FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 12th through 15th 2018

Fireball Saying of the Day

Today I was a hero. I rescued some beer that was trapped in a bottle.

 

Fireball on China and North Korea

I’ve mentioned several times here in FOD that I believe one of the worst things that could happen to China, from their prospective, would be a fall of the North Korean family business/government of Kim Jung Un.  A reunification of North and South Korea would result in US and/or western aligned troops on the border with China, a prospect much feared by China. Additionally a North Korea experimenting or threatening with nuclear weapons is one thing, but a North Korea with a real nuclear delivery capability is likely to foster the development of western supported nuclear capabilities in South Korea and eventually Japan.  And dare we mention Taiwan in that nuclear soup?  Such developments would realign the balance of power in Asia to China’s great disadvantage.  Remember just a few months ago Kim Jung Un made that mysterious train trip to China?  Since that time we have seen a distinct change in North Korea’s behavior.  No further missile testing, no boasting of eventual war with the US and/or other nations in the region.  And now President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un on June 12 in Singapore, the US president announced Thursday.  I think it possible Kim Jung Un was called upon Xi Jinping’s proverbial red Chinese carpet during that train trip.  Xi says, “OK Kim dude, it’s perfectly fine for you to play with your nuclear toys, but threatening the US and other countries in the region upsets my plan for dominance in Asia long term.  So here are your choices: make a deal with the US and soon before they export nuclear weapons to both South Korea and Japan and before they develop additional missile systems capable of shooting down your weapons and by extension my ICBMs in my backyard; OR, I will find a new family to operate North Korea.  Now go back home and execute my command.  We saw where North Korea has promised to allow the world to watch it blow up some of their nuclear test facilities.  Likely that already happened.  Back on 3 September when North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test on Punggye-ri registering 6.3 magnitude on earthquake sensors.  Several minutes later however, geologists detected a smaller 4.1 magnitude rumbling.  That got scientists speculating as to whether the nuclear test site, hidden inside a mountain, actually collapsed.  A massive collapse could render the test site useless for future nuclear tests and may even increase the risk of radioactive gases escaping from the rock and into the air, scientists said.  The case for this so-called “tired mountain syndrome” was bolstered three weeks ago, when North Korea announced that it planned to shut the main testing facility at Mount Mantap where five of the six tests, including the last explosion, took place. A few weeks ago, a group of Chinese geologists claimed in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters that the mountain had collapsed following the latest nuclear test. Of course the Chinese might be lying.  That wouldn’t surprise me either.  Now we see Kim Jung Un has cancelled recently scheduled talks with South Korea after the failure of the South and the US to cancel scheduled military exercises.  Then again he has always been unpredictable.  We can expect the unexpected.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 12th through 15th 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 8th through 11th 2018

FOD Saying of the Day

How do you know a man is thinking about his future? He buys two cases of beer instead of one.

 

USS Fitzgerald’s Officer of the Deck to Face Special Court Martial

Navy Times is reporting the Navy has released the first details regarding three junior officers charged for their alleged roles in the destroyer USS Fitzgerald’s collision with a merchant vessel last summer, an incident that killed seven sailors.  Two of the officers remain unidentified, and Navy officials said their names will be made public at their hearing this week.  LTjg Sarah Coppock was the Officer of the Deck, or OOD, early on June 17, when the Fitz was steaming off Japan, according to a charge sheet released by the service.  She will face a Special Court-Martial (SCM) Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in Washington and is charged with dereliction in the performance of duties through neglect resulting in death, according to the charge sheet.  As OOD, Coppock oversaw ship navigation when the Commanding Officer was not present.  She is accused of failing to comply with the Commanding Officer’s standing orders, as well as international water navigation rules.  It was Coppock’s duty to communicate with the ship’s Combat Information Center, report ship contacts to the skipper, operate safely in high-density traffic and “alert crew of imminent collisions,” the charge sheet states.  While the Navy has refused to make public any of its investigations into the disaster, a review released last fall found the OOD didn’t attempt to contact the commercial ACX Crystal ship via radio, nor did she attempt to maneuver to avoid the Crystal until a minute before the collision.  At one point, the Fitzgerald crossed the bow of an oncoming merchant ship at a range of less than 650 yards — fewer than four ship lengths — and the OOD never informed the captain, a violation of standing orders that require the skipper to be summoned to oversee hazardous conditions.  The Fitzgerald’s crew had no warning before the hulking Crystal plowed into her starboard side. The impact flooded sailors’ living quarters in less than a minute, according to the review.  The ship’s captain, CDR Bryce Benson, was asleep, and the Crystal’s bow punched into his quarters. He was injured and rescued by crew members as he clung to the side of the ship.  He faces an Article 32 hearing to determine if he will be court-martialed later this month.  On Wednesday, May 9, two Navy lieutenants will face Article 32 proceedings for their roles in the Fitz collision.  One, a woman whose name was redacted in the charge sheet provided by the Navy, was serving as the tactical action officer at the time.  Known as a TAO, the officer is responsible for the weapons, propulsion and sensors while the captain is away, and has the authority to maneuver.  She was derelict by failing to communicate with the bridge regarding safe speed and maneuvering recommendations, while failing to enforce efficient watch standing in the combat information center, which handles weapons systems and radar, according to the charge sheet.  Last year’s review found watch standers in the center failed to “tune and adjust their radar to maintain an accurate picture of other ships in the area.”  An unidentified male lieutenant faces the same charges as the unidentified female lieutenant.  He was serving as the surface warfare coordinator in the combat information center and is accused of failing to provide recommendations to the TAO and the bridge, while failing to stand his assigned station or ensure proper watch standing was carried out, according to the charge sheet.  I do not know the outcome of the SCM.

