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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Somali Pirates: Navy Helicopters and Irregular War Against Pirates

The "Unsexy"H-60S- with sidearms
LCDR B.J. Armstrong, a U.S. Navy H-60S pilot writes about the retaking of the MV Caravos Horizon at the U.S. Naval Institute blog in The M/V Caravos Horizon: Rotorheads and the Royal Navy in Maritime Security Operations:
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.

Royal Navy Lynx
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.

The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. . . .***
Isn't always about using the right tools for the job? Even when that hammer is not the fanciest one in the tool box?


Risks to Maritime Energy Supply

Chesty's Thoughts
New GAO Report, Maritime Energy Supply at Maritime Executive Magazine:
The report focuses on three issues: (1) threats of attacks to energy tankers, (2) agency responses to prior GAO recommendations to improve the response to attacks on energy tankers in a U.S. port, and (3) agency efforts to assess threats against offshore energy infrastructure such as oil rigs.
Actual GAO report found here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The EagleSpeak Suggested Way to Reduce the Military Force

There will come a time, soon probably, that there will be a call to reduce the size of the military services (excluding the Coast Guard, which is too damn small anyway).

I offer up my thoughts on how to approach the problem in two steps:

  1. Identify every member of the military* who has not received combat pay** for any of the last 10 years that we have been at war.
  2. Once these people have been identified, fire them. If they are flag officers, fire them twice.
See, that wasn't so hard.

Reward the warriors.

* Who has at least 10 years service
 ** Meaning "imminent danger pay" or submarine pay and/or whatever AF missileers get.

Somali Pirates: Chemical Ship Defended by Armed Security Guards

Reported at IMB's Live Piracy Report
Gulf of Aden
Type of Attack :Attempted
Narrations: 29.08.2011: 0655 UTC: Posn: 12:30.25N – 043:52.37E, Gulf of Aden.
Five pirates armed with guns in two skiffs approached a chemical tanker underway. Master raised alarm, gave one long blast and crew mustered at a safe place. When the skiffs came close to 15 metres from the tanker, the onboard security team fired warning shots resulting in the pirates aborting the attack.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Somali Pirates: Trained by Pakistan to fight India?

The Times of India has this odd report: India finds proof of Pakistan training Somali pirates:
The evidence was obtained from nine foreign nationals caught from a hijacked Iranian vessel - MV Nafis-1, by the Indian Navy off Mumbai on August 14.

The vessel was brought to Porbandar on August 15 and those arrested - five Yemenis, two Tanzanians, one Kenyan and one Somali national - were handed over to Porbandar police.

Gujarat customs officials had seized a large quantity of food items from the vessel and also found rice packets and juice pouches bearing names of Pakistani companies. Gujarat customs officials also recovered two AK-47s, a pistol and a cache of foreign currency including $86,000 and 1,500 Saudi Riyal.

Officials seized bags full of tea leaves, which customs officials believe, were chewed by the pirates to stay awake.

"The guns have no label but the food items are packed and manufactured in Pakistan. Smugglers are notgenerally found carrying such a large amount of foreign currency," said a senior customs official.
Hmm. Lots of questions here. Is this real? True "Somali pirates"? Or Pakistani contracted foreign agents using a cover of being "Somali pirates" to carry out some nefarious scheme against India? And, does Iran have a role in this or was the MV Nafis-1 really hijacked?

Or what?

Just to fill in a little background, read this report on the Indian Navy capture of the MV Nafis-1 back in mid-August:
The Indian Navy today foiled a piracy attack after it rescued merchant vessel MV Nafis-1, approximately 170 nautical miles west of Mumbai.

The Iranian-flagged vessel had been located by the Navy's Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft on August 12, which thereafter kept it under continuous surveillance.

INS Mysore, a guided missile destroyer, was dispatched to intercept the vessel with two helicopters as well as 24 of the Navy's elite Marine Commandos (MARCOS). The MARCOS carried out a thorough investigation and found two AK-47 rifles and a pistol concealed in an empty fuel tank.

MV Nafis-1 had reportedly sailed from Chah Bahar in Iran to an undisclosed location in July.

Intelligence received by the Indian Navy had indicated that the vessel could have been employed for smuggling or other nefarious activities. Inputs suggest that the vessel was likely to be carrying arms and ammunition, as well as other contraband.
I'm sure this all makes sense. Two AK-47s and a pistol makes for a lightly armed invasion force, though.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sunday 5pm: Episode 86 The Right Weapons Systems at the Right Time 08/28 by Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Post hurricane discussion this Sunday at 5pm Episode 86 The Right Weapons Systems at the Right Time 08/28 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio
From today's operations off Libya to the closing days of WWII - what are the lessons of using military power to create the effects ashore?

For the last 6-months, conflict once again brought the question often forgotten in the quiet times; where are our carriers? As was covered well in last month’s Proceedings by Dr. Norman Friedman, the essential effectiveness and efficiency of the CV/S/N. Land based air has its place – but any distance makes the ability to provide persistent effects from the air over the battlespace prohibitively expensive compared to a carrier off shore.

For the first half of the show we will have Dr. Friedman on to discuss.

For the second half of the show we are going to go back in time to the waning days of WWII with author D. M. Giangreco, the Arthur Goodzeit Award for Best Military History Book of 2009 awarded by the New York Military Affairs Symposium for his book Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947. We'll reflect on VJ-Day and what could have happened without the ultimate game changing weapon - the nuclear bomb.

You can listen live by going here or download it from BlogTalkRadio or iTunes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Somali Pirates: Terrorist Connections Alleged

This time the Somali pirate-terrorist connection link allegations come from India. As set out in Somali pirate-LeT tie-up is BIG threat for India:
The coming together of Lashkar-e-Tayiba and southern Somalia-based Al-Shahbab poses new maritime protection issues for India.
Intelligence sources told that the Al-Shahbab group has links with the Al Qaeda and carries out the latter's operations. The cadres of this group specialise more on sea and have been using the pirates for their operations.
The detail that has been most revealing during the interrogation of these pirates is that the Al-Shahbab group, which has been closely associated with the Al Qaeda, is now cozying up to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which is probably India's biggest headache.

Intelligence reports suggest that the Lashkar-Al-Shahbab association will look to carry out more attacks on Indian waters and one could witness plenty of hostage crisis' in the near future, if not acted upon.
For those who don't remember, Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT) ("Soldiers of the Pure") is the group from Pakistan was the group that landed people ashore in Mumbai and killed 174 people.

