A deconstruction of MICC propaganda

I will deconstruct an article about the U.S.Nayy as the military-industrial-congressional complex propaganda that it is, to show how badly it's removed from reality. That article is not really outside the mainstream, or original - it's really nothing extraordinary. Extraordinary would be an article that's firmly rooted in the real world, as opposed to fantasyland.

I do not provide many links to support my assertions here, though I did write about most things here before. Feel encouraged to do your own research on a topic if you disagree with anything I present here as fact.

"How to Make the U.S. Navy Great Again"
By Roger Wicker & Jerry Hendrix

Roger Wicker is a U.S. senator and chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower. Dr. Jerry Hendrix is the director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.

So one of them is an influential politician from Mississippi (home of Ingalls shipbuilding) with some focus on military affairs and the other is a professional military spending promoter.

(1) "It is imperative that America’s fleet reach 355 ships within the next ten years."

Obviously, they don't even come close to properly support this with arguments. It takes a reading of the whole thing to see this absence, of course.

(2) "American maritime interests have evolved beyond simply protecting freedom of navigation."

The last time the U.S. focused on freedom of navigation as maritime interest was in 1917, and the attempt to enforce it by violence led to much bloodshed and expense, while (counter to supposed intent) further degrading the  safety at sea till war's end.
"Freedom of navigation" has been nothing but a pretence to bully small powers (Libya) and provoking China. Never has the USN enforced freedom of navigation neutrally. It has violently disrespected the freedom of navigation of Iranian ships even and especially while Iran was under attack by a tyrannical Iraqi government.

The current USN structure is a force that's focused on strategic nuclear deterrent and land attack-optimised carrier strike groups. There's practically no capacity for securing coastal U.S. or transoceanic civilian traffic (convoys) without neglecting the security of the land-attack carriers.
The assertion that U.S. maritime interests were focused on freedom of navigation until recently is utter bollocks; a symptom of delusion or a lie.

(3) "The United States faces not one, but two emerging naval powers—Russia and China—challenging its maritime dominance."

Well, there's not much of an operational Russian navy, it certainly is worth less than the sum of the navies allied to the U.S.. "emerging naval power" doesn't exactly describe Russia accurately, either. The authors are inflating a threat for a fake justification of their later promotion of more naval spending.

(4) "Though our sailors and Marines remain second to none (...)"

This was published a few months after the USN published its accounts of why two destroyers were badly damaged in collisions due to utter incompetence and negligence of their bridge crews.

(5) "(...)the condition of the fleet has deteriorated as the need for naval power has far outstripped the supply of available ships."

No. The condition of the fleet has deteriorated as the size and activity of the fleet has far outstripped the available operations & maintenance budget (hollow force syndrome). That's something the U.S. senator might have been able to do more about.
A correct diagnosis would have led to the obvious option of reducing the active fleet or its activity (mission) to match the operations and maintenance budget. That's not what the authors want; they want a bigger fleet, so they provide an incorrect cause for the deterioration.
Besides, I doubt these authors have the slightest idea what the true "need for naval power" really is.

(6) "(...)the United States must engage in a long-term, aggressive campaign to build a larger and more capable battle fleet in order to deter rising competitors, head off a potential arms race and prevent a destabilizing of the international environment."

The shipyard industry situation (the U.S. has almost no shipbuilding capacity compared to China, South Korea and Japan) reveals this as a hollow phrase. No matter how many warships the U.S. builds, the Chinese can simply build more. To call for more warship-building is thus the most primitive, most wasteful and outright most stupid option.
Moreover, Mr. U.S. Senator should probably work to revise the war powers act and curb cruise missile diplomacy as well as work to prevent wars of aggression like OIF if he's truly interested in "prevent[ing] a destabilization of the international environment".

(7) "It is U.S. law that the Navy achieve its stated minimum force-structure requirement of 355 ships."

Maybe, but budget laws are more specific regarding shipbuilding, and the more specific law beats the more general law. Military spending mongers just love such faux legal reasons for more military spending. See the legal nonsense about "2% GDP" spending in NATO.

(8) "Yet it is important to remember the significance of the oceans and inland freshwater Great Lakes for America’s economic prosperity. (...) Nearly 80 percent of U.S. export trade by tonnage moves over water, and 90 percent of general cargo moves via container ships."

