The Immortal Memory

During the negotiations with France when we were trying to buy New Orléans President Jefferson wrote an open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, meaning if France took control of Louisiana it would mean war between France and the United States, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark” Of course we know that France sold Louisiana to the US so it ended well.

But, this is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English-speaking peoples with our concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleons most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had blockaded the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage, and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind (and against standing orders) they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory , HM Naval Base, Portsmouth

The Admiral in command was Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

It is also interesting Nelson being Vice Admiral of the White is the reason that the Royal Navy from that day flies the White Ensign, before it flew all three depending on the fleet commander’s rank. The black hatband on British, American, and Russian naval enlisted caps all memorialize Nelson as well.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

Great Britain would hold uncontested command of the sea, even joining World War I partly to prevent Germany from overtaking the Royal Navy until, in 1921, she agreed to parity with the United States at the Washington Naval Conference. And it should be noted, that even then, it was not willingly, Britain was exhausted and bankrupt from the Great War, and probably recognized that the US would use her sea power much as Britain had, which has proved to be the case. It is also from this date that the United Kingdom began to recede from the first rank of great powers, although her legacy has been for the most part upheld by the US and the Commonwealth.

That’s fine, I hear you say, what’s that got to do with me, especially as an American, these 212 years later? Several things which we will talk about a bit here.

  1. The Atlantic Slave Trade ended because the British decided that it should and the Americans agreed. This led to the establishment of patrols by both navies off the west coast of Africa, effectively ending the trade. Without this, and without the Abolitionist sentiment in the United Kingdom, it is almost inconceivable that slavery would have ended in the western world.
  2. The South and Central American Republics remain independent (and sometimes free) countries. After the Napoleonic wars Metternich’s Council of Vienna considered all of continental Europe helping Spain recover her American colonies, until they found out that they would have to go through the Royal Navy. Yes, we proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 after Prime Minister George Canning proposed a joint statement, the story is that Secretary of State John Q. Adams said that would make us look like a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war. Therefore, we proclaimed it unilaterally. But it was enforced almost exclusively until the Spanish-American War by the Royal Navy because it was to the advantage of British mercantile interests. Britain thereby performed the same service for the New World that the US would for Europe in the last half of the Twentieth Century.
  3. The growth and development of America, if a continental power had regained control of Mexico there is a very good chance that it would have expanded into the heartland of America, certainly Texas and entirely possibly all or most of the Louisiana Purchase.

And so we, as Americans, even as the British, should remain grateful for those ‘distant storm-tossed ships’ of the Royal Navy, led by one of the great commanders of history.

And so, I give you the toast that will be drunk tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places. It is the one traditionally naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is: Rule Britannia.

And so today as the Queen Elizabeth, the first of the CVFs prepares to join the fleet, we again see the Royal Navy prepare to take on all the tasks that the Anglo-Saxons have performed for the world’s benefit since the Armada, itself.

In a remarkable coincidence, the other remaining warship of the period USS Constitution was christened on this day in 1797 at the Boston Navy Yard. While HMS Victory is the oldest ship in commission, USS Constitution (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) is the oldest warship still afloat and able to sail on its own. Victory is in permanent drydock.

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Safety First?

Should we really be putting safety first? Sure, it’s important to us all, and we should try to be safe. But does it override all other conditions? There was a story a few years ago about police and fire responders who watched a man drown because they didn’t have the proper personal protective equipment. Is that proper? If not, why not? Anna Mussmann over at The Federalist thought about this the other day.

“Be safe,” we shout. It would be nice, of course, if everyone also made an attempt at kindness, wisdom, courage, and compassion; but safety is the one thing we demand.

Safety is a code of conduct that transcends class and creed. It is a duty all have been raised to acknowledge, and therefore it allows us to speak to others, to tell them what to do. We aren’t supposed to chastise other people’s children in matters of morals or manners, but no one blinks at, “Don’t do that, or else you’ll get hurt.” No one is shocked at rules developed “for your own safety.”

In a religion of safety, it is only natural that suffering is the ultimate sin. […]

And we are reminded that safety isn’t a virtue at all. Because when a shooter is active, real virtue doesn’t hog the safest spot. Virtue tells others, “Here, stand behind me.” When fires roar through neighborhoods, virtue runs toward the smoke and flames to evacuate hospital patients from buildings surrounded by scorching wind. Real virtue is dangerous. Real virtue actively chooses the path of pain and potential suffering.

The violence in Vegas and the destruction in California’s wine country are both terrible reminders of the brokenness of our world. Yet in the dark shadow of these events we see also the breathtaking beauty of love and self-sacrifice. We see that the cold faith of materialism—the brutal selfishness of a religion that puts our own physical wellbeing above all other things—is not enough.