As alleged in an American Shipper quoted yesterday:
“The Somali pirates are exploring further collaboration with the remnants of the Tamil Tigers out of Sri Lanka who in the past have sold weapons to them via Eritrea, and now our greatest fear is a coordinated assault between the Somali pirates and the remnants of the Tamil Sea Tigers against commercial navigation in the waters south of India and Sri Lanka,” Frodl said.
Before thinking that these connections may be about spreading terrorism on the seas, it is a good idea to read a post from Martin Murphy's excellent blog Murphy on Piracy, Pirate money flows to al-Shabaab in which, as of July, Mr. Murphy was of the opinion that the al-Shabaab link to pirates was about the money, not the spread of whatever al-Shabaab is spreading. In the context of some link up with the Tamil Tigers, this money connection makes sense, as the Tigers are not radical Islamists.

The concern is that these connections - and others- will lead to a spread of piracy into more sea lines of communication and chokepoints.  Right now, the entrance/exit to the Red Sea, the  Bab el-Mandab and the entrance/exit to the Persian Gulf are most impacted by piracy (that's where the ships are!), a spread to the east brings into play the entrance/exit to the Strait of Malacca.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recommended Reading- "Deadly business" at American Shipper

Eric Kulisch has a nice article at American Shipper on the Somali pirates at "Deadly business: Pirates demonstrate coordinated logistics approach in spreading mayhem." with a serious warning about the potential spread of the pirate's attack range:
A multinational military presence has reduced the rate of successful hijackings, but the number of ship takeovers has increased because pirates launched many more attacks since 2009. And it has pushed the pirates away from the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa into a much wider, indefensible area for vessels targeted by pirates.
By late this year or early 2012, Somali pirates will be targeting merchant ships off Sri Lanka and making arrangements to extend their influence east to the Straits of Malacca, said Michael Frodl, a Washington-based attorney and head of independent consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.
The continued payment of ransoms has fueled the spread of piracy, a lucrative cottage industry in a country without a functioning economy. The average ransom has reached $5.4 million, an insurance industry report said, with one payment (for release of the South Korean tanker Samho Dream in November) reaching $9.5 million, and another in April for $13.5 million (for release of the Greek-flagged tanker Irene SL, owned by First Navigation Special Maritime Enterprises).
Pirates have also changed their tactics, frequently using hijacked ships with human shields as mother ships that can operate at extended range in all weather conditions. Three years ago pirate activity tended to die down during monsoon season because the seas were too rough for small fishing dhows to operate. The bigger ships, acting as a forward base, can carry dozens of pirates and tow several small attack boats capable of multiple, simultaneous attacks.
The use of hostages onboard ships was also a reaction to military attempts to blockade Somali ports so pirates could not get to sea.
The maritime bandits are also becoming more aggressive. Gangs often send a reconnaissance boat ahead and then swarm a vessel from all sides if there is no response, or abandon the attack if armed guards appear on deck. Now, pirates retreat less often and bring in the full force, even if the first skiff takes fire, in a concerted effort to take their target, said Tom Rothrauff, head of private security firm Trident Group.
Gangs of sea robbers have also used blowtorches to open citadel rooms on ships where crews retreat for safe haven until rescuers can arrive.
Hardcore pirates with better financing, logistics and planning capabilities have their eyes on moving even further south near the island of Minicoy, according to C-Level Maritime Risks’ recent long-range forecast.
“The more aggressive, better bankrolled pirates are moving there and going to take advantage of the fact that the Indians won’t patrol outside EEZ and the Sri Lankans won’t patrol outside their territorial waters,” Frodl said in an interview.
By the end of the year the new hot spot for pirate activity will be south of India and Sri Lanka, he predicted.
“The Somali pirates are exploring further collaboration with the remnants of the Tamil Tigers out of Sri Lanka who in the past have sold weapons to them via Eritrea, and now our greatest fear is a coordinated assault between the Somali pirates and the remnants of the Tamil Sea Tigers against commercial navigation in the waters south of India and Sri Lanka,” Frodl said.
“One of the concerns is that if the Indian navy is successful that the pirates will move south to points like Sri Lanka and Dondra Head and then go straight into the Straits of Malacca,” Murphy concurred. (Dondra Head is a cape at the extreme southern end of Sri Lanka.)
Multinational, NATO and European Union task forces, along with several individual nations are conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the East Coast of Somalia. As many as 30 vessels from up to 20 nations are involved in counter-piracy patrols at any given time. But there are not enough ships, helicopters and aerial surveillance drones to effectively police beyond the established security corridor in the Gulf of Aden.
The territory they have to cover is so vast that often they can’t respond in time to vessels in distress or provide escorts. And the legal mandate to arrest pirates is unclear because intent to commit piracy is not defined under international law, and not all nations have translated their right to try international crimes into domestic authorizing legislation, making it easier for naval commanders to follow a “catch-and-release” policy. Under current practice, pirates are usually tried only when they are caught red-handed assaulting a ship.
A chilling warning about how the increasing ransoms paid may have increased the threat to ship crews concludes the piece.

Read it all.

As I have repeatedly said here, you will get only more of what you are willing to pay for.

To stop the spread of this menace, it needs to be treated more like a "war on piracy" by real naval action and serious containment efforts need to be invoked, regardless of the cost to the hostages. Indeed, any harm to hostages needs to be met with swift and vigorous action.

Somalia needs to be blockaded, as I have said for  some time.  I am not alone in this view, see  Somali Pirates: U.S. Senator Proposes Legislation for Counter Piracy.

See also "Combatting Piracy in International Waters", Make the Somali pirates’ sea smaller…, and this, from 2008, Somali Pirates: Containment Strategy, where I wrote:
As I have frequently stated in posts on Somalia, what is needed to be done is that which no one wants to do.

No nation or collection of nations wants to "secure" Somalia and become the "owner" of the Somalia problem.

"Ownership" is what might be the result of the necessary land based effort which could put a halt to the Somali pirate raids.

But complete defeat of pirates may not be the goal. It may make sense to work to minimize the harm they can cause and work on "containing" the pirate problem.

"Containment" in this context means keeping Somali pirate interference with important sea lines of communication to an acceptable level - one in which the cost is not too high in dollars or blood. This makes economic sense, reduces the risk of death to innocent parties and justifies naval piracy patrol operations.

Containment is the alternative to taking over Somalia.

In fact, I have written about this threat so much, I don't have the time to put in enough links.

The point is that defense never wins wars. It's time to go on the offensive and go after these pirates.

