Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who is afraid of the US Navy?

Who is afraid of the US Navy? Neither the Somali Pirates nor the Iranians apparently are intimidated by the USN. These folks should be if they had sense, but what does sense have to do with either of these nations – Somalia has been a certified anarchy since 1991 and Iran is a theocracy controlled by religious zealots. To deal with these Somali criminals or frenzied Iranian ayatollahs, you carry a big stick and talk loudly to get their attention.

The other rule is to stay out of their backyard where they can concentrate their forces. In the case of Iran, the US has options. Deploying US warships in the Persian Gulf subjects them to attack by surface-to-sea and land-based aircraft with standoff air-to-ship missiles. Combine this threat with Iranian high speed kamikaze surface speed boats loaded with explosives, and the US is expected lose serious naval tonnage in a conflict.

So questions persist on why Admiral Mullen, Chief of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, appears addicted to deploying carrier task forces into the Persian Gulf. Mullen's maneuver room there is further constricted by the Straits of Hormuz choke point and the small size of the gulf. Nearly the full area of the gulf is needed to turn an aircraft carrier around. Admirals are quirky people who confound by sometimes sending their fleets to the bottom of the oceans – remember Admiral Kimmel at Pearl Harbor or the Spanish Armada or the Imperial Russian Fleet at Tushima or the French Navy at Trafalgar.

In the case of the Somali pirates, the US Navy has fewer serious threats, but to keep the sea lanes open around the Horn of Africa requires full-time naval deployment. The US Navy prefers to avoid picket duty or long term surface patrolling; it even managed to avoid serious integration into the Strategic Missile Defense System for that reason.

This patrolling is costly, time consuming and not cost effective strategically since ship owners appear too willingly prepared to pay ransoms as the price of doing business. You will note that no one appears eager to take on the pirates... It is further complicated by the fact that there are only about 150 ships under the US flag. Even at this, most of these crews are not American. Blowing off the Somali pirates as a low priority issue by the US ended a few days ago with the seizure of an American merchant captain from a US ship in the Bay of Aden by Somali pirates.

The American merchant captain is named Richard Phillips. He is a brave, gutsy guy who managed to trade himself as a hostage to save his ship and crew; he was held in a covered life boat at sea controlled by four Somali pirates.

The boat was under the surveillance of three US warships. Phillips incredibly jumped from the lifeboat to swim toward one US ship, the USS Bainbridge, but returned to the life boat when fired on by the pirates. Why the US ship just stood by during this episode is unknown. Finally, the life boat was attacked by US SEAL snipers. Phillips was rescued; three pirates were killed and one captured. Bravo Zulu! It is a real morale boost to witness a clean, successful military operation when all the right people were killed.

As this incident developed over five days, it became apparent the US decision making process was becoming contorted. There were many nervous officials and lots of what-if-ers. There were even some misplaced sympathies with the pirates. There were also concerns over retaliation by the pirates.

We know there was a piracy task force at the White House. We know the FBI had hostage negotiators involved. We know interpreters were used and Somali warlords on land were directly involved. We know the American ship owner had his own communications and was prepared to pay ransom for his captain's return. There is no doubt there were 100 lawyers participating for every SEAL on the scene.

Though Hillary made a pro forma statement generally deploring piracy, President Obama significantly had not made a peep. All options were open. The right one was selected and there is no argument with success.

The US Navy remains an awesome force. With its submarine launched MIRV missiles and nuclear armed carrier aircraft, it is a strong leg in the US strategic TRIAD; its Marine Corps constitute the best shock force in the world; its attack submarines and surface Navy control sea lanes at will, and can oppose any other surface navy. Its SEAL force is deadly as the Somali pirates just learned. Let us hope the Naval brigs still have the bread and water menu for our Somali pirate captive.

Apart from naming warships after blighted politicians, of all the services, Navy is by far the most parochial and subject to least political pressure and whims. That is okay with me as long as it wins wars. Too bad the US Army, with its politically rattled leadership, has seemed to have lost that skill. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret


Anonymous PIZZABOY said...

Whew!! Finally score one for us.
USA 1 - Somalia 0.
Obama got everyone together & demanded that they come up with something "unoriginal, unsubstantial, & overrated." At that point Nicolas Sarkozy called & said that he had just finished consulting with Gen Henry Navarre & that he felt that the best course of action would be a paratroop offensive. Hillary then bullied her way into the conversation & said
" BULLSH%T ASSH@LE! Navarres' been dead since 83!" Pentagon wunderkind Robert Gates then recommended a predator/reaper drone strike. Hillary pointed out that they're Somalis not Pashtuns, so that option was taken off the table. Hillary let out a deep sigh, mumbled something or other about growing a pair to no one in particular & gave the go ahead for the seals to take out the pirates with extreme prejudice.
Today, we are all squids....GONAVY!!!Let all African nations tremble in our wake!!!!


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