ Endorsement” which, as we all know, legally absolves the Navy of all responsibility. What do you have to say for yourself?

SALTY: Well, to be fair, I did not mention the CNO Newsletter that included 13 links to articles reporting the CNO’s own words, alongside one link to the War on the Rocks article.

ADMIRAL: What’s that supposed to mean?

SALTY: Uh…nothing.

ADMIRAL: Second, you shared an article mocking a Four Star Admiral’s response to questioning during a congressional hearing. Again, your sense of humor has been found wanting. These were entirely preventable incidents. What is your defense?

SALTY: These two incidents were a travesty, there’s no doubt about it. And I feel an immense amount of accountability for that, I’ll come back to it. But the fact of the matter is I didn’t mock 280-odd other Admirals. <pauses> More than a dozen of those other posts were performing exceptionally well.

ADMIRAL: People are posting all over America and just because they aren’t all mocking Admirals doesn’t mean they don’t need a high level of editing. To tell me that isn’t very convincing. Because there were dozens of other posts that didn’t mock Admirals. Isn’t that the standard? No Admiral mocking?

SALTY: Yes, that is the standard, but the other thing we need to remark upon is the social media performance. I used humor as a new way to get after some of our most pressing problems; I’ve had extraordinary faux millennial-mocking performance in that time frame; I had posts get picked up by Doctrine Man!

ADMIRAL: Wait…are you just using the same defense that you criticized the Admiral for?

SALTY:

ADMIRAL:

SALTY: …is it working?

ADMIRAL: And are you live-blogging this entire proceeding on your phone?

SALTY: <puts phone away> No.

ADMIRAL: I sentence you to 30 days bread and water. Take him to the brig.

SALTY: Wait, I read online that you can’t do that anymore!

ADMIRAL: That was satire.

Can I at least have UHT milk?

Will Salty return? Email him at tsm@saltyherald.com to find out!

A Tale of Two Ceremonies

in Classic Literature

This article originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

3 May 2017

It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Actually, it wasn’t a crime at all, at least according to a navy judge. I’m talking, of course, about Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer (SOC) Eddie Gallagher’s decision to conduct his reenlistment ceremony over the dead body of a slain ISIS combatant, whom he is accused of murdering post-surrender.

On 3 May 2017, Captain Aaron Rugh ruled that reenlisting over the body of an unarmed detainee you just killed is not a “prohibited act” under UCMJ Article 134. You know, that glorious “catch-all” article covers conduct prejudicial “to good order and discipline,” and that which could “bring discredit upon the armed forces.”

I am a millennial so, naturally, I am confused. I’m only a sea lawyer, but I read Article 134, and the “General Article” pretty clearly covers acts that represent a “breach of custom of the service.” The whole point is to allow commanders discretion in disciplining service members whose conduct goes against our military standard of conduct. Standard . . . such a tricky word. What is our standard for good order and discipline? How is it applied?

I’ve seen the social media comments. I’m sure many of you are going to tell me “shut it, you whiny snowflake, and let these heroes do their jobs . . . defending America is dirty business . . . so what if they have to break a few eggs. . . our boys need to be given the freedom and support to . . .” blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard this speech before. I’m not even questioning what happened before the ISIS fighter died. War is hell, enough said. But the postmortem re-enlistment ceremony is what got my attention, and I’m not saying it should be a war crime. But to say it’s not a violation of Article 134 because it’s not a “prohibited act?” You lost me. Interestingly, SOC Gallagher still stands accused of committing premeditated murder. So, Captain Rugh has created a situation where if he convicts Gallagher, he is saying that re-enlisting over the body of the person you just extra-judicially murdered is simply a matter of “extremely bad taste.” Say again, over?

Getting back to this idea of a standard of conduct, let’s fast forward a year.

13 April 2018

This is the day that Master Sergeant Robin Brown took her oath of enlistment using a dinosaur hand puppet. The video of her reenlistment ceremony went viral and, well, the rest is history. Within five days, Master Sergeant Brown was fired. The officer administering the oath, Colonel Kevin Blaser, was forced to retire. Even the cameraman was fired and given a letter of reprimand.

