The Myth of Maritime Counterinsurgency

Lieutenant Commander Hayes vanquishes a straw-man lookalike of the maritime counterinsurgency concept, but, in the end, the counterinsurgency idea emerges unscathed. I encourage new readers to turn to the sources the author cites before accepting his argument and to find for themselves the logic of the original theory.

The “myth” notion rests almost entirely on a circular argument. Treating doctrine as divine revelation, the author defines insurgency as an intrastate phenomenon and therefore concludes that it cannot occur on an international basis. This is a see-no-evil approach, willfully neglecting that the world itself is a political community; that there has been a general set of rules or norms imposed on the world polity since 1945; and that China seeks to replace that framework of rules with the ancient paradigm of “might makes right.” This is Hayes’s own definition of an insurgency—“a struggle for control and influence . . . outside existing state institutions”—except the “state institutions” are substituted with international ones.

Hayes asserts China’s actions are “traditional great-power behavior,” derisively juxtaposing counterinsurgency with British impressment and German U-boats. These examples are anachronistic. With no mature set of norms approaching that of today’s international system, there effectively was no order against which to rebel. His fearful examples illustrate the dangers of returning to the anarchic state of affairs that preceded the mid-20th century.

Strangely, despite rejecting counterinsurgency, Hayes agrees with many of its core ideas. For example, he advises the United States to treat each bilateral “relationship as distinct.” That could very well have been inspired by Field Manual 3-24, paragraph 3-9. He calls for diplomats to be the “main effort” in U.S. strategy. This is eerily reminiscent of paragraph 1-18. When done right, counterinsurgency is far from a “monolithic” operation—nor is it the mere “armed conflict” Hayes describes.

The chief argument seems to be directed toward Vrolyk and Hajek, who make their own misinterpretations of Hunter Stires’ idea. Their misuse of the “maritime counterinsurgency” term, however, does not detract from the strength of the original concept. Hayes’s insinuations aside, Stires does not propose clearing the South China Sea houseboat-to-houseboat. His recommendations are generally strategic, not tactical.

Despite the author’s intimation, the United States would not become a counterinsurgent “by choice.” Contrary to his supposed third “tenet,” none of his sources are under any illusion about past U.S. strategic shortcomings. But the only alternative to resisting China’s rebellion against international law is to allow the demise of the post-1945 order and to accept a return to might-makes-right. Wish as we might, we cannot escape the gray zone to find Hayes’s ideal world of “peacetime” and “wartime” without very politely asking China to comply. Strategic counterinsurgency—maritime and otherwise—is a terrible task to undertake, but, unfortunately, it is the task the United States has in front of it.

—LCDR Andrew Mueller, USN

The author responds:

The writer is concerned about “returning” to an anarchic international system. Unfortunately, anarchy never left us. The international system is, has always been, and will always be anarchic. This is the foundation of modern international relations theory.

China’s behavior in the South China Sea defies international “rules and norms.” So does Russia’s current behavior in Ukraine. I am aware of no “world polity” with both the will and the means to stop either. Instead, countries such as the United States and its allies must decide how to respond to each unique challenge.

Ukraine matters far more to Russia than it does to the United States and NATO. As a result, the United States and NATO have chosen to support Ukraine with diplomacy, economic tools of statecraft, and security force assistance, but to remain out of the war. The distinction matters—U.S. service members are not coming home from Ukraine in flag-draped coffins.

Similarly, the South China Sea matters far more to China than it does to the United States. The United States and its Indo-Pacific allies effectively face the choice of either tacitly accepting certain bad Chinese behaviors or going to war to stop them. Again, the distinction between peace and war (against a nuclear-armed power) remains significant.

I made no excuse for Chinese behavior, nor did I argue that there are no options short of war with which the United States and its allies might respond. However, I stand by my conclusion that characterizing Chinese actions as an “insurgency” adds little to efforts to devise an effective response.

—LCDR Brian Hayes, USNR (Ret.)

Commerce Warfare Capabilities as an Act of Deterrence

Midshipman Hatfield’s first-prize essay proposes commercial warfare as a deterrent to war with China, focusing on visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operations. Although VBSS has a long history, the truly innovative part of the essay’s thesis combines VBSS operations with Mark VI patrol boats in multiple strategic locations to attack, pressure, and deter Chinese aggression globally.

