Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Did We Blink in the Persian Gulf, Redux

While Ralph Peters (and others) believe the Navy should have blasted those Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz, Galrahn at InformationDissemination thinks otherwise. He argues that cooler heads (wisely) prevailed, because our crews knew what to expect. And for that, he gives some of the credit to the spooks:

Given the results of the encounter, we tend to believe there was some intelligence provided detailing expectations for such an incident. We also tend to think either this isn't the first episode where IRGC have dropped objects in front of ships, or that the Navy was somehow able to quickly identify the objects as nonthreatening. Given the reaction of the officers, and the praise they got during the press conference and in other statements, we tend to think the 'training' getting credit is actually a combination of the intelligence paying off, the officers and crew being prepared with the training scenarios conducted in workups, and understanding the conditions while properly executing procedures.

If the Navy expected an encounter like this, and the officers on those ships recognized what they were seeing based on intelligence, and was able to communicate this effectively with each other and their crews, it makes a lot of sense that 'white boxes' could be thrown in the path of frigates, or small boats could operated in formation zooming around the three US warships and not get blown up from gunfire. It seems to us, that the missing element in this entire incident is the intelligence the ships had going into that situation. If that intelligence was good, and to us it appears it must of been, the IRGC tactics would have simply been a sideshow falling into the realm of expectations for the Navy based on the training for the ships, training which again is based on intelligence.

While SWOs, and admittedly many others are wondering why no Iranians took a swimming lesson last Saturday morning, keep in mind there are a number of very valid explanations. The Navy sailed through a tough incident, the crews were clearly professional in their response. Credit the training, and credit the intelligence.

While the media (and various pundits) focus on the incident's tactical elements, they ignore the larger "picture" that was available to U.S. commanders on the scene. While their primary focus was--obviously--on the five speed boats, the strike group also had detailed information on Iranian air activity, radar emissions, communications and anti-ship missile batteries.

Analysis of that data, coupled with information on past Iranian harassment efforts, may have prompted a conclusion that the speedboat activity was an isolated event, and not the "bait" for a larger trap. Fact is, major surface combatants have robust surveillance and intelligence-collection capabilities, and they can readily access regional and national platforms as well.

Obviously, none of those systems are completely fool-proof--and they can't read the mind of the IRGC officer in the lead boat--but they significantly enhance a commander's situational awareness and aid in his/her decision-making. The decision not to open fire was based on factors (and information) beyond the heading and distance of those Iranian boats, and their threatening radio calls.

On the other hand, some believe that our sailors aren't fully prepared for the kind of situation they encountered on Sunday. Galrahn found an essay in the current issue of Proceedings, which claims that some strike warfare training scenarios focus on low-probability scenarios, and do a poor job in preparing crews for situations they are likely to face.

The essay, written by a naval intelligence officer also notes that current training program is "not helpful for intelligence teams because they don't promote adaptive thinking or predictive analysis"--the very skills required to decipher the intent of an asymmetric adversary, employing small boats in swarm and suicide tactics.


Unknown said...

Ralph Peters may be right. We may have used the incident to provide the Iranians “bad” intelligence, such as, the wrong radar frequencies and pulse rates, deceptive maneuvers and communication chains that don’t really exist. As well as collecting further information on their capabilities.

billmill said...

I hope that the pundits are right and this was an intelligence coup and not just another example of bad training or even worse overly restrictive ROE.

Anonymous said...

I do not knew what intel value this exchange had,
As a SWO, I think the crews reacted correctly..Had they sunk those speed boaters, the US would have been roundly condemned as the aggressor.

The sea going game of chicken continues, and the US Navy did not blink.