Because, of course, self-sacrifice-as-virtue doesn’t make any sense unless reality is bigger than human life. People who give up their own lives in order to save others are either the ultimate criminals against truth, or else they are witnesses to the truth of an eternity that changes the meaning of what is good and what is evil.  And national tragedies force us to ask which of those statements is a lie.

She’s right, you know. We don’t honor Audie Murphy, or George Washington, let alone The Light Brigade because they put themselves first. They cared about themselves and did their best to protect themselves, but it wasn’t the most important thing, was it? That was the mission, whether it was taking the Russian guns, founding America, or protecting his comrades, something mattered more than their safety.

Granted we are well advised to attempt to be safe, we are not likely to accomplish much by throwing our lives away, but ‘Safety First’ is a false religion. Other things, other people are more important.

If one talks to almost any of the many military heroes of America, one finds that whatever they did to earn that bauble was done to save somebody else. That is our definition of a hero, a man or women who is prepared to sacrifice himself for another. Anna ends with this, and it summarizes quite well.

Our neighbors suffer because they are sinners. So are—and will—we all. The question is not how to escape the pain of being human. The question is: how ought humans to suffer? We have seen the first responders, the courageous bystanders, and the self-sacrificial victims who tried to shelter others. All are witnesses to the truth that humans are more than a body to be kept safe. Humans possess a soul. As the old revival meetings told us, souls can be saved; but Jesus also tells us “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Our culture values safety above all things. In the end, this teaches us to value only ourselves. The real tragedy is that as we rush about protecting our bodies, we are losing our souls.

The [Continuing] Story of Freedom

I don’t know about you guys, but most of what we have talked about this week, I find distasteful. There are few things that infuriate me more than the abuse of power, and it’s only worse when it is a powerful man abusing young women. perhaps at least some of them were willing to play the game, after all ‘the casting couch’ is a cliché for a reason, but why, exactly, should they have to. Yes, people will always abuse power, if they can, but we do not have to let them. In any case that was part of the reason that this week’s picture post was about Navy Day, not that they don’t deserve the recognition. I had simply had enough, and most of what I had was about Weinstein. Yuck! As I said today in a comment, Lord Acton was correct, “The love of power corrupts, and the love of absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”

One of the things I do when I get in this spot is to go back in our earlier posts, usually Jessica’s. She had a way of making things clear, no matter how much mud was spattered about, and it is one of the things I miss most about her. Some of her basic goodness comes through in those posts, and they help me, and I hope they help your morale as well. In her post from December 30, 2012, she reminds us that our freedom has a long history which is intertwined in British and American history. Here she takes us back to show us that the original resistance to secular tyranny came from none other than the Church, in our case through the Archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas Becket and thence to another Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, who stood up to King John of infamous memory. But let her tell it, she tells it much better than I do. here’s my dearly beloved dearest friend, Jessica.

The story of Becket reminds us of the eternal conflict between the Church and the State. It is the natural wish of the latter, whether in the guise of a king, an aristocracy or ‘the people’ to encompass as much power to itself as it can. There is only one culture where this has been challenged successfully, and it is that of the Latin West. For all the atheists’ charge that the Church has been some sort of dictator, it never has been; indeed it has been the bridle on that happening in our societies.

I mentioned Stephen Langton yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury whom King John had refused to accept, and who sided with the Barons in their fight against the King’s tyranny. That does not mean, of course, that the Church has not had times when it has cooperated with tyranny, but it does mean that it has stood out, always, against the State controlling everything. Indeed, it was this example which gave courage to those who came to see the Church itself as a spiritually tyranny, corrupt and refusing to mend its ways. We can argue over the results of that, but what is unarguable is that it is from the deepest part of Christianity that the belief in freedom under God comes.

That qualification matters. Our forefathers did not mistake freedom for license. They knew they would stand one day before God to account for their time here on earth. They knew their sinful ways, they did not blame ‘society’, they knew that sin was an act of will on their part – of sinful rebellion against God. But they also knew that only through freedom could man be truly himself. Like God Himself, they believed in free will. Man was not free when he was in chains – literal and metaphorical ones. The black slaves were in literal chains, their owners in metaphorical ones.

Freedom has a price. Part of that is that we have to bridle ourselves. The excesses of our species when left to itself show why. Made in the image of God, we are capable of deeds of utmost evil, and we can also rise to heights of altruism and love – as the lives of the Saints show us.

