Tuesday, April 14, 2015



by The Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandants of the Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.


American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies   

 The April 2015 issue of the most respected U.S. Naval Institute's PROCEEDINGS carries the full reprint of the newly published "A COOPERATIVE STRATEGY FOR 21st CENTURY SEAPOWER". The paper is signed and we presumed mostly authored by Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations; General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and Admiral Paul F. ZUKUNFT, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The directors of the AAIS organization asked me to critique this new dissertation on how the Chiefs of our armed sea services intend to "design, organize and employ the Sea Services in support of our national defense, and homeland security strategies." This "paper" is also supposed  to "set maritime priorities in an era of constrained resources, while emphasizing warfighting capabilities and forward naval presence to advance national interests today and guide preparations for tomorrow's challenges."

Frankly my maritime biped friends I was a bit disappointed. I might have been less so had they titled the paper "A COOPERATIVE STRATEGY FOR U.S. ARMED 21ST.CENTURY SEA SERVICES.   . However,  they use the titles "Sea Services" collectively to describe their three services, and their armed contributions to seapower as one and the same as "seapower". Alfred Thayer Mahan had quite a different view of "seapower" and all three of the authors of the latest official public policy pronouncements on "Seapower" were supposed to have learned their earliest lesson about "seapower" from the wisdom of Mahan back in their academy days. 
  Alfred Thayer Mahan the theorists at the heart of "Seapower" as taught at the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

 According to the gospel of Mahan "Seapower" is far more than a nation's armed naval might, despite the fact that he never really clearly defined the term that he seems to have coined, he was very clear in describing a nation's "seapower" as a totality of its capacity to conduct and sustain war operations and operations other than war at sea. To Mahan "power" not only meant kinetic energy on target now, but the ability to sustain operations of all sorts over a protracted time frame. Most commentators on Mahan are unified in concluding that his definition of "seapower" included a nation's merchant marine, shipyards, and overall maritime industrial capacity, especially those capacities that could be reshaped quickly to support war operations at sea. When the authors of A COOPERATIVE STRATEGY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY SEAPOWER failed to address or even acknowledge the support roles of such "sea services" as the NOAA CORPS, The U.S. Public Health Service Uniformed Corps, and U.S. Merchant Marine they basically left the reader looking for a "part 2."  It is as though they described their plans for the three sharp points of a trident, but somehow envisioned it without a shaft.

P.D.        Notice the three sharp points of the trident illustrated. The center and longest would be the U.S. Navy in our analytic comparison, the two slightly shorter sharp points are the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard. The document under examination deals in detail and in a coordinated fashion with the three points and by coordinating the sharpening of the points and avoiding redundancy between and among themselves the heads of the armed sea services do have a nice blueprint for the the three tines and points. But a trident is not very effective without the strength, support, and most especially reach provided by the shaft. The shaft is formed near the base of the tines by naval owned and operated sealift capabilities such as the Military Sealift Command (MSC). The three normally unarmed "sea services" the NOAA Corps, USPHS, and the U.S. Merchant Marine are the core of the long and strong staff that can support protracted naval operations. By "protracted" we mean both extended over time and geography, Additionally, if one does not consider the composition and design of the shaft of the trident there will surely be hell to pay in operations where a determined and sea competent enemy sets about to disrupt the supply lines .

  Part of the NOAA Pacific Fleet

 Let's examine  an example from recent history. During what we now sometimes call "First Iraq" the U.S. Navy wanted some of the Coast Guard's larger patrol vessels to assist  with littoral warfare chores. The Coast Guard, true to tradition, saluted the the Chief of Naval Operations and began to prepare to deploy.   Then the Congress got wind of the operation and demanded to know who was going to replace these Coast Guard vessels on the domestic anti drug line. Nobody seemed to have an answer. The net result was that the Coast Guard stayed on the drug line and the Navy went forward with a less than optimum presence.

 Did this have to happen? We think not. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "NOAA Corps" is a uniformed paranaval service that operates ships, boats and air craft, diving programs, and scientific research in "arduous maritime environments". The ships operated by the NOAA corps are very similar to Coast Guard patrol craft and medium endurance cutters. By adding Coast Guard reserve boarding teams and weapons and a Coast Guard or Coast Guard Reserve "officer in tactical command", these NOAA vessels and crews could have quickly filled in on the drug line for armed Coast Guard vessels departing in support of naval combat operations. But there was no pre-planning, and it appears there is still none today. The NOAA Corps normal work of charting, surveying, marine sanctuary patrolling, and oceanographic research would no doubt have fallen behind schedule. But apparently that is more acceptable than abandoning the anti drug line in the Straits of Yucatan and elsewhere.

