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JANUARY 22, 2013 12:01PM

Why Did the Navy Guardian Run Aground in Philippines?

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 There was a time when the Philippines was central to American strategy in East Asia, with Subic Bay as important as Pearl Harbor as to exercising American power in East Asia.  

That was part of the enthusiasm of 1898, and of course Japan targeted Pearl partly in order to isolate Subic Bay, as to the geopolitical realities of naval power in the Pacific that have changed little, because they are intrinsic features (air power doesn't change that nature of sea control, because if you didn't have good control of the sea, transport planes are easy targets for sea launched missiles. Air and sea go together in that sense, in terms of what Corbett called the sea as a highway for lines of communication and trade.) 

Then as our relationship with the Philippines evolved, from our only formal colony to independence, of course a combination of our support for Ferdinand Marcos, some underlying tensions over the colonial era, and frankly the longstanding reputation of Subic Bay as party central on leave, "What happens in Subic stays in Subic," combined with the end of the Cold War to make us leave Subic Bay, along with Clark airfield in the early 1990s.

We didn't to be fair have a lot of good choices with Marcos, as he had us by the chestnuts at Subic especially, since at that time, Japan wasn't as excited about hosting forces in the Main Islands, we were still negotiating over Okinawa, and the other alternative the ROK already had a "heavy footprint." 

Of course that didn't matter in 1990 when the Soviet fleet started to rust in place, so everyone thinks at least, and especially since China was still just starting its meteoric rise when we evacuated Subic, and any concerns the Philippines had about that were long range and hypothetical in character too, although not so much lately.

That is something the People's Liberation Army-Navy really needs to think about, in terms of the same type of naval rivalry a la England and Germany that didn't go well, for anyone.  

Maybe some version of the Washington  Treaty wouldn't be a bad thing to consider, if of course that sort of thing is ulimately limited by the same political forces that drive weapons procurement in general, conflicting political visions and objectives. 

Of course in a perfect world, the Philippines would probably stay neutra between America, China, and of course Japan, the latter latent yet increasingly less so, as the Japanese navy is quietly among the most capable in its own waters, and would be formibdable indeed with the right and relatively small acquisitions of tankers and VSTOL aircraft.

As to the Philippines out there on there nice tropical kind of island, but close to Japan and China in terms of military applications, what one wants and what are one's choices are aren't always the same things.

In the case of the Philippines, that is because they are in effect part of a ring of islands from the point of view of China, and Japan, which leads us to the curious case of the USS Guardian, a minesweeper critical to certain scenarios, running aground in a national park in the Philippines.

If you wanted to pick a bad place to run aground, that was a good one. 

Such things happen of course, and a submarine in fact just got clipped by a freighter in the Gulf, losing a periscope; bump in the night, and the freighter didn't even stop, since it didn't notice that little creature below it.

The Guardian's situation is a lot worse, as it ran into a coral reef in a national park, and is still sitting there. 

 It's really more like run on top of the reef.  

So, the U.S.S. Guardian is still there, like a beached whale, causing some tension with the Aqino regime in the Philipines,( not Nino, not Corazon, as to how so little changes in some ways), after visting Subic Bay, potentially among  the best naval facilities in the Pacific, which we would like to visit more often.

Of course, on the surface that desire isn't facilitated by having a US Navy ship run over, not into, over, a Philippine national wildlife refuge made of coral.  Whoops.

Now, it could be that everyone was doing their Captain Hazelwood of Exxon Valdez imitation, and that's a good story, and it happens, if pretty rarely, it of course being that a Navy ship ran aground on a Coral Reef in the Phillipines because it was guided by people hung over from a visit at Subic Bay, just like the good ole days.

It looks like a bunch of yahoos were out with coolers of beer at their buddies lakehouse at five in the morning, and it could be that, if probably not. 

The U.S. military is significantly diferent than some bad memories some have, if of course if one knew the history, one could see that too, as something that could be useful, if one didn't want the United States Navy becoming to at home in Subic Bay. 

So, why did the ship run over the obvious coral reef, and not just any ship, mind you, but a mine-clearing ship, the ones that have the Super Duper depth finders, for the mines, but apparently not the reefs that are wildlife refuges? (Minesweepers by the way are also unique in having hulls made of wood, wrapped in fiberglass, for magnetic "signature" reasons, namely to better find mines hidden on the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be activated, and then pop up and blow up metal objects, like ships. Cat and mouse.)

I almost hope that's because someone who doesn't like us to go some places like Subic Bay did a little target practice of the Cyber War kind, knowing that people would follow digital data you could download in yourself in some situations over visual data ninenty nine times out of a hundred.

Otherwise it doesn't look so great, if human factors could well be the only cause, understandable enough, if fatal to the career of the Captain, a Lt. Commander by rank, and easy enough to see. He gets his charts over the Internet from the Defense mapping folks, which in our world, we take as the Gospel almost. 

"Commander, it sure seems that the draught is getting really low, and look at the coral Sir! Sir, it looks like we're going to hit!"

"Relax Ens. The GPS and all the digital chart and all the data are showing we're all just fine, okeey dokey, so just relax, and ignore the sandbars we're passing over, as it's just not right on the charts. You know we go by the charts," right until the ship ran over the reef, not onto it, over it, because of a total lack of situational awareness, one of the whole points of course of Cyber Warfare too.

Or, they could have just been three sheets to the wind Captain Hazelwood style after a visit to good times Subic, or not have a clue about reading charts? Not very likely on its face, in a minesweeper, not to mention the nature of the modern Navy, if there are tensions over the past in the Philippines too.

And there you are as the Commander, former XO of the boat, who must have loved that ship so much, thinking he's surely on the one ship that can read the bottom of the ocean better than anyone, if one supposes stranger things have happened.

The lesson regardless, and it's a tragedy for the Commander, as his career is probably over regardless, as that's the naval tradition, Captains and ships going down together so to speak, if sometimes even people who apply that tradition think that it's not very fair, and sometimes it's really not, is that for all the high tech tools, technology is great, but you can't just depend on that, although it is totally, totally understandable why we do that too.

Just think about how sheep-like we follow our GPS instructor in our cars now, not thinking about what we would do if it became like HAL 9000, or just turned off all of a sudden, the lesson being that if technology is a force multiplier, you can't go all the way with that, because then you wouldn't have redundancy, like a pair of eyes sometimes, and an old paper chart. 

And just think too, that if you have read certain military doctrines, in translation granted, one key emphasis, just drilled in is this: in high tech war, informatized war, victory goes to one who controls the electromagnetic spectrum, in which denying an adversary knowing where there are, and actually in effect directing them, would be a great strategy, even in peacetime, to send them in a way that would have the political fallout you wanted. 

But then again, ships run into things all the time, sometimes in ways that aren't fair to someone who served his country well, so far from home, just wanting his own boat, a reason to appreciate the people who do that sort of thing, so we don't live in a world we might well find less of our liking. 



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Enhancing a national park might just be the best ending for one of too many ships with too little to do. Guardian; a name well suited for the job of reef protector - slap a light and horn on her and call her a navigational aid. Promotions to follow...
If things go poorly, it may become part of the reef, it that would be a very expensive use of a minesweeper, one that yes has nothing to do, save paradoxically for the deterrent value of not having something to do.
If things go poorly, it may become part of the reef, it that would be a very expensive use of a minesweeper, one that yes has nothing to do, save paradoxically for the deterrent value of not having something to do.