We Christians are strangers in this world. We are meant to be the leaven; but too often we are the salt that has lost its savour. America is the one country in the world founded on a vision of how things could be. From its beginning it has taken the hard road of trying to rule itself without kings or aristocracies. It has found itself in some dark places, not least during its Civil War. But it has always valued freedom – and always acknowledged that there is a price to be paid.

There is a long and continuous thread leading from Magna Carta to now. We forget at our peril how unique that story is. You won’t find it elsewhere  – do we cherish it as we should?

In the Belly of the Beast

So President Trump spoke to UN General Assembly yesterday. It was very good to watch the world as they saw once again what an American president looks and sounds like. One of my favorites along this line, roughly quoting from memory, “I will do what is right and proper for America, first, and the rest of the world second, and I expect all leaders of countries to do the same.” In any case, here’s the speech.

There’s a lot to like here if you’re an American patriot or a friend of America, and I found almost nothing to dislike. From “Welcome to New York” to “Rocketman” and all the way through it was pretty much a speech that should make us proud that “We, the People” chose this man, against the advice of those who would mislead us to lead us. Do I agree with everything? In this speech, pretty much. Day to day, not so much, but that’s life. Like St. Peter, I’m sometimes a bit quick with the sword, sometimes a helping hand is more appropriate, but the sword must be kept at hand.

You’ll note that there is some bleating from the purveyors of fake news sometimes called ABC at the end. The main point I’ll make about it is this. Yes, war in Korea would be a horrible, expensive, bloody mess, and we should try very hard to avoid it. But a nuclear attack on the United States, Japan, and South Korea, would be far worse. Yes, our military would take, perhaps, many casualties, and you’ll find no stronger champion of the US soldier, sailor, marine, and airman than I am, but in the last analysis, that is their job, to protect the United States and our allies. They knew that when they signed up, almost all of them, by now, when the United States was already at war. That is a price that many of our men and women have been willing to pay, from Crispus Attucks on down. And that willingness is also why we admire them so, often calling them the best of us, because they are.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed because some people might die, all people die, someday. And any cause worth living for is also worth dying for. It’s wrong to throw away their lives for little reason, but it’s also wrong to be paralyzed by the fear of taking casualties.

Too often we (especially cossetted civilians) forget:

First: The Mission

Second: The People

In fact, sometimes the military itself forgets, especially in the press of events, and dealing with not enough people to do what needs doing. That is not to say our people (and their families) are not important. They are, critically so, but we cannot consider them more important than the mission, for without succeeding in the mission, their lives (and ours) are forfeit.

But for me, at least this speech marks the return of a recognizably American leadership, after an interregnum that was quite worrying on many levels, one of them well stated by General MacArthur, back in 1933, when he was Chief of Staff of the Army.

“The unfailing formula for production of morale is patriotism, selfrespect, discipline, and self–confidence within a military unit, joined with fair treatment and merited appreciation from without. It cannot be produced by pampering or coddling an army, and is not necessarily destroyed by hardship, danger, or even calamity. Though it can survive and develop in adversity that comes as an inescapable incident to service, it will quickly wither and die if soldiers come to believe themselves the victims of indifference or injustice on the part of their government, or of ignorance, personal ambition, or ineptitude on the part of their military leaders.”

Remembering Heroes

The monument to Rick Rescorla in Cornwall

Well, it’s Sept 11th once again. And so once again we will remember (as truly we do each day) what happened 16 years ago today, in New York, in Washington D.C, and in Pennsylvania. Back in 2011, almost all of us wrote about the day of the attack, what I said is here, and mostly I still believe it. But I think we’ll write about something else today. Perhaps something that most of our so-called betters think is obsolete, we will speak today of heroes, for indeed 9/11 had them as 7 DEC 41 did.

It’s important to remember our heroes. In recounting their deeds, we carry on our myths, even as the old Vikings did in the Icelandic Sagas. These are the sagamen of America, some are fictional, such as those played by the duke, although they are still valuable, the best ones are real.

One of the most interesting was Colonel Rick Rescorla, USA Ret. Born in Cornwall, he enlisted at 17 in the British army (in the Paras) immigrated to the US and was the  Platoon Leader, B Co 2/7 Cavalry in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in the battle of Ia Drang, where he gave the British commands of ‘Fix Bayonets, On Line, Ready forward’. His picture is on the cover of ‘We Were Soldiers’. That’s quite the entry on any man’s resume, but his continues. On 9/11 he was vice president of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. We all know what happened that day, but do we remember that only six Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated. One them was this man, now a retired Colonel, who stayed to make sure he got his people out.

