USS Ronald Reagan

YOKOSUKA, Japan-- American Fighter Jet aboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) (Photo by Macadam Kane Weissman/Released)

Ukraine War – Where Is The US Navy?

John Konrad
Total Views: 8795
March 14, 2022

“Today we did what we had to do. They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.” Ronald Reagan

By Captain John Konrad  (gCaptain OPED) President Zelenskyy – a former actor – has quickly proven that he and his countrymen are some of the best information operations experts in the world, said Jason Criss Howk in an article featured by Real Clear Defense. But what is Information Operations (IO)? Is it important to naval operations and sealift? Is the US Navy or NATO a capable IO? Will IO be the opening salvo in the battle of the Black Sea?

Few remember that one of the most important jobs of the RMS Titanic was not carrying passengers but carrying mail. Few remember that it was the Titanic that galvanized world interest in ship safety and lead to the most critical marine safety treaty in history: SOLAS. Few that, just last week, sanctioning and arrest of Russian Oligarch yachts began with rumors that these opulent vessels were being used to cut subsea cables.

In former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis’s recent bestselling book – 2034: A Novel of the Next World War – it is not guns that are China’s primary weapons but cyber-hacks, and it is not a naval battle the Russias fight against America but a war against subsea internet cables.

Why are subsea cables so important? Because like the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic before them… they carry the world’s information.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan

Some naval historians will argue that the aircraft carrier was the most crucial development of WWII, but others would argue that the turning point of the Pacific and the most important carrier engagement, the Battle of Midway, was won not because of superior naval tactics but because American cryptographers had broken the Japanese code enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to prepare an ambush.

Taking a step further neither the carrier nor codebreaking was the most decisive element of America’s success. The allied victory came America’s industrial might. Take one step further and you realize our industrial success came not just from our industrial might or technology – Germany and Japan were industrial powerhouses too – but in galvanizing the American public to buy War Bonds, reduce consumption, and flood our factories with labor.

Today we are fighting a similar war. Like Hitler, Putin is a master of propaganda and works hard to control the narrative by making journalism illegal and seeding state media with lies. In contrast, Zelenskyy is using modern cryptography to break Russian code while securing their own communications networks along with using western information operations tactics to galvanize global support for his cause.

How can a president not be an actor? Ronald Reagan

Unfortunately, despite the fact the head of the US Navy is a cyberwarfare expert, nothing is being done to use information tactics to cripple Russian sealift or fight where success is most important to Ukraine: the ports of the Black Sea.

This should not be a surprise for, while Navy CNO Gilday is a cyberwarfare expert, the Pentagon has prioritized hacking of bits over the hacking of minds. For proof of the military’s narrow-minded focus on the security elements of cyber, you need to look no further than the war in Afghanistan, where NATO forces absolutely dominated in cybersecurity but placed IO at the bottom of the priority list.

“The key to a solid information operations campaign is that is never rests. The number of quotes from Ukrainians being circulated on social media today is a testament to the power of the right words. They inspire and influence,’ says American IO expert Jason Criss Howk. “Unlike infantry and sappers, messages don’t need to sleep or eat but in Afghanistan, the messages were too often late or non-existent. While the Taliban and Pakistani IO creators were constantly sharing and exploiting events, the NATO and Afghan side struggled to even turn large positive events into a narrative that inspired the citizens, while demoralizing the enemy of peace.”

“To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.” Ronald Reagan

In World War II, the US Navy’s IO capabilities were second to none, then they declined until Vietnam was winning “the hearts and minds” proved to be a disaster. In the first Gulf War, we became successful again, especially in the maritime domain where hundreds of retired merchant mariners climbed aboard our ready reserve fleet and moved the apparatus of war to the gulf.

Then, on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003, our IO advantage fell apart as President Bush declared victory in a war that would last another 19 years.

In the fifteen years of running gCaptain, there has not been a single attempt to utilize the vast network of IO information or social media capabilities of the major maritime news outlets beyond the occasional invite to a ship launch.

(We at gCaptain have, many times, been chastised by senior US Navy officers for publishing critical prose.)

