Friday, September 15, 2017

Jerry Pournelle Week V

25 years after the end of the Cold War and the publication of the ninth volume, Dr. Pournelle has revived his classic science fiction series with Castalia House. THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X continues the tradition of combining top-notch military science fiction with first-rate real-world analysis by military experts. The Cold War may have ended, but as recent events everywhere from Paris to Syria have demonstrated, war has not.
THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X is edited by Jerry Pournelle and features 18 stories, articles, and poems. Of particular note are “Battle Station” by Ben Bova, “Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai, "What Price Humanity?" by David VanDyke, and the eerily prescient "The Man Who Wasn't There” by Gregory Benford. Volume X also includes timely essays on "War and Migration" by Martin van Creveld, "The 4GW Counterforce" by William S. Lind and LtCol Gregory A. Thiele, USMC, and "The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control" by CDR Phillip E. Pournelle, USN, which was awarded the 2015 Literary Award by the Surface Navy Association for "the best professional article in any publication addressing Surface Navy or surface warfare issues."

THERE WILL BE WAR Volume X is free today and tomorrow. The following is an excerpt from "The Deadly Future of Littoral Sea Control" by CDR Phillip Pournelle. The introduction was written by his father, Jerry Pournelle.

Editor’s Introduction to:


by Commander Phillip E. Pournelle, U.S. Navy

The United States has always been a maritime power, and freedom of the seas has been our policy since the founding of the Republic. We have known since President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay tribute to the Barbary Coast pirates that blockade might not be enough. Sometime you must control the coastal areas and send the Marines to the shores of Tripoli.

The control of littoral areas generates different fleet requirements than controlling the high seas. Commander Phillip Pournelle has been involved with the future of naval requirements, including fleet structure, for years. This article was recently published by the United States Naval Institute and is reprinted here by permission of the institute. The opinions in the article are, of course, his own.

There is a lively debate about the future of the Navy, and how the Fleet should be structured, in Naval circles. Those interested in it should consult the Naval Institute Proceedings, where the various features of the force, including submarines, carriers, surface vessels, information warfare, and the Marines, are discussed. This essay concentrates on an important part of the debate.

When I was in the aerospace industry, I used to say that “the opinions expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of the Aerospace Corporation or the United States Air Force, and I think that’s a damn shame.” The opinions expressed here are those of Commander Pournelle, and not necessarily those of the United States Navy.

And I think that’s a damn shame.


by Commander Phillip E. Pournelle, U.S. Navy

In an age of precision-strike weapon proliferation, a big-ship navy equals a brittle fleet. What is needed is a revamped force structure based on smaller surface combatants.

The U.S. Navy is building a fleet that is not adapted to either the future mission set or rising threats. It is being built centered around aircraft carriers and submarines. Surface ships are being constructed either as escorts for the carriers or as ballistic-missile-defense platforms. While the littoral combat ship (LCS) was originally intended for sea-control operations in the littoral environment, its current design is best employed as a mother ship for other platforms to enter the littorals. The result of all this is a brittle—and thus risk-adverse—fleet that will not give us influence, may increase the likelihood of conflict, and will reduce the range of mission options available to the national command authority.

This trend is not unique to the Navy. Like other services, it has been operating since the end of the Cold War in unchallenged environments. For the last 12 years in particular, the United States has been operating against opponents who do not have the means to seriously challenge it in multiple arenas such as the air, sea, cyber, space, and other domains. However, due to the proliferation of precision-strike-regime (PSR) weapons and sensors, these domains are increasingly being contested, and the sea, particularly in the littorals, may become one of the most threatened of all these domains.

Sea control is the raison d’être for a navy. The littorals have become, and will increasingly be, critical to the global economy and joint operations. To be relevant a fleet must have the ability to secure the littorals, dispute them, or just as importantly, exercise in them, in the face of an enemy who will contest them. Different platforms perform each of these tasks, some more effectively than others, which should drive fleet architectures. As the proliferation of weapons changes the littoral environment, the U.S. Navy will be forced to reexamine fleet architectures and make some significant changes to remain viable. This is due to the poor staying power of surface vessels in relation to their signature in the face of these rising threats. This new deadly environment will have tactical, operational, and strategic implications for the fleet, and will require significant changes if the fleet wishes to remain effective.