It's time for some serious counter-piracy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Naval Logistics: An Incremental Post

From Naval Doctrine Publication 4 (found here (opens as pdf) ):
Naval logistics is the sine qua non of our combat power and is the bridge that connects our nation's industrial base to forward-deployed naval forces.
In peace and war, the mission of naval logistics is to provide and sustain our operational readiness by getting the right support to the right place at the right time. In peace, operational readiness stems from the ability of our naval forces to accomplish a wide range of day-to-day taskings. In war, operational readiness is the forerunner of warfighting effectiveness.
More to follow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

BMP4: Best Management Practices for Protection against Somali Based Piracy available

Your own personal advanced copy of BMP4: Best Management Practices for Protection against Somali Based Piracy in pdf form is available through the NATO SHIPPING CENTRE now.

Highlights include "Typical Pirate Attacks" -

4.1 Commonly, two small high speed (up to 25 knots) open boats or ‘skiffs’ are used in attacks, often approaching from either quarter or the stern. Skiffs are frequently fitted with 2 outboard
engines or a larger single 60hp engine.

4.2 Pirate Action Groups operate in a number of different boat configurations. To date whatever the configuration the attack phase is carried out by skiffs. Pirate Action Group boat configurations include:
  • Skiffs only – usually two.
  • Open whalers carrying significant quantities of fuel often towing 2 or more attack skiffs.
  • Motherships which have included the very largest of merchant ships, fishing vessels and dhows.

These Motherships have been taken by the pirates and usually have their own crew onboard as hostages. Motherships are used to carry pirates, stores, fuel and attack skiffs to enable pirates to operate over a much larger area and are significantly less affected by the weather. Attack skiffs are often towed behind the Motherships. Where the size of the Mothership allows it, skiffs are increasingly being carried onboard and camouflaged to reduce chances of interdiction by Naval/Military forces.

4.3 Increasingly, pirates use small arms fire and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) in an effort to intimidate Masters of ships to reduce speed and stop to allow the pirates to board. The use of these weapons is generally focused on the bridge and accommodation area. In what are difficult circumstances, it is very important to maintain Full Sea Speed, increasing speed where possible, and using careful manoeuvring to resist the attack.

4.4 Somali pirates seek to place their skiffs alongside the ship being attacked to enable one or more armed pirates to climb onboard. Pirates frequently use long lightweight ladders and ropes, or a long hooked pole with a knotted climbing rope to climb up the side of the vessel being attacked. Once onboard the pirate (or pirates) will generally make their way to the bridge to try to take control of the vessel. Once on the bridge the pirate/pirates will demand that the ship slows/stops to enable further pirates to board.

4.5 Attacks have taken place at most times of the day. However, many pirate attacks have taken place early in the morning, at first light. Attacks have occurred at night, particularly clear moonlit nights, but night time attacks are less common.

4.6 The majority of piracy attacks have been repelled by ship’s crew who have planned and trained in advance of the passage and applied the BMPs contained within this booklet.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Down, Three to Go

UPDATE: Based on current reports, the Ace of Hearts may only count as 1/2 gone . . . so far.

Sunday Moment


Hat tip to Jeff Bacon at his Broadside Blog

Midrats Sunday: "Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security"

As NASA satellites placed to monitor changes in the environment go dark, they are not being replaced, leaving a gap in our ability to assess changes to the world around us. This, in turn, according to a recent paper from the Center for a New American Security, creates a hole in our ability to plan national security. You can find a link to the paper here.

On Episode 85 Missing the largest picture 08/21 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio 5 pm Eastern U.S., we are going to discuss this topic with one of the authors of the paper, Will Rogers.

Or, as CDR Salamander puts it:
Military professionals understand the intelligence requirements of the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Level.

Each level of command has their own set of reconnaissance and surveillance requirements. In the truest sense - data needs to flow up and down in order to ensure that the National Command Authority has the best information available when forming policy.

They also understand that on top of them all is the Political Level. The Political can be national, alliance, or international. Is there an even more critical level that should inform the Political and effect its direction and guidance?

What about Earth monitoring - the Environmental Level?

The history of the Earth is a constant story of changing climates from temperature, sea levels, deserts and rain. These changes drive migration and wars. Are we monitoring this to the level we should?

To discuss for the full hour will be Research Associate and Joseph S. Nye Jr. Internship Coordinator at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), co-author of the policy brief, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security; Will Rogers.

Rogers’s research focus spans unconventional security challenges, and he has authored or co-authored a range of publications on energy, climate change, environmental cooperation in Asia, and cybersecurity. He is a co-editor of and contributor to the Natural Security Blog.
Here's a link to the show: Episode 85

Can't make the show? Download it later from the link above or from iTunes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Somali Pirates: Tanker Hijacked Off Oman

Hijacking was so close to shore GoogleEarth puts it on land
Reported here:
Sea pirates Saturday hijacked a tanker with 21 Indian crew members onboard from Salalah Port in Oman, a top maritime authority said.

The Marshall Island flagged ship, MT Fairchem Bogey, was hijacked while it was anchored off the port, according to the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS).

The ship is managed by Messrs. Anglo-Eastern Ship Management (India) Pvt Ltd.

The Indian Navy and other maritime security agencies have been informed of the development, according to the DGS.
Photo copyright Peter Karberg from and used iaw terms of that site
NATO alert on this incident:
Alert 213 / 2011 20/08/2011 01:50 1654N 05403E Pirated

***This vessel has been hijacked***

At 0150 UTC 20 AUG a merchant vessel was reported Hijacked by pirates in position 16 54 N 054 03 E.
UPDATE: Reuters reports that hijacking occurred in port:
Salalah Port
The Directorate General of Shipping said the Fairchem Bogey, a chemical-oil tanker managed by Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, was hijacked while anchored in Salalah port, and the Salalah-based shipping source said the vessel was being loaded with methanol when it was seized.

The port’s operator, APM Terminals, however, said pirates boarded the vessel while it was two miles off the coast of Oman, awaiting a berth, and commandeered it toward Somalia.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Background: "Biofuels of No Benefit to Military" says Rand. Navy rejects report.

Back in January 2011, the New York Times published an article on a controversy brewing on the subject of biofuels and the military, in which the headline read Biofuels of No Benefit to Military -- RAND. The Times reported the report stated,
Fuels made from plant waste or algae will not be achievable in large or cheap enough quantities to make sense for military applications in the next decade, concluded the report penned by the RAND Corporation.

"The use of alternative fuels offers the armed services no direct military benefit," it added, urging the military and Congress to rethink dedicating defense appropriations to alternative fuels research.

