Rumpus in the South China Sea

By

Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

(Published in the October issue of DSA available on their site

https://www.dsalert.org/DSA-Editions/Oct_2021_Vice_Admiral_(Retd)_Vijay_Shankar_PVSM_AVSM.pdf)

The Battle for the Paracel Islands: Setting the precedence

In January of 1974 during America’s war in Vietnam, an obscure naval battle was fought in the South China Sea involving an intense clash between the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and South Vietnamese navies near the disputed Paracel Islands. The short but fierce battle left China in control of seemingly unremarkable spits of land and surrounding waters. The incident merited little global attention, especially when compared with past titanic struggles at sea, such as those of the two world wars. Unsurprisingly, the battle remains an obscure, if not forgotten, episode. However in naval history it defined China’s early steps to arrogate the South China Sea. It is, therefore, important that we examine this naval battle keeping in perspective the backdrop of the larger war being waged on the Indo-China Peninsula and the US geo-political moves to open-up the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In response to the stunning victory by North Vietnamese communist forces in June 1954, bringing to an end nearly a century of French colonial rule in Indochina, America, feared the strategic collapse of western influence against the surge of Communism in South East Asia. It contrived a foreign policy that came to be known as the “Domino Theory”. Subsequent events however suggest that the concept was ill-advised and today stands discredited; the view was that the fall of Indochina to communism would lead rapidly to the collapse of other nations in Southeast Asia (including Laos, Cambodia and Thailand) and elsewhere (Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and even India). US President Eisenhower, in 1954 declared, “The possible consequences of the loss “are just incalculable to the free world.”

 American answer was the Saigon Military Mission, a covert operation to conduct psychological warfare and paramilitary activities in Vietnam to prop up the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam. It marks the beginning of the American war in Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954 effectively divided Vietnam in two at the 17th parallel. By 1967 a wily programme for the ‘pacification and development of Vietnam’ was initiated that was primarily a US military coercive effort to compel security and stability of South Vietnam’s rural population. US troops were surged to approximately 485,000. The casualties bore grim testimony to the utter failure of the scheme, by 1968 over 20,000 US troops had had been killed.

It wasn’t till 27 January, 1973 that President Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, ending ‘direct’ U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. It may be recalled that Nixon opened the doors to China in February 1972, during which he met Chairman Mao and signed the Shanghai Communiqué with Premier Zhou Enlai. The communiqué set the stage for improved Sino-US relations both economic and political. Normalization of relations and the accession of China into the global marketplace was the end purpose. Clearly there was no intention to initiate any action that might jeopardise Nixon’s grand scheme.

Harking back to the Battle for the Paracel Islands. The archipelago lies in the South China Sea approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the PRC and Vietnam. With no indigenous population, ownership has been in dispute since the early 20th century. Between 1932 and 1956 the Islands exchanged hands contentiously between the French, Japanese, Republic of China (Taiwan) and South Vietnam. By 1956 France and Japan abdicated their claims which left China and South Vietnam with small garrisons on Yongxing and Shanu Islands. The Paracel Islands are located 300 kilometres south of Hainan Island, and 370 kilometres east of Da Nang. The archipelago is composed of coral islands, reefs, and banks divided into two island groups. To the northeast is the Amphitrite Group, in which Woody Island is the largest feature. To the southwest is the Crescent Group, consisting of Pattle , Money and Robert Islands on the western side and Drummond  Duncan  and Palm Islands on the eastern side. About eighty kilometers of water separate the Amphitrite and Crescent Groups (see Chart 1)

Chart 1  PARACEL ARCHIPELAGO                                                          (source‘https://www.navytimes.com/news/yournavy/2019/03/14/)

On 16 January, 1974, two Chinese Kronshtadt-class submarine chasers and two minesweepers along with a force of maritime militia were ordered to protect fisherman operating off the Paracel Islands. It was also a part of a force build-up in the eastern part of the archipelago. Beijing had decided to solve the Paracel Islands territorial dispute by force if the opportunity presented itself. Saigon in the meantime despatched a Frigate with South Vietnamese Army officers and an American observer to the Paracels on a surveillance mission to investigate reported Chinese activities in the area (the role of the American officer on the frigate was never clear). They discovered two Chinese “armoured fishing trawlers” off Drummond Island in support of a detachment of troops who had occupied the island. Chinese soldiers were also observed on nearby Duncan Island, with a landing ship and two additional Kronstadt class submarine chasers in the vicinity. This was reported to Saigon who despatched two more frigates and one corvette to confront the Chinese ships in the area and evict their troops on the islands. By 18 January the Vietnamese force concentrated off the Islands. In the meantime the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had also landed two battalions of marines supported by a large number of irregular militia.