Sir Julian’s Three Elements

What is sea control? As the Royal Navy puts it, it is “the condition in which one has freedom of action to use the sea for one’s own purposes in specified areas and for specified periods of time and, where necessary, to deny or limit its use to the enemy. Sea control includes the airspace above the surface and the water volume and seabed below.”

Without sea control, all other attributions and capabilities for a fleet are irrelevant. As noted by the classic naval strategist Sir Julian Corbett, control (he used the word “command”) of the sea is fleeting and “the only positive value which the high seas have for national life is as a means of communication.” Given the fleeting status of command/control then, accomplishing it must be in support of further goals. Corbett breaks down his concept of control of the sea into three distinct areas: securing command, disputing command, and exercising command. Where securing enables exercising command, disputing may deny, or at least reduce, the ability of an opponent to use the sea for his own purposes.

So it would appear a navy unable to accomplish Corbett’s three elements is unbalanced, particularly if it cannot do so in the critical littorals. Execution of Corbett’s three areas can roughly be translated into three current mission areas: scouting, maritime-interception operations (MIO), and destruction. Enemy forces, and merchant ships, must be located through scouting. While ships and merchants could be simply swept from the sea, more often than not there is a need to be present to shape events and conduct visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) or MIO in support of sanctions, proliferation reduction, or other operations short of unrestricted warfare. VBSS/MIO is critical when there is a need to confirm the identity or contents of a vessel.

The characteristics of different platforms drive their strengths and weaknesses within these three mission areas. In the past, aircraft carriers were the best platforms to secure command of the sea. That role is being contested in anti-access/area-denial environments created by competitors. The air wing provided excellent scouting capabilities, but the U.S. Navy has determined land-based maritime-patrol aircraft (MPA) are best capable of searching large volumes of water, as long as the airspace is not being contested. The carrier is an inefficient vessel for VBSS. It is only used in the most extreme circumstances and limited in capacity. Further, because so many other mission capacities are tied up in one platform, using the carrier for VBSS (or humanitarian aid/disaster relief, for that matter) denies these capabilities to other missions during the duration of the operation. The carrier air wing is currently the best platform for destruction thanks to the volume of fire it can produce, and the mobility of the carrier as a home base, though it can be argued surface ships could be more cost-effective in this role. MPA can be effective in destruction but are limited by the fixed operating location of their airfield.

Submarines are poor scouting platforms with limited perception of the area around them, but they can enter anti-access areas often denied to surface ships and carriers. While they are poor VBSS/MIO platforms and have not been used in that role, submarines have an oversized impact on destruction. Their weapon of choice, as seen in the Falklands War, can be extremely deadly, and the psychological shock of an unlocated submarine can neutralize an enemy fleet.

Surface ships are good scouting platforms, particularly if equipped with helicopters and/or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They are good platforms for destruction if armed with appropriate weapons. The U.S. Navy has long vacillated back and forth regarding arming them with Harpoon or other antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) mostly because of target-identification challenges. Surface ships are the best platform for conducting VBSS/MIO, if there are sufficient numbers of ships. Today Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are conducting VBSS/MIO off the coast of Africa and other locations.

Given the cost and other mission capabilities, does it really make sense for these air-defense destroyers or other large capital ships to conduct VBSS/MIO?

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Blogger dc.sunsets September 15, 2017 8:33 AM  

These considerations are relevant subjects of PowerPoint presentations within the Navy's command structure, but a far more relevant set of questions revolve around 1) the breadth and depth of "control" over distant areas that are actually territorial waters of OTHER NATIONS (or peoples) and 2) the problem of metastasizing, albeit organic development of perverse incentives that make the Navy (and all of the globe-spanning military) simply a conduit for one faction to pillage competitor factions in the US polity.

Asking a military officer about warfare is hardly enlisting the informed opinion of a disinterested investigator. War (or preparing for war) is their BUSINESS. That's the opposite of disinterested. Add to that, the fact that the US military has, since Eisenhower's Farewell Address, become a naked conduit to use servicemen, war and conflict to funnel vast sums of money into the hands of those who produce the weapons, sell the fuels, feed and clothe and--etc.--, the military.

Today's US servicemen serve largely the same role as college students and people eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. They are the *excuse* for a vast, coordinated system of concentrating socialized resources into a relative few hands. This is evident from any dispassionate view of the OUTPUT of all things military, higher ed and medical. The cost-benefit calculation, the value, is a shadow of the past.