See what they did here? "export trade by tonnage" - that's an unusual way to measure export or import. They cherrypicked this because a look at trade by currency units reveals that air freight and digital communications make up a fascinatingly large share of trade, particularly for countries as weak in export industries as the United States. About 35% of global trade (by value) was by air freight in 2015 (and I've seen even higher stats than this). One third of U.S. exports in 2017 were services. These figures show how badly the authors have cherrypicked with manipulative intent, in order to inflate the importance of the navy.
Maritime trade is very important, but they were not satisfied with its true relevance; they meant to inflate its relevance.

(9) "Protecting freedom of navigation is thus a paramount U.S. interest. This core interest—manifested in unimpeded transit in international waters and access to foreign ports for commercial trade (...)"

That's not really what the USN is structured for, or what these authors want it to be structured for. They want a forward-deployed air/sea battle and land attack navy, not a maritime trade defence navy. That's the attitude that led to the massacre off the East Coast in 1942 when the USN wasn't interested in diverting destroyers from the Pacific to secure maritime trade in the Atlantic Ocean.
The USN's utter disinterest in minehunting further shows how little it's interested in this supposed "paramount U.S. interest". Notably, the authors did not criticise the MCM weakness.

(10) "(...) our maritime interests have evolved beyond simply securing the seas for commercial transportation."

Yeah, as "we totally lost interest in it, and really only pay lip service to it as if we were serious people".

(11) "Perhaps the most obvious, yet least appreciated, national interest at sea is the United States’ duty to uphold its obligations to allies."

Such as article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty? Oh, right, that's the obligation they prefer to ignore. Treaty obligations are for others, at home they're but relevant if they can be used as a legal excuse for more military spending.

(12) "While the United States will not start buying frigates until the 2020s, China is building a new frigate every six weeks. Vast numbers of these low-end ships will increasingly patrol China’s expanding front lines in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Backed by a growing arsenal of longer-range and more sophisticated air and missile weapons, the Chinese navy will have a highly capable and numerically larger maritime force by the middle of the next decade. If this situation comes to fruition, it could make the projection of U.S. naval power cost prohibitive in the western Pacific, undermining the credibility of our alliance commitments."

Wait, what? There is no real alliance commitment towards Taiwan. Sea lanes to Japan and South Korea can be secured by land-based air power against air and surface threats. This leaves mostly submarines as threats to these lanes that need be handled by ships (again, the USN doesn't really do convoys for cargo ships) and a little MRBM threat at least regarding South Korea. Their concern is a dud, for once again they do not really push for a ASW convoying capability.

(13) "(...) Vladimir Putin’s Russia is making a different strategic bet. Faced with a shrinking population (...)

That's a myth. Russian population growth figures for 2017 range from -0.08%  (CIA World Factbook) to  +0.05% (Russian figures). Their population is stagnant, not shrinking.

(14) "Extremely quiet, difficult to detect, and carrying a heavy load of torpedoes and antiship cruise missiles, one or two Yasens undetected in the Atlantic could effectively halt American efforts to provide relief to NATO allies."

Well, if that's so, then disband the USN for its utter incompetence and worthlessness. A navy of that size and with that budget ought to be able to defend against two submarines and their few dozen munitions in an ocean. That's not their conclusion, of course. And I doubt that they really believe what they claimed there.

(15) "Our adversaries and potential opponents are racing forward to develop A2/AD capabilities to create maritime “keep-out zones.”"

How dare they thinking they could legitimately seek the capability to defend themselves at home?!?
The supreme arrogance and extremism in the attitude of the authors is clearly on display here. It's a general problem in regard to U.S. military policy: The standard for what constituted enough "defense" for the U.S. is held so high (and budgets accordingly so wastefully high) that no other country on earth could possibly have a satisfactory defence for itself by the same standard.
There's something utterly corrupted in how Americans think about "defense".

(16) "By not maintaining a credible and persistent naval presence in the South China Sea, the United States invited China to create a “Great Wall of Sand”—a series of artificial islands that increasingly resemble military garrisons."

There's total absence of evidence for any causality between this. 

(17) "Russia has begun aggressive operations in the Baltic and Black Seas, seeking to intimidate U.S. Navy ships as well as those of allied and partner navies. The United States has offered no serious response to these provocations."

Flybys are a provocation and meant to intimidate only when the others do it. Whenever we do it we merely exercise our freedom of navigation in the air, of course. 
It should be noted that much of Baltic Sea freezes in wintertime due to low salinity. There's thus very little reason to believe in naval forces as a reliable contribution to deterrence and defence for the Baltics. These authors won't point that out, of course.