When considering commerce warfare capabilities, three points are worth analyzing. First, although historical VBSS operations accompanied closed blockades, Hatfield calls for a global and well-dispersed, multiple attack strategy. Second, it indirectly shows what 21st-century economic warfare may look like. Third, it recommends the continued relevance of VBSS operations, which should challenge the strategic naval mindset regarding the future of U.S. sea power.

Naval historians, filtering through Royal Navy lessons from World War I, may quickly and unfairly dismiss the essay’s thesis as impossible. But consider: VBSS in that era was an extraordinarily time-consuming and risky process. It also imposed several dilemmas on the British—first, determining legitimate candidates for VBSS operations; second, discovering the type of contraband on board without a dangerous, physical boarding; and, third, ascertaining its potential value for seizure.

These problems recede with 21st-century technology. Publicly accessible location-tracking software now exists, giving exact locations and sea lanes used by international shipping. Identifying candidates for VBSS is much more feasible when port authorities digitally scan every container’s contents, then attach a unique RFID tag, revealing the most valuable (in market terms) Chinese or neutral ship, its containers, and their contents. Likewise, search operations no longer require a dangerous physical boarding of unarmed, lightly manned, giant vessels such as Evergreen’s Ever Ace. It may be feasible, as the author suggests, for a small, well-armed, and strategically located flotilla of Mark VI–like boats to selectively stop, detain, and even seize the most valuable ships, while exerting the threat of substantial economic losses, even for a short span of several days.

Although the essay leaves unanswered the ultimate question of how much economic pressure is enough, it demonstrates what economic warfare may look like in the 21st century. By implication, modern VBSS operations should challenge the mindset of naval strategists regarding the future of U.S. sea power.

—Joe Greco

Don’t Buy Warships (Yet)

Lieutenant Alman’s article was riveting, on point, and amazingly logical. His grasp of strategic thinking is phenomenal. I truly appreciated his ideas, and I would recommend to the Alabama National Guard his immediate promotion to field grade.

Especially noteworthy was his take on the U.S. Merchant Marine as a valuable defense asset. I hope the Pentagon is reading the work of this terrific officer.

—CAPT Robert A. Schwehr, USNR (Ret.)

Create an Engineering Officer Corps for Surface Ships

The Navy’s STEM Diversity Problem

Lieutenant Delloue has made an excellent proposal to greatly improve Navy surface warfare. This proposal deserves careful and thorough examination in light of the following points:

All merchant vessels, throughout the world and without exception, have dedicated engineering officers and dedicated deck officers, even tugboats. This has been true since the beginning of coal and steam propulsion. It applies to crews of any size. It is also true of all U.S. Naval Ships (USNS). Military Sealift Command can be a huge help in studying and implementing this proposal.

The United States has six state maritime academies and one federal academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, where students specialize in either engineering or navigation. The U.S. Coast Guard has separate license examinations for each specialty. Masters (captains) and chief engineers on merchant ships have equal status and pay, though the captain is the ultimate authority.

For the proposed Navy engineering officer program to work, several things should happen:

The senior engineering officer on a destroyer-size ship should be an O-5, just like the commanding officer. He or she should be responsible for everything in the engineering spaces plus all repairs throughout the vessel, including electronics. All refueling, water, and shipyard preparation should come under the engineering officer.

Each destroyer squadron should have an O-6 engineering officer responsible for all engineering needs and requirements in the squadron.

This timely proposal will save lives and money and enhance overall warfighting capability.

—CAPT Al Melvin, USNR (Ret.)

As a naval historian, I have often wondered why the Navy does not have a specialized engineer officer corps. The Navy has separate officer corps for specialists in medicine, law, chaplaincy, civil engineering, supply, etc. It seems logical to have separate corps for all specialists within the warfare communities.

An analysis of the merits of the present system and alternatives seems warranted. It should review the evolution of the Navy’s present corps structure and examine selected navies for alternative structures to consider.

Lieutenant Commanders McKinney and Rumsey connect the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) mandate to difficulty in recruiting a diverse officer corps. Were an engineering officer corps to be created, it could alter the Navy’s perceived need to require a high percentage of all naval officers to study STEM before commissioning.

