September 24, 2018

Open Thread 9

It's time for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

I've found a strong contender for the Naval Gazing Award for Excellence in Defense Journalism Failure. The Military's Addiction to Oil, an effort to quantify the military's impact on global warming. It's from 2007, but it was so bad that HuffPo actually pulled the rest of the series. The man has clearly never been near a member of the military, except maybe during a protest. Favorite points include his mention of the "B-52 Stratocruiser" (merely one of many misunderstood aircraft), a claim that the "Seals" have a philosophy of "spray and pray" (a statement I would not like to make near actual SEALs), random shots at defense contractors unrelated to the article's thesis, an assumption that the military doesn't care about fuel economy (fuel logistics are a big concern, and if they could cut the amount of effort devoted to it, they would), and the claim that the Abraham Lincoln "fired 1.6 million pounds of ordnance from its guns" during the early stages of Iraqi Freedom (all three CIWS would have had to fire for almost 9 hours straight to do this).

But the most hilarious statement needs to be quoted in full to be appreciated. "President Bush ordered the USS Stennis and the USS Ronald Reagan to the Gulf in January 2007 as part of the surge. He also sent a “strike group,” led by the nuclear aircraft carrier the USS Eisenhower, along with a cruiser, a destroyer, a frigate, a submarine escort, and a supply ship. Already sitting in the Gulf were ten other “Carrier Task Forces” built around the aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Chester W. Nimitz, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Harry S. Truman, and the Abraham Lincoln." (Lack of italics in the original.)

Just marvel at that. 13 carrier groups in the Gulf at the same time. One of them built around a carrier that was decommissioned four years previously. Not a single carrier is in port, or protecting American interests elsewhere in the world. For that matter, Kennedy was due to decommission in March 2007, but there she was, flying strikes and polluting the planet. As best I can tell, he assumed every ship in the Gulf was a carrier, then went hunting for names. The mind boggles.

I haven't even begun to get all of his various and hilarious errors here. Go read the piece, and then the other article he wrote, which was very slightly less terrible.


  1. September 24, 2018RedRover said...

    Perhaps they confused the Stratocruiser with the Stratocaster guitar? Happens all the time, you know!

  2. September 24, 2018bean said...

    No, the Stratocruiser was a real airplane. It just is a very different one from the B-52 Stratofortress.

  3. September 25, 2018Aula said...

    Any thoughts on the Space Force initiative? (Personally I don't quite see the point, but I know next to nothing about such things.)

  4. September 25, 2018bean said...

    The short answer is that I'm not a huge fan. Space is still tied intimately to terrestrial warfare, and setting up a separate force will create some bad organizational incentives. The long answer will have to wait for the post that I have written on the subject.

  5. September 25, 2018cassander said...

    So who had it right? Well that depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Making organizations independent tends to give them better ability to defend their budget, a more coherent organizational identity and culture, and makes them less susceptible to pressure from other parts of the organization. None of those things is intrinsically good or bad, but can be good or bad depending on circumstances and what you're trying to achieve. In the long run an independent space force will get more money and be more independent of the other services. The question you have to ask is if you think that independence is worth the price that will come with it: money spent on space that won't be spent on other things, an institution with its own sense of priorities different than the rest of the military, and reduced integration with the rest of the military.

    For my money I don't think the tradeoff is worth it for a space force. For the foreseeable future, space assets are very much going to remain support assets, extremely valuable to be sure but unable to achieve important strategic effects on their own. This means that space force needs to be tightly integrated with the rest of the military, and it needs to understand deep in its bones that its purpose is to help the rest of the military, not to do its own thing. I think a space command modeled on SOCOM is where the sweet spot is, independent enough to have its own expertise, promotion paths, and ethos, but not so independent that it starts to forget it's a support arm (and frankly, even SOCOM might be getting a bit too independent)

    This is especially the case because they aren't talking about putting the ICBMs into space force, which means that one of the few concrete advantages (getting all the rocket people together in their own organization and out of an air force that treats them poorly) of a space force won't happen.

  6. September 25, 2018cassander said...

    Ack, ignore "So who had it right? Well that depends on what you’re trying to accomplish." from that comment, I meant to delete it.

    Also, truly some impressive defense journalism there. Someone needs get this man a regular column at Vox!

  7. September 25, 2018sfoil said...

    Independent air forces arose because military establishments identified a mission (strategic bombing) distinct from operating in the support of existing services. I don't think any such mission exists for a "space force".

    I suspect Space Force will mostly wage turf wars over coordination of government orbital assets and control of existing organizations like the Missile Defense Agency to uncertain but hopefully positive benefit. As a sexy sideshow, they'll theorize about "space supremacy" and maybe pay Raytheon to build an SM-3 missile with extended range.

    If we had off-world installations with resupply/trade links to Earth, the analogy to a navy ensuring control (or "freedom") of navigation becomes obvious and a space force emerges naturally from conditions. Alas, we do not.

  8. September 25, 2018IsANobody said...

    Does anyone have thoughts on this?

    I mostly think it's harmed by trying to have a relatable narrative, but I'm not sure what to make of the higher-level thesis.