 

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 8th through 11th 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 2nd through 7th 2018

Fireball Saying of the Day

In beer there is freedom, in wine there is health, in cognac there is power and in water there is bacteria.

 

Congrats On Your Retirement Taco

My congrats go out to Friend of FOD Taco who is retiring as the KC-46 Chief Test Pilot.  It was a good run my friend.  I can tell you there is a lot of fun to be had in retirement.  And congrats to another Friend of FOD Dobber who now takes over as the head of the KC-46 Flight Test Effort. All the best my friend!

 

New Possible Ship Deployment Schedule Ahead For Navy Ships

Defense News is reporting A typical carrier deployment from Norfolk goes like this: A tearful goodbye on the pier, a trip across the Atlantic, then one or maybe two port visits in Europe before heading through “The Ditch” and into U.S. Central Command territory. There you will stay for the bulk of the cruise before returning the way you came.  Those days might be coming to an end.  The Navy and Pentagon planners are already weighing whether to withhold the Truman Carrier Strike Group from deploying to U.S. Central Command, opting instead to hold the carrier in Europe as a check on Russia, breaking with more than 30 years of nearly continuous carrier presence in the Arabian Gulf. But even more fundamental changes could be in the works.  Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made clear as the military’s top civilian that he has a very different vision for how the military will be used in the future. And recent comments have hinted at big changes on the horizon for the Navy and how it deploys.  In testimony last month, Mattis twice compared that kind of predictability to running a commercial shipping operation, and said the Navy needed to get away from being so easily anticipated.  “That’s a great way to run a shipping line,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. “It’s no way to run a Navy.”  But as Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford drive towards new ways of employing the fleet, changing the way that fleet deploys will put pressure on its existing deployment model, forcing the Navy to rethink a structure that governs nearly everything it does — from manning and training to its maintenance cycles.  In an era of great-power competition with China and Russia, Mattis describes the Navy showing up where it’s not expected, making deployments less burdensome to the fleet and its families but more worrisome to a potential adversary.  “The way you do this is [to] ensure that preparation for great power competition drives not simply a rotational schedule that allows me to tell you, three years from now, which aircraft carrier will be where in the world,” he told House lawmakers. “When we send them out, it may be for a shorter deployment. There will be three carriers in the South China Sea today, and then, two weeks from now, there’s only one there, and two of them are in the Indian Ocean.  “They’ll be home at the end of a 90-day deployment. They will not have spent eight months at sea, and we are going to have a force more ready to surge and deal with the high-end warfare as a result, without breaking the families, the maintenance cycles — we’ll actually enhance the training time.”  Experts contend that what Mattis is describing, a concept he’s labeled as “Dynamic Force Employment,” would necessarily create tension with the Navy’s current deployment model known as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP), an iteration of similar plans that have been in place since the Cold War.  Under the plan, introduced in 2014 by then-Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Bill Gortney, ships operate in a 36-month cycle that carves out 16 months for training and maintenance, a seven-month deployment and 13 months where the carrier and its escorts are to maintain a high level of readiness in case it needs to deploy again.  Around that model the Navy builds everything from when it brings in new recruits to boot camp to when an aircraft carrier needs to come out of its years-long reactor overhaul. It’s also a system that builds in a significant dip in readiness where, during maintenance phases, ships lose sailors with critical skills to other commands and shore duty assignments.  The dip in readiness is deliberate and informs both manning levels on the ship and the Navy’s overall end strength. Simply put, there are not enough trained sailors in the Navy to fill every job on every ship, and that’s all built into the plan.  The key to the whole plan working, however, is at least a degree of predictability. Shipyards need to know when they will have a ship and what the scope of the repair work will be so it can prepare in advance. School houses need to know when to convene classes. Commanding officers need to know that when they get ready for deployment, sailors with critical skills lost during a readiness dip will be replaced before the next cruise.  Predictability, however, is precisely what Mattis is trying to have less of in the face of a rising threat from Russia and China, said Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper and consultant with The FerryBridge Group.   “[OFRP] was designed to be predictable,” McGrath said. “From the outset it was touted for bringing predictability to the shipyards and to sailors and their families. Secretary Mattis, in the face of great power competition, seems to value those things less and I could not agree with him more.”  What Mattis seems to value is a system that would bank more readiness. Indeed, his National Defense Strategy says as much when it describes dynamic force employment.  “Dynamic Force Employment will prioritize maintaining the capacity and capabilities for major combat, while providing options for proactive and scalable employment of the Joint Force,” the strategy reads.  His suggestion of sending ships on more 90-day deployments would put less strain on ships’ mechanical and electronic systems and would likely make shipyard availabilities shorter.  But his example of putting three carriers in a place like the South China Sea, even for a couple of weeks, would eat an enormous amount of readiness under the current deployment model. Not only do you need to gather three fully manned and trained carriers with all their escort ships present, but three air wings full of tactical aircraft that have been struggling with their own readiness issues, as well.  “You can bank readiness by decreasing forward presence,” he said. “That is, if you have fewer forces forward deployed for the hell of it, you have more to push forward when you want them.  “In other words, its punishment rather than deterrence — you surge after the enemy has made its move. Whereas if you want to deter them — to convince the enemy that the success of their planned attack is dubious, you have to be there, and be there powerfully, and that means a carrier strike group forward.”  Another way to put three carriers forward in one place on a semi-regular basis is to use the sustainment period that is built into OFRP. But sending a carrier group back out during 13-month period after a deployment where the group is held at a high state of readiness undermines one of Mattis’s stated goals of trying to put less wear on the ships and ease the burden of eight-month deployments on families.  Double-pump deployments for surge carriers is precisely the kind of unpredictability and strain that has caused a mountain of maintenance problems for the Navy through the 2010s — problems that then reduce operational availability of ships that are stuck in the yards for repairs.  “The Navy has not done much with the sustainment phase in OFRP, but presumably that will be one of the go-to moves to create flexibility and unpredictability in the schedule,” McGrath said. “There will, of course, be costs: fuel costs, less time with families, etc.  “It remains to be seen the degree to which Mattis’ plans are doable within the current readiness model. My sense is the readiness model is somewhat brittle and additional requirements will put pressure on that model. The current OFRP was designed to create predictable, sustainable levels of readiness. SECDEF wants to be unpredictable. There is going to be tension.”  Another potential stumbling block for Mattis’ vision for a retooled deployment model is his desire for shorter deployments, specifically his 90-day deployment idea.  Clearly, shorter deployments would reduce the strain on the ships and their sailors and families. But at some point, basic geography would seem to get in the way of this idea, said Thomas Callender, a retired submarine officer and analyst at The Heritage Foundation.  “I think the Navy needs to look hard at the proposed 90-day carrier strike group deployments,” Callender said. “It takes about six months to train and certify a CSG, including the aircraft carrier, its escorts and the Carrier Air Wing for potential combat operations. It also takes about a week (minimum) to transit from Norfolk to the Mediterranean. That means you would only have approximately 2 months of presence in the Med. To transit to the Arabian Gulf from East Coast takes almost three weeks more.  “When you look at the West Coast CSGs transiting from San Diego or Washington, it takes close to a month to transit to the South China Sea. At first glance, I do not see how six months of training for a three month deployment is an efficient use of [the Navy’s Operations and Maintenance Funding] resources, or its platforms and personnel —especially with the high Combatant Commander demand for global CSG presence.”  Addressing COCOM demand for Navy forces, which has been unrelenting over the past few years, would have to factor into any plan that Mattis and Dunford and trying to cobble together.  Under the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986, forces are assigned to the combatant commands by the secretary of defense, meaning if Mattis wants to change what COCOMs get and when they get it, he can do that. But COCOMs do have the authority to outline what they think they need based on the operational environment — to set the requirements.  It’s unlikely that COCOMs will be satisfied with a month of carrier presence here or three weeks there, if that’s what Mattis wants to give them under his authorities. But that might just be what Mattis is going after in the firsts place with dynamic force employment, said Dan Gouré, an analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based think tank The Lexington Institute.  “I think this is bigger than just the Navy and how it deploys, I think this is about clawing back power from the combatant commanders,” Gouré said. “We have been living in a COCOM-centric world. Because they generate the force requirements, they are the ones setting the terms.”  In order to adjust to global great power competition, Mattis sees a need to assert more control over who goes where and when, especially with a smaller force than the U.S. had during the Cold War, Gouré said.  “With great power competition and a limited force pool, the decision seems to be to have an operational capability that can be deployed when a crisis emerges,” he said. “The COCOMs are going to have to take their lumps on this one.  “It also raises the questions of what exactly are the real COCOM requirements? COCOMs are a black hole of requirements to the point where you run out the readiness string trying to fulfill them. But the assumption shouldn’t be that all requirements are equal. What’s critical?”