The combined Vietnamese force of three frigates and one corvette vastly outgunned (5 inch and 3 inch guns) the PLAN force of two minesweepers, two Kronshtadt class submarine chasers (Soviet origin, main armament 85 mm and 37 mm guns) and the landing ship. In the run up to the battle, South Vietnamese troops attempting to establish a bridgehead on Duncan Island were beaten back by Chinese marines and irregulars.

On the morning of 19 January the Battle was joined when a gun duel broke out between the two forces.  The lighter and faster Chinese flotilla manoeuvred close in to the South Vietnamese force; their agility permitted them to close the larger South Vietnamese warships to within their gun range. The Vietnamese could not bring their heavier guns to bear. All the while the Chinese maritime militia on board their armed and armoured trawlers were deployed close-in to ensure a very confused picture. Tactically, once range was closed to half-mile, the Chinese vessels’ rapid-firing light weapons and speed gave them a decisive advantage. The PLAN had within 40 minutes bested the South Vietnamese fleet. By late evening 20 January, all of the Paracel Archipelago was under Chinese control.

China’s Grand Strategy Unfolds

China employed a mix of conventional and irregular forces to meet its operational objectives. Such hybrid methods foreshadowed the kinds of combined maritime warfare China would consistently employ in its grand strategy to annex the South China Sea. Indeed, operations in 1974 in the Paracels represent an archetype that could be employed again in the future. The battle was the first step in China’s effort to control and usurp the South China Sea as it territorial sea.

Using similar tactics, in 1988, China seized six reefs and atolls of the Spratly Islands after another skirmish with the Vietnamese at Johnson South Reef. In late 1994, they built structures on Philippines-claimed Mischief Reef, leaving a weak Manila no choice but to accept the fait accompli. In 2012, China compelled the Philippines to yield control of Scarborough Shoal after a standoff at sea over fishing rights in the area. Beginning in late 2013, China embarked on a massive land reclamation project in the Spratlys, building up artificial islands that added up to thousands of acres of land. Some of the man-made islands feature military-grade runways, deep-draft piers and facilities to accommodate warships.

China has laid claim to all the waters of the South China Sea based on a demarcation they call the ‘Nine-Dash’ line. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that the origin of the entitlement is bereft of legitimacy and could not be used by Beijing to make historic claims to the South China Sea. The line, first inscribed on a Chinese map in 1947, has “no legal basis” for maritime claims, deemed the Court.

Chart 2.  The Nine Dash Line

In brazen dismissal of the Tribunal’s ruling, China persists in its sweeping claims of sovereignty over the sea, its resources and de-facto control over the   trade plying across it amounting to US $5.3 trillion annually.

Satellite imagery has shown China’s efforts to militarize the  Woody Island while constructing artificial Islands and setting up military bases, rejecting competing claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Most of the world along with claimant countries demand the rights assured under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In  sum,  China’s  strategy  for  managing  its  claims  in  the  South China  Sea  has  emphasized  delaying  settlement  of disputes. And in time with swelling military capability, occupation of contested features, building artificial Islands and locating military bases for control of the waters within the nine-dash line. In the face of these aggressive moves the other claimant states are left in awe as they are handed down a grim reality.

To Untangle Beijing’s Behaviour

China’s century of Humiliation (1839-1949) coincided with the start of the First Opium War and ceding of Hong Kong to Britain. The conflict provided other colonial powers, a blueprint for usurping territories from the crumbling Qing dynasty. So, northern China was seized by the Czar, Formosa was taken by Japan; while Germany, France and Austria carved out coveted real estate through ‘loaded treaties’.

