America’s Navy

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A great deal of ink has been spilled documenting the struggles the U.S. Navy deals with in attempting to fulfill its worldwide commitments with a dwindling number of ships.

Indeed, China now boasts a navy that is large than America’s, something that we unthinkable as recently as a decade ago.

I was recently drawn to a thoughtful article written by a former U.S. Navy officer who is now a U.S. Congressman. Here is how she began her article, “Look to the 1980s to Inform the Fleet of Today.”

When I was a naval officer, my ships always had a plan when we left port for where we were going, how we would get there, and what we would do when we arrived. While that remains true of individual ships in the Navy, it’s not true of the Navy as a whole today. The Navy lacks a comprehensive maritime strategy that defines what the Navy needs to do, how it needs to do it, the resources required, and how to manage risk if those resources aren’t available. The Navy had a strategy that did these things in the past. The maritime strategy of the 1980s articulated a clear vision for the Navy’s purpose and how Navy leaders planned to achieve it. The nation would be well-served by the Navy’s developing such a strategy again.

I entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 and was part of a new generation of officers who assumed the watch after the fall of the Soviet Union. We were the beneficiaries of a nation that had a clear and defensible maritime strategy, an administration that provided the vision, a Congress that funded it, and a Navy that executed it. Throughout my career, I deployed on both the Navy’s oldest and newest ships, but they were all designed for the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

Want more? Here is a link to the War on the Rocks article

Feeding the Artificial Intelligence App

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When people speak about cutting-edge technologies, the conversation typically goes to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
These are awesome technologies, but are of no use without the data that feeds them. And for the U.S. military, there is no cheap “digital exhaust” as there is in the commercial world, the data must be gathered, and sensors must do the heavy lifting.
In our article here, winner of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association 2021 Cyber Edge Writing Contest, we suggest ways that the U.S. DoD can reorient its thinking to be a needed emphasis on sensors and data.
https://www.afcea.org/content/ai-hype-ai-proof?utm_source=Informz&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Informz%20Email&_zs=Usj1d1&_zl=t2Kk7#

China at Sea

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In the late 1990s I had the honor of leading the United States delegation for military-to-military talks with the People’s Liberation Army, Navy (the PLAN).

Our group visited Chinese naval bases and back then, China’s navy was not much of a force. That has changed dramatically in the ensuing two decades.

That’s why I found a recent article, “China’s navy has more ships than the US. Does that matter?” so interesting. Here is how it begins:

Exactly if and when the increasing antagonism between United States and China will boil over into full-on conflict remains anybody’s guess.

But for now, one thing is as clear as the aqua-blue waters that lap up on the shores of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea: Beijing’s naval fleet is larger than that of the U.S. Navy.
Citing the Office of Naval Intelligence, a Congressional Research Service report from March notes that the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, was slated to have 360 battle force ships by the end of 2020, dwarfing the U.S. fleet of 297 ships.

Such numbers are hard to pinpoint because the PLAN doesn’t release public reports on its future shipbuilding efforts like the U.S. Navy does. But according to the CRS, China is on pace to have 425 battle force ships by 2030. Sheer size and numbers carry a quality all their own, and a numerical advantage would be of benefit in a small battlespace like the Taiwan Strait, some China watchers say.

Still, others note that because the U.S. Navy has been doing this a lot longer than the growing Chinese force and is aided by the naval might of America’s allies in the region, the U.S. retains key advantages that extend beyond any mere hull tally.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

China Rising

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Last month I reported on the Director of National Intelligence Council Global Trends report, looks far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence. What this report – which represents the collective efforts of all the Nation’s intelligence agencies – highlights is the fact that China is America’s most worrisome adversary.

Few have time to read the comprehensive Global Trends report, and that is why I found a summary by Julian Barnes so compelling. Here is how he begins:

China’s effort to expand its growing influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States, according to a major annual intelligence report released on Tuesday, which also warned of the broad national security challenges posed by Moscow and Beijing.