Though the Defense Department has said using more renewable energy will reduce the need for fuel convoys in the battle zone, RAND questions biofuel's role in that effort, saying that any alternative fuels -- either with biofuel blends or coal-to-liquid technology -- would still require those fuel convoys or compound logistical challenges on the front lines.
According to the Times, the U.S. Navy vigorously rejected the Rand report:
The Navy, which has been on the front lines of biofuel research, blasted the findings. Tom Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy, said that the findings do not "square with what we have encountered or heard from industry."

"We have been engaged with the biofuels industry. We know what they are capable of doing, and we are confident they will be able to deliver the fuels at the quantities and at the price point we need," he said. The Navy is calling for 8 million barrels of biofuel per year by 2020, he said.

Ultimately, the best processes and feedstocks will rise to the surface, but Fischer-Tropsch won't work for us, said Hicks. "We are going to continue on with what we're doing. It's the right thing to do for energy independence and energy security, and for us it's about enhancing warfighter capabilities," he said.
You can decide for yourself starting with reading the Rand report which is available here. Here is one excerpt:
Defense Department goals for alternative fuels in tactical weapon systems should be based on potential national benefits, since the use of alternative, rather than petroleum-derived, fuels offers no direct military benefits. While Fischer-Tropsch fuels and hydrotreated renewable fuels are no less able than conventional fuels to meet the Defense Department’s needs, they offer no particular military benefit over their petroleum-derived counterparts. For example, even if alternative fuels can be produced at costs below the prevailing costs for conventional fuels, they will be priced at market rates. Also, we are unable to find any credible evidence that sources to produce jet or naval distillate fuel will run out in the foreseeable future. If conflict or a natural disaster were to abruptly disrupt global oil supplies, the U.S. military would not suffer a physical shortage. Rather, the resulting sharp increase in world prices would cause consumers around the world to curb use of petroleum products. Less usage would ensure that supplies remained available. As long as the military is willing to pay higher prices, it is unlikely to have a problem getting the fuel it requires. If problems do arise, the Defense Production Act of 1950 (P.L. 81-774) contains provisions for performance on a priority basis of contracts for the production, refining, and delivery of petroleum products to the Defense Department and its contractors.

Nevertheless, despite the absence of a specific military benefit, there are nationally important benefits to be gained from the use of alternative fuels. If the Department of Defense were to encourage early production experience, government decisionmakers, technology developers, and investors would obtain important information about the technical, financial, and environmental performance of various alternative fuel options. If favorable, that information could lead to a commercial alternative-fuels industry producing strategically significant amounts of fuel in the United States. Once established, a large, commercially competitive alternative fuel industry in the United States and abroad would weaken the ability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to assert its cartel power. Lower world oil prices would yield economic benefits to all fuel users—civilian and military alike. Lower prices would also decrease the incomes of “rogue” oil producers, and thereby likely decrease financial support to large terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah.
Now, go read it. Read Galrahn's positve view on the Navy's move.

Then, I suggest you read my post on how much proven and retrievable energy the U.S. has without using Navy money to funding biofuel research here. See U.S. Tops in Energy Resources

You will note that I am not saying that algae biofuels may not be a great and wonderful thing. Someday.

But . . . I agree with the Rand report.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Defense Money Baloney: "New Biofuels "Market" to Reduce Foreign Oil Dependence"

Runnng on empty
I guess discovering that in the real world biofuels still are an expensive novelty, the decision has been made to dump a few hundred million dollars of Department of the Navy dollars into an attempt to create a "market" for them, as reported at New Biofuels Market to Reduce Foreign Oil Dependence
The Department of the Navy is providing the market share for the nation's nascent biofuel industry as part of a White House initiative to kick-start the alternative energy sector, administration officials announced Aug. 16.

The Navy, in partnership with the departments of Energy and Agriculture, is working with the private sector to create a sustainable U.S.-based alternative energy industry as part of a plan President Barack Obama announced in March to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, announced the latest part of the plan in a conference call with reporters Aug. 16.

Under the plan, the Navy, Agriculture and Energy departments will share equally in a $510 million investment over three years -- estimated at half the private sector's cost -- in the production of advanced "drop-in" aviation and marine biofuels, which can be used with existing fuels to power military and commercial vehicles, they said.

The White House's Biofuels Interagency Work Group and Rural Council will oversee the initiative with the simultaneous goal of boosting America's rural economies, they said.

"America's long-term national security depends upon a commercially viable domestic biofuels market that will benefit taxpayers while simultaneously giving sailors and Marines tactical and strategic advantages," Mabus said.

"Having energy independence in the United States is one of the most important things we can do from a security standpoint," he added.

The United States imports more than $300 billion in crude oil annually, and "price shocks and supply shocks" of the international oil market are "too much for the military to sustain," Mabus said. Every dollar per barrel increase in oil adds $30 million annually to the Navy budget, he said.

"Today's announcement not only leverages our home-grown fuel sources to support our national security, but it also helps advance the biofuels market, which ultimately brings down the cost of biofuels for everyone," Mabus added.

The initiative is in line with Mabus' goal to cut in half the Navy's oil usage by 2025, and supply its growing use of biofuels, which the secretary estimated at 8 million gallons per year.

"We've already flown an F/A-18 on biofuels," said Mabus. "We've flown a MV-22 Osprey on a mixture of biofuels and petroleum. We've tested our riverine craft, are sea hawk helicopters, so we are, well down the road to making sure we meet this goal tactically and strategically."

"The Navy can be the market," Mabus said. "We have a big need for biofuels. It will make us better warfighters, it will save lives, and it will reduce a vulnerability in our military that we simply shouldn't have."

The Energy Department already supports 29 biofuels projects in which producers manufacture fuels from cellulosic feedstalks -- wood, grasses and nonedible parts of plants, Chu said. Under the initiative, there can be no negative impact on U.S. food supply, they said.

The initiative is important, the secretaries said, to diversify the nation's energy supply, remove risk from the burgeoning biofuels industry, and create economic opportunities in recession-hit parts of the country.

The departments plan to release a request for proposals soon from biofuel manufacturers, and Mabus said the Navy conducted the largest-yet biofuels request of 450,000 gallons in a bid last spring.

"There is a market there that is real, that is solid," he said of producers, and added that it is growing enough that prices already are starting to decline.