But there was something else about the Colonel, he loved to sing. When he or his people were stressed he would sing to keep them steady. On the day of that bayonet charge, and again on 9/11 he sang the same song. It;s one of my favorites, ever since I saw the movie Zulu, perhaps you’ve heard it too.

One of our (and the United Kingdom’s, as well) best. He should never be forgotten, and I doubt he will be. Of such men are sagas made.

But he wasn’t the only one either, over Pennsylvania a bunch of American civilians counterattacked, just minutes into this war. They died in the attempt, but they thwarted the plan. Jodi Giddings found some videos and wrote a most moving commentary.

But the passengers weren’t about to allow a fourth plane to strike another target. And the decision they made that fateful September morning will be remembered forever.

Huddled in the rear of the plane, behind a row of seats and out of sight of the hijackers, a group of passengers voted on whether or not to fight back. Their choice? Fight. Or die.

Just minutes later, Todd Beamer and the other brave men rushed the plane’s cockpit, in hopes of retaking control of the aircraft. A struggle ensued:

And this, heart-wrenching remembrance

Jodi continues:

That she did.

You see, the Flight 93 passengers were not victims of 9/11. They were our first warriors, courageous heroes who fought back against a senseless evil hell-bent on bringing America to her knees. With every ounce of their might, on a cloudless, late-summer morning in September, they saved the lives of untold numbers of their fellow Americans, selflessly giving their own over a quiet field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Their memories live on:

And so they shall, as long as men remember, and celebrates the heroes amongst us, and those who have kept us free.

These too were American heroes, who willingly gave their lives, to save the lives of others.

Tongues of fire on Idris flaring

News of foe-men near declaring,

To heroic deed of daring,

Call you, Harlech men.

Indeed, the history of freemen is rife with stories of such men, and they have been our answer to all who would enslave us, and the story continues, and it shall, as long as we remember…

Let’s Roll

General Patton once said very truly,

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

 

Sea Lines of Communication

Maritime Traffic, courtesy of the Naval War College

Back when I was a young man I was a member of both the Air Force Association and the United States Naval Institute. Both helped my knowledge of world affairs (and the military’s role) immensely. They are interesting organizations.

Those of you have been in (or even around) the military know what lines of communications are. That’s where orders come down but, so do the beans, bullets, and gas. The thing is countries have them too. The United States has them all over the world, and even where they may not be so crucial to us they may be to our allies.

For instance our lines of communication to Europe have always been important, they were one of the causes of winning the Revolution and were also one of the major causes of the war of 1812.

Sea lines of communication are what the navy is all about (with some help from the air force). I’ve written before about Freedom of the Seas, what is important here is that this is a defensive posture, we need the sea lanes open. The other side of this is area denial, which means you can’t use it even if I can’t either. This is what the German U-boat campaigns in both world wars and the US sub campaign against Japan were all about. This is a much easier (although an offensive and not a defensive ) mission.

Sea Lines of Communication (or SLOC, as they are sometimes called) are one of the causes of the Spanish-American War, we needed Hawaii and Cuba/Puerto Rico as coaling bases for the fleet to support the isthmian canal which we needed to be able to reinforce either the Pacific Fleet or Atlantic Fleet as required.

This is what our Carrier Battle Groups do: they defend the sea lanes and they do it superlatively. World commerce works because the United States Navy protects it, before we had this duty, it was the reason for the Royal Navy. That’s why in both countries, while honored and admired, submariners have rarely been the commanders. Yes, I know, Nimitz.  Submarine are an area denial weapon, so are the air forces.

One of the most interesting anomalies in the Air Force is that the individualistic, hell for leather fighter pilots are a defensive weapon while the anonymous bombers crews are the offense.

The SLOCs have some choke points built-in to them, During the Cold War there was a lot of talk about the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom (GIUK) gap. The reason was that much of the US’s and Canada’s war material was in North America and would constitute the follow on force in a general war in western Europe. Other ones are Gibraltar, the Dardanelles, the English Channel, the Strait of Hormuz, and the one I’m mostly talking about today, the Malacca Strait. See map.

The Strait of Malacca

Here’s the description from Wikipedia:

The Strait of Malacca is a narrow, 805 km (500 mi) stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia) and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is named after the Malacca Sultanate that ruled over the archipelago between 1414 and 1511.

And here, again from Wikipedia, is why it’s important:

From an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

The strait is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asian economies such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. Over 50,000 (94,000?)vessels pass through the strait per year, carrying about one-quarter of the world’s traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.

About a quarter of all oil carried by sea passes through the strait, mainly from Persian Gulf suppliers to Asian markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea. In 2006, an estimated 15 million barrels per day (2,400,000 m3/d) were transported through the strait.

