Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The U.S. Navy and Presidential Campaigns: Size Matters

This article appears in its original form at Offiziere.ch.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS George Washington (CVN 73) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) are pierside at Naval Air Station North Island while conducting a hull-swap. The force structure change allows George Washington to undergo its mid-life refueling complex overhaul and Ronald Reagan to support the security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young, August 18, 2015).
                              (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young, August 18, 2015).

Another Presidential election cycle is upon U.S. citizens, and the chorus of inputs regarding national security and naval policy has already started. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, and former governor Mike Huckabee all advocated for an increase in naval assets as part of their potential national security strategy. And, as expected, critics point out the perceived uselessness of a large Navy. To summarize using the words of the current U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama, “we also have less horses and bayonets […] It’s not a game of battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our capabilities?'”. However, these arguments miss the point entirely. A larger Navy is necessary to reduce the strain on already overworked assets and maintain presence around the world.
A common critical reply to the call for more ships falls in the capability category. Many critics point to technologically advanced weapons systems in today’s fleet, able to fight their way through any battle and emerge victorious. With hundreds of missile tubes, embarked helicopters, deck guns, and the like, all the U.S. have to do is to top-load the current fleet with the latest and greatest weapons systems and America’s Navy is ready for war. Not even close.
With regard to weapons systems, the U.S. Navy fields some of the world’s most outdated equipment and is being outpaced by its potential enemies. Outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert recently predicted a shortfall in weapons systems in just five years – including torpedoes and several types of missiles. Also, the U.S. Navy fields one of the oldest and irrelevant anti-ship missiles in service, the Harpoon. It’s limited range and antiquated guidance system pales in comparison to Chinese “carrier killer missiles” (Dong-Feng 21D) and several fielded by Iranian forces.
Of course, it all comes down to size: “The U.S. Navy is bigger than the next 13 navies combined! Why do we need more if we’re already the largest in the world by such a big margin?” This argument is flawed in several ways. For one, the naval size argument is based on gross tonnage; China’s navy is more numerous than the U.S. Navy, but with smaller and lighter ships. Also, most navies lack a requirement to defend national interests around the world like the United States, and their ships are not built for ocean transits or strong sea states that accompany these deployments. A large number of them are tasked with defending their nations’ littoral areas and coastlines – so there is no requirement for worldwide deployments and large numbers of heavy ships. The rest of the world may have smaller, lighter fleets, but they are built for different purposes than the U.S. Navy.

The bottom line, however, is this: The Navy is stretched entirely too thin. The current fleet of roughly 285 ships conducts constant deployments to the South China Sea, Middle East, and Mediterranean. Deployments have already been extended for most Carrier Strike Group elements well beyond the normal 6-7 months, and extended and accelerated deployments put an added material strain on ships in desperate need of maintenance. Sequestration already forced the cancellation of two dozen ship availabilities, and these units continued to operate without the required upkeep. Advanced weaponry is definitely cool, but it doesn’t matter much when your unit is too broken to stay on station and use those weapons.
The Navy’s first responders, forward deployed forces in Japan, Europe, and the Middle East, fare the worst. Due to their high operational tempo in volatile regions, maintenance and upkeep are regularly pushed aside in order to add maritime security patrols. With limited numbers of ships in these locations, large numbers of ships with maintenance problems will create a gap in patrols in these locations – there is already a two month gap in aircraft carrier deployment in the Persian Gulf, severely hampering air operations against the terrorist organisation “Islamic State“. If forward deployed vessels in strategically vital areas are allowed to deploy until breakdown, what are the chances for the rest of the fleet?
“Doing more with less” is a shortsighted strategy that will only work in the short term. Very soon, the Navy will be forced to do less with less when skipped maintenance availabilities and rapid repeat deployments render the fleet non-mission capable due to degraded material condition. The fleet that is already stretched thin at 285 ships will be stretched even thinner when they are forced into emergent maintenance periods and endure long overdue repairs and upgrades. It’s time to shed the complacent attitude surrounding naval ship numbers – adding more vessels to the Naval Register is the only way to ensure constant naval presence in the world’s volatile regions.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Abadi's Blame Game

"To be honest, we need a lot of political work on the part of the coalition countries. We need an explanation why there are so many terrorists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Egypt ... European countries. If it is due to the political situation in Iraq, why are Americans, French and German (fighters) in Iraq?"