I, like many of you I’m sure, didn’t particularly like the optic of a hand puppet in a reenlistment ceremony. I would say it’s . . . what are the words . . . ”extremely bad taste.” It’s a mistake I’d expect to result in a one-sided conversation in my CO’s cabin. It would be like if I wore my ribbons upside down to the Capitol building for the State of the Union Address. Own up to it and move on. But Major General Terry Haston, Tennessee Air National Guard Adjutant General, didn’t think that was enough so he FIRED EVERYONE INVOLVED. He said “I am absolutely embarrassed that a senior officer and a senior NCO took such liberties with a time-honored military tradition. The Tennessee National Guard holds the Oath of Enlistment in the highest esteem because that oath signifies every service member’s commitment to defend our state, nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Not taking this oath solemnly and with the utmost respect is firmly against the traditions and sanctity of our military family and will not be tolerated.”

Lieutenant General Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard, also weighed in: “Let me say, I’m equally shocked and dismayed by this event that mocks such a cherished and honorable occasion. The oath of office or enlistment not only signifies our commitment to our nation, but pays respect to our fellow service members and to those who came before us.”

Wise words, gentlemen. I couldn’t agree more. Or could I? I’m so confused.

What are the differences between the two ceremonies? Well, for starters, SOC Gallagher is on trial for war crimes so it’s not like he’s getting away scott-free, but as far as I know neither he, nor anyone else involved (Lieutenant Portier courts martial pending), was disciplined for the reenlistment ceremony. The Tennessee Air National Guard killed three careers for Master Sergeant Brown’s ceremony. Still confused . . .

Second, the video of Master Sergeant Brown’s reenlistment ceremony went viral. Media scrutiny followed. Listen, I grew up in a military family. I get the concept of “perception is reality,” but, people, we need to get a hold of ourselves. This is the age of social media and lighting fast mass communication. We can’t keep wielding a career-killing butcher knife every time we see an unflattering headline. OR . . . if we truly believe in the “sanctity” of “such a cherished and honorable occasion” then shouldn’t we react with the same discipline even there’s no video all over the internet? STILL confused . . .

Third, SOC Gallagher is Special Forces. Master Sergeant Brown is no. I know this really shouldn’t matter, but to some people, clearly it does. Just look at the tone of comments following the news of each event. Overwhelming condemnation for Master Sergeant Brown, and overwhelming support for SOC Gallagher. Of course, we have to take public opinion with a grain of salt, but official decisions appear to reflect these opinions. Part of it, I think, is an element of “hero worship” for our special warfare operators. Don’t get me wrong, these people are patriots who sacrifice more than most of us will ever know, and deserve our utmost respect, but they do not deserve—nor do they want—to be worshipped. Hero worship, fueled by Hollywood fiction, fosters a culture of infallibility that threatens to damage the SOF community. Maybe the best we can do is hold them to the same standard of “good order and discipline” that we hold everybody else. I don’t know, I’m still confused . . .

Didn’t hear a peep about these ceremonies.

Finally, thanks to the intrepid reporting of the military blog, Task & Purpose, we have several other examples of goofy, strange, and irreverent reenlistment ceremonies that did not result in public condemnation and discipline. From what I can tell, our “standard” for good order and discipline is about as standard as our uniforms are uniform. Oh, and there’s one last difference between Master Sergeant Brown and all the people reenlisting in the above linked T&P article (and SOC Gallagher). I’ll let you think about it. Maybe there were two different standards all along?

The Bad Day Scenario, Part 2

in Navy Stuff

This article was originally published by the Center for International Maritime Security here.

The first article of this series introduced the “Bad Day Scenario,” reminiscent of a similar scenario the Navy considered in 2003. The Navy went on to test its global responsiveness in the surge exercise Summer Pulse 2004. The scenario posited in Part One involves simultaneous reports of a mine strike in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, a paramilitary invasion of a Turkish town, and a Chinese attack on a U.S. military aircraft.

The Bad Day Scenario pushes the U.S. Navy, even with its global reach, to the brink of mission failure. Even if none of the three flashpoints boiled over into armed conflict, it is questionable whether today’s Navy could posture to deliver desired effects in a timely manner. There is also no true safe haven to be found in the other military branches or U.S. allies. The preferred military response would probably be a joint operation, but the Navy would likely be called upon to act first, if only to begin moving forces into position. Mobilizing naval forces could provide national leadership with decision space before crossing a strategic “point of no return” while achieving a rapid, politically acceptable result. If the Navy, however, could not position capable forces to respond in a given timeframe, such a response would be decidedly less feasible to political leadership.

