Incident Off The Spratleys Part 3 of 3 | William Thomas Online | William Thomas

Incident Off The Spratleys Part 3 of 3





By William Thomas





Much smaller than the smallest destroyer and built to commercial standards instead of Milspec to save cash, since its inception the LCS has been dubbed, “the Navy's most hated program.”


After the first LCS, USS Freedom opened up a disconcertingly big crack in her hull, combat survivability testing was cancelled, lest it cause too much damage to the test ship. 


Instead, because of its highly-flammable, thin aluminum structure, the LCS class is rated as “not survivable” in a “hostile combat environment.” 


What combat environment isn’t hostile? her executive officer wonders.


On the bridge of the costly but diminutive Littoral Combat Ship, Independence, he’s just turned down a request for a mine sweep.


“Sir,” he informs her captain, “our new mine-locating underwater drone thinks sunlight reflecting off wavetops are mines. And real mines… aren’t. Beyond line-of-sight, it can’t communicate with the ship anyway, so…”


“Then launch the helo! Get a mine sweeping array deployed in the water dead ahead before we do a Zumwalt.”


“No can do, captain,” the exec comes back. “Our rickety old Seahawk doesn’t have enough power to tow that underwater array.” Which you’d remember if you weren’t rattled. And newly transferred to this command.


“You’re telling me that with construction costs more than triple original estimates – and after sacrificing armor, weapons, sensors and crew accommodations to accommodate our 100,000-plus horsepower gas turbines and special jet fuel tanks – this ship can’t perform her assigned missions?”


“Yessir. I mean, no sir. Not so much. But as Zumwalt demonstrated, any ship can find one mine. Once.”


“Not funny, Mister Jackson.”

LCS Mk-46 30mm

“Yes sir. Plus, our 30mm’s ‘exhibit reliability problems,’ like the evaluators found. And the big anti-tank gun adapted to both Independence and our single-hull stepsister Freedom is even worse. Because, quote, ‘ship operations at high speeds cause vibrations that make accurate use of the 57mm gun very difficult’ – as thousands of YouTube viewers saw for themselves. Sir.”


“Seems pretty extravagant for missions a Coast Guard cutter could perform.”


“Yes sir. And very inadequate for most of the others. Our integrated weapons systems and dual air/surface search radars also have ‘performance deficiencies’ that degrade the ship’s ‘tracking and engagement of contacts’.”


“Great. How’s Freedom’s hull doing?”


“The patch is reported to be holding, captain.”


“Terrific. And our cobbled together ‘anti-corrosion system’ should stop our own weirdly aggressive aluminum rot.”


“Hopefully, sir.”


“Hope is not a plan, exec. Hope does not win wars. Or keep ships afloat.”


“Yes sir. No hope, sir.”


“And the navy – our navy – wants to buy 52 LCS’s?”


“Ah, yessir. Current plans call for these ‘unfit for combat’ Little Crappy Ships to comprise more than a third of the Navy’s surface combatants within the next two years.”


“In other words, if we have to buy more F-35s and LCS’s, this navy might as well go back to sailing three-deckers.”


“Three-deckers, sir?”


Sailing ships, mister. Full-riggers. Tops’ls, royals and three decks crammed with muzzle-loading cannon!” 


“Nothing digital, sir?”


“Just the fingers on the gun crew’s hands.”


“Sounds good, sir. Stealthy, too. Being wind-powered wooden ships and all.”


“Son, why aren’t you in procurement?”



Anti-missile intercept -Baz Ratner/Reuters


“Two skycap detonations,” CIC announces, oblivious to the spectacle no one in that windowless compartment deep within the ship’s skin can see. “Splash… two birds!”


“THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ‘BOUT!” someone yells in the Combat Information Center.


“What about the third…”


The last plunging DF-21 missile lands close aboard. Its violent detonation shakes the super carrier from truck to keel. The navy routinely rattles new ships with explosives to make sure they’re ready for combat. But in 2012, the brass reneged on a Full Ship Shock Trial for their big new carrier. They feared damaging components. 

They were right.


“Damage report!” Captain Hasley snaps. 


