Back to Basics

Plotting a course to nowhere good

Things have been a bit hectic in my neck of the woods, hence the dearth of posts this summer. But if you are following the news and have any bit of curiosity about what’s going in the surface Navy – specifically, why is it so bad at driving ships? – well, then I didn’t want you to miss the below Navy Times article, appropriately headlined, “Maybe today’s Navy is just not very good at driving ships.

There is so much to be said, and I have too little time to say it. But others can. Here’s the general idea:

After 2003, each young officer was issued a set of 21 CD-ROMs for computer-based training — jokingly called “SWOS in a Box” — to take with them to sea and learn. Young officers were required to complete this instructor-less course in between earning their shipboard qualifications, management of their divisions and collateral duties.

It’s worked out about how you might expect.

The Salty Wog is not intended to be a venue for bitching about being a SWO. That said, there are reasons I chose not to continue down that career path on active duty. The Navy Crimes, er, Navy Times article about sums them up.

Read the whole thing for more.

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Head Call

Hull tech heaven (Navy Times photo)

After years of delays, USS Gerald R. Ford has been commissioned, the revolutionary electromagnetic launch and recovery system seems to work, and all people can talk about are the… bathrooms.

Specifically, the urinals, or lack thereof.

For the first time, every bathroom on the Ford — known throughout military circles as a head — is designed to be “gender-neutral,” meaning all of the urinals have been replaced with flush toilets and stalls, Navy officials say.

There are certain practical benefits to such flexibility, even if a ship’s crew is only about twenty percent female.

But this is not the real reason for the design. I’m going to give away a secret here. When James Cameron made that record-setting dive into the Mariana Trench a few years ago, he discovered Something The World Isn’t Supposed to Know (no, not that city from “The Abyss”): the ocean floor is made up not of rock, nor of sand, but actually of discarded Navy urinals.

Because urinals are the worst.

They are maintenance nightmares. Salt builds up in the pipes and clogs up the system. People spit dip where they shouldn’t. And other factors you’d rather not think about. Anytime you walk into a head, you can expect half the urinals to be inoperative. So what do the hull technicians (ships’ welders and plumbers) do? They pull the urinals off. Lots are removed during planned maintenance periods… others, well, they go to sea and somehow don’t make it back.

Either way, once a ship is commissioned its urinal count begins to steadily diminish. It’s basically a law of physics.

So while the self-righteous people of the world are congratulating the Navy on gender equity or something, and the old salts rail about the days when ships were wood and men were steel and peed in wall-mounted porcelain, all the Navy really did was save its overworked engineers a lot of time and effort down the road.

Historical note: throwing urinals into the sea is a well-established tradition.

Freedom of Information

Everyone has a means of distributing information

Strange as it may seem, most of what you need to know about what’s happening in the world is at your fingertips. If you want to understand the interests of a country, what its goals are, and what it’s thinking, there’s no need to delve into the Top Secret stash of operational details (today there’s one real winner about to get a cold dose of reality regarding that fact). Really, all you have to do is ask. They’ll tell you.

Of note this week, we have the annual report to Congress from the Office of the Secretary of Defense concerning Chinese military and security developments.

Want to know how the Chinese military is structured? Where their fake islands in the South China Sea are? How many troops are located near the Strait of Taiwan? The stated strategic objections of the People’s Republic? U.S. analysis of Chinese intentions? It’s all there – you – yes, you! – can read it.

But don’t take DoD’s word for it. Want to know the Chinese Military Strategy? They’re happy to fill you in – the white paper was released in 2015 for your eager eyes.

Forget China. What about that other big guy we often perceive as a mystery wrapped in an enigma, Russia? Well, I don’t read Russian, but if you do, have fun with this. It’s there for you! For the rest of us, we have an engrossing report by the Office of Naval Intelligence assessing the state of the Russian fleet.

Pretty much anything you want to know, you can. Between that and reading a map, you’ll be pretty much up to speed.

Reserved Sense of Humor

There is not a big industry of Navy Reserve jokes or satire out there – but now and then something good pops up.

WASHINGTON — For at least the past three months, Navy Reserve Commander and current White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has been desperately begging his chain of command to activate him on multi-year-long orders “to anywhere remote,” Duffel Blog has learned.

And when they do appear, you can generally assume it’s in the Duffel Blog.

Highways of the Sea

Maritime power is much trickier than land power for the layperson to understand. Armies use weapons to control the land they stand on; navies cruise around singing to each other, or something – right? No. So, taking advantage of a couple recent events, let’s take a different approach.

