USS Bataan Amphibious Assault Ship (Image: U.S. Navy)

(Via The Brookings Institution)

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the past week have dispatched considerable forces to assist in the ongoing humanitarian operation in the wake of last week’s earthquake in Haiti. Some of the more notable assets include the USS Carl Vinson, a 95,000 ton Nimitz-class aircraft carrier; the USS Bataan Amphibious Assault Ship and corresponding vessels, together carrying a 2,200-member Marine Expeditionary Unit; and the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with 12 operating rooms and 1000 beds. With Haiti’s primary airfield overwhelmed with traffic, and with the main sea port disabled by the wreckage following the quake, the ability to stage relief efforts at sea has given new impetus to a concept that flourished in the post Cold War 1990s and reached new, heady heights during the early “transformation” years of the Rumsfeld Department of Defense. Sea Basing, despite a recent fall from grace, deserves a fresh look.

[H/T: Information Dissemination]


David Axe wrote yesterday in his War is Boring blog about maritime artist Tom Freeman’s painted depiction of an American nuclear aircraft carrier in flames after a Chinese ballistic-missile strike.

This week’s news of China further developing anti-ship ballistic missile technology has fueled chatter throughout U.S. naval circles and a cause of concern for U.S. maritime security.

Mr. Freeman told the U.S. Naval Institute, “I did the painting to make the powers that be aware that this is what it might look like if a missile attacked an American carrier.”

Freeman’s impressive maritime paintings can be viewed on his website.

The PLAN's ASBM is said to be a modified DF-21C. Image: Arms Control Wonk

The PLAN's ASBM is said to be a modified DF-21C. Image: Arms Control Wonk

The excellent naval affairs blog, Information Dissemination, posted on March 28th, 2009 a description of a Chinese blog entry on People’s Liberation Army Navy’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) development.

China has developed an anti-ship ballistic missile that can strike carriers and other U.S. vessels at a range of 2000km.

U.S. Naval Institute adds “the range of the modified Dong Feng 21 missile is significant in that it covers the areas that are likely hot zones for future confrontations between U.S. and Chinese surface forces.”

A Defense News article from January, 2008 claims the ASBM will be a modified DF-21C. However, Arms Control Wonk blog believes the ASBM variant has a different number — the DF-21 D or Delta.

For expanded analysis on this issue and its effect on the U.S. Navy, click here.

Commerorative card signed by survivor Victor Buckett and rescuer Roy McLendon.

Commemorative card signed by survivor Victor Buckett and rescuer Roy McLendon. 25MAR2009

Last night I had the good fortune of attending a presentation by the USS Indianapolis Still at Sea program in Coral Park Senior High School – Miami, Florida.

The program tells the incredible and tragic story of the USS Indianapolis, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea and sank in 12 minutes on July 30, 1945. Of the 1,196 sailors on board the cruiser, only 316 men were still alive after four days.

USS Indianapolis‘ sinking is considered to be the worst naval disaster in U.S. history.

I was deeply honored and moved to meet both Victor Buckett, one of the remaining survivors and Roy McLendon a rescuer who related their story of bravery and survival.  The former, a gregarious octogenarian and the latter, a jovial septuagenarian.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the school auditorium after listening to Mr. Buckett and Mr. McLendon tell their firsthand accounts of the horrendous tragedy they faced as young seamen.

One of the many incidents told dealt with sailors becoming delirious and beginning to hallucinate thinking that nearby shipmates in open waters were Japanese, causing others experiencing the same hallucinations to kill off their fellow shipmates.   Also, the unforgettable shrieking sounds as nearby shipmates were pulled underwater by sharks.

Photo I snapped from my Blackberry of Mr. McLendon (l) and Mr. Buckett (r) during Q&A session.

Photo of Mr. McLendon (l) and Mr. Buckett (r) during Q&A session taken with my mobile phone.

After the presentation during the Q & A session, Mr. Buckett told the story of assisting one of his shipmates who passed basic training without learning to swim.  He held up his shipmate (unable to swim) as long as he could but lost him after three days.  One of the audience questions asked what carried him through the perilous days. His response was he survived because of his belief in God, whom would see him through the ordeal and save him.

Mr. McLendon told his story of meeting the Captain of the USS Indianapolis Charles McVay after he was fished out of the water. McVay was unjustly accused of causing the sinking of the cruiser because he did not zigzag to avoid Japanese torpedoes. He later faced a court-martial and was only U.S. sea captain to be blamed by authorities for a disaster beyond his control.

Fortunately, a positive step to clear Captain McVay’s name was taken in October, 2000 when legislation was passed expressing the sense of Congress that his “military record should now reflect that he is exonerated” for the loss of the USS Indianapolis.

Although the first organized effort by survivors to clear Captain McVay’s name did not commence until 1960 when the Survivors Organization was formally established, it was never able to gain sufficient public attention until 1996 when an eleven-year-old boy, Hunter Scott, from Pensacola, Florida (who is now a Naval officer), saw the movie “Jaws” and was moved by the very accurate depiction of the character Quint portrayed by the late actor Robert Shaw who explained his hatred of the sharks by telling his story of surviving the attack upon the Indianapolis.