The period remains etched in Chinese institutional memory of a rapacious international system over which it had little influence. It has today shaped China’s geo-political thrust for controlling status in the very same system. More importantly, it provides a rallying point internally and a persistent reminder to its people of why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, Premier Xi Jinping’s declaration of 2017 that “…the world is not peaceful” is turning out to be an “engineered” self-fulfilling prophecy. When put on a strategic template the delaying actions to resolve simmering discords effected only to exasperate, Janus faced policies that serve to deceive and subvert alliances, coercive manoeuvres, lease-for-debt economic deals and flouting of international norms bear a bizarre semblance to the words of Sun Tzu: ‘The master conqueror frustrated his enemy’s plans and broke up his alliances. He created cleavages…He gathered information, sowed dissension and nurtured subversion. The enemy was isolated, divided and demoralized; his will to resist broken.” (Griffith, p 39).

Challenge of China

Of all the uncertainties, it is China, a stated revisionist autocratic power that will impact regional stability; particularly so, in the maritime domain. The planner must in the circumstance examine in some detail the challenge of China. Of significance is the shift in global balance to the Indo-Pacific intricately linked to the stunning growth of China as a contender for regional dominance. Its ascendancy is backed by military forces that are developed to the point where they expect to challenge any adversary that may attempt to deny its interests.

China’s latest defence white paper of July 2019 describes “Taiwan, Tibet, and Turkistan as separatists that threaten national unity. While drumming the theme of “people’s security” it persists with its re-education camps in Xinjiang. It hammers home the brutal repression of Muslim ethnic minorities, mainly Uighurs, and their mass incarceration. The paper warns of the dangers of territorial conflicts erupting in the South China Sea and hazards of strategic competition for resources and control of the seaways.”

Paradox of China’s Actions: A Conclusion-An Unintended War

The consequences of China enabling its Anti-Access and Area Denial strategy and enabling its Coast Guard Law (January 2021) are moves to establish proprietary control, sources of raw materials, domination of sea lines of communication euphemistically called the “maritime silk route” and working to realise the String of Pearls (currently a patchy network of Chinese military and commercial facilities along its maritime silk route). These manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Region evoke increasing anxieties and resistance by players in the same strategic settings. Debt traps that have been set by China to inveigle some of the hapless littorals of the Indian Ocean of their maritime facilities are symptomatic of a new form of colonial venture. The paradoxical effects of China’s actions are to undermine its own strategic standing, hasten counter balancing alignments such as the QUAD and urge a global logic of cooperative politics over imperial strategies.

Through all this, China remains quite oblivious to the legality of their discordant Air Defence Identification Zone, the 9-Dash line delineating their claim over most of the South China Sea, China’s Coast Guard Laws, contravention of the UNCLOS and breaching international law by constructing and militarising artificial islands. China appears to be challenging not just today’s economic orthodoxy, but the world’s political and security framework as well.

              We are not in Sun Tzu times neither are strategies so opaque nor are Xi’s people willing to tolerate an autocratic ruler indefinitely. Yet China would do well to heed Sun Tzu’s sage words of avoiding a reckless path to an unintended war.

The Curious Wars of China

Never to be undertaken thoughtlessly or recklessly wars are to be preceded by measures that make it easy to win

                                                                      Sun Tzu, Art of War (Griffith, p 39)

By Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Published on the IPCS website in my column “The Strategist” http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=5715

Chinese Tradition of Warfare

In would appear that the Chinese tradition of warfare differs from contemporary conventional understanding. Instead of focussing on their own weaknesses, they seek to avoid exposing their flaws by instituting long-term measures to alter and isolate the environment before subversion and morale-breaking disinformation clutches-in to generate the advantage. This strategy uses every possible means to manipulate forces at play well before confrontation. In this context the significance of the clash neither constitutes the “moment of decision” nor would its outcome be the end of the engagement. And if conclusion is not to China’s terms, it is effectively delayed and kept animated in order to erode the will to resist. A favourable consequence is thus sought through an “Isolate-Subvert-Sap” strategy.   

