Admiral Nelson has instructions for you.
Who was this Nelson guy, you ask? This is who:
Admiral Nelson has instructions for you.
Who was this Nelson guy, you ask? This is who:
Rodrigo Duterte is no Emilio Aguinaldo, but he sure can stir things up.
In what I suppose is the capstone of the past few weeks’ bellicosity toward the West, Philippine President Duterte made his grand visit to China, who feted him with parades, banquets and all the great perks of a state visit normally reserved for only the most important allies, or possibly Elvis.
The sure-to-be-most-quoted presidential line from the event was “I announce my separation from the United States. I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you [China] for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”
Interesting use of the first-person pronoun; given the depth of Filipino-American connections over the decades, I’m skeptical such policies will survive his administration (so many U.S. veterans live there we have a VA clinic in Manila!). Nevertheless, it’s something we have to deal with in the here and now.
Given this opening, opportunity has immediately come knocking for China – Typhoon Haima just slammed into the northern Philippine islands with gusts up to 176 mph. As of this writing, the storm is still active and actually is heading towards the Chinese mainland.
Sounds like a good time to haul out the hospital ship China is so proud of, as well as any other assets that can support a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) mission to the PI. Duterte’s going to ask for help; China can answer the call.
No doubt the U.S. will try to do the same, as the Japan-based Seventh Fleet is often called to do. But we can only go if we’re invited, and even if that happens, it’s doubtful the Philippine government will offer much in the way of thanks – which makes this problematic. Foreign aid does not function like almsgiving, where Jesus tells his followers to give in secret, and not let the left hand know what the right is doing. In international relations, there is no sense in providing humanitarian assistance if no one sees you do it! While there is intrinsic good to feeding the hungry, such disasters are also (rather cynically) like an Oscar party – a place to see and be seen. You can bet the Chinese will be seen rather prominently, whereas the U.S., if brought in to help at all, will be portrayed by the host government as having a muted presence.
Don’t worry – it’s nothing SMOD can’t fix.
My only reaction is are you kidding me?
And I’m not referring to Dave Roberts’ decision to intentionally load the bases with a walk during a tie game in the bottom of the 8th inning in Game 1 of the NLCS. The Cubs made him pay for that, rather grandly.
No, I mean, here I am, minding my own business (i.e. baseball), and I read the Houthis loosed another anti-ship cruise missile at the USS Mason!
Come on, people!
This is getting so wild, it is tough keeping track! Toward that end, here is a roundup of recent events (with background here). Depending on what happens, I may run updates periodically. But I hope it doesn’t get that far.
Oct. 1: UAE-operated HSV Swift is targeted and hit by a shore-launched ASCM.
Oct. 9: USS Mason and USS Ponce are targeted but successfully defend themselves.
Oct. 12: USS Mason is fired upon once more, but again without damage. UPDATE: Apparently the amphibious transport USS San Antonio was also targeted in this incident, according to an Oct. 13 note from the CO on their very own Facebook page. Judging from future posts, which show San Antonio transiting the Suez Canal on Oct. 16, the ship was just transiting through the strait en route to the Mediterranean and not part of any ongoing operation there.
Oct. 13: USS Nitze, also in the Bab al-Mandeb area, fires Tomahawk cruise missiles at radar sites associated with the missile launches. Also, Iran says it is sending ships to the Red Sea to check in on things. You know, they just happened to have a warship ready for a long-term out-of-area deployment and a logistics vessel on call to keep it fueled and fed. Purely coincidentally.
Oct. 15: USS Mason is attacked a third time, but again performs in a fashion to make us proud.
Combat Action Ribbons for everybody!
The Salty Wog has avoided certain topics because I didn’t want to comment on anything to which I was a party. But at this point, I’ve been away from CENTCOM for a while, have no direct knowledge of what’s going on right now, and am confident that nothing said here will get anyone fired or imprisoned.