The report does not predict a military confrontation with either Russia or China, but it suggests that so-called gray-zone battles for power, which are meant to fall short of inciting all-out war, will intensify with intelligence operations, cyberattacks and global drives for influence.

The report predicts more tensions in the South China Sea, as Beijing continues to intimidate rivals in the region. It also predicts that China will press the government of Taiwan to move forward with unification and criticize efforts by the United States to bolster engagement with Taipei. But the report stopped short of predicting any kind of direct military conflict.

“We expect that friction will grow as Beijing steps up attempts to portray Taipei as internationally isolated and dependent on the mainland for economic prosperity, and as China continues to increase military activity around the island,” the report said.

Want more? Here is a link to the NYT article

Whither America?

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The world was changing dramatically before Covid-19 hit early last year, and the pandemic has accelerated those changes.

What does all this mean for how America deals with this changed world? I wonder about that subject, and that is why I enjoyed Andrew Bacevich’s review of two new books “Losing the Long Game” and “Isolationism.” Here is how his review, “Where Does American Foreign Policy Go From Here?” Here is how he begins:

LOSING THE LONG GAME

The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East

By Philip H. Gordon

ISOLATIONISM
A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World

By Charles A. Kupchan

Having made a hash of things over the last several decades, our self-described Indispensable Nation is looking pretty dispensable, not to mention confused and adrift. So there is a pressing need to understand how things went wrong and how to make them right. Each in different ways, this is the task that Philip H. Gordon and Charles A. Kupchan set for themselves.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Taps

Tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day

If any of you have ever been to a military funeral in which taps was played; this brings out a new meaning of it.

Here is something every American should know. We in the United States have all heard the haunting song, “Taps” It’s the song that gives us the lump in our throats and usually tears in our eyes.

But, do you know the story behind the song? If not, I think you will be interested to find out about its humble beginnings.

Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Elli was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Elli heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment.
When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.

The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted.
The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral.

The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.
But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician.
The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform.

This wish was granted.

The haunting melody, we now know as “Taps” used at military funerals was born.

The words are:

Day is done.

Gone the sun.

From the lakes

From the hills.

From the sky.

All is well.

Safely rest.

God is nigh.

I too have felt the chills while listening to “Taps” but I have never seen all the words to the song until now. I also never knew the story behind the song and I didn’t know if you had either so I thought I’d pass it along.

I now have an even deeper respect for the song than I did before.

A Challenging Future

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Earlier this month I reported on the Director of National Intelligence Council Global Trends report, looks far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence.

The 144-page report is not what anyone would describe as a “quick read.” That is why I wanted to share a very recent New York Times article, “Why Spy Agencies Say the Future Is Bleak,” that provides a concise summary of the report. What is says will worry you – and it should. Here is how it begins:

The latest report, Global Trends 2040, released last week by the National Intelligence Council, finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.

The world envisioned in the 144-page report, ominously subtitled “A More Contested World,” is rent by a changing climate, aging populations, disease, financial crises and technologies that divide more than they unite, all straining societies and generating “shocks that could be catastrophic.” The gap between the challenges and the institutions meant to deal with them continues to grow, so that “politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ideology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers.” At the international level, it will be a world increasingly “shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system,” with a greater risk of conflict.

Want more?
Here is a link to the NYT article

A More Contested World

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Every four years, the National Intelligence Council, the public-facing arm of the Director of National Intelligence Council and the 16 intelligence agencies under her stewardship, issues its Global Trends report, looking far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence.

The just-released Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World is the seventh such report issued by the NIC. It differs from previous reports in many ways, most notably in that it addresses the still-evolving changes wrought by the current global pandemic and, while it does talk about traditional warfare, it has a strong focus on social issues. Here is how a report in the New York Times begins:

U.S. intelligence officials warned in a report issued on Thursday about the potential fragmentation of society and the global order, holding out the possibility of a world where international trade is disrupted, groups of countries create online enclaves and civic cohesion is undermined.