It will be fascinating to watch those grown fat on milking the Pentagon, HHS, and all the other relevant government agencies suddenly discover (soon) that the gushing river of swag is but a trickle. The warriors will scream that threats loom on land, in sea and sky, the educators will decry the effects of the Idiocracy they helped create and endless hand-wringing over Granny's New Hip will deafen us all, even as we worry about our own future, cut off from the Magic of Government Demand.

Blogger Mr.MantraMan September 15, 2017 8:43 AM  

Well dc. Cold War warriors gotta Cold War war ya know. Sad to see Trump have to play Globohomo leader of the free world and all that stupid shit of stirring up anarchy, pestilence and debt upon the world while the people offering the solutions created the problems.

Anonymous TheTruthIsNeverAcceptable September 15, 2017 8:55 AM  

Mr.MantraMan wrote:...while the people offering the solutions created the problems.
It appears the worm is turning however. Here is an interesting take from Fox on the red-pilling of liberal America.

Blogger dc.sunsets September 15, 2017 8:58 AM  

I read Commander Pournelle's presentation from the perspective of someone who understands that having a mechanism for reducing the spread of chaos from Chaostan is very worthwhile. I know next to nothing about the Navy, other than that the downward distribution of technology means that eventually its surface ships and aircraft will be vulnerable to any 4GW opponent who can buy a guided missile from a 3rd party arms merchant. As I understand it, the Navy's surface ships are highly vulnerable to supersonic weapons in use by Russia and possibly China, which means that the astonishingly costly fleet is America's Maginot Line. In the end, the avoidance of warfare falls ENTIRELY to nuclear deterrence (assuming economic interdependence inevitably ends with this long period of monetary madness.)

What does it all mean? Everything I see, everywhere, looks completely hollow to me. The US military is addicted to "high tech" systems with long supply lines, a system intentionally constructed to create a trail of highly profitable (and constant) maintenance. The US makes the world "safe for democracy" even as it imports tens of millions of foreign people who will turn North America into the places from where they came.

I don't believe in multi-generational conspiracies, but if I did, I'd say this whole thing was orchestrated to utterly destroy Western Civilization and its pinnacle, the society created largely by Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

A Rasberry Pi on sale (worldwide) for $35 or less probably has more processing power than a missile guidance system from 15 years ago. China is manufacturing quad-copter drones by the millions for distribution to anyone with two nickels. Yet we're lathered up about NK? It's not always the Top Line concern that ends up being relevant.

Anonymous Prionyx September 15, 2017 9:08 AM  

Vox, does Castalia House have plans to publish There Will Be War volumes 7 and 8?

And also, hardcover editions like the one for Vols I and II?

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr September 15, 2017 9:18 AM  

I don't always agree with Philip Pournelle (and I've been a Life USNI member for 25 years). In particular, I think he tends to be overly surface-centric, and tends to neglect the flexibility of Naval Aviation. But he's one of the sharper thinkers out there, able to go beyond Powerpoint-level arguments and willing to break with the Conventional Wisdom. He's worth reading.

Blogger JohnofAustria September 15, 2017 9:32 AM  

Ok, USMC officer type here, status undisclosed. This is actually a topic that the Navy has seen some shift in the right direction in recent years. Although Blue water and air are still holding the tiller, the Navy now understands that coastal A2/AD is the biggest threat to their control, and that 4GW and tech are changing the threat profile. Formerly only relatively equally sophisticated enemies could threaten them, now they have acknowledged the asymmetric nature of the growing threat.

The biggest issue is still looking for gadgets to fix it, instead of men.

Blogger Revelation Means Hope September 15, 2017 9:33 AM  

There Will Be War X was an excellent read, I like all the stories within, especially Flashpoint: Titan. Working in finding more stories by Cheah Kai Wai.

Blogger Were-Puppy September 15, 2017 9:41 AM  

I got this when it first came out, and it's got some great stories in it. The one that sticks in my mind long after reading it was the one where the Chinese invent a genetic bomb to unleash on Africa.

Blogger Mr.MantraMan September 15, 2017 9:50 AM  

I gotta go with Mr. Hope. My reasoning being that American Boomercons and GenXcons just won't leave the post-1945/Cold War era Team America "fuck yeah" World Police role behind them.