The Navy will "repurpose existing funds" for its $170 million share of the investment, Mabus said. "It's a matter of setting priorities," he added.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus laid out five aggressive energy goals in October 2009 to improve the Navy's energy security and efficiency, increase the Navy's energy independence, and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy. This initiative assists in achieving the energy goal of increasing alternative energy afloat and ashore where by 2020, 50 percent of the total Department of the Navy energy consumption will come alternative sources.
As I have noted in previous posts (see Baloney at the Navy Top: "We use too much fossil fuel", Shale Gas and U.S. National Security), the U. S. has plenty of domestic energy which is being and can be developed further without taking money from the Navy and giving a "special deal" to the biofuels people who have already spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Instead, the administration prefers to attack the gas and oil energy industry for receiving special "tax breaks" while taking tax money better spent on ship and aircraft repair and giving it to different politically-favored gaggle of "projects."

As I said in prior post:
The problem is not that we use too much fossil fuel, the problem is that we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on imported fossil fuel, despite sitting on the world's largest deposits of "fossil fuels."

It is the importation of foreign oil that is a strategic issue, not their use. It's the long lines of commerce that bring oil to our shore that are vulnerable.
If every dollar increase in a barrel of oil adds $30 million to the Navy budget, perhaps, now that the price of a barrel of oil has dropped, we should be stocking up . . . at current prices, assuming that oil is $10 a barrel lower than it has been, the Navy has "saved" $300, 000, 000. [Using Sec Mabus's $1bbl figure to assume Navy usage of 30 million barrels]. That's enough to build a ship. He should be celebrating!

If there is "a market that is real, that is solid" for biofuel, as Sec. Mabus asserts, then there is absolutely no need for this money to be diverted in this fashion.

I have no problem with the development and use of biofuels, I just think the Navy has little or no business funding them to "remove risk from the burgeoning biofuels industry"  - if it's a real "market" then let that market work. 

And let the existing energy industry assist us in being energy independent. "Drill, baby, drill" is not just a political slogan, it's a way to energy independence while allowing the scientists to work their way toward biofuel heaven.

Let these "projects" bid on the same basis as all the other energy providers. Let them develop the pipeline, storage tanks and associated equipment necessary to make delivery of the fuels they can provide.

I can't wait to see how we handle refueling our ships and aircraft around the world with this stuff. Will we have a fleet of new Navy oilers carrying only the finest vintage biofuels following each of our ships? Or will we still be buying fuel in foreign ports, using "carbon based" fuels when deployed while keeping up the pretense of "green-ness" domestically? Potemkin ships?

One final thought. The energy markets are global, so that if the U.S. does succeed in becoming energy independent by using biofuel, those nasty old oil and gas products being sold to us will simply be sold to some other country with an appetite for energy and an indifference to the environment. The net result will not be much of an improvement in the "clean energy economy", will it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Somalia: Death by Disorder

Millions of starving Somalis (that could be a headline at almost any point in the past what, 22 years?) - and a big piece of the world "rescue" effort is being stolen and sold in markets by - surprise, surprise - criminal gangs (clans) as reported in Somalia food aid stolen, sold in markets - CBC News:
An official in Mogadishu with extensive knowledge of the food trade said he believes a massive amount of aid is being stolen — perhaps up to half of aid deliveries — by unscrupulous businessmen.

The percentage had been lower, he said, but in recent weeks the flood of aid into the capital with little or no controls has created a bonanza for businessmen.

The official, like the businessmen interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals.

The AP could not verify the official's claims. WFP has not said how much food aid it believes is being diverted.

At one of the sites for stolen food aid, about a dozen corrugated iron sheds are stacked with sacks. Outside, women sell food from open 110-pound sacks, and traders load the food onto carts or vehicles under the indifferent eyes of local officials.

Stolen food aid is not new in Somalia — it's the main reason the U.S. military become involved in Somalia during the country's 1992 famine, an intervention that ended shortly after the military battle known as Black Hawk Down. There are no indications the military plans to get involved in this year's famine relief efforts.
Oh, and one of the problems, aside from the thuggery of the Somali society, is "insecure supply lines":
WFP said in a statement that it has put into place "strengthened and rigorous" monitoring and control in Somalia.

"However, given the lack of access to much of the territory due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups," WFP told the AP.
The AP investigation also found evidence that WFP is relying on a contractor blamed for diverting large amounts of food aid in a 2010 UN report.
Of course, the ever popular Human Rights Watch correctly (and pointlessly) notes that "everyone" is to blame (except, presumably, the victims) as repeated by the media here:
All parties to Somalia’s armed conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war that are contributing to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. All sides should immediately end abuses against civilians, hold those responsible to account, and ensure access to aid and free movement of people fleeing conflict and drought.
Well, let's send in the Human Rights Watch peacekeepers and gather everyone for a round of singing "Kumbaya."

More later.

UPDATE: A WFP map showing the extent of the problem. You might note that the northern part of Somalia, where most of the pirate activity is based, in not in the (presumably worse) dark orange "food aid" zone:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Battle for the Solomons: Episode 84 James D. Hornfischer Interview 08/14 by Midrats

For the past few days, I have put up a couple of posts honoring the 69th anniversary of the beginning of the first U.S. offensive in the Pacific, the Battle of the Solomons. This action began with the invasion of the island of Guadalcanal. The battle on the island, which was ferocious, was only part of the story, as the U.S. Navy began to shake out its leadership and its war fighting skills in a series of sea engagements in which luck, preparation, communication and all the other stuff of war came into play.

In a gripping history, Neptune's Inferno:: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, author James D. Horfischer takes on this tale of the South Pacific and captures the decisions (and indecisions) of command at sea and the sometime horrible choices that go along with that command.

We were pleased that Mr. Hornfischer joined us on Midrats to discuss this book and related matters. You can listen to the show at:

Episode 84 James D. Hornfischer Interview 08/14 by Midrats | Blog Talk Radio

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quote of the Weekend

From I Like The Cut Of His Jib !!: Protect the risk takers:
"If you are always on the hunt for complacency, you will reward risk-takers, and people who thrive in uncertainty."

"Take the mavericks in your service, the ones that wear rumpled uniforms and look like a bag of mud but whose ideas are so offsetting that they actually upset the people in the bureaucracy.

One of your primary jobs is to take the risk and protect these people, because if they are not nurtured in your service, the enemy will bring their contrary ideas to you."

General James Mattis
United States Marine Corps

Of course, you have to be a risk taker to be willing to protect those risk takers - one "bag of mud" looking out for another . . .

"We've always done it this way" is death to any organization.

Rebuilding the Link List

Now I know how to delete all my linked to blogs, etc, all at once.