Nor could the Navy rely on U.S. allies to save the day. First, prudent planning dictates that in a worst case scenario analysis, one should not assume the benefit of allies coming to their aid. Second, although unlikely, unilateral U.S. operations are entirely feasible. American presidents have routinely reserved the right to act unilaterally to preserve vital interests. Meanwhile, NATO is a shell of the military force that once served as a counterbalance to Russian aggression, and much of Europe is preoccupied witheconomic and domestic issues. Even if European allies could muster the political will to assist in Turkey, it is unreasonable to assume they would have the capacity to support in the Bab el Mandeb simultaneously. In the Pacific, it is possible U.S.  allies would view the downed aircraft as strictly a U.S.-China issue. There could also be murky questions as to the flight profile of the aircraft relative to China’s contentious claims of territorial airspace. However, U.S. allies in the region are far more likely to come to the aid of the U.S. over issues that impact their sovereignty or economy, such as China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.

Faced with the specter of having to go it alone, the Navy could capitalize on two emerging concepts to tackle the Bad Day Scenario: Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO). Both concepts have the potential to improve the Navy’s global responsiveness. Integrating DFE and DMO into actual operations and doctrine creates both intriguing challenges and opportunities for the Navy of the future.

Dynamic Force Employment

Introduced in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, DFE is a concept for employing forces on a global scale in an agile and unpredictable manner. DFE has a significant impact on the Navy by shifting carrier strike group (CSG) deployments away from the routine, almost clockwork, schedules that supported  the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades, and toward a demand-based methodology that could involve shorter or more irregularly spaced deployments to any number of locations based on current events. Among the many changes that DFE will bring, it will immediately impact the advanced training portion of the readiness cycle – ships and strike groups will no longer be able to focus on a predetermined set of threats based on geographic area.

DFE essentially addresses the timeliness aspect of the Bad Day Scenario. It is designed to maximize the probability that forces will be available to respond to global crises and contingencies. It sacrifices presence for responsiveness and agility.

Forward staging forces around the world on rotational deployments provide presence, but this approach has gradually degraded force readiness over the past two decades. In addition, there’s no guarantee forces are deployed where the next crisis will ignite, and it may take just as long for them to reposition as it would for them to deploy from CONUS. Instead, DFE uses responsive deployments. Forces deploy when and where they are needed, and when deployed, they can extend their presence on demand and far more easily than a unit coming off a long deployment.

The value of DFE’s agility is highlighted in the Bad Day Scenario. Under the traditional force employment paradigm, an east coast-based CSG would typically deploy to the Arabian Gulf. From there, it would take nearly as long to respond to the Turkey incident as a CSG in homeport, plus the time, risk, and resources incurred by transiting a potentially mined chokepoint in the Bab el Mandeb Strait or even the Suez Canal. DFE eliminates the “default” deployment to the Arabian Gulf, and increases the likelihood of east coast-based forces being allocated to the European region (6thFleet), poised to respond to the Russian aggression in Turkey. Forces in the Middle East (5th Fleet) would be preferable to CONUS-based forces to respond to the mine strike in the Bab el Mandeb Strait. However, the unique defensive and force protection challenges of the region (e.g. anti-ship cruise missiles, explosive boats, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles) require capabilities that 5thFleet’s assigned mine countermeasure forces do not possess. As the Navy’s Director of Expeditionary Warfare points out, having the wrong capabilities available is the same as having zero availability. Critical enablers such as Aegis cruisers and destroyers may need to deploy from CONUS after all. DFE forces the Navy to prepare for the possibility of having to rapidly deploy such a package for unique missions like mine clearance, potentially resulting in improved global responsiveness.

Lastly, DFE is ideally suited for the return to an era of great power competition by presenting unpredictability to potential adversaries, such as Russia and China. To be clear, DFE is in some respects a necessary outcome of budget restrictions and the end of nonstop naval air support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, it is heartening to see DoD make a strategic transition so deftly. Instead of shifting default rotational CSG deployments from one area of responsibility (AOR) to another, DoD rewrote the game plan, simultaneously forcing potential adversaries to wonder where U.S. forces will show up next, while also creating operational tempo “breathing room” to help reset the force.

As Tyson Wetzel points out on the Strategy Bridge, there are some potential challenges to DFE becoming an effective force management system. Some Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) could view DFE as a threat to force allocations in their AOR since they have long been accustomed to continuous naval presence. Allies may view irregular deployments as a sign of waning U.S. commitment to their strategic partnerships. Above all else, DFE will remain constrained by overall end strength. No matter how dynamic the Navy is, it is ultimately only as responsive as the number of ships it has operationally available.