The report, compiled every four years by the National Intelligence Council, mixes more traditional national security challenges like the potentially disruptive rise of China with social trends that have clear security implications, like the internet’s tendency to exacerbate political and cultural divisions.

A previous version of the report, released by the Obama administration in 2017, highlighted the risk of a pandemic and the vast economic disruption it could cause — a prescient prediction in hindsight.

The new report said that the coronavirus pandemic showed the weakness of the world order and that the institutions devised to face past crises are inadequate to coordinate a global response to new challenges like the spread of Covid-19. The failure of those institutions deepened public dissatisfaction and further eroded faith in the old order, the report said.

Want more?

Here is a link to the NYT article

And here is a link to the National Intelligence Council Report

 

Big Tech and National Security

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There is little question that the United States faces two powerful peer competitors, China and Russia.

There is also no question that we cannot match these powers soldier for soldier or tank for tank. The only way we are likely to prevail is through technological innovation.

The big tech companies – not the traditional defense industry giants – are the ones who can help us achieve that goal. One person, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is leading this effort.

A revealing article in the New York Times entitled, “‘I Could Solve Most of Your Problems’: Eric Schmidt’s Pentagon Offensive,” begins this way:

In July 2016, Raymond Thomas, a four-star general and head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, hosted a guest: Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.

General Thomas, who served in the 1991 gulf war and deployed many times to Afghanistan, spent the better part of a day showing Mr. Schmidt around Special Operations Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. They scrutinized prototypes for a robotic exoskeleton suit and joined operational briefings, which Mr. Schmidt wanted to learn more about because he had recently begun advising the military on technology.

After the visit, as they rode in a Chevy Suburban toward an airport, the conversation turned to a form of artificial intelligence.

“You absolutely suck at machine learning,” Mr. Schmidt told General Thomas, the officer recalled. “If I got under your tent for a day, I could solve most of your problems.” General Thomas said he was so offended that he wanted to throw Mr. Schmidt out of the car, but refrained.

Four years later, Mr. Schmidt, 65, has channeled his blunt assessment of the military’s tech failings into a personal campaign to revamp America’s defense forces with more engineers, more software and more A.I. In the process, the tech billionaire, who left Google last year, has reinvented himself as the prime liaison between Silicon Valley and the national security community.

Follow the link to read the full article

Great Power Competition

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The United States has entered an era of great power competition. China and Russia both present a clear and present danger to the security and prosperity of the United States. This competition plays out in multiple ways.

Much ink has been spilled about this competition, some of it good, some shrill, and much in the middle. That is why I was drawn to – and enjoyed – a recent study by CSIS: U.S. Competition with China and Russia: The Crisis-Driven Need to Change U.S. Strategy. Written by Anthony H. Cordesman, one of the sharpest minds regarding American foreign policy, here is how it begins:

The new National Security Strategy (NSS) issued on December 18, 2017, called for the United States to focus on competition with China and Russia in order to focus on the potential military threat they posed to the United States. This call to look beyond the current U.S. emphasis on counterterrorism was all too valid, but its implementation has since focused far too narrowly on the military dimension and on providing each military service all of the U.S. military forces that are needed to fight “worst-case” wars.

This focus on high levels of direct conflict with China and Russia is a fundamental misreading of the challenges the U.S. actually faces from Chinese and Russian competition as well as a misinterpretation of their strategy and capabilities. It ignores the fact that China and Russia recognize that major wars between them and the United States – and particularly any wars that escalate to the use of nuclear weapons – can end in doing so much damage to both sides that they become the equivalent of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD). They understand that the only winner in such conflicts between the great powers would be the one power that could actually find a way to stand aside from such a major nuclear exchange or from a high level of theater warfare between the other two. To quote a passage from Clausewitz’s War Games, “the only way to win is not to play.”

You can read the full report here