McGrath: Surface Warfare Rules of the Game

Bryan McGrath over at Information Dissemination has an absolutely superb piece on the overlay of a peacetime mentality on what might suddenly and shockingly be a wartime Navy.

You see, the heavy influence of the PEACETIME NAVY was at work.  We over-analyzed, over-plotted, over-targeted and over-thought every single engagement, driven in no small measure by the fear of hitting “white shipping”, or the clueless merchant who meanders into a hot war zone during the scenario.  Never mind that the flight path of the missile avoided the merchant by hundreds of yards.  Never mind that its seeker head wasn’t active when it CPA’d the merchant.  Never mind that the height of the missile at that part of its flight path would have flown over most of the merchants in the world at that time.  Never mind that merchants don’t have AAW radars and missiles.

No, invariably we would hold off on the shot to allow for “adequate” separation, or as some unfortunate watch teams found, take the shot and then suffer the ignominy of some OS Chief who couldn’t sit watch supervisor on your watch team tell you that you had failed to account for white shipping.

Letting the bad guy get in the first punch at sea is as dangerous and foolhardy as doing so on land.  And, when you behave as if the battlefield must be antiseptic out of the fear of being blamed for collateral damage, you set yourself up for just such an eventuality.  And those who constantly rub their hands in worry and obsess over “lawfare” concerns have the effect of taking a grinding wheel to the sharp edge of our combat forces.  They see risk as being blamed, not getting killed.  Shame on all of them.  You play the way you practice.  War is a place where the decision cycle must be as rapid and unencumbered as possible.  The difference between winning and losing most often hangs in the balance of faster tempo and seizing the initiative.

Definitely worth the read.  McGrath shows again why he is among the most insightful of the voices about maritime strategy and naval policy.  Oh, and he does tout Andrew Gordon’s book on Jutland and the Royal Navy, which I am eagerly anticipating plowing into as soon as I am finished this current project. (A re-assessment of Manstein’s Lost Victories, if you must know.)


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15 responses to “McGrath: Surface Warfare Rules of the Game

  1. Richard M Nixon (Deceased)

    Reblogged this on Dead Citizen's Rights Society.


  2. The disadvantage of being a West Coast blogger with East Coast coauthors is, my drafts get tossed a lot when URR posts not only before me, but better than me.


  3. Good Article. I wonder what the ratio of shipboard tactical training vice diversity or similar human factors is onboard ships.

    Do we have COs like Lieutenant Commander Roope? Are we as responsive today as LCDR Outerbridge?

    It’s like Top Ship. Why do we need it when ships are going through REFTRA, COMTUEX and other workups? I believe the training focus is askew. Department Head school used to have an associated ship, which led to better training.

    Can we make Top Ship like the Perisher training for sub COs? That might yield the most results.


    • I had a good laugh back in the 80s when Soldier of Fortune Magazine printed an article on Perisher. Very tough school, that. Before I read the article you linked, I thought we had sent Officers over before the early 00s. I think having a course similar to Perisher for our troops would be an excellent idea. It’s better to winnow them when it won’t get people killed, then to let them learn when people are dying.


  4. NaCly Dog

    For a more radical approach, return to all-male warships. The Navy is small enough in ship numbers to make this work. This would be a serious response to imminent conflict. The mindset of shipboard operations would be shifted in a positive way.

    Yes, terribly against the Zeitgeist, but one that simplifies the CO’s concerns.
    I saw the transition from all-male ships to a mixed crew. I had a lot of training that had nothing to do with winning battles. What you gain in more talented individuals can be offset by unplanned losses and a loss of focus on the ship. JMHO.

    We all say good leadership overcomes that, and we have plenty of good examples in our history. However, I aver a stellar people-oriented leader combined with a good warfighter is a rare combination in today’s Navy.

    Just look at the design decisions lately. The LCS can not operate a rail gun, according to a private communication I got from an individual who should know. The Ford will advertise it’s position with each launch, and I hope I’m wrong on this. At least the sub community is doing great with the Virginia class.


    • NaCly Dog

      Yes XBrad. The Navy is committed to making it all work.

      According to information in The Stupid Shall Be Punished ( there are indeed problems. The big one is retention of these highly trained officers. Manning levels for women filled billets has to be double to keep up with resignations/community transfers. The training pipeline is impacted by the extra numbers required. So it’s not cost effective.

      The first enlisted women crewmembers will start soon. There are hints of other problems, but the party line is good leadership and professionalism will overcome all minor issues.

      If the Navy uses one inflexible high standard for all major command selections I would not worry. We know that is not true. Will there be submarine sisters of Holly Graf?


    • Aaaaaaaaaaand the first integrated crew Virginia is gonna be commissioned soon.


  5. scottthebadger

    The Navy should never have left all male ships. This concern for everyone else at the cost of one of our ships is not acceptable. Mistakes happen, and people get hurt in wartime. Just because the Left has a movie driven fantasy where you can always defeat the enemy by shooting his gun from his hand, so to speak, does not mean that the real world works that way. The Press has no say in such matters, no matter what the press thinks. The US Navy that defeated the Nihon Kaigun has gone away, and will not return until we shelve a view of a Navy as a ” Global Force For Good “, and realise that a Navy exists to keep the SLOC open, and to visit death on our enemies when required to do so. navies and armies are not agents for social/cultural reform, they exist to wage war, and to deter war through making that option far to costly for the enemy.


  6. Esli

    Same problems in the army, whether the inability to allow dismounted infantry to move anywhere forward of the Bradley (try training on the integration of your infantry now!) during live fire, to the pending gender integration.


  7. Are you writing this reappraisal of Manstein’s memoirs?