(18) "Lastly, despite a long-standing military requirement to maintain one carrier strike group continuously in the Arabian Gulf region, the ever-shrinking U.S. Navy has been forced to leave the region without a serious naval presence multiple times in recent years. Training and maintenance backlogs within the hollowed-out Navy have reduced the available carrier inventory to provide coverage to the Arabian Gulf. During these periods, Iran has ramped up its intimidation operations and actively sought to undermine the credibility of the United States and its partners in the region. In 2016, Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen had the audacity to conduct an unsuccessful missile attack against a U.S. warship, USS Mason."

Yemen isn't even close to the Arabian Gulf, thus a CVBG in the gulf would have done nothing about what happened off Yemen. They seem to rest their argument on the world-famous American knowledge about foreign geography.
Besides, isn't a carrier strike group in the gulf an intimidation operation towards Iran? The USN actively helped the aggressor Iraq top sustain its war of aggression against Iran in the 80's, remember? Remember the mass killing of civilians in an Iranian airliner (which was merely intended to be a murder of two Iranian military pilots during peacetime) and the violations of Iranian territorial waters by the USN?
As usual, it's only bad when the others do it.

(19) "The United States currently has a navy too small for the requirements of a great naval power."

Maybe I should just leave this here as evidence for their utter delusion or lying.

(20) "The United States has critical national interests in eighteen maritime zones identified by warfighting commanders."

This is idiotic. The use of "critical" in this sentence doesn't match with "eighteen maritime zones" at all. To ask generals and admirals how many resources they need is utter idiocy. No admiral or general was ever truly content with his resources. They always want more.
Some not utterly tainted group of people with true national interests in mind need to determine the needs - not officers who first and foremost have the interests of their armed service in mind. (Egoistic self-interest can't be neutralised, but it helps to not ask those who get to play with toys about the right amount of toys.)
This is another popular trope of military budget mongers; ask the admirals and generals about what they need. They know that admirals and generals will always ask for more. Also, it's the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

(21) "The Navy certified the 355-ship requirement in its 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA). According to the FSA, the true number of ships required by military commanders exceeds 650 ships."

Of course, they don't notice that the absence of war and disaster utterly proves that FSA wrong.

(22) "Additionally, there are some ships recently transferred to the inactive ready reserve force, also called the “ghost fleet,” that could be brought quickly back into our service rather than being transferred to the navies of foreign partners."

Explain to me how the interests of the U.S. are better served if the U.S. pays for the operation of those ships instead of allies paying for the operation of those ships. It sounds to me as if only the USN's interests get better served by the authors' proposal. Well, theirs and maybe Ingalls gets some bucks for refurbishing those warships if they are in active USN service.

(23) "(...) and accelerate the development of the Navy’s newest frigates, in order to bring these low-cost (...) ships (...)"

Well, that's not delusion - that's an outright lie. 

(24) "The Navy has already begun this process by looking at mature foreign and domestic models, such as the Italian-designed FREMM and American-produced National Security Cutter, which have already been built and could easily be produced in numbers by American workers. These strategic approaches could convince both China and Russia that the United States is prepared to defend its interests at sea."

Not really (numbers) and not likely (China convinced).

(25) "ALONE AMONG the services, the Navy is always deployed."

That's incorrect. Forces of the other services are routinely stationed abroad as well. 

(26) "America cannot retreat from the seas."

Well, aside from the fact that it can - that's a strawman. Even halving the USN would merely turn it into the 2nd largest navy among more than a hundred countries, and combined with allied forces it would still be capable of beating the largest one. Thus even  reducing the USN by half would be far from a "retreat from the seas".

(27) "China, Russia and Iran have invested heavily in ways to keep the U.S. Navy out of critical maritime regions."

Yeah, that's called "defence policy". They kind of believe they have the right to be concerned about their ability to make use of maritime trade, too (especially China).
You know what's not called "defence policy"? It's not "defence policy" if you aren't satisfied with your navy until it can force its way anywhere on the oceans, even within 20 nm of hostile land masses.
Such is the difference between "defence policy" and "defense policy".

(28) "China, Russia and Iran have invested heavily in ways to keep the U.S. Navy out of critical maritime regions. They are increasingly challenging American maritime interests and finding no response. The inability to respond is driven by a collapse in the size of U.S. naval forces over the past quarter century."

So again, the USN appears to be utterly incompetent and worthless, given its relative size and costs. Let's disband it then.
Or maybe - just maybe - a navy isn't the right tool, and not every challenge is a nail?

