CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Aug 07, 21] Episode 9…Industry Abhors a Vacuum


Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world.
This week…strategy and concepts. Speeches and presentation panels. Ships and aircraft and radars and missiles and drones and sensors and torpedoes and well, you get the picture. We talk about the just-concluded Navy League Sea-Air-Space exposition with two great guests, Sam Lagrone of US Naval Institute News and the never-reticent Vago Muradian. But first, a quick roundup of naval news around the world.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Servello shares some thoughts on Admiral Mike Gilday’s remarks at Sea, Air and Space.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

On August 2 the USS CARL VINSON Carrier Strike Group deployed from San Diego with Carrier Air Wing TWO embarked. The cruise marks the first operational deployment of two different aircraft – the F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, in this case operated by Strike Fighter Squadron 147, and of the CMV-22B Osprey carrier-onboard-delivery variant of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, flown by Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron 30. With VINSON on the deployment are cruiser LAKE CHAMPLAIN and six destroyers – an unusually high number — the HIGGINS, O’KANE, CHAFEE, DEWEY, STOCKDALE and MICHAEL MURPHY. First up for the strike group is participation in the Navy’s Large Scale Exercise 2021, a combination live and virtual effort involving a worldwide number of participants, including several different fleet commands.

The Large Scale Exercise officially began August 3 in the US Fleet Forces Atlantic Area, Pacific Fleet, and European theaters. Navy officials describe the exercise as an effort to refine the coordination of maritime operations across multiple fleets in support of joint, inter-service operations. The exercise is to include evaluations of experimental technology in a variety of warfare areas including unmanned platforms. A number of more localized exercises are being carried out under the overall umbrella of the Large Scale Exercise.

On August 3 Navy investigators revealed details about an arson suspect in the July 2020 burning of the amphibious ship BONHOMME RICHARD at San Diego Naval Base. Navy documents say that 20-year-old Seaman Apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays, a sailor assigned to the ship, has been charged with aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel in connection with the fire. Much of the evidence against Mays, however, appears circumstantial, and Mays remains free pending a preliminary hearing. The Navy is expected to release a separate report in September on the fire and the firefighting effort.

Turning to Europe, the Danish Navy revealed it observed the breakdown on July 30 of the Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine OR-EL in the busy Kattegat waterway shortly after it passed out of the Baltic Sea. According to an account from the Danish patrol ship DIANA, which was observing the passage of the submarine and several other Russian warships, the OREL was dead in the water and drifting about three nautical miles off the Danish island of Sejero. The Russian Navy fleet tug ALTAY rigged a tow to the OREL but the submarine’s crew managed to restart the engines and proceed after declining offers of support from the Danes.

 On August 6 the US military confirmed that the attack on the Liberian-flagged commercial tanker MERCER STREET in the Gulf of Oman was carried out by an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle carrying military-grade explosives. The UAV penetrated the bridge roof of the tanker killing the ship’s master and a security officer. A report from US Central Command noted that two attacks were carried out, one on July 29 that failed and a second attack on July 30 that, according to CENTCOM, “required calculated and deliberate retargeting of the tanker by Iran.” Zodiac Maritime, operators of the MERCER STREET, is chaired by an Israeli, and as of this podcast recording, Israel is threatening military action against Iran. The Pentagon on August 6 said defense secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz have discussed “views on next steps.” The use of UAVs as attack platforms, already a feature of conflict in the Persian Gulf region, marks a new threat to merchant ships at sea.

SQUAWK BOX – Chris Servello

As we discussed, there were two significant takeaways from CNO Admiral Mike Gilday’s remarks at Sea Air Space on Monday…his concern with industry’s lobbying of Congress…and his discussion of the Navy’s Large Scale Exercise 2021.

The CNO made a mistake by publicly taking industry to task- in addition to being awkward and naive, it was particularly bizarre given that the moderator of the panel was Admiral John Richardson, Gilday’s predecessor and current member of the Boeing Board of Directors—one of the very same companies CNO seemed to be admonishing. 

Frustration with industry and Hill shell-gaming during the mark-up process isn’t new, but given the fact the Navy has been light on specific guidance or “headlights” as the CNO called it, the rebuke is likely to hang or sting a bit longer than previous public critiques. 

The sour taste put in industry’s mouth isn’t helpful and will require some sort of coming together, given the security environment, the budget outlook and general consensus that the Navy needs more capacity and newer capability if it’s going to compete with the Chinese and Russian fleets. 

Aristotle is said to have coined the phrase…nature abhors a vacuum…meaning every space in nature needs to be filled.  What we see today is a modern corollary…without clear and consistent service guidance on how it plans to fight and what it needs and will consistently procure…industry has and will continue to fill space in the mark-up process. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly observes how these things go down. 

But all is not lost…the Navy has an opportunity to immediately bring industry into the fold on the lessons learned and key takeaways from the Large Scale Exercise being held over the next two weeks. 

Show industry the value and power of what is happening real time and use it as an opportunity to synchronize and collaborate…and hopefully begin to fill the current vacuum of guidance that is being felt throughout the naval community. 

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