Having pretty much restricted myself, so far, to eternal military verities – especially those timeless screw ups and little-changing forms of cowardice, decadence, and corruption that sprinkle the pages of military history from about the first time someone gave the order, “forward… MARCH!” unto this very day and on into the future – it would seem to be on point, at least until our civilization goes under completely, to cover a bit more closely some of the more nauseating swineliness of the present day. Hence this:
A Grunt looks Seaward… and barfs
On its one-way express elevator ride from the penthouse of “America’s Paper of Record” down to the sub-sub-basement of “America’s Paper of the Ridiculous,” the New York Times recently published an Op-Ed from that world class military analyst and strategist, Gregg Easterbrook, concerning the complete adequacy of our country’s Navy, Our Navy is Big Enough.1 The estimable Mr. Easterbrook’s qualifications to have an opinion on Naval structure and strategy? He blogs about football, contributes to The Atlantic, and once gave a lecture at the Naval War College. No I don’t know what the subject matter was, but, clearly, we’re dealing with a first class military mind here, one replete with insight and advice so valuable we should engrave it on golden plaques, and post it on the walls of the Pentagon.
Come to think of it, it’s not clear that that would do any harm. But still…
Among Mr. Easterbrook’s more cogent observations are that the presumptively evilwickedbadnaughtybadbadbad Republicans want to waste money on an unnecessarily expensive Navy, that the Zumwalt Class Destroyer represents “the gigantic advantage the United Stated Navy enjoys,” with its “advanced cannon” that can – golly, gee, whiz – hit targets sixty-three miles away, and that we have all the nuclear aircraft carriers in the world, which, come to think of it, we don’t.2 These are telling points, of course, or would be if the probability was that the Zumwalts were, in fact, going to be worth a damn. But with a mere eighty vertical launch cells and with that – oooo, shinnnny – gun being a miserable six-inch piece, pretty much incapable of anything too very useful, and with its crew of one hundred and forty officers, petty officers, and ratings being most likely incapable of damage control for a – you cannot make this crap up – FOURTEEN- Oh, dear God – FOURTEEN THOUSAND TON, three and half – or should I really be invoking His Satanic Majesty? – BILLION dollar “destroyer.”
One suspects there are reasons beyond mere money – which the Navy, frankly, is remarkably indifferent to, anyway – that the Zumwalts, even with Mr. Easterbrook’s cannon – have seen their numbers cut from thirty-two, to ten, to three. Short version: one smells, amidst the salt air and seaweed, the aroma of a bad idea, shittily executed, a sort of nautical Gama Goat, of accursed memory.
Still, we’re going to have not one, not two, but three Zumwalts. Surely three is enough for ships so replete with… something.
Well, I’m not a football blogger. Nor do I post to The Atlantic.3 Neither have I yet lectured at Newport, Rhode Island, not even for an hour or two. But even ignorant I – a mere knuckle-dragging grunt, why, barely able to feed myself with a knife and fork, and hardly fit to be allowed to sign my name with an X – still know that ships need training and maintenance, and that three Zumwalts means only one available at any given time. Yes, that means one Zumwalt to cover the seven seas. Yes, that means that its sixty-three mile ranged cannon (able to cover about twelve thousand four hundred and sixty-three miles of the oceans’ surface) is a bit overtasked when compared to the world’s ocean surface, what with eleven thousand one hundred and fifty-three Zumwalts being required to cover that.
Yes, that’s a ridiculous calculation, since ships can move and need not cover everything simultaneously, but it is not more ridiculous than citing a miserable three overpriced, over-weighted, and undermanned gunboats as a justification for keeping the Navy small.
One Navy War College Professor, James Holmes, has already taken the arrogant and ignorant Mr. Easterbrook and the preening and fraudulent New York Times4 to task for most of the above and some other things, which other things seem to include a tacit pro-totalitarian bias on the part of at least one of them.5 6 Blessings on Professor Holmes for that.
We recently were awarded a very graphic and humiliating example of what our existing Navy’s vulnerabilities are, when a French nuclear submarine, the Saphir, penetrated the screen of USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of those ten nuclear carriers on which Mr. Easterbrook sets such store, and, in the peculiar way navies have of accounting for such things, sank it and half its escort.7
The Saphir, by the way, is not the cutting edge of anything. It not an advanced diesel electric. It’s not an AIP, or Air Independent Propulsion. Oh, no, Saphir is a 30-year-old nuke boat, first generation, and noisy. And it was still able to get through what passes these days for a screen to get at one of the only ten carriers we field. One would expect a military strategist of Mr. Eastbrook’s stature – okay, not really – or “America’s Paper of Record” – okay, I’ll stop bullshitting right after this – to make the not really very large intellectual leap from “we have all the important carriers in the world” to “until we have so few escorts we can’t screen them and they’re sunk.”
The French have since then pulled the initial blog post wherein the kills were announced, quite possibly on the principle that it is unwise to reveal an important ally’s weaknesses. I don’t think anyone in public knows exactly what happened, indeed, possibly no one but Saphir’s skipper knows for sure. Some educated observation and guesses from another source (hat tip, TBR, the Kreigsmarine contingent of Baen’s Bar) include that:
- The F/A-18’s combat radius is only about eighty percent of the aircraft it replaced, the F-14 Tomcat, while it is an even smaller percentage of the A-6’s, which it has also replaced, thus,
- It must get closer to its target, which is a vulnerability, plus
- We have dumped the S-3 Viking and severely cut back on the P-3 Orion Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft, which helicopters – see comment on range, above – are not necessarily adequate replacements for, as well as cut
- Training, which is pricey, and
- Sonobuoys, which are also pricey but must be expended to train properly, and,
- Goddammit, when your capital ships are in danger, you need more ships to guard them. Our carrier battle groups used to have escorts in the double digits, to include nuclear attack subs, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. It does not appear that USS Theodore Roosevelt had anything like that. I was unable to find just what CSG (formerly CVBG) Twelve consisted of as of a week ago, but note that, as of 2012, Carrier Strike Group Twelve, of which TR was a part last week, had a cruiser and three destroyers.
All of which simply must mean that we’re spending enough on a navy that is big enough, right?
2 See the French Charles de Gaulle. So much for the precision of “America’s Paper of Record,” eh? The point there is not that the French Navy is enemy, but that the New York Times is replete with idiots, idiots among the commentariat and idiots in their editorial and fact checking departments. And lazy idiots, to boot.
3 I rarely even comment in The Atlantic, and in Esquire only to lambast that epsilon double minus semi- moron and world class hypocrite, Bateman, and that only from time to time.
4 What, you mean their motto isn’t really, “All the news that fits, we print”? Who knew? Who the f*&k knew?
6 Well, what do you call it when Easterbrook compares our actions at sea, or lack thereof, with China’s increasing aggressiveness and bullying belligerence towards it’s oceanic neighbors?
7 https://www.news.com.au/world/us-supercarrier-sunk-by-french-submarine-in-wargames/story-fndir2ev-1227250666936 Say what you will about the French; they’re there when we really need them. Yes, I am being serious.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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