(29) "Our adversaries and potential opponents see all of this as an indicator of overall national decline (...)"

Trust me; in the age of Trump no-one is looking at the USN as a symptom of decline of the United States as a great power, Western country or civilised country. Everyone's too focused on the actually obvious symptoms of decline self-destruction.
_ _ _ _ _

They came nowhere close to making a real case for a larger navy. They did systematically neglect the relevance of allies and of geography. They did completely ignore land-based air power. They did completely ignore the sorry state of the shipbuilding industry in the United States. They did completely ignore diplomacy, possible naval limitation treaties and conflict moderation/mediation.
They did completely ignore the possibilities that auxiliary warships (cargo ships re-equipped for combat) offer. Nowhere did they respect that other countries might have legitimate security interests.

All they did was to repeat the orthodox mainstream views of the pro-military crowd and call for a bigger navy. It was an utterly disingenuous, worthless, uninspired and unimaginative piece of pro-naval spending propaganda.



  1. In defence of admirals and generals, sometimes even they object against spending for more toys: https://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/12/18/congress-again-buys-abrams-tanks-the-army-doesnt-want.html

    I do not understand, how the US actually wants to secure for themselves any pretensions to continue being one of the most influential powers in the 21st century. Their weakness in the shipbuilding industry is obvious and most global shipbuilding is concentrated in the PRC and very close nearby. This opens the possibility that in case of a major power conflict, one power could gain a de facto monopoly on the worldwide shipbuilding industry or at least the compliance of parts not under direct control. Among the proposals, there was never a claim to invest into some kind of maritime industry with the potential to switch to increased shipbuilding. The US Navy is thus vulnerable in case of a short arms race with an opponent launching a large number of latest models within a few years. Even if inferior to state of the art US designs, they could outperform the bulk of the much older US designs due to technological capabilities growing exponentially. It makes therefore no sense to assume a hostile intent of the US towards the PRC due to lack of preparations for possible action. China and Russia seem both rather placeholders in the document.

    Services are often digital and require submarine communication cables. During WWII, there was already a destruction attempt of such connections with unsophisticated means, the "Cable Wars". http://blogs.mhs.ox.ac.uk/innovatingincombat/files/2013/03/Innovating-in-Combat-educational-resources-telegraph-cable-draft-1.pdf
    Is there any concept on how to safeguard submarine cables in a modern conflict?
    It might be similar to the fallout of the tanker war between Iraq and Iran or it could be a new option for blackmail by some novel kind of pirates.
    For Germany and Europe, the North Atlantic lines of communication seem most important.

    You discussed the development of coastal defence on blockade options.
    What would be an efficient way to deny someone the commercially most important lines of communication?
    I assume it's data via submarine cables and air traffic over sea or near a coast by value. Furthermore oil from tankers is still the key component to run almost all long range mobile platforms.
    Would having the dominant navy still bestow significant advantages in a global peer competitor conflict?

    1. Generals and admirals oppose some specific military spending only if and because they prefer the money spent on different things in their own armed service. They are high-ranking bureaucrats.

      I don't understand your question(s).

    2. Seems like I did a bad job with formulating my questions.

      You pointed out the economic value of different types of sea lines of communication.
      Of these, submarine cables seem to have an already high and increasing value. If you take naval matters as focused on sea lines of communication, these would be a major concern.
      It seems to have been possible to intentionally disrupt them with simple tools.
      Is it possible to protect them and how?

      Afterwards I spun it further in line with your recent post on the demise of battleships, long before institutions realized it. If the economic value of transport over sea is mainly via cables and through the air, the importance of transportation via ships and the importance of ships has changed.
      Does the position as dominant fleet then still provide compareable economic advantages as it used to in previous centuries?

      I hope, I did a better job this time.

    3. Submarine cables are indeed easy targets. Torpedoes could be used to destroy them at any required depth (torpedo crush depths can be increased easily). It sounds like an underdog navy move.

      On the other hand, the internet is mostly about entertainment and I don't mind a loss of entertainment value if this means the people grow weary of warfare quickly. That could actually be a good thing.

      The internet companies could easily adapt by moving contents to dispersed mirrors, which would greatly reduce the required transatlantic bandwidth, for example.

      A couple weeks ago I pointed a UK mil blogger at a Feb 2018 "Warships" article about the unique issues the UK as an island nation has regarding dependence on sea cables. Island nations may have reason to be less relaxed than I am on this topic.