Foreign Policy Blogs

GailForce: Things That Make Ya’ Wanna Go Hmmmm!

GailForce:  Things That Make Ya’ Wanna Go Hmmmm!

Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 fly over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julia A. Casper/Released)

As mentioned in my last blog, I’ve been off the grid for a while.  I’m currently in Alabama hanging out with my 85 years young Mom but have been playing catch up with current events.  I have to get up every few minutes and stand in front of her air conditioner but then I gamely return to my computer to peruse world events and try not to drip sweat on the keyboards.  I’m finding as Alice said in Lewis Carroll book’s Alice in Wonderland, things are getting “Curioser and curisoser!”

Example one.  Every other year since 1971, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet conducts an exercise called Rimpac, the world’s largest maritime exercise.  This year’s exercise is being held between June 27th and August 7th.  It features an international force of 25,000 people and 40 surface ships, 6 submarines and 200 plus aircraft.  There are 22 countries participating.  Two things jumped out at me.  For the first time ever, senior officers from other countries are in major command positions.  An Australian is in charge of the Naval forces, a Canadian is in charge of the Air Forces, and a senior officer from the Japanese Maritime Defense Force is the deputy commander of the exercise.  This is all good, but what I also found interesting was that for the first time Russia is participating with three naval ships

When you consider that the first exercise happened during the Cold War and the only participants were the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, this is pretty significant.  Least you think I’m implying that all is well between the U.S. and Russia not so fast.  We still have challenges with them but this is a show of good will (at least at the military level who can forgot that recent photo of President Obama and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin sitting next to each other pouting) and a step in the right direction.  Of note, China is not participating in this exercise which brings me to example two.

Last weekend, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported that:

The State Council, or China’s cabinet, in June approved the establishment of Sansha, a prefectural-level city in south China’s Hainan province to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and the surrounding waters in the South China Sea.  China’s central military authority has approved the formation and deployment of a military garrison in Sansha.

Those are the Chinese names for the disputed islands in the South China Sea. On July 23rd, the New York Times reported:

On Monday, there was a first meeting of the 45 legislators elected over the weekend to govern the 1,100 people who live on the island groups of the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank, Chinese authorities told state media. The meeting was the latest escalation of the territorial dispute between China and its neighbors over the island groups, known in Chinese as the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands.  The new legislators will not only govern the island groups, many of which consist of rocks and atolls, but also about 772,000 square miles of the South China Sea over which China claims jurisdiction, state media said.

It would seem to me that China is saying these islands legally belong to us.  These claims are not new but what I believe is new is stationing military forces there.  We need to see how extensive these forces will be.  I don’t see this as a major increase in military forces in the region but one of things militaries do is “show the flag.”  In that sense, to me it seems this is a major development in a long simmering crisis.  It’s my experience that there are many pots simmering around the world.  Every now and then one boils over and turns into a crisis or war.  It will be interesting to see what the U.S. and its Asian allies decide to do.

For my third example, I’ll return to the Navy.  On Monday, a Navy Times article opened as follows:

“Increased global demand and fewer aircraft carriers mean sailors will spend more time at sea and less at home the next two years,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert has announced.

The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group will deploy in late August — four months ahead of schedule — and will stay out two months longer than scheduled, Pentagon officials said July 16.

Greenert said Navy officials originally planned for the five carrier deployments in fiscal 2013 to average six months and eight days, but those cruises now likely will average eight months and 13 days. And sailors in the carrier fleet will be home only 60 percent of the time, rather than 65 percent.

The reason: Continuing crises in the Middle East are preventing the Navy from winding down its forces in the region, even though operations in Iraq have ended and those in Afghanistan are wrapping up. And demand for a carrier presence elsewhere remains strong, even as the carrier fleet shrinks from 11 ships to 10.

During a press conference back in April, the Admiral made the following observation:

Asked … whether these mounting demands were allowing crews enough time at home and giving ships the opportunities for needed maintenance, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert replied: “If we continue through, if you will, the [future years defense program], the next five years, at the pace we are at today, the answer to your question is no, we can’t run at that rate.”

In an article he wrote for Defense News, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking
member of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee stated

Currently, the Navy can meet only half of combatant commander requests for naval support. Under sequestration, the Navy fleet would drop to 230 ships, well below the statutory requirement.

Here’s my concern, the Navy now stands at 286 ships, the smallest it’s been since World War I.  Does size matter?  Speaking at the Naval War College Current Strategy Forum in June, Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work made the point that “the power of the battle network is far greater than the sum of its parts”.  As I understood it, this is because technology is a force multiplier.  Speaking before Congress in March, Admiral Greenert stated:

“Two factors drive the Navy’s ability to provide presence: the size of the fleet and the amount of time ships can remain deployed.”

I joined the Navy as the war with Vietnam was winding down.  The Navy has two types of job assignments, shore duty and sea duty.  Typically these are three or four year assignments.  If you’re on a sea duty assignment you will spend time forward deployed to an operational area.  After the Vietnam war ended, the Navy decided to have sea duty assignments consist of a rotation of one year at home training followed by six months deployed.  That rotation helped with wear and tear on both people and equipment.  Increased deployment time means more wear and tear.

I won’t presume to second guess Navy leadership. I don’t have access to all of the information they have.  If you’ve read my blogs before you know that’s one of my pet peeves.  Don’t criticize a situation if you don’t have all of the facts.  The Navy has outstanding leadership.  No worries there.   I guess my fear is with Congress and the budget cut process.  I don’t trust Congress to get it right. I hope I’m wrong.  I understand that in this time of austerity the Department of Defense will have to suck it up but there are many areas that efficiencies can be made such as the acquisition process.  One recent article stated:

Six Defense Department modernization projects are a combined $8 billion — or 110 percent — over budget and suffering years-long schedule delays — in one case, more than 12 years — a new audit report finds.

There is one bright spot.  The Obama administration Joint Strategy document talks about “reversibility,” changing course of the defense strategy if necessary.

Think I’ll end here.  As always my views are my own.



Gail Harris

Gail Harris’ 28 year career in intelligence included hands-on leadership during every major conflict from the Cold War to El Salvador to Desert Storm to Kosovo and at the forefront of one of the Department of Defense’s newest challenges, Cyber Warfare. A Senior Fellow for The Truman National Security Project, her memoir, A Woman’s War, published by Scarecrow Press is available on