So, with that out of the way…
So, Yemen was never a nice place exactly. After de-Ottomanization in 1918 and decolonization by the British in 1967, the territory split into two countries (North and South Yemen) and eventually unified in 1990. But hostility, skirmishes and occasional wars never really stopped. In 2014, the Houthi faction we hear so much about today overran the capital of Sana’a, and the current conflict really got going. President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi of the internationally-recognized government lingered for a little while, but finally fled across the Saudi border in early 2015.
At that point, what we had was a civil war about internal grievances – not necessarily anyone else’s concern. The Houthi side contains large segments of the country’s armed forces, and is headed by the former president of Yemen (Ali Abdullah Saleh), who transferred power to his successor, Hadi, as part of a UN-sponsored bargain in one of the less-heralded moments of the “Arab Spring” movement. But when Hadi left for Saudi Arabia, he did a wise thing (from his point of view) and requested help from the Saudis and Gulf Cooperation Council nations, knowing they would not appreciate an uptick in unrest right on their border. The request was honored, and forces from Saudi Arabia began to get deeply involved in spring of 2015 in support of the legitimate Yemeni government.
However, Iran, always looking to put a stick in the eye of its petrostate Sunni neighbors, saw an opportunity to excel and began shipping arms and providing other tacit support to the Houthis. Beyond a desire to stoke fires on the Saudis’ flanks to distract them from happenings on their Arabian Gulf coast, the Iranians share a common Shi’a background with the Houthis, which counts for something, too.
We’ve stopped a lot of those weapons shipments – I can claim to have played at least a small role in doing so. But undoubtedly many have gotten through.
Now, hold onto your hats. With a major civil war raging mainly in the western half of the country since early 2015, the eastern half became essentially ungoverned. The inevitable result was the appearance of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State-Yemen (IS-Y) to fill the void. Both tried to become not just terrorist groups, but actual mini-states in control of territory – while, of course, being in conflict with each other as well as the warring government parties and international partners.
With the home government unable to control its own territory, the neighbors, the United Arab Emirates foremost among them, were brought in to deal with the terrorist groups.
So, in essence, there are two separate-but-interrelated wars occurring in Yemen – one in the west against rebels, supported by Saudi Arabia, and one in the east against terrorists, supported by the UAE.
Well, with Iran gaining influence on the flank of a staunch U.S. ally, and terrorist groups occupying coastal cities, there was really no way the U.S. could avoid some kind of role. No specifics about what that role is will be presented here, of course, but let’s look at some common-sense objectives (not in order of precedence) and then you can do the math.
Objective No. 1: Mitigate Iranian influence; since they’re pouring gasoline on the fire, we’ll try to cut off the flow.
Objective No. 2: End terrorist usurpation of civil authority by eliminating their territorial gains, and prevent them from striking abroad.
Objective No. 3: Did I mention Yemen is located on a critical international chokepoint?
Yemen lies right on the Bab al-Mandeb. You have probably never heard of this strait until this week. So, think of it this way: you know of the Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Well, the Bab al-Mandeb (or the BAM, as they say), is the access to and from the south end of the Red Sea. For long-haul traffic, Suez and the BAM are essentially one long canal between the Med and the Indian Ocean. And that’s kind of important. Dozens of ships, millions of tons of cargo, and millions of barrels of oil pass through the BAM – 18 miles wide at its narrowest point – every day.
So it’s in everyone’s interest to keep it open.
And the Houthis’ great trump card is their ability to close it.
How can a ragtag band of rebels in a dirt-poor country do such a thing?
Now, the exact weapon that did this is not yet (publicly) identified, but as the ship was out at sea, it is assumed to be some kind of anti-ship cruise missile launched from land, very possibly from the back of a truck that scooted as soon as it was launched. Weapons like this, generally of a Russian and Chinese variety, have been proliferating for the last few years and it’s been just a matter of time until we saw one get used. Hezbollah loosed one about a decade ago against an Israeli warship, killing four crew, but it hasn’t really been repeated until now. Cruise missiles don’t give the Houthis the ability to “close” the strait per se – it’s not like a mine field or steel cable that physically blocks it – but they can raise the threat level to a point where nobody wants to try.