I needed some make work this afternoon.


UPDATE: There are, I have learned (once again), some buttons that should not be pushed.
UPDATE2: You might note some formatting changes, too. Another button I should have left alone.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sunday on Midrats: Talking Guadalcanal and the U.S. Navy with James D. Hornfischer

Sometimes a Navy surface warfare officer feels like Rodney Dangerfield - "I don't get no respect."

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that we tend to stress our mistakes and shortcomings instead of focusing on the great feats of arms that should be carved  into the decks of our haze gray hulls.

Naval aviation, submariners and special warrior rightfully have staked out their places in modern history.

The surface warrior? Well, not so much.

Part of that is, of course, the U.S. Navy has been so dominant on the oceans of the world for so long that there have been few surface actions involving the fleet since - well, since World War II.

Shooting up some offshore oil rigs - it just isn't all that much.

And even when talking about WWII, it's the carrier battles that usually pop up - Coral Sea, Midway, the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot . . .

Sure, there were WWII surface battles that come to mind, like the Battle of Surigao Strait - the last great "all surface" battle- or the Battle of Samar, where a handful of destroyers, a few Navy pilots and some escort carriers took on a much superior Japanese force and, well, you can read all about it in James Hornfischer's Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.

Then there is the story of the great naval battles fought in the waters off Guadalcanal - a tale that begins with the near disaster of the Battle of Savo Island (at look at which you can find here) and with the seemingly eternal grudge of Marines toward the Navy that "abandoned" them on Guadalcanal.

Well, now, wouldn't it be nice if Mr. Hornfischer had written a book on that topic? Try this: Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal:
Neptune’s Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America’s first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. This grim, protracted campaign has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice—three sailors died at sea for every man lost ashore—Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in brilliant cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August of 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt.
And wouldn't it be great to discuss his books with Mr.Hornfischer?

Well, this Sunday 5pm Eastern, Mr. Hornfischer visits us at Midrats Episode 84 James D. Hornfischer which my co-host CDR Salamander has described as:
When you mention books on naval history, there are but a few authors whose work immediately come to mind, and our guest is one of them.

Unquestionably one of the finest writers of naval history of the last half-century; James D. Hornfischer.

We have talked about his books on a regular basis both on Midrats and over at our homeblogs; The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts. He has a new book out, one that will be required reading for his fans - Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal.

We will have him for the full hour, so don't miss the discussion of the U.S. Navy in the opening of WWII, the lessons we should take from history, and the importance of the study of naval history for both the professional and amateur.
Please join us.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Taking Care of the Families of Fallen SEALs

For all of you who want to show support for the families of the SEALs who have died in action, you can make a donation at

It doesn't replace a father, but it helps to know that you care.

I'm looking for a similar association for the Army aircraft crew.

Somali Pirates: Red Sea Attack Involving Pirate "Swarm"

Warning from a security company reported here.

IMB/ICC CCS report here:
06.08.2011: 1505 UTC: Posn: 13:07.2N - 043:04.9E, Around 20nm ENE of Assab, Eritrea, Red Sea.
Twelve skiffs with five to eight pirates in each skiff approached a bulk carrier underway. As the skiff closed guns and ladders were noticed. Warning flares were deployed by the onboard security team. the skiffs continued to approach the vessel at 17 knots. At a distance of around 300 meters, on the command of the Master, the onboard security team fired warning shots resulting in most of the skiffs falling back and circling the vessel. Two skiffs continued to chase the vessel and returned fire. The skiffs and the security team exchanged fire and after 30minutes and numerous approaches the skiffs aborted and moved away.
We have seen pirate "swarm" attacks before. They require some degree of coordination but are designed to overwhelm defensive capabilities through numbers. We'll see if this latest report is repeated soon. A well disciplined and adequately sized security team should be capable of dealing with 12 skiffs, though.

The continued pursuit after warning shots and an exchange of fire is worrisome.

Guadalcanal Days 2 and 3: The Battle of Savo Island

 UPDATE: Let's do this like historians - up to this addition, I've given you the result and the lessons learned, but left out an explanation of how things came to pass. Start with the fact that the U.S. Navy and Marines caught the Japanese by surprise and invaded the lightly held (maybe 800 Japanese) but vital island of Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942. See my previous post and the links therein covering how this was accomplished and why here. Now, let's get into RADM Morison's The Two Ocean War as he sets the scene:
Early in the morning of 7 August news of the American landings reached Vice Admiral Mikawa at Rabaul. His decision was prompt and intelligent - to send reinforements to the Tulagi-Guadacanal garrison, and to assemble a task group to attack the American ships unloading there. {Note by E1: The ship carrying the troops is sunk by an American submarine around midnight on 8 August. It's the task force that is the focus of the battle]
Mikawa's naval reaction is a very different story. One hour after receiving the bad news from Tulagi, he began collecting ... a task group to attack the American Expeditionary Force. It was a "scratch team," the ships had never trained together before, but it proved to be good enough for the task in hand. Heavy cruisers Chokai (flagship), Aoba, Kako, Kinugasa and Furutaka, light cruisers Tenryu and Yubari and one destroyer, Yunagi, made rendezvous in St.George Channel around 1900 August 7 and started hell-bent for Guadalcanal. Mikawa's battle plan . . . was to enter Ironbottom Sound in the small hours of the 9th, strike the warships guarding the expeditionary force, shoot up the unloading transports, and retire. An excellent plan; but the chances of detection were great, as the striking force had to steam in full daylight down the "Slot" between the central Solomon Islands before entering the cover of darkness.

Owing to a series of blunders on our side, [5/7/2013 UPDATE NOTE: AN INACCURATE ALLEGATION BY MORISON HAS BEEN TOTALLY REFUTED BY A NUMBER OF SOURCES PLEASE SEE COMMENTS BELOW - THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED TO REFLECT WHAT IS NOW KNOWN]  . . . one (or more) sighting(s) of Mikawa's force that day (was/were mishandled) . . .  Admiral Turner did not receive it (them) until over eight hours had passed. (Further what was reported evidently was miscontrued) On that basis (i.e. the misunderstanding of what was seen) Turner made the bad guess that the Japanese were not coming through that night, but intended to set up a seaplane bases at Santa Isabel Island, some 150 miles from Savo, and attack later. [As indicated here below and in other places, Admiral Turner and/or his staff got it wrong in many, many ways.]