The remarkable care given to the survivors of the USS Indianapolis by their rescuers was also part of Mr. McLendon’s illustration of events he experienced as a young sailor. Sailors who were unable to stand up themselves in showers because of exhaustion after days in the water were held up by shipmate rescuers and the clumps of oil from their bodies were washed off.  These same rescuers gave up their racks so survivors could sleep and rest.

Mr. Buckett and Mr. McLendon’s heart wrenching testaments are examples of human courage in the most extremes during wartime and of the U.S. Navy’s ethos of Honor, Courage and Commitment.

A troop unit of the airborne force of the PLA Air Force. Image: PLA Daily

An airborne troop unit of the PLA Air Force. Image: PLA Daily

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has released its annual report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.  The seventy-eight page report outlines China’s quest to modernize its armed forces and improve capabilities.

Key findings in the report:

  • People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is pursuing comprehensive transformation from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its territory to one capable of fighting and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery against high-tech adversaries – an approach that China refers to as preparing for “local wars under conditions of informatization.”
  • PLA’s modernization vis-à-vis Taiwan has continued over the past year, including its build-up of short-range missiles opposite the island. In the near-term, China’s armed forces are rapidly developing coercive capabilities for the purpose of deterring Taiwan’s pursuit of de jure independence.
  • The PLA is also developing longer range capabilities that have implications beyond Taiwan. Some of these capabilities have allowed it to contribute cooperatively to the international community’s responsibilities in areas such as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counter-piracy.
  • Over the past several years, China has begun a new phase of military development by beginning to articulate roles and missions for the PLA that go beyond China’s immediate territorial interests, but has left unclear to the international community the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s evolving doctrine and capabilities.
  • Moreover, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.

The report also mentions construction of a new People’s Liberation Army Navy base on Hainan Island. “The base appears large enough to accommodate a mix of attack and ballistic missile submarines and advanced surface combatant ships. The port, which has underground facilities, would provide the PLA Navy with direct access to vital international sea lanes, and offers the potential for stealthy deployment of submarines into the deep waters of the South China Sea.” p. 49.

Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base on Hainan Island. Image: FAS

Yulin (Sanya) Naval Base on Hainan Island. Image: FAS

The new base means the Chinese want to project power into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, said Dan Blumenthal, of the American Enterprise Institute who is quoted in Stars and Stripes.

Blumenthal said the move has already made other countries in the region nervous. That includes India, which has begun upgrading its aircraft carriers in response.

Click here to read the report in its entirety.

Western hemisphere navies participate in UNITAS exercise in 2007. Image: U.S. Navy

Western hemisphere navies participate in UNITAS exercise in 2007. Image: U.S. Navy

The Center for Strategic and International Studies published a multi-authored monograph last month titled “The Fourth Fleet: A Tool of U.S. Engagement in the Americas.”

This monograph discusses the U.S. Navy’s re-establishment of the 4th Fleet which is “responsible for U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, and submarines operating in the SOUTHCOM area of focus. Its aim is to strengthen cooperation and partnerships using five primary missions: support for peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, traditional maritime exercises, and counterdrug support operations.”

Expanding on the importance of Latin America to U.S. national security, the monograph also address the historical context of the fleet “which waged war against raiders, blockade runners, and submarines in the south Atlantic, in addition to protecting the Panama Canal and defending against Nazi and Japanese actions during World War 2” and evolution of SOUTHCOM’s involvement in the region.

The authors suggest several opportunities for furthering U.S. policy objectives in the region: 1) The Fourth Fleet can contribute to the pursuit of a smart power strategy for the United States; 2) To reduce the skepticism and negative responses of the United States’ Latin American partners in this hemisphere, SOUTHCOM should coordinate with the Department of State to create a public diplomacy campaign to dispel any further unease about the role and mission of the Fourth Fleet; 3) Natural disasters in the region are on the rise as a consequence of climate change. The Fourth Fleet can serve as a training tool and vehicle for joint exercises with regional actors to share lessons learned and develop common practices and interoperability to enhance military support to future humanitarian relief operations in the Western Hemisphere; and 4) The new regional security climate in the Western Hemisphere includes many new actors taking on new roles in arms transfers and the pursuit of natural resources.

Perspectives presented in this paper clearly enunciate the importance of U.S. engagement in the hemisphere through the U.S. Navy’s smart power strategy as regional integration continues in development.

The Spring 2009 issue of the Naval War College Review is now online.  The following titles have been published: The Navy’s Changing Force Paradigm; The Heart of an Officer: Joint, Interagency, and International Operations and Navy Career Development; Gunboats for China’s New “Grand Canals”? Probing the Intersection of Beijing’s Naval and Oil Security Policies; The Naval Battle of Paris; The Fundamentals of Strategy: The Legacy of Henry Eccles.

[H/T: @NavalWarCollege]