Distributed Maritime Operations

One way to overcome the limitations of end strength is to rethink how U.S. naval forces operate once deployed. This is, in part, the logic behind distributed maritime operations (DMO), the successor to Commander, Naval Surface Force’s distributed lethality concept. While a universally accepted definition of DMO does not exist, DMO emphasizes multi-domain maneuver and kill chain agility through incorporating lethality into more platforms, offboard sensors, network-optional C2 (i.e. a blend of mission command and networked operations), and unmanned systems, to name a few. It is an operational concept that guides the Navy toward fielding a force capable of applying efficient, tailored force packages to a wide range of potential missions and threats. To some, it represents a significant departure from the near-myopic focus on power projection ashore via high-end capabilities, such as CSG sorties and ship-launched cruise missile strikes to support land-based operations.

If DFE addresses the temporal aspect of the Bad Day Scenario, DMO addresses the spatial and doctrinal aspects. DMO, in concept, would allow the Navy to respond to multiple contingencies in different regions by operating in a distributed manner. Although the Navy has been slow to adopt DMO (due in part to “organizational inertia” associated with the preeminence of CSG operations), deployed CSGs, amphibious readiness groups (ARGs), and destroyer squadrons (DESRONs) are already accustomed to operating disaggregated units, sometimes even across COCOM AOR boundaries. DMO will theoretically take disaggregated operations to the next level. DMO will allow units to disaggregate and then effectively integrate with other distributed units to produce tailored force packages on demand as the situation dictates.

Specific to the Bad Day Scenario, DMO could improve the Navy’s responsiveness in multiple ways. A group or squadron operating in the Mediterranean or Red Sea could rapidly disaggregate to respond to both the Turkey and the Bab el Mandeb crises. And by building lethality into all platforms, there is a greater likelihood the Navy could respond to any of the incidents with the nearest available assets. With the current force, some otherwise capable platforms, such as the San Antonio-class LPDs, could not respond to the South China Sea incident due to a lack of integrated air and missile defense capability. Offboard sensors and unmanned systems are particularly useful in mine threat areas, which create greater standoff ranges in relatively small littoral areas such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait. DMO can integrate lower-end surface platforms with these capabilities, allowing them to conduct missions such as mine warfare without incurring undue risk or having to wait for the minesweepers to arrive.

While DFE has been rapidly implemented, DMO (and distributed lethality before it) has lingered on the Navy’s operational “whiteboard,” with many supportive ideas and unique definitions coming from across the Navy enterprise. The implementation of DFE benefited from top-down Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) guidance, whereas DMO, on the other hand, began with the Surface Force and had to gain acceptance from the broader Navy and Joint Force from the “bottom up” (or at least from a few steps down). DFE was received as a mandate from SECDEF, whereas DMO has to be sold as a valuable concept, which necessarily takes longer. The lack of a unifying guidance document may have contributed to the delay in widespread acceptance. In order to facilitate implementation, the Navy should prioritize publishing a Naval Warfare or Doctrine Publication (NWP/NDP) on DMO as soon as possible.

The Convergence of DMO and DFE

The advent of DFE, coming from the Joint Force, and DMO, being developed from within, create unique challenges and opportunities for the Navy’s global responsiveness going forward. Ignoring the necessary integration of the two concepts and addressing them in a vacuum could lead to sub-optimal implementation of both concepts, or an unnecessary rejection of one concept in favor of the other. (Likely DMO would be the one to suffer, given SECDEF’s endorsement and rapid implementation of DFE.) Instead, the Navy needs to analyze how DFE and DMO will coexist to maximize maritime warfighting effectiveness. With that comes several key implications which will be addressed in detail in Part 3 of this series.

I’ll Have a Ship-Killer, No Cream, No Sugar

in Navy Stuff/Rants

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute blog here.

When it comes to shipbuilding, we in the surface force are really bad customers. We are like the guy at the Starbucks counter that hems and haws over all the seasonal varieties until the barista finally says “would you like the same grande-triple-soy-nonfat-mocha-latte-no-whip that you’ve ordered the past 1,347 times?” “Oooh, yeah that sounds good, I’ll have that!”


We both know what you’re going to ask for.

