US Navy Declines To Party With PLA(N)

by Craig Hooper on April 19, 2019

The old movie Wargames reminds us that, sometimes, “the only winning move is not to play.” It looks like the U.S. Navy is doing just that with China’s massive naval review this month, refusing to send ships to celebrate the 70th anniversary of China’s Navy beyond the local attache. From the Japan Times:

The United States has decided not to send warships or senior military officers to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy later this month, a snub by Washington even as U.S. allies Japan and South Korea are expected to send their own vessels and officials.

If a rival is weaponizing ceremonial events like this, then the only option is to not play. This decision came a few weeks after I published this piece over at Forbes, detailing how these largely ceremonial events were becoming a new axis of maritime competition.

Also, I presume this refusal to show up for the party is something of an indication that the China-U.S. trade talks are not going well.

What To Do…Instead?

Ideally, the U.S. Navy would have some sort of specialized ceremonial platform–a training squadron, Presidential Yacht or floating embassy available to handle these things. A non-military option might be useful to subtly shift the axis of competition away from military pageantry (where the visitor is always gonna be handicapped) to some sort of governmental systems-based challenge that make regimes a tad nervous.

Another option would be to encourage friends to not show at all, but, aside from the fact that a refusal by the locals to attend would be entirely unsporting, America lacks the diplomatic power to pull off such a thing against China. Navies are proliferating, and, these days, every tin pot country has Blue Water pretentions of their own, and, well, if a big power pays handsomely to incentivize showing up, even the smallest of navies are gonna, well, “Navy” their way to the party. Certainly a few nicely-placed Op-eds recalling old Chinese habits of requiring regular tributes to the emperor might be an interesting touch (What happens on the Yellow River stays on the Yellow River, I suppose), but, I doubt the U.S. has developed substantial capability to shape news coverage/elite discussions in some of the small countries within China’s growing sphere of interest.

Finally, another option is to do something to completely put China off-kilter, feeding it’s worst instincts or otherwise helping the country’s well-calibrated and friendly veneer slip a little bit in public. These could range from recognizing Taiwan (!!) to coordinating the seizure of illegally-operating Chinese fishing-boats, grabbing Chinese-flagged ships involved in illegally supporting North Korea, or…conducting amphibious operations from Vietnam’s Truong Sa airport, at Scarborough Shoal, or the Philippines’ Pag-asa island airstrip in the South China Seas to…oh, releasing a periscope picture of some high-profile Chinese ship someplace.

What is the USCG Up To?

While the Navy is ignoring the Party, the USCG’s globe-trotting cutter, the Bertholf, joined Navy ships to parade through the Taiwan straits, only to make a quick stop in Hong Kong–the first Coast Guard ship to visit in 17 years. The ship is now operating with the South Korean Coast Guard, and was last reported in Busan.

That puts the USCG in an interesting place, capable of proving the U.S. Government options–the Bertholf is well positioned if the Administration decides at the last possible second to either try and join the PLA(N) party or to rain on the PLA(N) parade.

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In Forbes: Build A USN Training Fleet

by Craig Hooper on April 5, 2019

I have been remiss, but I have a few posts up at Forbes that may be worth your time. One of them deals with training ships. Go read it!

Now, I am convinced that training ships–if they are taken seriously–do work, and I am particularly impressed at how Japan has converted their BIG training fleet into something of a diplomatic asset. With MARAD building their own amphib-like training ships, and the Navy struggling to both developed trained mariners and shed some ancillary missions, my sense is that the Navy would benefit enormously if they joined the MARAD buy and dedicated some Flight IIa DDGs to training. (Smaller ships like an LCS would be nice additions, but, right now, for surface warriors, it’s CRUDES or Amphib world, so new kids should train to that right now.) Little rogue training fleets would be great for presence and low-threat missions.