—Mark C. Jones

There Is No Cyber Bullet

I greatly enjoyed reading Lieutenant Commander Seligman’s piece on how cyber weapons fit within a commander’s tactical option set. It is certainly the best comparison between real-world and cyber weapons I have ever read.

I cannot help but feel that this only strengthens the argument that information warfare at the national and combatant commander level should employ its own uniformed service. The existing command-and-control structure that enables a commander to call for cyber fires is the right construct, but the manning, training, and equipping of such forces remains a joint effort fraught with readiness challenges. Would the Navy and the other services not be best served to “request effects, not specific capabilities” from a force that has staffed, trained, and maintained a persistent team of operators dedicated to a single mission set without short-fused rotations or gapped billets?

—LCDR Travis D. Howard, USN (Ret.),
Life Member

Surface Crews Need More Tools to Navigate without GPS

There is the risk of sounding like an old windbag by commenting on this article. But here goes . . .

I was the leading quartermaster on a salvage tug, the USS Bolster (ARS-38), between 1968 and 1970. How did we ever find our way from Pearl Harbor to the western Pacific? Mostly Loran A and celestial navigation.

Our navigators were not Captain Cook, to be sure. But out at sea, an error of 10 to 15 miles in a star sight, well, that’s the horizon. At night we caught sky waves from Loran, and when we got within 500 miles of land, we got more reliable ground waves. We never got lost on the open sea.

What’s the point? In 2010, the Coast Guard began shutting down Loran C. That was a mistake we may live to regret. Loran C was not affected by jamming. How much would it cost to bring those Loran C towers back online and “harden” them?

My first ship was the hydrographic survey ship USS Tanner (AGS-15). We made charts of Vietnam’s coastal waters and placed transmitters at various locations to mimic a Loran system. I hope we still have the capability to rapidly deploy teams to install electronic navigation systems in case GPS is disabled.

As for chart corrections, it was never fun. Always tedious. But with the accompaniment of music and some snacks, it was done regularly, something to do on a duty weekend. Electric erasers were wonderful.

—Bruce Kowal

Integrating Women into the Long Blue Line

“The Coast Guard’s flag corps is 17 percent female (8 of 17).”

How about checking that math?

—Elizabeth R. Hatcher

Editor’s Note: The article should have noted that the list included 45 flag officers and rear admirals (select), not 17.

Read the Book

(See J. Zapala, p. 15, June 2022; M. Prose,
p. 106, July 2022)

Thank you to Lieutenant Zapala for continuing the emphasis and responsibility that naval officers have in investing and dedicating their time and energy toward reading, professional development, and growing as both naval officers and leaders to be prepared for current and future affairs. The commitment (or lack thereof) from some individuals that he describes is not only a military issue, but also a civilian one.

Many civilians who support DoD and the military view their work as simple 8-to-4 types of jobs, have overprioritized the work-life balance cultural shift seen in other industries, and have taken advantage of the job flexibility that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The warfighter deserves a civilian support structure that sees it as our duty, responsibility, and life’s work to serve them and provide the tools and capabilities necessary to sharpen the spear, complete the mission, and return home safely. We should be developing our depth of knowledge in our technical areas and our breadth of knowledge across multiple domains. We should be reading books and journals, listening to podcasts, audiobooks, or documentaries, and having discussions with others to develop as individuals with a purpose to serve our great nation. We should be educating ourselves to be prepared, be leaders, and be the civilian support structure that the warfighter needs.

—Tyler Winningham

A First-Generation Sailor

The author’s assertion that the Sea Services have an obligation to create a new policy improving citizenship opportunities for service members’ non-U.S. immediate family members—regardless of their current legal status and under the guise of diversity and inclusion—is both legally and morally flawed.

Rather than producing a constructive and viable approach for a comprehensive path to citizenship, the article contains emotional personal stories about family members being arrested and deported and then attempts to soften by obfuscating the fact that they knowingly entered the U.S. illegally, a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325. The author also asserts, without presenting evidence, that the color of his skin was a “barrier to social equality” and “enough justification to pull him over and question my nationality,” even though he was privileged enough to earn a college degree and commission as a naval officer. As unfortunate as the author’s life experiences are, the bottom line is that several of his family members broke U.S. laws and committed federal crimes. Armed with this knowledge, it is difficult to endorse any proposed framework that rewards illegal immigrants with U.S. citizenship when they have already violated the laws of the host nation.