Conversely, in just the last week, we have been contacted several times by Ukrainian social media experts offering information, insight, and invitations in the hope our readers can help support their war efforts.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” Ronald Reagan

The US Navy approaches IO from fear and a closed mindset. This is not surprising considering the risk-averse culture of the Navy. A culture in which a mistake as small as running into a buoy can kill an officer’s career. An organization still grappling with scandals starting with Tailhook and ending with Fat Leonard. Scandals that many officers blame the media for intensifying.

Zelensky is effective not only because his acting background is an asset to IO but because he is willing to sail into harm’s way on all fronts. He risks personal safety, political stability, and his reputation every hour of every day in his unrelenting fight for the hearts and minds of his countryman and the world. It is hard to imagine any Navy flag officer being so unrelenting.

“Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.” Ronald Reagan

The US Navy is not only failing to use IO to help Ukraine win this war but they are not even challenging a growing onslaught of articles from international media giants like Reuters with titles like U.S. Navy Left The Black Sea Unprotected Allowing Russia To Invade Ukraine and Black Sea Insurance Rates Soar As NATO Fails To Protect Commercial Shipping.

The Navy’s lack of media response is not only a threat to Ukraine but it’s a threat to the US Navy itself. It is no secret that politicians increasingly look towards media stories when allocating budgets. In future budgetary hearings when Senators ask what the US Navy did to protect democracy in Ukraine and Freedom Of Navigation in the Black Sea, what evidence will the CNO and Secretary of the Navy provide to substantiate requests for increased spending?

Even more troubling is what is not being said. For decades when troubles arose around the world, the first question both Presidents and Media asked was, “Where are the carriers?” Aircraft carriers served not only as a highly effective operational base but as a strong deterrent.

“When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” Ronald Reagan

When questioned about why carriers were not sent to deter Putin from invading Ukraine, the Navy will point to tonnage limitations in the Montreux Convention and the extreme risks involved with operating a carrier in the relatively small confines of the Black Sea. And they are right – operating carriers in the Black Sea is too risky – but nothing should have stopped them from dispatching carriers to the North Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Nothing prevented them from moving ships prepositioned with military tanks and weapons from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. Nothing stopped them from moving other chess pieces like Hospital Ships and Destroyers closer to the fighting.

Moving major military assets near the theater of war is a deterrent, and nobody has more deterrence power than the US Navy. Why didn’t they use it? And why are they not using it to track and follow and harass Russian naval ships around the world as we did in the Cold War?

The US and NATO have decades of experience in the art of Brinkmanship… why didn’t we use it?

Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in. Ronald Reagan

Admirals often talk about the glory days of the US Navy when naval base Subic Bay and Clark AFB stood watch over the South China Sea, and President Reagan called for a 600-ship navy. Well, Admiral Gilday, he did that not for the glory of the Navy but for deterrence, to send a strong message to Russia. He did it to make world headlines, to wage economic war on Russia, and crush their hope of success.

And it worked.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan

Reagan, and his Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, didn’t need the 600 ships they ordered to fire a shot, Reagan won the Cold War with the projection of power…. we won with a fleet much stronger than the Russian Navy (just like the US Navy fleet is today). Reagan’s 600 fleet Navy was not just about naval power, it was also possibly the most significant Information Operations move in the history of warfare. In contrast, President Biden, and his Chief Of Naval Operations Michael Gilday’s failure to deploy even a single Hospital Ship, his inability to apply any pressure on Turkey to end the Naval Blockade on Ukraine, his failure to respond to physical bullying with a show of force, his failure to walk quietly and carry a big stick… may go down in history as worst.

But regardless of how history will view the outcome, there will be little ink for the US Navy in the history books of this war.

Maybe Ukraine was right in electing an actor to be president? Time will tell just as it has for Reagan.

Right or wrong, at the very least, Zelenskyy has proven that it’s time for the US Navy to expand the definition of CyberWarfare to include Information Operations.

“Today we did what we had to do. They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.” Ronald Reagan

Also Read: Blockade Of Ukraine – Did Turkey Put NATO Shipping At Risk?

For live updates on this crisis Follow Captain John Konrad on Twitter

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