If America has a strategy then the best I can tell is to allow some shambaholic crazy cat ladies like Susan Rice and company fuck everything up then bring in some .milcons to try and sort it out. Fail IMO.

As for strategy going forward Coulter asked the pertinent question yesterday of our president, "WTF is the purpose of our military?" The answers might lie with non-Americans not the Clancy class of clowns we have now.

Blogger pdwalker September 15, 2017 10:31 AM  

I had the distinct privledge of corresponding with Dr Pournelle for over 20 years. He always responded, which is a rare honour for someone as busy as he was.

I'm rereading his writings, which only drives home to me the point that the world has lost a great mind, man and philosopher. Oh, and science fiction writer.

Thank you VD, for republishing "There will be War". Seriously, thank you.

I pray there is a Heaven, or a Valhalla and that Dr Pournelle is an honoured guest there.


Blogger pdwalker September 15, 2017 10:33 AM  

It's a story that rides too close to reality to ignore.

Blogger VD September 15, 2017 10:48 AM  

Vox, does Castalia House have plans to publish There Will Be War volumes 7 and 8?

Later this month or early October.

And also, hardcover editions like the one for Vols I and II?

For all of them, yes.

Blogger GreenEyedJinn September 15, 2017 11:12 AM  

Huh...23 years in submarines. You mean it WASN'T MIO that we were doing??
So awesome that a surface line guy will tell me all about my mission. There's a reason that everybody in the Navy knows that LCS really stands for "Little, Crappy Ship."
A close friend who's been involved the operational development of the LCS platforms once told me, "I hope none of your (my two Active Duty Navy) kids are EVER stationed on one of those."

CDR Pournelle got one thing right: submarines sure can do the destruction thing. Ask any aircraft carrier CO what he fears the most.

As for operating UUVs, etc. Google: Blackwing. Or, consider control hand-offs from a launch station to a covert controller. Ever wonder who could maneuver a clandestine, mobile mine into an enemy harbor?
And then we can talk.

Anonymous Iacobus September 15, 2017 12:45 PM  

Geez, I keep this up, I'm gonna have books to read well into the end of the year... xD

Thanks, Vox! :D

Blogger OldFan September 15, 2017 12:58 PM  

Ever since they invented torpedo boats, the "swarm of small agile systems" advocates have been asserting that "big ships were obsolete." Meanwhile, back in the real world, no warship (Destroyer or larger) had EVER been sunk by small craft (No, that wonderful John Wayne movie does NOT count). The reason is that ships shoot back and bigger ships shoot back a lot.

The lack of viable air defense systems for small surface combatants means they are sitting ducks for aircraft - or they have no room for anti-ship weapons.

Simulations always favor the swarm of small attackers over the single big target, because the the simulated small ships always attack fearlessly in the face of certain doom. Also, nobody has to actually live on board those tiny vessels for days and weeks at a time. And of course, they require no maintenance - a good thing since their tiny crews can't do any.

Meanwhile, technology may actually make small attackers irrelevant. Imagine a battleship with six atomic reactors and 300 megawatts of total power using multiple rail guns, microwave beams, and lasers to swat 100 missiles out of the sky - and then unleashing drones to hunt down the platforms that launched them.

For the record, exactly one post-dreadnought battleship has ever been sunk by a torpedo boat - and it was built in the same yard the Titanic was made in (the watertight doors weren't). The record for ship-killer missiles is even worse: one ancient destroyer.

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Blogger Were-Puppy September 15, 2017 2:42 PM  

China unveils physics-defying engine for deep space exploration

Blogger dc.sunsets September 15, 2017 5:06 PM  

Were-puppy, from whom did they steal it?

Anonymous Man of the Atom September 15, 2017 5:53 PM  

dc.sunsets wrote:Were-puppy, from whom did they steal it?

Any number of researchers
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Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit September 15, 2017 8:46 PM  

Thanks for publishing theses. I am so glad Dr. Pournelle got to see this classic series revived and reinvigorated.

Blogger Dirk Manly September 16, 2017 12:38 AM  

"I got this when it first came out, and it's got some great stories in it. The one that sticks in my mind long after reading it was the one where the Chinese invent a genetic bomb to unleash on Africa."

Um... Africa developed a genetic bomb which has been unleashed on the world. It's called Africans.

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