The United States is a country of immigrants. We pride ourselves on being a melting pot of cultures. Many service members’ families immigrated here from all corners of the globe by crossing mountains and sailing across vast oceans on rickety wooden ships, passing through crowded inspection and processing stations with little or no money, on their way to making a new life for themselves. The key difference is that they did it legally.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in April 2022, U.S. Border Patrol agents encountered more than 201,000 Southwest land border crossing attempts—including some 12,000 unaccompanied children. Any citizenship framework that enables the amnesty and naturalization of illegal immigrants already living inside the United States sets a dangerous precedent of encouraging more people to cross illegally, creating a legal loophole that further hampers efforts to protect our borders and endangers the thousands of lives attempting to make the dangerous trek.

It is imperative that any conversations about immigration reform—including DoD policy—remain objective, logical, reasonable, and realistic. Our country is in the midst of a southern border crisis. Record numbers of illegal immigrants are pouring across the border, a surge that federal, state, and local institutions and infrastructures cannot hope to support and sustain in the long term, especially while confronting record fuel prices, supply-chain shortages, and the highest levels of inflation in four decades, which are directly impacting American families. The Sea Services cannot exacerbate the problem by implementing poorly designed and politically motivated naturalization policies.

—CTNC Perry Stewart, USN

Retention of Women in the Naval Officer Corps

Bravo Zulu to Captain Diekman for saying what many have felt, but that only a female officer could articulate with inarguable gravitas.

For years, many of us have often wondered about the decisions of the Navy Uniform Board. When the board announced that my cherished aviation working green (AWG) uniform was slated for phaseout within seven years, I spoke to a submarine master chief on the board. He explained, “We’re just trying to reduce the seabag requirements for our sailors, sir,” despite my explanation that the AWG was a strictly optional uniform for E-7 and above in naval aviation. I retired before the phaseout of AWGs, but what did we get in their place? The “blueberries,” a now-phased-out uniform worthy of no further comment!

But, as Captain Diekman describes, we cannot hang the changes to women’s dress white uniforms, male-style combination covers for women officers and chiefs, or crackerjacks for E-6 women and below solely on the uniform board. These changes were strictly a pet project of former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, similar to his ill-informed attempt to eliminate enlisted rating titles. Then-Lieutenant Andrea Goldstein, writing for Task & Purpose in October 2015 (under the pseudonym Anna Granville), clearly articulated Secretary Mabus’s misguided pursuit of gender equality by making everyone look the same. Or, as Captain Diekman related to me later: in reality, making all the women in the Navy look like men.

Interestingly, our colleagues in the Coast Guard have no such issue with women’s uniforms. During the 27th Commandant’s change of command ceremony, Admiral Linda Fagan proudly wore the same women’s full dress-white uniform and combination cover that Secretary Mabus eliminated. The only distinction is that the Coast Guard modified its version to have shoulder boards instead of the sleeve striping (which was always an added expense for women naval officers).

Turbulence in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy in recent years has precluded reversal of Secretary Mabus’s diktat. I do not see any changes on the immediate horizon. For now, we can only hope that Captain Diekman’s sage insights—and their impact on recruiting and retention—may resonate with a future Secretary.

—CAPT Jim Philpitt (Ret.), USN

Design the Littoral Combat Team Around Its Core Mission

Littoral Combat Teams Need Light Infantry, Not Less

Though I am glad Lieutenant Kim appreciates the points I made in my article, it seems like he may not fully understand them. He should recognize that though Marine littoral regiments (MLRs) and Marine expeditionary units (MEUs) have different missions, an MLR without a flexible and capable light infantry footprint will be at a severe disadvantage in accomplishing its mission.