            All of China’s recent actions must be viewed in the context of its larger geopolitical ambitions of attaining status of the pre-eminent global hegemon by 2049 (China’s National Defence in the New Era, July 2019). These include the militarisation of the South China Sea, build-up and assault in Ladakh, repression in Hong Kong, establishment of the East China Sea ADIZ,  incarceration of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and their delayed sharing of information around the Coronavirus pandemic.  

            The imbroglio in the South China Sea and the recent assault in Ladakh will be examined in a little more detail to try and discern the elements that hold sway in a Chinese military campaign.   

Militarization of the South China Sea

China has laid claim to all the waters of the South China Sea based on a demarcation they call the ‘Nine-Dash’ line. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that the origin of the entitlement is bereft of  legitimacy and could not be used by Beijing to make historic claims to the South China Sea. The line, first inscribed on a Chinese map in 1947, has “no legal basis” for maritime claims, deemed the Court.

In brazen dismissal of the Tribunal’s ruling, China persists in its sweeping claims of sovereignty over the sea, its resources and de-facto control over the   trade plying across it amounting to USD $5.3 trillion annually.

Satellite imagery has shown China’s efforts to militarize the  Woody Island while constructing artificial Islands and setting up military bases, rejecting competing claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Most of the world along with claimant countries demand the rights assured under UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

 In  sum,  China’s  strategy  for  managing  its  claims  in  the  South China  Sea  has  emphasized  delaying  settlement  of disputes. And in time with swelling military capability, occupation of contested features, building artificial Islands and locating military bases for control of the waters within the nine-dash line. In the face of these aggressive moves the other claimant states are left in awe as they are handed down a grim fait accompli.

In the meantime in response, the US, Japan, Australia and India have formed the ‘Quad’ an emerging alliance to improve their maritime security capacity and to deter Chinese aggression.  The ‘Quad’ have initiated freedom of navigation exercises intended to affirm that Beijing cannot unilaterally seize control of the waterway.

Ladakh-High Place for a Showdown

China has in the last eight years attempted to put India in a strategically ‘benign’ economic-client slot. Beijing uses its proxy Pakistan to keep the Kashmir cauldron on the boil while it presses on with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in the UN it vetoes India’s efforts to become a permanent member of the Security Council and blocks its membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. All the while playing India at Wuhan and Mamalapuram; promoting its dysfunctional non-aligned policy or at least attempting to nudge India away from the US. (The Isolate-Subvert-Sap strategy at work).

Xi’s military assault in Ladakh has been underscored to assert that geography will not be allowed to come in the way of China’s strategic objectives; be it the CPEC , the BRI or the their arterial national highway 219 linking Lhasa to Xinjiang that cuts across India’s Aksai Chin.

India on its part has given a resolute and matching military riposte in Ladakh. It has quite boldly launched surgical strikes on Jihadi training camps   in Pakistan by air and land forces and robustly rebuffed kowtowing with either Xi’s BRI or his economic grand plans. On the Line of Actual Control (LAC), for more than half a century India has followed a decrepit and emasculated policy of infrastructure building along the un-demarcated LAC with China. Doklam changed all of that and today more strategic infrastructure has come-up than had in the last 5 decades. While the Coronavirus pandemic has provided opportunity for leadership to India to pin accountability.

All of India’s actions have left Beijing a trifle red-faced.

To Untangle Beijing’s Behaviour

China’s century of Humiliation (1839-1949) coincided with the start of the First Opium War and ceding of Hong Kong to Britain. The conflict provided other colonial powers, a blueprint for usurping territories from the crumbling Qing dynasty. So, northern China was seized by the Czar, Formosa was taken by Japan; while Germany, France and Austria carved out coveted  real estate through ‘loaded treaties’.

The period remains etched in Chinese institutional memory of a rapacious international system over which it had little influence. It has today shaped China’s thrust for controlling status in the very same system. More importantly, it provides a rallying point internally and a persistent reminder to its people of why the CCP.