 We are kidding ourselves if we think that we are operating a "national fleet" just because the Navy and Coast Guard are coordinating. When part of your "national fleet" has homeland security and unarmed civil missions that are viewed as important by Congress or the President, and when most of the naval deployments anticipating combat operations are in situations short of a formally declared war, your "reserve fleet" may be "otherwise engaged" when most needed and bogged down in political wrangling over which mission takes precedence.


Some Typical NOAA ships

 In terms of combatant vessels at the point of armament where a "law enforcement configuration" overlaps or approaches a coastal small combatant vessel it would be foolish to ignore a fleet of comparably sized vessels needing only portable weapons installed and boarding team trained and authorized crews. The NOAA Atlantic and Pacific Fleets , routinely officered by a uniformed corps carrying naval rank and subject to naval discipline is simply too valuable to ignore. They have a vital mission but few would argue that the science and cartography missions of the NOAA fleet and corps if delayed, deferred a bit, or under performed for a while could do the harm to the  U.S. national security that losing a gun fight at sea, at a critical time and place could. Moreover, the U.S. Coast Guard, so in need of some medium endurance cutter back up while the shooting starts but the drug line can't be abandoned, nor outer harbor entrance port security activities abandoned, has a means to return the favor to NOAA and decrease the impact of the deployment of NOAA ships and NOAA officers deployed as back up to the Coast Guard.

 The Coast Guard Auxiliary is a uniformed group of volunteers who routinely augment all of the civil missions of the Coast Guard. The boats and planes of the Auxiliary routinely make aids to navigation verification patrols. If some of the survey trained crews of NOAA are released from impressed into Coast Guard service NOAA research /survey vessels to make room for armed Coast Guard personnel these personnel could continue much of NOAA's disrupted work from USCG Auxiliary vessels.  Many Auxiliary missions are compatible with harbor, waterway, near coastal chart updating surveys of NOAA. . 

 So why not just toss the NOAA fleet into the Coast Guard as an integral part? Because then the vitally important charting, research, and marine sanctuary protection missions of the NOAA corps fleet and air arm would join the Coast Guard's existing "mission creep" problem. As the newly absorbed fleet and air arm aged it would probably not be replaced. The Congress is notorious, and has been so for 50 years, in adding missions but no additional finances to the Coast Guard periodically. As a separate budget request from the Commerce Department what we now call the "NOAA Corps" has survived since the end of the Lewis and Clarke expedition under various names such as the "Coast Survey" as a separate and distinct uniformed service and government fleet since the early 1800s. It is highly unlikely to be defunded entirely as long as it stays independent of the Coast Guard. At the end of the Cold War, the Coast Guard like all of the armed services was expected to pay a "peace dividend." The end of the Cold War didn't really end a single ongoing daily mission of the Coast Guard but they had to pay like the other services and lost thousands of paid reserve billets, authorized strength of the reserve, and the fleet's anti submarine warfare capabilities.

 A first step toward building a shaft to the naval trident would be to form a Coast Guard / NOAA Corps Board to anticipate emergency needs, coordinate, cooperate, set up permanent lines of communication, but never ever consider "integration". It must be clearly understood that history tells us that integration with the Coast Guard of any national capacity of naval utility eventually leads to its disappearance until emergency needs arise. The main way that the Coast Guard has dealt with mission creep has been serial attention, funding most effectively whatever appears to be the "mission dejour" and letting other missions suffer. This is a numbers game where the U.S. sea services must fight with landlubbing legislators, executives and publics for enough ships and air craft to effectively defend the nation. Let's not lose an auxiliary fleet by forcing integration. But we have effectively lost the naval utility of the NOAA corps , fleets and air arm by ignoring them in naval planning. The Coast Guard must coordinate with the NOAA Corps, fleet, and air arm like the Navy coordinates with the Coast Guard.

  Some typical NOAA air craft.