Combined arms operations at a maritime choke point

Event one: It’s National Police Week and Washington, D.C., is crawling with cops from around the country. I drove home behind a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy yesterday, which is not a feature of my typical commute.

Event two: For some reason, Hollywood remade CHiPs. Fortunately the box office numbers indicate hardly anyone saw it, so they won’t feel compelled to do that again.

Why is this important?

Because the sea services are basically the highway patrol!

I don’t mean that literally – Posse Comitatus and such, after all – but in the sense that the fundamental purpose of a highway patrol, more so than municipal law enforcement, is the facilitation of commerce and connections across a wide territory. It keeps the roads open and functional. The sea services do the same in their environment.

In most states the highway patrol or state troopers are the only statewide law enforcement agency, so it’s true they spend significant time investigating criminal cases. Nevertheless, most people’s exposure to them is not in a criminal context, but just simple traffic enforcement. The purpose of enforcing safe driving and adherence to rules of the road is, yes, personal safety, but also to keep the roads open, keep the traffic flowing, and keep commerce humming. If you cannot trust that you will survive your daily commute due to unruly traffic-mates, you are unlikely to undertake it. The norms enforced over decades by the highway patrol are what give you the confidence you need. And that confidence is what enables the economic activity that supports us all.

That’s not to say some states and municipalities aren’t capricious or abusive in their manner of implementation. But the fundamental mission is critical.

On the sea, no one has to physically keep the ocean open – water is water, and ships float equally well anywhere. But, still, the world’s coast guards keep the busiest areas marked with buoys and cleared of obstacles – a job fundamentally analogous to transportation agencies ashore and the law enforcement agencies that support them. The world’s navies complement navigational safety by preventing brigandage and piracy of defenseless merchants. Such prevention and deterrence can only be conducted through presence. That presence gives bad actors a reason to stay home, and reassures legitimate mariners that they can come on in; the water’s fine. A navy or coast guard that isn’t visible on the sea lanes isn’t doing its job.

And in a world with a thoroughly global economy, it is up to the largest economic players to provide that global presence. Not even the California Highway Patrol is equipped for that job. But neither is France. Nor China. Nor Germany. Nor Brazil. Sadly, not even the queen’s Royal Navy can sustain such an effort nowadays. However it may grate upon you, America, to carry the weight for all those freeloaders out there, alternatives are lacking.

Without the highway patrol, you’ll have the Fast and Furious crew dominating the interstates with little regard for your safety. Without a forward-deployed navy, you’ll have contested chokepoints, maritime insurance premiums climbing through the roof and more expensive everything.

Fundamentally, the mission of a highway patrol is not to catch bad guys, and the mission of a navy is not to fight wars. Their common mission is to simply allow you and your things to get from place to place unfettered.

And, for the record, none of the four highway patrolmen in my family paid me to say a word of this!

Addendum: Please visit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund or CHP 11-99 Foundation and consider a small donation.

Yemen: Your Future Case Study

Latest update: watch for a coalition advance in the west, focused on the Red Sea port of Hodeida.

Yemen, right where we left it (The Economist)

Yemen will continue to be a featured topic here at The Salty Wog. And why not? Terrible as everything about the Yemen situation is, those involved in military education will never escape it, as this theater can provide the basis for just about any conceivable case study. May as well get started now.

Keeping up with the news today will be a big assist for your Joint Professional Military Education tomorrow!

Unfortunately.

Tales from the Front

Not the Onion. Nor the Duffel Blog. Sometimes these things just happen.

BEHOLD: “Wild boars overrun Islamic State position, kill 3 militants

“Three Islamic State militants setting up an ambush in a bitterly contested area of northern Iraq were killed by a herd of stampeding boars, local leaders say.

“…[T]he militants were hiding on the edge of a field about 50 miles southwest of Kirkuk when the boars overwhelmed them Sunday.”

And thank you to USA Today’s headline writer for writing one of the most informative-yet-sardonic headlines you’ll ever see.

But don’t miss perhaps the most important part of the story: the counter-ISIS coalition has new members. And they’re hungry.

WWI Movie Night: “The Lost Battalion”

Thanks for the memories, Willy

This brief note will be our contribution to the great weight of material noting America’s entry into the Great War a century ago this month. If you want to see a 90-minute film that captures the nature of the fight as well as the U.S. Army of the period, it’s hard to improve upon “The Lost Battalion,” made for TV in the late 90s (I think) but really very good. I had a memory of seeing some of it when it was new – almost 20 years ago – and then I re-watched it last year. It holds up.

Thankfully a random YouTuber has made the whole thing available for your benefit. Here’s hoping the link continues to work!