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day May 2nd through 7th 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day April 28th through May 1st 2018

Fired Seventh Fleet Admiral Speaks Out On Fitzgerald and John S. McCain

Navy Times is reporting the former head of the Japan-based 7th Fleet who was fired in the wake of two fatal destroyer collisions in the west Pacific last summer is for the first time offering his take on what led to the disasters, while at times questioning Big Navy’s account of what transpired.  Retired Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was fired as 7th Fleet commander on Aug. 23, just a few days after the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker near Singapore, an incident that killed 10 crew members.  A few months before that, seven other sailors died aboard the USS Fitzgerald when it was struck by a merchant vessel off Japan in June.  Since then, Navy leadership has decried a lack of readiness, maintenance and training among ships based out of Japan, and across the surface fleet in general.  Writing in the Naval Institute’s “Proceedings” magazine this month, Aucoin takes issue with how Navy leadership characterized the shortcomings in a comprehensive review and strategic readiness review done in the wake of the disasters.  “The Comprehensive Review (CR), Strategic Review (SR), and some media reporting could lead one to the impression my staff and I were oblivious to or unconcerned about the manning, training, and maintenance deficiencies affecting my ships and their ability to carry out their assigned missions,” Aucoin writes. “That was not the case.”  Instead, Aucoin alleges that his bosses at U.S. Pacific Fleet knew about the negative impacts that increased 7th Fleet operational tempo was having on training and maintenance “well prior” to the collisions.  “Despite these explicitly stated concerns, the direction we received was to execute the mission,” he writes.  Aucoin also questioned the narrative that the surface fleet’s shortcomings were limited to Japan.  A San Diego-based cruiser, Lake Champlain, was involved in a daytime collision with a Korean vessel last spring, he writes, suggesting a problem that was not limited to 7th Fleet.  Japan-based ships began getting the short end of the stick in 2014, when manning levels for those warships fell because of Navy policies that prioritized stateside ships, according to Aucoin.  He writes that his staff convened a Forward-Deployed Naval Force manning summit in June, and he takes issue with this effort not being mentioned in the comprehensive review, which was overseen by Fleet Forces Command head Adm. Phil Davidson.  “While it is said that the (comprehensive review) focused primarily on training and readiness, it did not address manpower issues nearly enough,” Aucoin writes. “I do not know how one can exclude manpower in a discussion on readiness in a high-operational tempo (OpTempo) environment.” Aucoin also writes that the realities of west Pacific command and control were neglected in the reviews.  Afloat Training Group West Pacific, responsible for training and certification of Japan-based ships, reported to Naval Surface Force Pacific and not 7th Fleet, he writes.  The “Third Fleet Forward” initiative, which sends stateside ships to 7th Fleet waters to relieve the pressure on 7th Fleet ships, came to entail those stateside ships operating outside 7th Fleet’s command and taking on missions that didn’t ease the workload of 7th Fleet cruisers or destroyers, according to Aucoin.  Aucoin also wonders why he was not interviewed for the comprehensive review.  “How comprehensive is the CR when neither Commander, Naval Surface Forces (CNSF), nor I, as the numbered fleet commander, was interviewed or asked for inputs?” he writes. “For the sake of our Navy, a transparent examination of the problem should include a full understanding of the challenges with which we were faced.” Naval operations “expanded dramatically” in the Indo-Asia Pacific since 2015, Aucoin writes, and demands from Pacific Fleet and U.S. Pacific Command increased, and readiness declined as a result.  “This was known both to commanders in FDNF and across the Navy,” Aucoin writes. “Through 2016 and early 2017, my staff produced detailed data quantifying the increase in (cruiser and destroyer) operational tasking and demonstrating the consequent decline in executed maintenance and training, which I sent directly to (Pacific Fleet).”  Pacific Fleet agreed that 7th Fleet’s maintenance and training were in trouble, he writes, “yet (7th Fleet) received no substantive relief from tasking or additional resources.”  Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charles Brown said several investigations into what led up the collisions had been undertaken inside and outside the Navy.  “We do not have anything to add to these numerous reviews and investigations,” he said in an email.  Aucoin writes that his command worked to stay focused on executing operations safely and pushing back when they could not fulfill a request from higher up.  “In a few cases, we were able to argue for changes that allowed ships to complete training or maintenance,” he writes. “In many other cases, our arguments and recommendations were either overruled or ignored.”  Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson has said repeatedly since the collisions that commanders need to be able to say no to requests from higher up when their ships are not mission-ready.  The Navy needs to push back when combatant commands ask too much, Aucoin writes.  “It would have been reassuring if the (comprehensive review) had addressed the Navy’s organizational responsibility to act as a check against such increasing demand when divorced from the reality of readiness impacts,” he writes. “While the situation was well known by more senior leaders, this demand went unfiltered and fell to me.”  “I do not understand why our leaders do not push back on the excessive demand on our ships or exhibit more transparency on the true extent of the issues the Navy faces beyond Seventh Fleet,” Aucoin writes.  As 49 sailors had to be cross-decked in Japan to fill gaps on the ships, and five of 11 quartermaster billets were gapped, Aucoin writes that it was “frustrating” to hear of San Diego ships that were so over-manned they had to leave 30 sailors on the pier.  “In addition to a soaring OpTempo, the cumulative effect over time of not having enough people and resorting to cross-decking had a debilitating effect on readiness,” he writes. “We not only lacked overall numbers of people, we also lacked mentors, the men and women with the skills and experience that are vital to raising our next generation of experienced sailors.”  While taking Big Navy to task, Aucoin also points out his own faults near the article’s end.  “While we were able to turn off some taskings, in hindsight, I should have reiterated a ‘no’ when issued ‘force to source orders’ for operational tasking,” he writes. “I accept this mistake. At the same time, in the future I hope our Navy will listen more carefully to our commanders on the scene.”  Seventh Fleet is a hard assignment to fill, due to the rigors of overseas screening and the affects on families, he writes.  “My foremost hope is that my Navy can better support the men and women of the FDNF,” he writes. “Most sailors in FDNF find the mission exhilarating. At the same time, these wonderful people do need reasonable and consistent support for their ships, their families, and their careers.”  Comments?