This particular vessel was operated by the UAE and targeted for that reason (interestingly, in its past life, this Australian-built ship spent several years with the U.S. – I saw either this one or a sister ship in person in Guam once). Despite the targeted nature of this strike, the Houthis have nevertheless cracked the seal – they have shown they have the capability and the will to expand the war into the BAM. Merchant shipping may not be intentionally targeted, but do you think they might be sweating at Lloyd’s and the other marine insurance offices? Some of these missile seekers home in on the first thing they see along a certain vector…
That was October 1.
The crew of a guided-missile destroyer fired three missiles to defend themselves and another ship after being attacked on Sunday in the Red Sea by two presumed cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi-forces, USNI News has learned.
During the attack against USS Mason (DDG-87), the ship’s crew fired the missiles to defend the guided-missile destroyer and nearby USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) from two suspected cruise missiles fired from the Yemini shore, two defense officials told USNI News.
Mason launched two Standard Missile-2s (SM-2s) and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) to intercept the two missiles that were launched about 7 P.M. local time. In addition to the missiles, the ship used its Nulka anti-ship missile decoy, the sources confirmed. Mason was operating in international waters north of the strait of Bab el-Mandeb at the time of the attack.
There is a world of implications wrapped up in these three paragraphs. First and foremost, the Houthis have never (as far as I know) directly attacked U.S. assets or personnel before. Direct action against the U.S. invites reprisals. Are they trying to suck the U.S. in deeper? Or, alternatively, do they think they’ll get a pass from a lame-duck President? What is Iran’s role?
Second, for students of naval history, the scenario that occurred this weekend has literally NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. We’ve talked about it; we’ve trained for it; we’ve equipped ships for it. But it has never actually happened. As mentioned above, real-world launchings of anti-ship cruise missiles at least have a precedent, but no ship has ever shot back. It remains to be seen if the cruise missiles malfunctioned, were downed by the Mason’s electronic capabilities, or were actually shot out of the sky. But you can be certain that every detail of this engagement will be taught as a case study for decades. Everyone involved will be interviewed multiple times by very smart people, and the CO will get a very nice FITREP bullet.
So, as the Western defense establishment continues to wrap its head around the problem our navy no longer calls Anti-Access/Area Denial, this is a nice confidence-builder.
What a week.
Big Navy – that is, the Secretary, Chief of Naval Operations and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy – recently announced major changes to enlisted career paths. Frankly, the topic is a little esoteric for the audience here as I understand it, but the process produced a couple “change management” notes that you can put in your back pocket for later (courtesy of an in-depth article in Navy Times).
As brief background, just consider that certain naval job titles – boatswain’s mate, gunner’s mate, quartermaster, yeoman – have existed since the founding of the U.S. Navy in the 18th Century. However, as of two weeks ago, those titles are now eliminated for official purposes and all enlisted Sailors are to be addressed simply by their rank. Whatever the merits, this is a major shock.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t Show the Boss a Throw-Away Option
Often, when people have to present the boss with courses of action, they’ll put two or three that are reasonable and/or achievable, and then something outlandish just to pad their overall numbers. Every leadership or staff officer course, ever, will say not to do that – but of course it still happens.
Secretary of the Navy Mabus requested options for eliminating the word “man” from job titles (never mind the gender-neutral definition of “man” in such contexts; not everyone can be troubled to read a dictionary). So, Navy leadership provided him four options, ranging from simply changing certain jobs’ names to the vast reform actually selected.
Does anyone get the feeling SECNAV picked the throw-away?
Lesson No. 2: Transition Time – Please
This policy went into effect the day it was announced, with no warning. Who would ever advise an organization to do that? With no time to prepare or gain any understanding of how to manage their future careers (not to mention the cultural impact), there is rather significant pushback from the enlisted force. Despite the high-level cover, the lack of grassroots support leaves open the possibility for some major revisions. The immediacy of the announcement and policy change – the details of which are still very much up in the air – undercut its legitimacy, and it will be very difficult to ever restore it to move this thing forward.