One of the points he seems to miss is that the infantry battalion construct at the core of the MLR’s littoral combat team will be critical in seizing and defending terrain from which ship-killing sensors and shooters can be employed to best effect. Without a robust infantry presence, the physical components of our antiship kill-web will be extremely vulnerable. Assuming the adversary will blindly throw Type 052D destroyers into vulnerable maritime terrain (such as a strait or island chain) without first setting conditions to protect such a movement is foolish. “Proofing” that avenue of approach will involve proxy, light infantry, and special operations forces seeking out and neutralizing U.S. stand-in sensors and shooters. If those dispersed sensors and shooters are protected by a single company of thinly stretched U.S. infantry (as Lieutenant Kim argues), they will be in big trouble.

It is interesting to note that one reason the Soviet naval infantry on Cape Krestovy was successful was the lack of dedicated German infantry to protect the “expeditionary fires base” located there. The Nazi light infantry formations defending Liinakhamari were spread thin. This allowed Captain Barchenko’s infiltrators to overwhelm and destroy the Krestovy Battery’s 88-mm and 105-mm guns, granting freedom of maneuver to follow-on Soviet naval forces in Petsamo Fjord.

I welcome continued debate, and I agree with Lieutenant Kim that MLR commanders must be as sharp in naval warfare as they are in warfighting on land. But there may be a closer relationship between “saturation, salvo, firing solution” and “patrol, defilade, march” than he realizes.

—Maj Zachary Schwartz, USMC

I Want to Be Counted

Lieutenant Commander Johnson’s instincts are spot on. To create a more effective and adaptive combat force, our Sea Services must recruit and retain professional war-fighters from the full spectrum of the nation’s broad talent pool, including the LGBTQ+ community.

While his vision of a more inclusive personnel management system offers one long-term approach to more accurately assess LGBTQ+ retention, it could initially create a false narrative. In The Glass Closet, former British Petroleum CEO John Browne warns that early data from personnel systems in which employees voluntarily identify as LGBTQ+ will reveal artificially low numbers of queer colleagues. The first time an enterprise conducts such a survey, many—particularly those who remain closeted personally or professionally—may anxiously refrain from “outing” themselves. “The second year they will see it and have less of a reaction. And by the third year, they may actually tick the box,” Browne argues.

To mitigate potentially misleading early data, the Sea Services can adopt two approaches. First, Naval Personnel Command (and its Coast Guard equivalent) should create the avenue that Johnson envisions—service members voluntarily identifying as LGBTQ+. But, in the initial years, the resulting data should be reevaluated annually to provide sufficient opportunity for self-identification to “normalize” and produce more accurate information from which to derive policy.

Second, service leaders should commission the RAND Corporation or a similar research organization to independently analyze LGBTQ+ retention trends. Service members, fatigued by myriad surveys, are more likely to answer questions fully and openly when approached by honest brokers from organizations outside the armed forces. RAND and similar companies have analysts and academics trained in interpreting large datasets who can distill survey results into topline takeaways, enabling leaders to develop policies and programs that more effectively retain top talent.

—LCDR Justin “Lemi” Witwicki, USN

Damn! . . . The Torpedoes!

Captain Belt makes a good case for why you do not place major naval assets in waters that can be mined by hostile forces—especially when you do not have much in the way of countermine assets available on the scene.

My “favorite” improvised mine is a 50-gallon chemical barrel. You load it with ballast and explosives (with detonator, battery, etc.) so it floats about 30 feet down (with or without an anchor to hold it in place). Add a readily available magnetic trigger and manual timer and then set the time, reseal the barrel, and dump it over the side. To make things interesting to the minesweepers, only one in five actually have explosives; the rest are dummies. Even if these devices sink no ships, they will add problems for those trying to use that waterway. The Strait of Hormuz is excellent for the placement of a minefield (or fields).

Lieutenant Commander Blaken’s “jeep carriers”—armed with drones, helicopters, vertical take-off aircraft, or all of the above for defensive and offensive power—would be a good investment for operations in such areas.

—C. Henry Depew

Combat Efficacy Must Come First

The points made by First Lieutenant Flynn in July are—or should be—self-evident to anyone who cares about our nation’s security. But I fear they will be viewed as “controversial.”

It took a certain amount of courage to write and submit such an article, especially in light of the ending of the career of a high-ranking executive at a major corporation because of an article he wrote for Proceedings decades ago as a young officer.

Thank you, Lieutenant Flynn.

—Bill Brockman, Life Member