Dogmatically deciding what the enemy would do, instead of considering what he could or might do, was not Turner's only mistake on that fatal night. He allowed his fighting ships to be divided into three separate forces to guard three possible sea approaches by the enemy. Rear Admiral Norman Scott with two light cruisers and two destroyers patrolled the transport area between Tulugi and Guadalcanal, and never got into the battle.
***[Note by E1: Morison lays out the other groups, commanded by Royal Navy Rear Victor Crutchley, VC - but coordination among his ships was - uh - lacking]

Turner was so certain that the enemy would not attack that night he made the further mistake of summoning Crutchley, in Australia, to a conference on board his flagship . . . some 20 miles away . . . This action of Turner's stemmed from the worst of all blunders that night: Admiral Fletcher's decision to retire his three-carrier task force from covering position, depriving the landing force of air covernext day. **** He commenced this withdrawal at about 1810 August 8 without consulting Turner, who was below him in the chain of command. That was why Turner felt he had to confer with Crutchley and Vandegrift {Marine commander] to decide whether the partially unloaded transports should depart that night, or risk more Japanese air attack without air protection. Consequently, cruiser Australia and the O.T.C. [Officer in Tactical Command] were not on hand when badly needed, and the depleted cruiser group south of Savo Island was commanded by Captain Bode of Chicago, who acted as if dazed.
And then the confusion began.

From HyperWar: The Battle of Savo Island [ONI Combat Narrative], a discussion of what Samuel Eliot Morison called, ". . . [P]robably the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight":
The disposition of our cruisers and the remaining destroyers was governed by "Special Instructions to the Screening Group," issued by Rear Admiral V. A. C. Crutchley, R. N., commander of the escort groups and second in command of the Amphibious Forces. To protect the disembarkation area from attack from the eastward, the American San Juan and the Australian Hobart, both light cruisers, were assigned to the area east of longitude 160° 04' E., guarding Lengo and Sealark Channels. They were screened by the destroyers Monssen and Buchanan. At 1850 these ships began their patrol at 15 knots on courses 000° and 180° between Guadalcanal and the Tulagi area.

As a precaution against surprise from the northwest, two destroyers were assigned to radar guard and antisubmarine patrol beyond Savo Island. The Ralph Talbot was north of the island, patrolling between positions 08° 59' S., 159° 55' E. and 09° 01' S., 159° 49' E. The Blue was stationed west of the island between positions 09° 05' S., 159° 42' E.4 and 09° 09' S., 159° 37' E., patrolling on courses 051° and 231° at 12 knots.

The area inside Savo Island, between Guadalcanal and Florida, was divided into two patrol districts by a line drawn 125° T. from the center of Savo. It was upon the vessels patrolling these sectors that the Japanese raid was to fall. The area to the north of this line was assigned to the heavy cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy, screened by the Helm and Wilson. The last-named replaced the Jarvis, which had been damaged by a torpedo during the day's air attack. This group was patrolling at a speed of 10 knots on a square, the center of which lay approximately midway between Savo and the western end of Florida Island. At midnight it turned onto course 045° T. and was to make a change of 90° to the right approximately every half hour.

The area to the south of the line was covered by the Chicago and H. M. A. S. Canberra, screened by the Patterson and Bagley. H. M. A. S. Australia was the flag and lead ship of this group, but at the time of the action she was absent, having taken Admiral Crutchley to the conference aboard the McCawley. Capt. Howard D. Bode of the Chicago was left in command of the group, although the Canberra ahead of his ship acted as guide. The group was steering various courses in a general northwest-southeast line--the base patrol course was 305°-125° T.--reversing course approximately every hour.

Admiral Crutchley's instructions were that in case of a night attack each cruiser group was to act independently, but was to support the other as required. In addition to the Melbourne warning, a dispatch had been received indicating that enemy submarines were in the area, and night orders placed emphasis on alertness and the necessity for keeping a sharp all-around lookout. The destroyers were to shadow unknown vessels, disseminate information and illuminate targets as needed. It was provided that if they should be ordered to form a striking force, all destroyers of Squadron FOUR except the Blue and Talbot were to concentrate 5 miles northwest of Savo Island. This arrangement was to cause some confusion during the battle.
"The fact must be faced that we had an adequate force placed with the very purpose of repelling surface attack and when that surface attack was made, it destroyed our force," said Admiral Crutchley. After full allowance for the element of surprise and for the fact that the attacker at night enjoys an immense advantage, there remain many questions about the action which cannot be answered.
The redeeming feature of the battle was the splendid performance of our officers and men. They had been on the alert for days and had had about 48 hours of continuous, active operations immediately before the battle. In spite of this, their conduct under the most trying circumstances was beyond praise, and they made it, in the happy phrase of one of our officers, "a night in which heroism was commonplace."
HMAS Canberra sinking

Instead of repeating the ONI Combat Narrative here, please go read the Hyperwar link. It is well worth your time.

You can also find a report in the USNI Solomons Campaign series at Execution at Savo Island by CDR Bill Ballard:
There is no shortage of lessons learned from Savo Island.  To pull out just a few of the big ones:

Communication between supporting/-ed commanders: With the entire operation in its infancy, URR’s lesson of streamlined dissemination and obtaining of INTEL and aerial reconnaissance information is still applicable.  Allied shore-based reconnaissance aircraft were either under the command of COMSOPAC or COMSOWESPAC, with little effective communication or coordination.  COMSOWESPAC aircraft detected (and mis-identified) Mikawa’s force the morning of the 8th; by the time it reached CTF 62 it was too late to send any more aircraft to either further identify or attack them.

Capability vs. Intent: Be ready for what your enemy CAN do to you, not what you think your enemy WILL do to you.  Taking two seaplane tenders out of the mis-identified formation, there were still five ships that were capable of reaching Savo that night.  Taking this into account, had some or all of TG 62.6 been in Condition I through the night, with a real plan or set of PPR’s in place…

Trusting your Technology: Only if you understand its limitations.  On a tactical level this battle was less a case of visually targeted torpedoes defeating RADAR-directed gunnery and more a case of over-reliance on incorrectly employed RADAR leading to the complete surprise of TG 62.6.  Even though in training BLUE and RALPH TALBOT exhibited RADAR detection ranges greater than Japanese visual detection ranges, the long wave SC RADAR’s performance suffered terribly near land.  Additionally, their assigned search tracks at times left 20 mile gaps between the two ships. (Bates, pg. 350)  Interestingly, the most capable Allied RADAR, the SG RADAR, was aboard SAN JUAN and never saw action.  One wonders what the outcome could have been if, between Crutchley, Scott and their staffs, they had decided to put SAN JUAN in one of the picket stations.

