NEWS THIS WEEK:
“Biden, in Shift, Prepares Americans to See Covid-19 as Part of Life” (Wall Street Journal): President Biden recalibrated his messaging to Americans on the Covid-19 pandemic in light of the spread of the Omicron variant. No longer are we “closer than ever to declaring our independence from this deadly virus,” as he said last summer. The exponential spike in new infections indicates the new reality: the virus is a permanent fixture of life. Vaccines and booster shots are the crux of the administration’s messaging, as they seek to reduce the level of panic and keep the American economy and society functioning throughout this and future caseload spikes.
Even with a vaccine mandate, we are not immune to Covid disruptions in the Department of the Navy. Just this week, USS MILWAUKEE (LCS 5) got underway after a two-week quarantine in Guantanamo Bay. The fully-vaccinated crew experienced an outbreak only a week after leaving for deployment.
It feels like deja vu - another year, another Covid outbreak onboard US Navy ships. In early 2020, it was the original outbreak on USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT making headlines. It happened again in early 2021 onboard ROOSEVELT. The USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN deployed earlier this week on a West Pacific deployment amidst the Omicron outbreak.
The way forward isn’t yet finalized. The CDC, President Biden’s advisors, and Navy leadership continue to adapt and update a complex set of recommendations and requirements. The best we can do for ourselves and our sailors is to stay informed, stay communicative and understanding of the human element of these ever-changing and ever-challenging operating requirements.
“Kosovo bans cryptocurrency mining after blackouts” (BBC): Rising energy prices combined with an energy supply shortage have led the government of Kosovo to ban cryptocurrency mining. While often financially lucrative, mining cryptocurrency consumes massive amounts of energy. This consumption has caused electricity in Kosovo–previously one of the cheapest resources in the country–to become unaffordable for many citizens. Energy prices are skyrocketing across Europe, fueled by rising geopolitical tensions within the region. Although some argue that cryptocurrencies are poised to dominate the financial sphere of the future, undesirable side effects such as energy consumption and pollution have already led several countries to limit or ban its mining.
“Revolt in Kazakhstan: What’s happening, and Why it Matters” (New York Times): This week’s protests in Kazakhstan over spiking fuel prices created the country’s biggest crisis since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991. The protests have deep-seated roots in anger towards widening social and economic disparities and symbolize widespread discontent over Kazakhstan’s authoritarian government, which is rife with corruption. In response, President Toykayev issued a state of emergency and blocked social networking sites and chat apps while authorizing security forces to “fire without warning.” Dozens of protestors were killed and hundreds injured as Russia’s version of NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, invoked its protection clause for the first time to intervene in the instability. The events in Kazakhstan represent another uprising against authoritarian, Kremlin-aligned nations, and could either present Russia with another opportunity to reassert its influence in the region, or threaten to undermine Russia’s sway in the region.
IN DEFENSE NEWS
“German warship enters South China Sea on 1st deployment to region in 20 years” (Radio Free Asia): The German frigate BAYERN entered the South China Sea in mid-December en route to a port visit in Singapore. The BAYERN, primarily a anti-submarine platform, is the first German warship to deploy to the Indo-Pacific since 2002. German officials stated that the cruise “demonstrat[es] that Germany will stand by its international partners when it comes to securing the freedom of the sea routes and upholding international law in the region.” In recent months, Germany released comprehensive guidelines on the Indo-Pacific and the German parliament called on the government to reassess its Taiwan policy and deepen ties with Taipei. Junior officers should continue to be aware of the growing number of NATO allies operating in the Indo-Pacific and understand the tactical and operational impact for their teams.
“Norway swaps in its F-35s for NATO quick-reaction mission in the High North” (DefenseNews): Norway designated its F-35 aircraft for a NATO quick-reaction alert mission in the High North, ending over four decades of relying on the F-16 for the mission. Norway expects its fleet of 52 F-35 aircraft to be fully operational by 2025. Previously, the country’s F-35s accompanied F-16s to examine potential airspace violations of Norway. The F-35s are held at Evenes Air Base, which is expected to eventually also house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, reflecting Norway’s (and NATO’s) need to monitor and counter Russian activity in the High North. Junior officers may witness redistribution of operational responsibility in coalition exercises and deployments as America’s allies’ and partners’ capabilities and mission sets evolve.
COMMENTARY: “The Unplanned Costs of an Unmanned Fleet” (War on the Rocks): In the surface warfare community, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is a popular punching bag. A similarly-popular, but more hopeful, topic is the Navy’s charge toward fielding unmanned vessels. The authors, two surface warfare officers, tie together these topics and argue that, as a minimally-manned platform, the LCS can help illuminate challenges for an unmanned future. Their article describes how the LCS’ minimal-manning concept undermined the platform’s utility for distributed maritime operations in two ways: by driving up lifecycle costs, and driving down resilience. This concept ultimately reduced the number of vessels the Navy could acquire, maintain, and sustain forward – a dynamic that, they argue, is as likely (if not more likely) to occur with an unmanned fleet. Junior officers would be wise to note the challenges that arise when the human element is overlooked.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Besides the LCS program, how are other communities facing the challenges that come with fielding unmanned platforms? How are JOs already responding to the shift towards unmanned platforms?
Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org!