It is worth noting, some goodness follows under the headline-making changes. Additional career options and training pipelines for enlisted members are positive. Hopefully that doesn’t get lost as the rating changes go back and forth.
Lastly, I don’t know if there are any publicly-held tattoo companies, but if so, their stocks have probably taken a dive lately!
It’s drill weekend and I’m camped out in Norfolk for some quality time with other Reservists. These weekends are always a fine opportunity to break away from the “real world”, if only for 48 hours or so.
But the real world always reaches in and grabs my thoughts, no matter my intentions. So, here are a few things that have happened in recent weeks and some connections between them.
First, Senators McCain and Reed wrote a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations expressing their, uh, concern about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. Their concern is not unjustified – you can check in with CDR Salamander about the current status of the seven ships in commission, one of which is actually available for tasking. The Navy knows stuff isn’t going well. Just a few days prior to the Senate letter, the admiral in charge of surface ships released a directive completely revamping the system for manning and employing these ships, in an effort to salvage some kind of operational value from them.
In essence, these small ships are not doing very well at basic tasks like completing transits under their own power, much less accomplishing the missions they are designed for. That mission is to control the seas near shore; its shallow(ish) draft means it can go places and do things a destroyer or cruiser can’t. That implies that a LCS will generally remain in a certain region for a long period instead of crossing oceans. Which is good, because it’s a small ship with fuel-hungry gas turbine engines, and can’t carry enough fuel to stay out for terribly long.
Now let’s shift gears.
Recently-inaugurated Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has announced that upcoming joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises will be the last of their kind, as he tries to strengthen ties with China and Russia.
Well, how ‘bout that?
The Philippines are sort of important in U.S. planning for contingencies in the Western Pacific. What happens if they back out of previous agreements? Where are our bases in that region? Where does the logistics train go to camp? Who do they invite in our place?
And what good is the short-ranged LCS in that region if it can’t use bases in the Philippines or pull supplies from there?
Are we building a surface fleet that can’t even get to, much less operate in, the new strategic environment taking shape? After all, it’s a long way from Singapore to Manila…
Let’s add a third thing to the mix.
Neither presidential candidate cares. One of them knows nothing, understands nothing, and cares nothing for the topic, except to make braggadocio-laden statements backed with little but smug vapors. The other has at least a little knowledge of international relations but no particular will to arrest American loss of prestige, and certainly no instinct for reasonable policy if past performance is taken at face value.
So, we have a strategic environment that is rapidly changing; a force that, even on its best of days, is reaching a point where it simply doesn’t match that environment; and top leadership that Will. Not. Adjust. Course.
And remember, this is not a boutique issue – sea power and freedom of the seas IS THE BASIS OF THE ENTIRE WORLD ECONOMY. Shortchange it at your peril.
That is why the Salty Wog heartily endorses the only candidate with a foreign policy that is understandable, achievable and sustainable: SMOD 2016.
There’s some official word out for Reservists and the impact of the new “blended” retirement system now. Actually, it’s a month old, but I noticed it just the other day on the Navy Reserve Homeport site. Forgive my tardiness, but I hope I can at least provide some amplification.
They posted a very handy chart showing the basics of the program. There is nothing shocking, but I was anxious this summer to see if anything would come down because in all the initial press, only the Active Component was referenced – there was nothing specifically about how the Reserve Component would be affected. The Department of Defense has now rectified this shortfall.
My concern was this – since the baseline of military pay is so much lower for a Reservist than an active member, matching five percent TSP contributions are five percent of a much smaller number. It was conceivable things might work a bit differently for a Reservist, with that in mind. But it looks like the fundamentals remain the same: there is still a reduced annuity, matching contributions to the 401(k)-style system, and a bonus check at the 12-year mark.
So a few notes on each, in the order presented above:
Here’s how the annuity calculation works. If you are a Reservist, you derive your years of service by adding up all the points you have and dividing by 360. Then you take that number, multiply it by 2.5, put a percent sign after the result, and multiply it by the average monthly pay of your last 36 months of service (using the active duty payscale). The new change is that the 2.5 becomes a 2.0, so the final result will be 20 percent smaller than before.
