This is your Ghost Fleet Moment

by Major Ryan W. Pallas

PART I : A personal reflection

For anyone who peruses the world of Twitter, August Cole (@august_cole) will post Ghost Fleet moments. If you’ve never read Ghost Fleet , then it may be hard to know if you’ve ever had one. For me, it was Saturday, January 13, 2018.

I recently PCS’d to Hawaii and was spending a year at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific as a staff officer being a newly selected field grade. Not a bad gig, and either way my wife and I were over the moon to be serving in the heart of the Pacific. Quickly gearing up for my new gig I spent a majority of my time driving up and down the H-3 from Marine Corps Base, Hawaii to Camp Smith-the home of Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. The drive was scenic and about thirty minutes start to finish-what better time to start crushing audio books? One of the first ones I finished was Ghost Fleet.

I won’t spend a lot time summarizing the book, but it was eerily familiar driving the roads and seeing first-hand the ships at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham, the hill leading up to Camp Smith, and living near the air station at Marine Corps Base, Hawaii–all the while having Ghost Fleet narrated through the speakers of my car. There was no better way to digest the thought provoking work than seeing the geographic locations to which it occurs firsthand. For those who have yet to read it, I would highly recommend it make it onto your bookshelf in the near future.

Fast-forward a few months and throughout the hustle and bustle of the first six month on island my wife and I were enjoying coffee one Saturday morning watching the news when a strange audible tone echoed throughout the house. Initially thinking it was an amber alert I grabbed my phone to see this:

Screen shot from Apple iPhone with Hawaii Missile Alert

Many in the aftermath, of what we now know to be a false alarm, spoke of North Korea and their ability to range the Hawaiian Island chain. During my initial reaction I only thought about China. There is some background to my thought process.

Six months prior I was in the middle of completing a graduate degree in international relations and my capstone was how the U.S. was poorly postured to combat a threat from China and their influence. Perhaps another Pearl Harbor, perhaps a Ghost Fleet moment, perhaps a ballistic missile inbound over Saturday morning coffee.

Biggest takeaway, we never know when another Pearl Harbor or September 11th is on its way, and you never know how and when it will occur. It could happen on a sunny Saturday morning having coffee with your wife and two dogs in Hawaii.

Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read Ghost Fleet, go grab a copy. You’ll find with the current global landscape shifting, those Ghost Fleet moments August Cole tweet’s about aren’t all that uncommon and seem to become more prevalent as time goes on and the Marine Corps must be ready to meet those moments–enter the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.


The good news is the 38th CMC’s CPG answers this uncertainty operating within a shifting global landscape. The USMC is pushing toward Force Design (#1 priority by our Commandant) which has to be threat based. For too long we held on to sacred principles with a willingness to allow the degradation of our warfighting abilities by adhering to historical designs and structures that no longer suited the future fight. With force design being the #1 priority, the CMC postures the Marine Corps to answer any call, at any time, in any place, leaving our elected officials with a singular resounding thought, “Send in the Marines.”

The next two priorities, within the CPG, bolster our prowess as the warrior elite, and also as a thinking and mental agile force for the future. Marines of all ranks and experience will be interoperable working in large fleets and components in the Joint Force down to autonomous small teams implementing AI, additive manufacturing, and other technologies requiring the mental agility to shift between both. Education will remain at the forefront and is the third priority of the CPG, and the Department of the Navy echoes the importance of this with a recent article by our newest Navy Chief Learning Officer, Mr. John Kroger.

In this new situation, America has to learn a new strategic trick: how to maintain military supremacy as economic and technological advantages erode and perhaps even disappear. How can the United States pull this off? For our armed forces, the answer is brainpower. If America is going to maintain its ability to deter and outfight potential opponents in a world defined by great power competition, American military professionals are going to have to out-think them.-John Kroger

The greatest part of the CMC’s CPG is it isn’t a USMC only document, it fits into the DoN, DoD, and realizes wherever we go, we will go with our brothers and sisters in arms supported by our civilian counterparts across the U.S. Government alongside our partners and allies. This is important as the Ghost Fleet moments mentioned above will not be met by a singular force or service, but a global coalition that has trained, learned, and fought alongside of each other long before the first rounds go downrange. The CPG lays the framework for the force of the future to which future generations, my peers, will build upon for warfighting success.

Was Ghost Fleet a wake-up call for me? Absolutely. When will it happen? I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball, but one thing I think is certain, the USMC and DoN have postured themselves to develop the greatest possible force for the future.