CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Feb 26, ’22] Episode 37…”The Shooting Started…What Can We Learn?”


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…the world’s military and political situations are changing before our eyes. What does all this mean? Where could it lead? Is it time for deep-seated attitudes about partnerships and presence and defense budgets to begin changing? We’ll be joined by naval analyst Tom Shugart to discuss some of these issues.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas discusses the importance of being ready.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

As we record this podcast there are reports of the first Russian amphibious landings of the Ukraine war. The Russian Navy amphibious group in the Sea of Azov, to the north and east of the Crimean Peninsula, reportedly is landing Russian Naval infantry at a location west of the port of Mariupol, a move which would nearly surround that Ukrainian city. Another Russian amphibious group is operating off Odessa, the largest Ukrainian port, located at the western end of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. There are no confirmed reports as yet of that force being put on shore.

The Russian Navy also seems to have consolidated its warships in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian coast, USNI News and Naval News reported February 24. The Slava-class missile cruisers MARSHAL USTINOV, from Russia’s Northern Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet’s VARYAG were seen in satellite photos as part of a 16-ship formation off Tartus, the Syrian port where Russia has established a naval base. The group includes two Udaloy-class destroyers, two Kilo-class diesel electric submarines, and smaller ships. The MARSHAL USTINOV had been positioned in the central Mediterranean west of Crete where, along with the VARYAG off Syria and the MOSKVA, the third Slava-class cruiser operating in the Black Sea, the ships had been positioned to threaten US and NATO aircraft carriers getting within strike range of Ukraine.

The attack on Ukraine has galvanized NATO, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announcing Feb. 25 that elements of the NATO Response Force are being deployed for the first time in the more than 70-year history of the alliance. The force includes 120 ships from, Stoltenberg said, “the North to the Mediterranean, including three carrier strike groups.” and over 100 jets at high alert. NATO also is working to deconflict member forces in the Black Sea, where Russian ships essentially are blockading Odessa. The Ukraine government said the Russian forces opened fire on and hit two merchant ships – the Moldovan NAMURA QUEEN and Panamanian MILLENIUM SPIRIT—who were approaching the Ukrainian port. One item that NATO is not addressing seems to be whether NATO member Turkey would close the Bosphorus and the Turkish Straits – the only sea passage in and out of the Black Sea. A closure would likely enrage Putin, and the issue remains open.

Meanwhile, the US carrier HARRY S TRUMAN is continuing to operate in the Adriatic Sea, where it had been joined by the French carrier CHARLES DE GAULLE and Italy’s CAVOUR. A large NATO anti-submarine warfare exercise, Dynamic Mantra, also is taking place in the central Mediterranean – a planned exercise going forward despite the war in Ukraine.

In the Pacific, fallout continues from the Feb. 15 incident when a Chinese warship aimed a military-grade laser weapon at an Australian Royal Air Force P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft. The ship was one of four making a transit across the north coast of Australia from Indonesian waters into the Coral Sea, a move being closely watched by Australian ships and aircraft. The two countries engaged in an extensive war of words over the incident, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Feb. 21 calling for an investigation. “It was an Australian aircraft this time,” Morrison said. “Who’s next?” The wide media coverage in Australia reflected growing concerns about the aggressiveness of Chinese actions.

Cavas Squawk:

The sudden explosion of a World War Two-style war in Europe is a stark and clear reminder of the need for constant military readiness, and also of the need for international partnerships to face up to such naked aggression. The NATO alliance was formed in 1949 as a counter to the growing post-war belligerence of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. More than 70 years later it endures as an architecture for security, testimony to the power of partnerships. Vladimir Putin has expended much effort over the previous two decades to weaken or destroy the alliance, but one of the consequences of his actions in Ukraine is likely to be a far stronger NATO, more united than ever.

There are valid worries that with NATO and the US focused on Europe, China will exploit the situation to make more mayhem in the Pacific theater, whether that comes in the form of larger naval demonstrations or even an invasion of Taiwan. But in the vastness of the Pacific the primary military requirement is for naval power – something the Chinese have taken to heart in building their Navy to the point where it is now the world’s largest – if not yet the world’s most powerful. 

Aside from vast sums of money, creating a modern military force needs time – something money cannot buy. It’s easiest to expand an Army – witness the buildup of the US Army in the post 9/11 era to take on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It takes longer to expand an Air Force and build enough modern weapons to be sustained through months or years of combat. But the longest lead time belongs to warships – it is not unusual for a new design to take well over a decade to develop, build, perfect and field. The time to build up a Navy is not when one needs it – it is long before that.

We hope this administration and Congress heed Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday’s call in San Diego for a fleet of 350 manned warships. No question it’s expensive, no question it will take time and effort, but no question it is needed. And no question that in the absence of power and most importantly in the absence of presence, bad people will do bad things. The trick is to be ready before they pull the trigger.

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