It’s not that we don’t like other delicious beverages (i.e. ships), we just have no idea how to tell the barista (i.e. industry) what we’re looking for so she can make it. Over three decades we have consistently struggled to articulate an operational concept—to tell a story—that describes an employment model for surface combatants not based in Cold War tactics. All we really know is the high-end multimission surface combatant designed to defend an aircraft carrier—the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (the Ticonderoga-class cruiser before her sprouted from the same Cold War Aegis roots). Last year, we acknowledged the Arleigh Burke’s frame is maxed out, but from an operational employment perspective, we keep trying to fit every new ship into the Burke mold.


Its impossible to imagine a better warship (at least for the U.S. Navy)

Littoral combat ship? Look, I’m not going to pile on. I’ll just say that the root of the problem with LCS was our inability to describe what we wanted to do with the ship because we couldn’t figure out how the modular concept fit into our carrier strike group-centric paradigm. Well, at least they can replace the minesweeper fleet, right? More than a decade after commissioning the lead ship, we’re still waiting to receive fully operational mission packages. Still, this is not a knock on the LCS program itself. There is ton of value that can still be gleaned from these ships, and many missions they could do, none of which involve defending an aircraft carrier. The LCS saga is like vaguely describing a new kind of coffee that always tastes like whatever you’re in the mood for, then watching the Starbucks baristas struggle for the next 20 years trying to figure out how to make it.

At least there’s the Zumwalt-class destroyer, right? <massages temples and counts to ten> Ok, I’m not maligning the program for scoping down the buy to three hulls. Budgetary constraints are real. There’s a lot to be learned from the technology on these ships that we can apply to future designs. But, again, here we are struggling to figure out how to use these technological marvels. I applaud the Navy for experimenting with surface development squadrons to refine Zumwalt’s mission, but next time let’s do that before we spend $23 billion.


Its like alien technology from the future (maybe that’s why we don’t know what to do with it).

And that brings me to my favorite ship of the moment, the next generation frigate, or FFG(X). We reduced the cost to $800 million per ship. Yaaaayyy! I’m going on the record: in the end this will be a billion dollar warship (and I’m not talking about lead ship cost, I mean average unit cost). While we cut costs in design, we added requirements. Here we go again! What was meant to be a cutting-edge ship-killer is now beginning to look like a mini-Arleigh Burke. We’re doubling vertical launching system (VLS) cells to 32, none of which can be used to fire the Navy’s chosen next-generation antiship missile, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM). More torpedo tubes, more electronic warfare, electric drive, lasers, cooperative engagement capability (CEC), and naval integrated fire control-counter air (NIFC-CA). These all are grand, but are they adding to the ship’s mission to destroy enemy ships? Or are they added on by Navy leaders for fear that the ship might one day encounter a situation for which it is ill-suited? Surely, we can build a ship that is ready to take on any mission, anywhere, anytime, independently, right? Ah, yes, the Arleigh Burke. Meanwhile, the FFG(X) will get eight tubes for NSM. Our competitors have speedboats with as much antiship capability. And lots more of them.

What about the amphibious navy, you say? Oh, you mean the one that all my mentors told me to avoid like the plague if I wanted to be competitive for promotion and command at sea? I’ve got no bone to pick with the San Antonio-class LPD, and I’m heartened to see experimentation with littoral combat groups, but we’ve been talking about influence squadrons for years now. Besides, the more we ask for, the more the LPDs start to smell like Arleigh Burkes!


That’s a fine lookin’ raked mast ya got there.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know what we want. We have intelligently designed concepts—Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) and Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO)—that effectively balance the constraints of today while meeting the potential demands of the future. Command of the sea will belong to the best designed fleets, not the best designed ships. Key to these concepts will be “low-end” (in other words, less than $1 billion) ships that are VERY good at conducting a couple missions, not billion-dollar ships that are pretty good at conducting every mission. The missile truck is a good start. We just need to tell the shipbuilders!

Industry is, of course, incentivized to “super-size” our order. It’s much more profitable to sell us high-end, exquisite solutions because they know there’s a good chance we’ll downscope the overall buy. Shipbuilders carry massive overhead to survive the arduous DoD acquisition system. It’s in their interest to sell us the “death star.” Or, at Starbucks, the trenta-double-shot-unicorn Frappuccino. Let’s order what we really want. We’re SWOs. Give us a damn cup of sweet black gold!


Tastes even better on the mid-watch!

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