CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Nov 27, 21] Episode 25…A Conversation w/ Rear Adm. Terry McKnight


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…when US Marines were needed in Afghanistan this year they were able to get on the scene quickly because they were already in theater, aboard US Navy amphibious ships deployed in the region. That kind of expeditionary capability is a key ingredient of American naval power, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We’ll talk with an outspoken proponent of expeditionary capabilities, retired US Navy Rear Admiral Terry McKnight.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Servello discusses lessons learned about the Chinese Navy.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The destroyer USS ARLEIGH BURKE entered the Black Sea November 25, just 9 days after sister ship USS PORTER left. The US seems to have ratcheted up its naval presence in the strategic inland sea, possibly in reaction to threatening Russian actions along its border with Ukraine. ARLEIGH BURKE joined the US Navy’s forward-deployed forces in Rota, Spain earlier this year and began its first regional cruise in August. In recent weeks the ship operated as far north as the Barents Sea and in the Baltic.

The Danish frigate ESBERN SNARE, deployed on an anti-piracy patrol in the waters off west Africa, pursued a fast-moving motorboat November 24 after receiving reports that pirates were operating around merchant ships south of Nigeria. When Danish soldiers aboard a small boat from the ESBERN SNARE called on the pirates to stop, the pirates opened fire, leading to a gunfire exchange that killed four of the eight pirates on the craft, which sank. The ESBERN SNARE had just begun a planned five-month anti-piracy cruise in the Gulf of Guinea, where pirate activity is an ongoing problem and pirate attacks this time of year generally ramp up. In 2020, about 40 percent of pirate attacks globally took place in the waters around the Gulf of Guinea.

The destroyer USS THE SULLIVANS returned to her homeport of Mayport, Florida on November 24, bringing to a close more than a year of operations with the British HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Carrier Strike Group 21. THE SULLIVANS detached from the QUEEN LIZ group in mid-October while in the Indian Ocean. Also on November 24 Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 2-11 flew off their F-35B Joint Strike Fighters from the British carrier while in the Mediterranean, ending their deployment with the British strike force.

In the Pacific the destroyer USS HOWARD pulled into Wellington, New Zealand on November 25 for a port visit. It’s the first US Navy warship visit to New Zealand in five years. Notably in the age of covid, sailors are being granted liberty in Wellington during the visit. HOWARD shifted homeport from San Diego in August to join US Forward-Deployed Naval Forces Japan and is on her first regional western Pacific patrol.

And a major congressionally-ordered review of the US Merchant Marine Academy found a whole host of problems. The report, released in mid-November by the National Academy of Public Administration, or NAPA, detailed numerous problems throughout the academy, from an outdated curriculum focused on lower-level tasks, to mold and decaying buildings on the school’s Kings Point, New York campus, to lower-than average cultural and racial diversity and sexual assault issues. The review noted that the academy and Maritime Administration officials have demonstrated a compliance culture, taking the minimum steps to address challenges. The report follows another by the Transportation Department’s inspector general detailing deep fundamental and longstanding issues at the institution, which trains cadets to serve as officer in not only the U.S. Merchant Marine, but also the US military and in the transportation industry.


 In our last segment Admiral McKnight briefly touched on his interaction with the Chinese Navy while he was Commander of the anti-piracy task force 151. In late 2008 when China first deployed two small surface groups to be a part of the international effort to combat piracy off of the Horn of Africa, many naval experts were caught a bit off guard. Such international maritime missions were typically carried out by more mature navies like the United States or its European allies. 

This 2008 milestone is an important baseline for tracking the progress, ambition and sophistication of the Chinese Navy. These deployments were the first real steps of moving beyond regional ambitions and demonstrating China’s goal of being a player on the international maritime scene—desires that lead to blue water logistic hubs and a ship building effort that has turned them into the largest Navy in the world.  

As the world decides whether to view the Chinese Navy as 10 feet tall or simply as a paper tiger…studying and pulling lessons from the last decade of missions to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean may help unlock answers to questions about what the next decade of sailing with, around and against the Chinese Navy may have in store. 

Drawing on the insights from resources and experts like Admiral McKnight should be critical to our future planning and budgeting. Understanding Chinese learning, sailing and sustainment curves may help us unlock an insight that will be beneficial for future competition and God forbid conflict.

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