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi opened verbal fire on his coalition allies yesterday during talks in Paris. He blames the coalition for lack of progress against the Islamic State (IS) on a lack of military involvement by the coalition, and as referenced by the above quote, a lack of political involvement. Abadi's blame-shifting misses the point, however. It's not only the coalition; it's the ethnic divide.

To be fair, the U.S. and coalition partners are partially to blame for the current state of Iraq. Disbanding the Iraqi Army and hunting down Ba'athist political operatives wasted a tremendous opportunity to utilize seasoned Army commanders to rebuild a dedicated and trusted military force and use politicians to create a constitution and political structure appealing and fair to all Iraqis. The radicalization of these segments of the Iraqi government is also one of the reasons IS is so strong militarily - experienced troops with deep knowledge of tribal loyalties and geography.

However, a bigger issue stems from the marginalization of the large population of Sunnis by the Shiite-dominated government. The lack of national cohesiveness and outright discrimination gave rise to a radicalized Sunni population with no desire to cooperate with a government that hates them.

The lack of a ground offensive and a somewhat ineffective air campaign in Iraq are topics for another conversation. Abadi's comments are ignorant of the obvious recent history of Iraq and the mistakes that led to the current conflict. His attempt to shift blame was weak and quite transparent. The focus of the Paris talks are to repair the Sunni-Shiite relationship, an endeavor that will bear more fruit than the blame game.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Integrate and Assimilate: The Case Against Tougher Anti-Terror Laws

In the wake of last week’s massacre at the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, tougher anti-terror laws have been proposed in France and elsewhere in Europe. However, tougher laws aren’t the answer; they’re actually part of the problem. Oppressive laws targeting Muslims will further alienate an already angry and isolated demographic and give the impression that European nations are hostile to Muslims. Instead, Europe needs stronger assimilation policies to prevent future acts of terror and make their nations more inclusive.

France’s already tough anti-terror laws may have spared the Fifth Republic from a 9/11-style attack, but it is not immune to homegrown terrorists committing massacres on a smaller scale. In actuality, the government’s suspicion of Muslim immigrants has isolated the Muslim community. Suburban communities have become safe enclaves for Muslims, evolving into suburban ghettoes as a result of discrimination and unfair housing practices. As a result, young, underemployed residents fail to assimilate to the culture that is blatantly unwilling to accept them. They stew in their anger, stoked by fringe activists in their communities or those found via the internet. This is the seed of homegrown terror.

This problem isn’t strictly French, either.  A lack of immigrant assimilation in Belgium resulted in large numbers of impoverished Muslim turning to extremism. The Belgian situation is very similar to France: Isolated Muslim neighborhoods, well-supported and anti-immigrant political parties, and laws banning the public wear of religious garb. It’s no surprise more foreign fighters in Syria have come from Belgium than anywhere else, and it will take more than a tough law enforcement stance against terrorism to solve the problem.

A great lesson in assimilation and acceptance of immigrants can be found next door, in Germany. Until very recently, “Germanness” was defined as one who was German both by birth and by blood, and second-generation immigrants were not eligible for citizenship. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has worked hard to erase this concept of national identity that alienated Muslim immigrants. While far from perfect, Germany now has a welcoming policy towards Muslim immigrants and their path to citizenship.

The German PEGIDA protests could be an excuse for European Muslims to continue their isolation and radicalization. To isolated and frustrated Muslims, groups like PEGIDA are a prime example that the West hates Muslims, and radicalization of young, angry Muslims shouldn’t be a surprise. However, Chancellor Merkel and the German government have condemned the protests as contrary to the character of the German people, and that Muslims, along with all immigrants, are woven into the fabric of German society and culture.

Tougher anti-terror laws that cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community will only make the homegrown extremism problem worse. Instead of targeting an entire community based on the actions of a few, European governments should work to include all immigrant groups as a part of their national framework. As the cases of France and Belgium have shown, tough anti-terror laws don’t stop extremism, and have pushed more and more Muslims towards a violent solution to their problems. Messages of integration and acceptance of immigrant communities is the best way to avoid another tragedy.

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