Training ships would do a lot for the surface fleet. First, they would relieve the fleet of a lot of show-and-tell missions. Among other things, the goal of the training fleet staff would be to strengthen the Navy’s logistical knowledge-base for port calls, hopefully easing some of the burden on the battle fleet when they might want to visit, and potentially a good place to append some FAOs for training as well. It would also give newbies a stronger foundation–rather than forcing the battle fleet to spend time always training up new sailors, they’d get folks arriving on the ship who knew how things worked–and worked well.

And that, to me, is the most important thing. When talking about the surface fleet, everybody (and I mean everybody) sorta clutches their pearls and bewails the state of the surface fleet culture. But nobody (and I mean nobody) has done much to change things. Seriously, problems with surface fleet culture and training has been a known thing for years, if not decades. A training fleet would help change this by letting new sailors/officers experience life on an impeccably-maintained, fully functional training ship. That would give sailors an opportunity to experience the way things “should be” before they get shunted off to a broke-down mediocrity or some floating madhouse someplace. Getting started on a platform where order has already broken down just normalizes that standard. If a young officer has never experienced greatness, and know that it can be achieved, that officer will rarely try.

Something has to be done. Yes, it costs money and resources, but, you know, crashing ships and fielding non-functional vessels/crews is far more costly.

Hopefully the surface fleet has it in them to try to make this happen, and Congress has it in them to support such a proposal.

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In Press: The New Naval Race To Look Good

March 15, 2019

I have a post up at Forbes.com, discussing how emerging/re-emerging navies are exploiting the U.S. Navy’s increasingly shabby visage. I urge you all to take a look, here. There are a few other ancillary items that didn’t make the piece, but they were interesting enough to merit additional discussion. Item 1: Image Does Matter: Many […]

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In Press: No Reserve Ships On The Road To 355

March 7, 2019

Glad to see the Navy finally, irrevocably, kill off the pipe-dream of resurrecting the FFG-7s. As I said about two years ago, when I first panned the fever-dreams of the “Reactivate the FFG-7” crowd, “America need FFGs less than a policy and strategy to guide the graceful transition of combatants from front line duties, through […]

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Winners and Losers from the 2019 USNA Ship Selection

February 24, 2019

The U.S. Naval Academy’s annual Ship Selection “rite-of-passage” is enormous fun. Of course, it happened more than a month ago, so I’m a little late to the party. But, that aside, two things really struck me: the participation of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and the non-participation of the Avenger Class MCM and […]

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Let’s Build a New National Shipyard, Part II

February 9, 2019

In continuing the discussion sparked by my recent DefenseOne.com proposal to build a new National Shipyard, let’s take a few minutes to examine maintenance work-load estimates. Even though low-balling the cost of operations and maintenance is an old, long-standing habit in certain parts of the Pentagon, the game is no longer fun, and it needs […]

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Admiral John Aquilino Gets It

February 1, 2019

It was great to see the Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral John Aquilino, head over to one of the more important National Shipyards–the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility–and rally the workforce. This is exactly the sort of high-level attention the National Shipyards need if they’re going to be sufficiently resourced. There’s no transcript […]

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Let’s Build A New National Shipyard, Part I

January 22, 2019

I published a commentary over at DefenseOne.com last week, suggesting that the Navy commission a new public shipyard. You can read it here, but the general gist is this: The U.S. Navy’s four public shipyards are overwhelmed. Budget documents show that their workload exceeds their capacity by 117 to 153 percent — that is, there’s too much to get done […]

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The Pacific Pivot as An Old LCU

November 18, 2018

To me, the picture accompanying this post speaks volumes about the “Pacific Pivot”. The photo shows LCU 1634 helping the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) recover after being leveled by Super Typhoon Yutu. Looks great, right? Well, it looks great until the observer realizes that LCU 1634 is ancient. That venerable LCU in the […]

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Inside the CBO’s Attack on Public Naval Shipyards

September 24, 2018

The misguided drumbeat to privatize America’s four remaining public shipyards is proceeding apace. The latest volley, fired by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is a September 2018 report, “Comparing the Costs of Submarine Maintenance at Public and Private Shipyards.” CBO researchers looked at the DSRA costs (Docking Selected Restricted Availability) for SSN-688s over the PAST […]

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