Conclusion

Indeed, Xi’s declaration of 2017 that “…the world is not peaceful” is turning out to be an “engineered” self-fulfilling prophecy. When put on a strategic template the delaying actions to resolve simmering discords effected only to exasperate, Janus faced policies that serve to deceive and subvert alliances, coercive manoeuvres, lease-for-debt economic deals and flouting of international norms bear a bizarre semblance to the words of Sun Tzu: ‘The master conqueror frustrated his enemy’s plans and broke up his alliances. He created cleavages…He gathered information, sowed dissension and nurtured subversion. The enemy was isolated, divided and demoralized; his will to resist broken.” (Griffith, p 39).

Fortunately we are not in Sun Tzu times neither are strategies so opaque nor are Xi’s people with him. Yet China would do well to heed Sun Tzu’s sage words of avoiding a reckless path to an unintended war.

USS Theodore Roosevelt: Cracks in the Command Structure and the Demolition of its Captain

By Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

Extracts from the Captain’s Journal INS Viraat, 2000hrs 1996 on deployment in the Arabian Sea:

“The Chicken-pox outbreak that began with four cases from the Seaman’s Mess two days ago has spread to seventy sailors. Infected personnel include Air Handlers, Mechanical Engineers and Seaman. Intentions: isolate all effected personnel in the vacant Amphibious troops Mess; make a South Easterly MLA at 20 knots for accomplishing night flying and surface attack Mission; close port of G… to 400 nautical miles for transfer of casualties along with sick bay attendants and a medical officer to consort at 0600h and onward to the base hospital at G… Intentions signalled to FOCWF info FOCinC West” (Command chain).

Occurrence of infections on board warships is not uncommon, but rarely is it allowed to jeopardise the mission at hand and even rarer is the occasion that a capital man-of-war steams “full ahead” into international headlines for want of decisiveness to control an internal situation. Indeed the infection and its context on board INS Viraat (see extracts from Captain’s Journal, above) bears little semblance to the USS Theodore Roosevelt (TR) and the Coronavirus episode, for in the former case not only was the contagion a known factor with a large percentage of the   crew having developed herd immunity (the varicella vaccine being available from 1995 onwards) and the scale of proportions being different (Viraat complement 1800, TR 4865); yet the operational imperative remains the same: primacy of the imminent task. And for an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group to put to pasture its main strike element is to recuse itself from the strategic dominance that it could have exercised in its area of responsibility.

The principal demand of naval war is to attain a posture that would permit control of oceanic spaces in order to influence the course of conflict. Elemental to this objective is therefore to provide the means to seize and exercise that control. The Aircraft Carrier’s intrinsic air power assisted by strike and denial forces provides the means to collar and assure security to maritime spaces of interest. Operational flexibility that the Carrier Group brings to bear include deterrence, support of amphibious operations, land attack missions, wide area domain awareness and domination and lastly command and control of large forces. The Carrier Group can also sustain conditions for long term offensive presence and power projection. The agility, firepower and suppleness that the Carrier Group bestows on a Commander is unmatched by any other maritime force. The removal of TR from its area of responsibility will have left a gaping hole in the US ability to exercise control in the Western Pacific region. Currently TR remains pier side in Guam “completing carrier qualification before returning to sea.”

From a philosophical standpoint the culture in the Navy demands of its leadership single point ‘responsibility’ for actions, ‘accountability’ for the impact of those actions  and then gives the leader the necessary ‘authority’ to drive towards his objective. The responsibility-accountability-authority nexus lies at the heart of leadership at sea. Above all else, the job of a naval leader is to prepare to fight and win wars. Too often in the daily grind of processing paperwork amidst misplaced career ambitions, leaders forget the reason the nation has a Navy and why they serve. From US naval tradition stands out Captain John Paul Jones who was hardly obsessing with daily drudgery when in 1778, he exhorted “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” Those words which today form a part of maritime folklore contained the essence of leadership at sea, decisiveness.