Let’s do a couple scenarios under the old system and new, using simple numbers for easy math. Let’s say someone earned 5,000 points in a career and ended his career with an average base pay of $6,000 a month (had he been on active duty).
5000 / 360 = 13.89 years of service
13.89 x 2.5 = 34.725 percent of base pay will be monthly annuity
34.725% x $6000 = $2083.50 monthly
5000 / 360 = 13.89 years of service
13.89 x 2.0 = 27.78 percent of base pay will be monthly annuity
27.78% x $6000 = $1666.80 monthly
The question is, can our member with 5,000 points make up a difference of $416.70 a month with contributions from a Reserve salary? That takes us to…
Thrift Savings Plan
So, it should go without saying that you should max out your contributions if your employer is willing to match them. If you don’t, you are voluntarily turning down a part of your compensation package – the money has already been set aside and all you have to do to get it is invest in yourself. If you don’t do anything and the military just does its obligatory one percent contribution, then, no you won’t make up that gap. So this section is not for you.
Simple math again. I’m going to assume a service member who makes $10,000 each year from Reserve service, including monthly drills and twelve days of Annual Training. Oddly, this member was never terribly junior but also never gets a raise over twenty years, so we’ll call her average. If this average member contributes five percent of that year’s pay, it equals $500, which the government matches for an even $1000.
So now we’ve got $1,000 a year going into the pot. Assuming an annual rate of return of three percent over twenty years, this will provide a hair over $27,000 at the time of retirement. But with Reservists being what they are, it’ll be another twenty years until our average members turns 60 and can draw from it. With that additional time and three percent annual returns, the member will have $49,000 to draw from.
But even then, it falls short. Under the contrived circumstances presented, estimated monthly income from the $49,000 saved would be around $267, which is about $150 short of where we’d like to be.
Lesson: Don’t do the minimum. Here’s how it looks for someone who spent four years on active duty plus two year-long mobilizations, with $40,000 in base pay each year. That’s an additional $4,000 in contributions each year, times six – an extra $24,000 in principle, and a more realistic profile for a great many Reservists. If this compounds at three percent until age 60, the member would hold $92,000!
And guess what – for this more realistic member, it not only meets but exceeds the threshold we established earlier, at over $500 a month.
Unintentionally or not, it looks like the blended retirement system is a way of tacitly motivating Reservists to participate more.
Bonus (Continuation Pay)
At the twelve-year mark, members under the blended system have the option to receive a small bonus if they elect to remain in service another four years. Not much to say about this, except that it would make some nice additional principle you can add to a retirement account (whether TSP or another one)… especially if you’re only doing the minimum Reserve commitment.
So what’s the bottom line?
First, my numbers are unrealistic in that they don’t account for inflation and reflect no known species of servicemember, and I agree. But neither were they made up out of thin air, and I believe still help tell the story. (And my calculations were done on bankrate.com, but I don’t where my business school notes are, and I wasn’t going to take the time to find them. So, there.)
Second, retirement from the Reserve will be more dependent upon what you put into the Reserve than before. If you are planning on this being a major source of support in your dotage, then don’t skimp on your efforts now. Max out your points every year and spend some decent time on active duty in order to build up some good TSP contributions.
Third, if you’re a Reservist hopefully you have some other form of work to occupy your time and pay the bills. Let that be your primary means of support. The benefits of being a Reservist provide a wonderful cushion and service opens many doors – but it is still just a part-time job. Ensure you plan for what you do on the outside to be enough to see you through.
On this weekend I am enjoying my first weekend in 11 months as a drilling Reservist, attending a class in Baltimore. I am at the Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) located just outside the gates of Fort McHenry, former home of the original Star-Spangled Banner.
Of course my thoughts are on another such flag on this day.
September 11, 2001, was my fourth day in the Navy, assuming you count ROTC — and, as I was aboard a Navy base for orientation week and I hadn’t actually started college yet, for these purposes I do. For better or worse, the terror attacks of that day have affected every single day since and have had immense impact on the course of countless lives, including my own. As I drill in this NOSC that is now well-defended on account of 9/11’s series of sequels, its effects right here at home are crystal clear.