Technology vs. Tactics, Training and Procedures (TTP): The action at Savo commenced with both sides well within the effective range of their preferred weapons.  This is the range at which training pays off.  Simply put: the IJN had trained; the USN hadn’t.  Of the Allied ships, only ASTORIA had conducted any recent night target practice, and it had been at least eight months (more than likely indefinite in the case of QUINCY and VINCENNES, recently arrived from the Atlantic) since any other cruiser had conducted either night target exercises or a night battle problem. (Bates, pg. 356)

US Navy losses: From here:
Battle of Savo Island
Navy 936 dead 11 wounded
Marine 33 dead
UPDATE: Added some additional paragraphs from the ONI report to set some background.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Ship History: Guadalcanal Campaign August 1942

Sixty-nine years ago today began the Guadalcanal Campaign, August 1942 - February 1943:
In the six months between August 1942 and February 1943, the United States and its Pacific Allies fought a brutally hard air-sea-land campaign against the Japanese for possession of the previously-obscure island of Guadalcanal. The Allies' first major offensive action of the Pacific War, the contest began as a risky enterprise since Japan still maintained a significant naval superiority in the Pacific ocean.

Nevertheless, the U.S. First Marine Division landed on 7 August 1942 to seize a nearly-complete airfield at Guadalcanal's Lunga Point and an anchorage at nearby Tulagi, bounding a picturesque body of water that would soon be named "Iron Bottom Sound". Action ashore went well, and Japan's initial aerial response was costly and unproductive. However, only two days after the landings, the U.S. and Australian navies were handed a serious defeat in the Battle of Savo Island.

A lengthy struggle followed, with its focus the Lunga Point airfield, renamed Henderson Field. Though regularly bombed and shelled by the enemy, Henderson Field's planes were still able to fly, ensuring that Japanese efforts to build and maintain ground forces on Guadalcanal were prohibitively expensive. Ashore, there was hard fighting in a miserable climate, with U.S. Marines and Soldiers, aided by local people and a few colonial authorities, demonstrating the fatal weaknesses of Japanese ground combat doctrine when confronted by determined and well-trained opponents who possessed superior firepower.

At sea, the campaign featured two major battles between aircraft carriers that were more costly to the Americans than to the Japanese, and many submarine and air-sea actions that gave the Allies an advantage. Inside and just outside Iron Bottom Sound, five significant surface battles and several skirmishes convincingly proved just how superior Japan's navy then was in night gunfire and torpedo combat. With all this, the campaign's outcome was very much in doubt for nearly four months and was not certain until the Japanese completed a stealthy evacuation of their surviving ground troops in the early hours of 8 February 1943.
At the end of the old Victory at Sea episode the narration compares the Marines on Guadalcanal to the Greeks at Thermopylae, the English at Waterloo.
The Marines turned the tide of war and stopped their enemy. The Japanese will advance no further. And, as the surviving Marines wave goodbye, one of the greatest tales of heroism slips out of focus - into history. For these men go the honors accorded to the Greeks at Thermopylae, the Colonials at Valley Forge, the British at Waterloo and, now, the Americans at Guadalcanal.
And what of the American Navy? It began badly as Japanese land-based aircraft ripped into the shipboard logistics train followed by a sea battle that shook the fleet:
The long fight for Guadalcanal formally opened shortly after 6AM on 7 August 1942, when the heavy cruiser Quincy began bombarding Japanese positions near Lunga Point.

In the darkness a few hours earlier, what was for mid-1942 an impressive invasion force had steamed past Savo Island to enter the sound between the two objective areas: Guadalcanal to the south and, less than twenty miles away, Tulagi to the north. These thirteen big transports (AP), six large cargo ships (AK) and four small high-speed transports (APD) carried some 19,000 U.S. Marines. They were directly protected by eight cruisers (three of them Australian), fifteen destroyers and five high-speed minesweepers (DMS).

Led by Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, this armada was supported from out at sea by three aircraft carriers, accompanied by a battleship, six cruisers, sixteen destroyers and five oilers under the command of Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, who was also entrusted with the overall responsibility for the operation.

The great majority of these ships (9 AP, 6 AK and most of the escort and bombardment ships), with Marine Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift and the bulk of his Leathernecks, was to assault Guadalcanal a few miles east of Lunga Point. Tactically, this part of the landing went very well. There were few enemy combat troops present, and these were some distance away. The first of the Marines came ashore soon after 9AM at "Red" Beach, a stretch of grey sand near the Tenaru River. By the afternoon of the following day they had pushed westwards to seize the operation's primary object, the nearly completed Japanese airfield near Lunga Point. The surviving Japanese, mainly consisting of labor troops, quickly retreated up the coast and inland, leaving the Marines with a bounty of captured materiel, much of which would soon prove very useful to its new owners.
Low flying Japanese bombers attack the fleet of ships supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal

While the Marines consolidated their beachhead and began to establish a defensive perimeter around the airstrip, the landing of their supplies and equipment proceeded less well. Typically for these early amphibious operations, arrangements were inadequate to handle the glut of things brought ashore by landing craft. Mounds of supplies soon clogged the beaches, slowing the unloading of the ships offshore. A series of Japanese air attacks, which forced the ships to get underway to evade them, didn't help, and when the catastrophic outcome to the Battle of Savo Island and the withdrawal of Vice Admiral Fletcher's carriers forced the the big transports and cargo ships to leave on 9 August, none of them had been completely unloaded. Though the Marines had taken their objective, supply shortages would plague them in the coming weeks, as the Japanese hit back by air, sea and land in an increasingly furious effort to recover Guadalcanal's strategically important airfield.
 The fleet withdrawal has been a sore spot in Navy and Marine relations for years. As this series proceeds, I think you will see that the Navy paid in full any IOUs it owed to the Marines as a result of that forced evacuation. And paid them with blood and raw courage of the highest order.

A couple of years ago, a group of Navy and Marine bloggers put up a series of posts at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog on the Solomons Island Campaign that I will reference as I go along - it began with Steeljaw's The Solomon Islands Campaign: Prelude to the Series, followed by his The Solomons Campaign: Geographical and Political Background, AT1(AW) Charles H. Berlemann, Jr's The Solomon’s Campaign: Status of the United States Fleet and Plans After Midway, URR's The Imperial Japanese Navy after Midway and The Solomons Campaign: WATCHTOWER — Why Guadalcanal?. To bring you up to the invasion, URR posted The Solomons Campaign: Guadalcanal 7-9 August, 1942; Assault and Lodgment.