Coming back to the TR case, the sequence of events that unfolded (salient excerpts only) tell its own ignoble story of wooliness:

  • 17 January 2020. USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, departs San Diego with 4,865 sailors aboard. Capt. Brett Crozier is in command. In company is its strike elements for deployment in the western Pacific. A special “preventive medical unit” is aboard.
  • 26 February. Defense Secretary Mark Esper directs combatant commanders to tell him before they make decisions about COVID-19.
  • 22 March. First sailor onboard diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • 26 March. TR begins testing entire crew for COVID-19.
  • 29 March. Washington Post report: Crozier and his superior officers are “struggling” to reach a consensus on a plan of action. Chain of command included Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, embarked strike group commander; Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Both admirals favoured smaller mitigation efforts for fear of mission jeopardy.”
  • 30 March. Acting Secretary Modly, emphasizes “ that if [Crozier] felt that he was not getting the proper response from his chain of command, he had a direct line into his office. Crozier sends an unclassified e-mail comprising a 4-page memo to 20 or 30 Naval addressees, both within and without his chain of command. Crozier wrote: “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating. Decisive action is required…We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.
  • Wednesday 01 April. Crozier and his heads of department brief sailors on the evacuation plan, and begin to execute it. The plan, according to Modly, is: To leave 700 to 800 to 1,000 people on or near the ship to operate its nuclear reactors, guard weapons and keep the ship ready to sail. Modly calls Crozier directly and asks, “What’s the story?” and Crozier answered: “Sir, we were getting a lot more cases. I felt it was time to send out a signal flare.” About 4 p.m. at the Pentagon, Modly holds a joint press conference with CNO Adm. Michael Gilday, to address the situation onboard the Roosevelt. Modly suggests Commanders “should not be inhibited from telling us and being transparent about the issues that they see. But they need to do it through their chains of command. And if they’re not getting the proper responses from their chains of command, then they need to maybe go outside of it.”
  • 02 April. Modly asserts Crozier told him that he didn’t ask for permission to bypass his chain of command because he knew Admiral Baker wouldn’t give it. He reaches the conclusion that “Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally… and sends word down the chain of command that Crozier is to be relieved of Command. The CNO in turn directs VCNO Burke, to “conduct an investigation into the circumstances and the climate across the entire Pacific Fleet to help determine what may have contributed to this breakdown in the chain of command.” In the meantime at the Pentagon, Modly in a press conference proclaims Crozier was “absolutely correct” in raising his concerns. The error was “the way in which he did it.”
  • 03 April 3. Acting Secretary Modly concludes, that “If Crozier didn’t think that information contained in his e-mail was going to get out into the public, then he was too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternative is that he did this on purpose. And that’s a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice”. Crozier’s memo was a “betrayal of trust” to me and to you, he told the crew. “What your captain did was very, very wrong. There is never a situation where you should consider the media a part of your chain of command because the media has an agenda. And the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit on.  By April 14 total crew members that tested positive: 589, remainder negative.
  • Captain Crozier has been washed ashore as the Special Assistant to the the Navy Air forces Chief of Staff; he is neither eligible for command nor to go to sea in any capacity as of date (24 June 2020).

The Sea is an unrelenting mistress; it brooks no dawdling and provides no quarter for exculpation. The author, having commanded an Aircraft Carrier and a Fleet, notes a host of disquieting points that stand out in this sordid affair: Firstly, the outrageous levels of incompetent and unsolicited political interference in the operational control of a warship and the willing compliance of the Naval hierarchy. Secondly, the appalling indecisiveness of the chain of command. Why was it that the first-response, a traditional function of the man at sea, took all of 8 days (22 Mar-30 Mar) to engineer? Lastly it is perplexing how readily the chain of command was violated and the Captain so brazenly annexed authority to second guess the reaction of his immediate superior Rear Admiral Baker. Of course, the Captain is responsible for the safety of his ship’s company and “sailors do not (indeed) need to die” so, what action did he take (for crying out aloud) other than release snivelling e-mails that  neither have the vitality nor the gravitas to stimulate a vigorous response.

Whatever became of the much cherished US naval chain of command? Was it sacrificed on the altar of the Supreme Commander’s view in the fall out of what he calls the “Wuhan Virus”… after all as reports suggest were the Presidents courtiers all too blind to the realities of command of an aircraft carrier.