  9. September 26, 2018bean said...

    Mini-book review: Hunt for Red October

    First, this isn't the first time I've read Hunt for Red October. That was when I was in middle school. But I just re-read it, and thought it was worth promoting.

    Clancy's first novel is probably the finest piece of naval fiction to come out of the Cold War. A riveting story, excellent technical detail, and a setting that feels very accurate to the late Cold War. If you haven't read it, go do so. The movie is good, but it lacks something of the book.

  10. September 27, 2018Lapsed Pacifist said...

    Hollywood showers for Jonesy!

    I grew up reading THFRO and Red Storm Rising.

    Tom Clancy's non-fiction military books are tolerable.

  11. September 27, 2018cassander said...


    The article is basically right that Taiwan can and should play the same sort of A2/AD game against China that china is trying to play against the US. That said, I don't think that the Taiwanese military is doing a very good job training for that sort of style of warfare. Thanks in large part to their long association with the US military, they are attempting to build a tiny replica of that force rather than one tailored to their own needs. Taiwan does not need a Marine Corps and amphibious assualt:, large ocean going destroyers, or other instruments for projecting power. They need diesel submarines, aegis ashore, and enormous quantities of SAMs dug into hills and shielded by bunkers. They need to make the island an enormous targeting problem, to push up the minimum cost of invasion as high as possible.

  12. September 27, 2018bean said...

    @Lapsed Pacifist

    Those non-fiction books played a very large part in me ending up where I am today. I still remember running across Fighter Wing in the Rock Hill library in the summer of 2000. I checked it out, not sure if I'd be able to read it. I devoured it, and the other volumes. They aren't spectacular, but they're very solid, if a bit dated.


    I wouldn't say that their destroyers are useless. If all they plan for is fighting off an invasion, they're easy to starve out, or otherwise bully in a less than total war sense. This is a bad place to be. No, I don't have an explanation for why they have or need marines.

  13. September 27, 2018cassander said...


    Destroyers aren't useless, but it's a lot cheaper for the Chinese to build land based ASM batteries than it is for the Taiwanese to build destroyers that can shoot them down. They'd be better off spending the same money on land based anti-missile/anti-ship systems and submarines to force the Chinese to build expensive destroyers.

  14. September 28, 2018bean said...

    The Marines just flew the first combat sorties of the F-35B over Afghanistan. They were behind the Israelis in using it in combat, but it's finally begun to deliver death and destruction to our enemies. Long may it do so!

  15. September 28, 2018bean said...


    You're analyzing the decision only through the lens of a hot war. Naval forces in particular are very, very useful in situations short of that. If the Chinese were to start sending their destroyers to harass container ships coming to Taiwanese ports, anti-ship missiles wouldn't be much use. That's the way that hot wars start. Sending a destroyer of your own to run interference for the merchie, on the other hand, puts the burden of starting a hot war back on Beijing.

  16. September 29, 2018Alex said...

    The only Clancy non-fiction I've read is Armored Cav, which I found to be pretty good. The text has the usual Clancy bombast, but the technical and organizational details are presented fairly well(to my nerdy-but-amateur eye), and there's some quality interviews and short fiction.

    His fiction starts off excellent, and slowly decays. As with a few other authors I can think of who started great but got too big for their editors(Frank Herbert, David Weber, etc.), keep reading in publication order until you stop enjoying it, and then put it down forever. It never gets better again. When I was a kid I made it out into the depths of his ghostwritten spinoff series, but as an adult I can only just scrape into Rainbow Six before I stop.

  17. September 29, 2018Said Achmiz said...

    The movie is good, but it lacks something of the book.

    This is basically my view of the movie: (tl;dr: I love that movie). (n.b.: I disagree with the commenters in that thread about the accents—they way they’re handled is actually great.)

    The book is also excellent! (Much better than ''The Bear and the Dragon'', which is the other of Clancy’s that I’ve read.)

  18. October 01, 2018bean said...

    Some good news from Washington recently. (Yes, I did really just say that.) On Friday, President Trump signed a bill containing funding for the FY19 defense budget, the first time in a decade that a final bill has been signed before the start of the relevant fiscal year.

  19. October 04, 2018bean said...

    Technical Note: For anyone who is having trouble seeing the CAPTHCHAs or otherwise finds functionality broken, try going to instead of I'm rolling out a separate domain, and some stuff isn't working on the old one.

  20. October 04, 2018Chuck said...

    The CAPTCHA! I can post again!

    I'm no longer a robot!

  21. October 08, 2018AlphaGamma said...

    In naval-related diplomatic spat news, the JMSDF has withdrawn from an international fleet review in South Korea after the Koreans told them not to fly their Rising Sun ensign.

    In order to maintain some level of deniability, the request from the Koreans was addressed to all participants, saying the only permitted flags were their own national flags and the South Korean flag. I find this a bit odd- I can't find a list of participating nations (beyond the fact that there were scheduled to be 15), but I imagine the RAN would probably turn up. Are they going to not fly the Australian White Ensign, or were the Koreans only planning to enforce this rule against Japan?

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