It is a mark of progress, I suppose, that 15 years on, 9/11 is more or less just another day in America, if slightly more somber than those adjacent. But as the first world event to greet me as I entered adulthood, I will never be fully comfortable with that.
If you know not who this is, read on.
Happy Battle of Lake Erie Day!
Terminal leave continues to march along. On Friday I will officially have my last day on active duty – that sure arrived quickly. After that I return to a drilling status and, eventually, a paying job. I’d like a bit more time before that starts. For decompression, you know.
What that means is we’ve done some family travel to places accessible from the National Capitol Region, including the fair city of Philadelphia. For purposes of this blog, Philly is most notable for being home to USS Olympia, commissioned in 1895 as the sixth steel cruiser in the U.S. Navy. I visited several years ago and attempted to take the tour, but was denied due to air conditioning issues on a very hot day. This week, the weather was temperate and I was permitted to embark, which was basically like Christmas in September for this very eager SWO.
Some pictures and thoughts follow.
First, here’s a view of the ship from the river side, so you know what we’re talking about (courtesy of Wikipedia):
In this picture, the bow is to the left and the stern on the right – the design is such that a novice might not be able to tell. Olympia is 344 feet long and displaces 5,870 tons, putting the 1890s cruiser about 200 feet shorter and 4,000 tons lighter than today’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers. Built in San Francisco, Olympia led the U.S. squadron at the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, in which the Spanish fleet in the Philippines was sunk and Spanish influence in the Pacific essentially ended. You may agree there is at least a trifle of historic value in this vessel. (Bonus historic points: The battle gave us the namesakes of two current Navy destroyers, USS Dewey and USS Gridley)
When boarding this steel ship, the first thing to strike a visitor is, “Wow, that’s a lot of wood.” Welcome to Officers’ Country (though I’m not sure if that’s what they called it at the time). The very wide corridor aft of the wardroom is lined with officers’ staterooms.
Forward of the staterooms is the wardroom, placed roughly amidships on what today we would call the main or first deck. Warships of the time were lined with medium-caliber weapons, and even the wardroom, where officers dined and entertained, played its part:
But apparently even in the 1890s ensigns could be a rowdy lot, so if their seniors decided to banish them to the kids’ table, they had a place for that, too:
In comparison, here is enlisted berthing:
One of many random curiosities along the way is a brief narrative of what they did before Oscar came along:
Moving on, the coal-fired steam plant is not on exhibit, but you can at least glance down into it and admire the ability of Olympia’s firemen to conduct wipers. Wow, that plant is clean (it helps to be a museum).
Something we thankfully haven’t dealt with since the transition to oil is disposal of solid combustion byproducts: ash (now we just dump it all directly into the atmosphere – much easier). So at several locations throughout the ship are ash hoists, available for pulling ash out of the burners and keeping the boilers clean.
What then? Don’t show this to your Environmental Readiness Officer…
The tour then leads to the superstructure and gun deck, on what today we’d call the 01-level. Here’s the breech of a five-inch gun:
The gun deck was also a crew living space. So they could sleep securely.
This is the admiral’s cabin, which, all in all, looks pretty nice. Just to the right of the frame, with a couple components visible, is his own five-inch gun. I’m sure the carpet was there to prevent dings in the deck when it ejected spent powder cartridges.
Near the admiral’s and captain’s cabins was a Marine stateroom, in which this helmet was visible. Did people actually wear these outside of the Reich? This helmet might be the only thing in the tour I had truly never seen nor heard of before.
Of course, eventually you can get yourself topside, where my native Northern California self could find some pride.
Tourists cannot step onto the bow or get very near the eight-inch guns, but this is a good view of how the forecastle and turret are set up. A five-inch gun is visible at bottom.
That view was from the starboard bridge wing, but it was near the starboard engine order telegraph where history was made:
So, yeah, go see these guys:
No 121-year-old steel warship will continue to float in saltwater indefinitely. Visit before it rusts out!