The exec passes the word over a sound-powered phone. Listens… says, “We’ve lost radars and sonar. Engineering reports number two shaft sprung. They’re taking water, but keeping up.”


“Get the tractor and push that goddamn jet over the side!” CAG is calling over the 1MC. No one hears him. The ship’s intercom is out of commission.


“Sea skimmers!” a lookout shouts. “Amidships to port.” 


All eyes on the bridge swivel from the burning flight deck to the new threat. How a farm boy from Iowa even saw those skimmers is a mystery. Six anti-ship cruise missiles coming in at Mach 2…


live-fire drill using an aircraft carrier is seen carried out in the Bohai sea, China, December 14, 2016. © Reuters

Where did they come from? Where were the Chinese carriers?  


“Open fire with close-in weapons!” the captain orders. 


One of the ship’s two 20mm rapid-fire anti-missile batteries starts throwing out sheets of shrapnel. In a Tom Clancy parody, the concussion from the first exploding sea-skimmer tips the second sharply downwards. It obliterates a wavetop. 


“GIT SOME!” screams a black kid from Chicago on the Phalanx mount.


Two more anti-ship cruise missiles are shot down before the ammo-guzzling Gatling guns abruptly cease-firing.


“What…?” someone starts to say on the bridge. Is cut off by the exec relaying a report from belowdecks. “Captain, the ammunition elevators have dropped offline again.” 


The fifth sea skimmer flies through the main elevator opening – and explodes in the vast, open hangar deck crammed with parked aircraft, unpurged fuel lines, and ready rockets, missiles and bombs. The sixth strikes the ship’s island. In a wink, the ship is an inferno. 



Picking himself up on the shattered bridge, Captain Hasley is amazed to find the unrecognizable space redecorated in sticky abattoir red. The helmsman’s hands are flash-melted into the shattered touchscreen. The rest of her is wedged against a bulging, red hot bulkhead. Other sailors are groaning from shock, burns, broken bones and shattered illusions.


The captain seems to be missing an arm. Vision fading, choking on toxic smoke and his own vomit, he uses a portable VHF to radio the stunned fleet. 


“We are at war. Repeat, we are at war. America to commence contingency landings on the Spratleys immediately. Repeat, TAKE THE SPRATLEYS! All remaining ships in support. We will...”


Fade to black.



USS America


LHA-6 America, first in a new class of amphibious assault ships, has dispensed with the traditional hangar-like well deck capable of launching everything from rubber commando rafts to landing craft, so-called “amphibious” tanks and huge hovercraft directly out of her floodable stern. 


Instead, the $4 billion (and counting), 844-foot, 45,695- ton ship is devoted to 20 of the trouble-dogged F-35B VTOL jets, as well as the accident-plagued, troop-carrying, tilt-rotor Osprey. Who wants to replay Tarawa wading ashore under murderous fire when you can just drop in on some enemy general’s dinner party? 


If you survive the trip.


USS America helo approach

USS America Osprey VTOL approach

“This is it,” Marine Captain John Butler is saying to his assembled gyrenes. “What we’ve trained for. What we’re paid the big bucks for. Never knew a ship’s captain could order a fleet attack. But there it is. Ain’t made up stories wonderful?”


For once, no one makes a smart-ass comment. The men and three women swaddled in face paint and combat gear are staring at the distant carrier and her complement blazing like a trillion-dollar torch. 


“There goes 4 1/2 Acres of Sovereign American Target,” a grunt finally murmurs. 

“BFT,” says his buddy. "And I don’t mean no swingin’ dicks wearin’ skirts,” 


“Roger that. They oughtta stop paintin’ bulls-eyes on them Big Fat Targets.”


“Eyes in the boat,” the captain orders. "Knock off the war porn." As his company’s gaze swivels back to their leader, he adds, “You’ve been briefed. Questions?”


“Sir,” says one of the women, a corporal.




“Sir, the Ospreys can’t land until we take the airfield. But this assault ship lacks landing craft. So, ah, how exactly are we supposed to get ashore, sir?”


“Our fancy jump jets will suppress the airfield. Then we’ll go in. Plan B, the Ospreys will land on the beach. If climate shift doesn’t erase the whole goddamn Spratley reef first.”