That’s a lot of oil, and a lot of it goes to our friends in the region, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

You’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver there, that’s a problem for us. The carriers while immensely powerful (equal to most country’s air forces) need room to maneuver, when you’re sailing into the wind at 30 knots you can cover a lot of water. but it’s doable. They are also quite vulnerable if an enemy can get close, that’s what the rest of the battle group is about. This, incidentally, has been true of capital ships forever, battleships had vulnerabilities too, chiefly to aircraft and submarines.

Anyway, the Obama administration made a lot of noise a while back about a ‘Pivot to Asia” or something like that. That could make sense since they seem to be running away from our commitments in the Middle East. But that leaves the question, With what?

Let’s take a look at a couple of charts from the Naval History Center:

U.S.Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1917-1923

Date 4/6/17 11/11/18 7/1/19 7/1/20 7/1/21 7/1/22 7/1/23
Battleship 37 39 36 26 22 19 18
Monitors, Coastal 7 7 5 1 2@
Carriers, Fleet
Carriers, Escort
Cruisers 33 31 28 27 10 12 13
Destroyers 66 110 161 189 68 (208rc ) 103 103
Frigates 17 17
Submarines 44 80 91 58 69 (11rc) 82 (7rc) 69 (5rc)
Mine Warfare 53 62 48 50 (8rc) 36 38
Patrol 42 350 65 45 59 (1rc) 43 41
Auxiliary 96 87 304 173 104 83 82
Surface Warships 160 204 230 243 102 134 134
Total Active 342 774 752 567 384 (228rc) 379 (7rc) 365 (5rc)
Events
•  U.S. enters WWI 6 April 1917

•  Bolshevik Revolution begins 28 October (Old Style) 1917

•  WWI ends 11 November 1918

•  Washington Treaty in force 17 August 1923.

and

U.S.Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 2007 to 2011

Date 9/30/07 9/30/08 9/30/09 9/30/10 9/30/11
Carriers 11 11 11 11 11
Cruisers 22 22 22 22 22
Destroyers 52 54 57 59 61
Frigates 30 30 30 29 26
LCS * 1 1 2 2
Submarines 53 53 53 53 53
SSBN 14 14 14 14 14
SSGN 4 4 4 4 4
Mine Warfare 14 14 14 14 14
Amphibious 33 34 33 33 31
Auxiliary 46 45 46 47 47
Surface Warships 115 118  121  123 122
Total Active 278** 282 285 288 285
Notes
•    Cost increases encourage construction of more affordable class of littoral combat ships, intended for inshore or ‘brown water’ operations in high risk environments.

*     Littoral Combat Ship

**     Low since 19th-century

Thus we can see that the navy is smaller than it was on the eve of World War 1 when its primary role was hemispheric defense, not the worldwide mission it has now, and only 7 ships larger than it has been at any time since the 19th century. Sure, the modern navy is far more powerful and because of the logistics train that the navy perfected in World War II much more far-ranging than the old coal powered fleet. But, you know what, our men (and women) still like to come home once in a while. They are seeing down the road still more cutbacks in their personnel. In some ways, normally the air force can pick up some of the slack but, the cuts they are facing are worse than the navy’s, and the air force maritime role is area denial, aircraft cannot control the sea (or land), they can only make it unusable for the enemy.

The Threat:

The threats in the area of the Straits of Malacca are both real and potential. This is another area in which piracy is fairly common, the solutions are known but spottily applied. A carrier battle group for this is rather like swatting flies with a battleship’s main battery anyway. What’s needed here are small, fast ,versatile ships with helos instead of jet fighters and marines (or seals) deployed. That’s fine in an otherwise innocuous area but, there are other threats, real and potential.

The other threat is China, of course. This could be their big breakthrough onto the world stage. Blocking the Strait of Malacca could starve Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and maybe Australia and New Zealand into submission. That’s a strategic victory for China. We’ve been hearing for a while now about their development of attack drones. Like our air force, these would be an area denial weapon, they can’t control the area with them but they can keep anyone from using it without their permission. These could even be a threat to our carrier battle groups. They’re not there yet but with their expertise in cyber-warfare and stolen western technology they could get there. What are we going to do about it? It’s going to depend on what we (and our allies) have and the cupboard while not empty is surely not stocked for this scale of operations.

The coupling of defense into the budget talks has done the national security mission great harm in the last few years. Will there be enough for the challenges ahead? I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like anybody else has much confidence either. That’s always a bad way to go into the future.

Si vis pacem, para bellum

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