CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Feb 19, ’22] Episode 36…Is 500 the New Number?”


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…while the world watches and waits to see if Vladimir Putin’s Russia takes military action against Ukraine, a major conference of U.S. Sea Service leaders took place last week out in San Diego. Both of us were there, and we’ll talk about what we saw and heard during the three-say WEST 2022 gathering.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Servello challenges the Navy to be more credible.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

As the threat of war against Ukraine continued, the pace of military operations, live-fire exercises and close-order surveillance operations and incidents over the previous week remained very high, both among Russian naval, air and military units and among NATO and allied militaries keeping tabs on the Russians. Russian state-supported media was rife with images and stories of the maneuvers, and world-wide media repeated much of those stories and videos. A large spate of live-fire demonstrations on February 19, dubbed “strategic deterrence force drills,” showcased a variety of high-end Russian weapon systems, from nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles to hypersonic weapons to cruise missiles and many other weapons fired from warships, aircraft and land batteries. 

Meanwhile, the disposition of the three Slava-class missile cruisers – ships designed specifically in the 1970s and 1980s to attack and destroye American aircraft carriers – remained about the same, with the Northern Fleet’s MARSHAL USTINOV reported to be west-southwest of Crete, the VARYAG in the eastern Mediterranean, and the MOSKVA in the Black Sea. The ships are positioned to potentially triangulate any NATO aircraft carrier moving within strike fighter range of Ukraine’s Baltic coast. The American carrier USS HARRY S TRUMAN, France’s CHARLES DE GAULLE and Italy’s CAVOUR all have been operating together in the central Mediterranean Sea.

Away from the crisis with Ukraine, the Russian TASS News Agency reported on February 17 that the reactivation of the nuclear-powered missile cruiser ADMIRAL NAKHIMOV is moving ahead, with delivery still scheduled for late this year. One of the four 25,000-ton battle cruisers of the Kirov class, the NAKHIMOV commissioned in 1988 as KALININ but renamed after the fall of the Soviet Union, and has been out of service since the mid-1990s. Two of the four ships have been decommissioned and scrapped, while the last, PYOTR VELIKY, is the Russian Navy’s most powerful surface warship. When completed, ADMIRAL NAKHIMOV will carry significantly more weapons than the PYOTR VELIKY, able to launch Kalibr-NK or Oniks cruise missiles and fire Tsirkon hypersonic weapons.

In the Pacific, a Chinese warship activated a laser against an Australian P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft on February 17, the Australian Defense Ministry on February 19. The Type 052D destroyer HEFEI and Type 071 amphibious ship JINGGANGSHAN were in the Arafura Sea off Australia’s northern coast when the incident occurred, Australian MoD said, adding that the two ships were part of a larger, four-ship formation that had passed through Indonesian waters and traveled through the Timor Sea north of Australia to the Coral Sea. Australian MoD condemned the incident and said the Chinese Navy’s actions were “not in keeping with the standards we expect of professional militaries.”

In the US, the aircraft carrier USS CARL VINSON returned to San Diego on February 14 to wrap up an eight-month deployment to the western Pacific, a period where the ship was underway for 262 days. Carrier Air Wing 2 was embarked aboard VINSON representing an early version of the US Navy’s Air Wing of the Future, with first-ever carrier deployments for the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and the CMV-22B Osprey in the carrier on-board delivery, or COD, role. With the completion of the Osprey cruise, the Navy announced February 17 the tilt-rotor aircraft reached Initial Operational Capability, or IOC, having achieved quote, “operational success” during the cruise. The VINSON deployment was marred by five Class A aviation mishaps, the most spectacular being the “ramp-strike” crash on January 24 of an F-35C from Strike Fighter Squadron 147 that injured seven sailors while operating in the Philippine Sea. The wreck of the F-35, sources told us, is expected to be recovered within a few weeks.

In a related item, the Navy announced February 17 that a junior officer and four senior enlisted sailors face Article 92 charges for their role in the unauthorized release of shipboard video of the F-35C crash. The videos were from the ship’s PLAT, or Pilot’s Landing Aid Television, and dramatically depicted the fiery scene as the aircraft struck the aft end of the flight deck, burst into flames, and skidded across the entire landing area before going over the side into the ocean. While the five sailors face charges for posting the government-owned video on social media, the Navy appears to not be pursuing charges against individuals aboard the ship who posted a cell-phone video and a photo of the aircraft floating in the water, reasoning that those were from personal devices.

Servello Squawk:

As I mentioned in the last segment, My assessment of what I heard and read over three days was “meh.”  

I listened to naval leaders in San Diego…deliver the same canned remarks we’ve heard for years …relying on the same milk toast approach of their predecessors. It’s not even obvious who they are talking to or what they want in return.

“Everything’s fine except for the budget” or Hail Mary force structure assessments…that may or may not deliver in three decades, just ain’t gonna do it in the current environment.

Rhetoric alone won’t move the needle but it is an indicator of the thinking and effort behind the scenes. And after what I heard at WEST I’m worried. 

This group of naval leaders and really the service as a whole has a credibility problem. People don’t believe what they say…they dont trust they will follow through on what they propose. 

Until that changes these conferences, the public speeches and positive self talk we hear from Navy leaders are a waste of our collective time.

The Navy needs an approach both in public and behind the scenes that matches the seriousness of the environment that we live in. Without it they are wasting money and oxygen…and more importantly risking lives. 

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