The marines look at each other. They know the F-35 sucks at close air support. Small loadout, lousy low-speed maneuverability, visually challenged pilots, and limited fuel and ammo means they are more likely to get hit than the enemy. If only they still had the old radioactive shell-firing Warthogs! 


“Don’t worry. We’ve got two LCS’s for inshore bombardment.” Their company commander grins at his own joke.


The marines groan. Everyone knows the Little Crappy Ships can’t hit shit when the water’s bouncy. In fact, their guns won’t even fire. Their fire-control computers won’t let them. 


“Sir,” says that skinny kid from Arkansas who isn’t too particular whose ass he kicks. The marine captain nods. “Sir, how come we’re blowing billions – trillions – on useless weapons systems when our country is falling apart?”


His C.O. glares.


“And trillions more on endless wars that are really corporate make-work projects. Not to mention, perpetual civilian slaughter,” the kid rushes on. “Wouldn’t it be better to just be... nice?”


The captain makes big eyes, nearly pops his pupils. “You’re in the wrong gig, mister! Marines don’t play nice with others. We hurt people and break things. If they’re speaking gibberish to the wrong God in the wrong neighborhood in some crotch of a country, it’s their own damn fault for not bein' ‘merican. Or white.”


“Yes sir. Just referencing Smedley Butler, USMC, and his two Congressional Medals of Honor. You know what he said about ‘war is a racket’. And how we marines kill for 'the bankers and Wall Street'.”


“I know what the gen'ral said.”


Marines boarding Ospreys

Marines with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment aboard amphibious assault ship USS America -SSgt Christopher Giannetti USMC

Another marine tries a diversion. “Sir, why aren’t our jets launching to hit that island?”


“Come off it, Bradley. You know the deck of this wonder wagon can’t handle the heat expelled by her own aircraft during continuous flight ops. Eight other amphibious assault ships share this… trait.”


Bradley stares blankly ahead. And he’s not the only one. What they’re hearing makes no sense.


“The old man’s just waitin' to cool the deck down after this morning’s jump-jet evolutions with all that hot downward-vectored thrust,” the gunny interjects. “So it don’t turn into Silly Putty.

He is delighted to by their disconcerted expressions. 

"Don’t sweat it. The heat issue is gonna be sort of dealt with some temporary heat shields to stick under those jets exhausts.”


'Sort of dealt with’ sounds like 'sort of death wish'. The kid still looks as if he’s not sure he should be reassured. 


“Wait one.” The captain nearly jams his headset through his brainpan. “Say again!” he barks into his throat mike.

His face darkens as he listens. Turning to his team he says, “Stand the fuck down. We aren’t going anywhere.”


“MPP, sir?”


“You always were the bright spark in this detail,” the company commander commends the corporal. “As you all know, this… ship has to swap its current and now obsolete Mission Payload Package for one that supports our new Spratleys mission. The old man anticipated action and had the Spratleys MPP flown out to us three days ago. Smart move. Since this changeover was supposed to take one or two days.”


He pauses to let the jarheads – his jarheads – register the “supposed”.


“Sir?” prompts Bradley for the company. 


“I’ve just been told the swap-out will take…” The captain’s so upset off he can’t even speak.


“… weeks,” he finishes.


“Looks like we’re out of the war-fighting business,” Bradley pipes up. 


“Yeah,” says the corporal. “But what about the people we just pissed off?”




Chinese ballistic missile launch


A former Cessna driver and member of the U.S. Navy Reserves, this writer has helmed a brigantine and captained his own backyard-built sailing vessel through the South China Sea. As a reporter, I've walked the flight deck of USS Yorktown, flown with the militaries of three countries, and experienced eye-popping formation maneuvers at sea aboard the turbine-assisted Canadian destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan

My books on other U.S. Military, Inc. fiascos include Scorched Earth and Bringing The War Home

Filmed in the Gulf and Kuwait during and after a Desert Storm, my documentary, "Eco War” (detailing the work of our three-man environmental emergency response team) won the 1991 U.S. Environmental Film Festival and is available on YouTube. 

Part 1.

Part 2.


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 发件人     William Thomas 2018