 

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day April 28th through May 1st 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 9th through 11th 2018

Saying of the Day

 

 

Navy To Receive More Super Hornets

The new DoD budget passed on 09 February 2018 includes a request for additional Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.  Navy Times is reporting a request in President Donald Trump’s new defense budget proposal could add 24 Super Hornets to the Navy’s air fleet and keep a Boeing plant in St. Louis alive, according to a report Thursday by Bloomberg News.  The defense budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected to be formally released on Feb. 12. If confirmed, the request for more Super Hornets would be the largest addition since 2012 and would reverse the Obama administration’s decision to stop buying the aircraft.  The Trump administration has requested 14 Super Hornets, and House and Senate appropriators have proposed adding 10 more, according to Bloomberg. That total of 24 jets happens to be the key number needed to keep Boeing’s plant in St. Louis running.  The plant’s future was believed to be at risk after the Navy committed to adopting the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Hornets.  The Hornets were originally set to retire by 2035, but the Navy was forced to reevaluate that date in 2015 due to persistent delays in the F-35’s development.  The F-35Cs are expected to reach initial operational capacity this year, but the Navy needs additional Hornets to fill its inventory shortage until more of the new jets are purchased.  The Navy has struggled recently with aviation readiness. As of last October, only one-third of the Navy’s Super Hornets were fully mission-capable and ready to flyThe Super Hornet fleet is scheduled to begin service life extension maintenance this year, and the Navy may take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade the Hornets to the more advanced Block III configuration. Fireball note: the upgraded to Block III is certainly warranted as this is the configuration we need moving forward to ensure fleet interoperability across varied carrier strike groups.)  The upgrades would give the Hornets conformal fuel tanks and add to stealth capabilities. Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 9th through 11th 2018”