 As giant catfish with 3,000 years of observations of biped naval activity behind me.  I have to say that I'm in favor of "organic" sealift capacity within the Navy and Coast Guard just as I favor some "organic" air power and air lift capacity in all military service branches. But when the Navy attempts to provide more than initial sealift, it eats into available funds for combatant vessels. In recent years the U.S. Navy has literally accepted the mission of providing sealift, the traditional function of the U.S. Merchant Marine in the mistaken belief that the U.S. Merchant Marine is commercially dead and no longer really available to perform the heavy and sustained sealift mission . By statute the U.S. Merchant Marine is a "naval auxiliary" bound to cooperate and provide services to the Navy in time of "war" or "national emergency". However, since the end of WWII we have not had a full return to naval control of shipping and the U.S. Merchant Marine's international blue water transport (traditional freighters, tankers, and bulk carriers)  were denied operational and differential subsidies by Congress after the end of the Vietnam sealift. That fleet of vessels in the common thinking of typical U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard line officers THE U.S. MERCHANT MARINE has shrunk from a WWII fleet of about 5,000 vessels to about 200 carefully Maritime Administration nurtured vessels today part of a national reserve fleet that is at least partly sustained by commercial operations. In a nut shell, American Merchant Mariners can not compete with third world mariners who will work for a rice bowl in carrying international cargoes.

 Continuing construction and operational differential subsidies would have been an inexpensive and effective way of maintaining the fleet of U.S. Merchant blue water transports available for emergency naval service. But there is a Merchant Marine besides the blue water transport fleets. You do  have, at least as long as Senator John McCain's efforts to kill it are thwarted, a protected "Jones Act Fleet". These are the vessels of the inland and "cabotage" or "coastwise' trades. These are the vessels which transport goods and commodities between and among the American States. That trade is limited by law to vessels registered under the American flag, and manned by American Merchant Mariners. Unlike current and recent past Coast Guard institutional thought the Jones Act fleet while characterised by some unique vessel types and generally vessels of smaller size than the traditional blue water transports is not an after thought or appendage of "THE MERCHANT MARINE" as envisioned by typical Navy and Coast Guard officers.  Since colonial times more commerce has moved by water between the states than arrives or departs via our international trading ports. In times of peace the American blue water transport fleet has never fared very well in relation to international shipping where there is a long tradition of abusive labor practices. You simply can't man an American ship with seamen willing to work for a rice bowl.

 It is also near impossible to get foreign seamen to haul beans and bullets to U.S. troops if they must face the danger of running a submarine gadulet or other combat vessel or mine barrier to routine delivery. By contrast the U.S. Merchant Marine has historically taken pride in its statutory role as a naval auxiliary and have never failed to deliver. Where have all of these merchant mariners come from, and where did the ship building skills and capacities emerge from in times of need like the eve of World War II? Plain and simply they didn't come out of a sort of "reserve" but out of the heart and core of the American Merchant Marine, the Jones Act fleet , "second tier" shipyards that serve it, and the merchant mariners who man it. The Jones Act fleets are the root , the heart and the core of the American Merchant Marine and unless enemies like John McCain succeed in engineering its demise the economic health of these fleets is good. Moreover the military utility of many of its vessels and crews are immediate as well as potentially convertible.

 An offshore supply vessel as typically found in the OCS waters of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

 Typical Jones Act integrated tug barge combo in coastal trade.

   Now I also mentioned a non fleet owning naval uniformed organization, the U.S. Public Health Service. These uniformed officers are doing yeoman service right now with the Department of Homeland Security in disease prevention and control, particularly guarding against the introduction of pathogens by our terrorist enemies. This potential force multiplier of the naval medical corps doesn't fit very well in a discussion focused mostly on naval combat logistics until you realize that they were once routinely considered a part of something that still exists in law but is not exercised, "the Naval Establishment".  The U.S. Navy and its Reserve components, The Marine Corps and its Reserve components, The U.S. Coast Guard and its Reserve and Auxiliary components, The NOAA Corps (formerly the Coast Survey) and the U.S. Merchant Marine all at one time in WWII under naval control of shipping responded in unison to the Chief of Naval operations. They are spoken of in law collectively as the "Naval Establishment". This naval establishment can only be as effective in the first stages of a war as it has practiced and coordinated in peace time. In reviewing this latest "seapower' discourse from the heads of three of the five "sea services" I have to wonder if modern day flag officers have any concept of the "Naval Establishment".  

 Of course no one is obligated to listen to me I'm just a 3,000 year old former demigod giant catfish but my over all impression of the COOPERATIVE STRATEGY FOR 21st CENTURY SEAPOWER by uniformed heads of our three military sea services with a preface by none other than Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy is that it is only half a strategy. Its good as far as it goes which is how to sharpen the points of the trident. But a trident without a shaft is just an unwieldy dagger. You must affix the trident head to a long shaft. Where is the rest of the plan? Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower?  SHOW ME THE SHAFT! 

 Every Naval Officer ought to read this book to truly understand the American Merchant Marine


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