An Easy Interpretation of the Rules of Engagement

By now you have seen this:

I love this explanation as to why the US basically did nothing but watch:

This was definitely provocative, but it doesn’t amount to a threat, said the retired frigate and cruiser CO.

“Well, we’re not at war with Russia,” Capt. Rick Hoffman said. “It would be one thing to be operating and have a threatening attack profile from someone who might not recognize me — that’s not the case here.”

If you have visual identification of the jet, can see it isn’t carrying weapons, and don’t detect any electronic emissions suggesting there was a missile lock on the ship, there’s nothing to be done.

And ultimately, the the rules of engagement put the CO in charge of how to respond.

“You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying,” said Hoffman, who commanded frigate DeWert and cruiser Hue City. Cruisers are the fleet’s foremost air defense platform and are tasked with guarding flattops from incoming threats.

Basically, being a dick isn’t a death penalty offense, and it certainly isn’t an offense worthy of starting World War III.

This retired Navy officer could teach our nation’s police a thing or two.

86 replies
  1. 1
    dedc79 says:

    Simple rule, really: anyone who talks about us getting into a war with Russia is unfit for political office. Case closed. And that rule, if put into effect, would disqualify a hell of a lot of Republican politicians.

  2. 2
    Cacti says:

    I dunno.

    Turkey showed that Vlad was pretty much a toothless tiger when it came to countries that aren’t weak or poorly armed.

    But the captain’s right. Being annoying isn’t casus belli.

  3. 3
    A Ghost To Most says:

    We need more of these guys. Think before you shoot, not after. I wonder if we will buzz them back.

  4. 4
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Also, the surveillance tech on these vessels provide the ability to track and if need be destroy inbound planes and/or missiles from over the horizon. They knew what these where well before they got to the ship. And had there been a real threat they would’ve been destroyed well before they got into visual range.

  5. 5
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I have not seen it. Are the usual suspects declaring that this is because of President Fecklessweakness ?

  6. 6
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: They did when the same ship, on the same training exercise, got the same type of fly by last year.

  7. 7
    A Ghost To Most says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:
    The usual suspects are still changing their Depends.

  8. 8
    D58826 says:

    @efgoldman: Well you do in Fla. with stand your ground, esp. if they are one of those people

  9. 9
    David 🍁Canadian Anchor Baby🍁 Koch says:

    Thank goodness Palin warned the Navy.

    She was on her porch drinking some coffee and saw the planes take-off from their base.

  10. 10
    Anoniminous says:

    An actual attack would be swarm of missiles launched from over the horizon. Russia and US have been doing this kind of thing since the mid-50s (? IIRC) and a neither country wants to give up a 60+ year military tradition.

  11. 11
    AkaDad says:

    If we did kill annoying people, Bernie would lose half of his supporters.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  12. 12
    A Ghost To Most says:

    This. That’s why I wondered about us returning the high and tight.

    Eta: but watch out for in your ear.

  13. 13
    jl says:

    If Russia really wanted to cause trouble and attack the US, they would have done this year’s edition of the stunt right before a GOP primary debate.
    But maybe some war crimes treaty prohibits that kind of psyops against civilian populations.

  14. 14

    You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying

    Which most people have to thank for their continued existence.

  15. 15
    burnspbesq says:

    OT; can we get someone to go to Amir’s apartment in KL with smelling salts? That was some second half for Liverpool.

  16. 16
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Judge lets Sandy Hook lawsuit go forward

    Lawyers, does this lawsuit have a chance?

  17. 17
    Mike J says:

    My dad rode in the back of WF-2s in the 60s. They routinely buzzed the (ahem) trawlers the Russians sent to follow the carriers. He tells of one time when the pilot was sick of buzzing them and one one pass, dropped the gear and tailhook and approached as if he were going to land.

  18. 18
    burnspbesq says:


    In fairness, we’d probably lose 15-20 percent of Clinton supporters in the deal.

  19. 19
    Cermet says:

    This is so minor; that it is in the news is silly but so typical. We are in an area that Russia is very sensitive about and they are doing just as we do -that is, let us know that they consider us crossing a line. Remember, we have rules about our subs that are more than threats and the Russians know it and follow the rules. As for these types of passes – I would think it is good training for both sides and an intelligence advantage for the US.

  20. 20
    Steeplejack says:


    Barn burner! I got home in time to see the second half. Epic comeback by the Liverpudlian lads.

  21. 21
    burnspbesq says:

    @A Ghost To Most:

    Tough call. I wouldn’t bet a car payment on plaintiffs at the appellate level.

  22. 22

    Yeah, but that beats the 90-95% of Republicans we’d lose, too. Not to mention 100% of Villagers.

  23. 23
    Raven says:

    Look up The Arnheither Afffair by Neal Sheehan. Among lots of crazy shit the captain did in Vietnam was that he bought a speed boat out of the ships recreation fund, put some guys in it and backed off over the horizon on Yankee Station. He told them they were bait for Chinese subs and he’d sink one if it approached them. The second in command pointed out that we were not at war with the Chinese! He ended up getting court martialed and relived of command.

  24. 24
    Steeplejack says:

    We need to shoot down those Russki jets over there so we don’t have to shoot them down over here! QED.

    /RWNJ rant official Republican platform plank

  25. 25
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Bummer, but not surprising. Thanks.

  26. 26
    burnspbesq says:

    @Roger Moore:

    As long as I get to take out Mike Schroeder, the former chair of the CA Republican Party. He’s an embarrassment to our law school class.

  27. 27
    Turgidson says:


    Well, at least one of them would be that insufferable twit David Brock.

  28. 28
    Trollhattan says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    President Fecklessweakness

    That’s “Tyrant President Fecklessweakness” to you, good sir.

  29. 29
    lamh36 says:

    Since you mention police…

    here’s some, “Im shocked, not really…” news…

    White people are more likely to deal drugs, but black people are more likely to get arrested for it

  30. 30
    redshirt says:

    This is good news for John McCain!

  31. 31
    Trollhattan says:

    Oh boy, somebody’s rattling the tiger cage.

    In light of the nearly unprecedented penalties paid by the powerful Westlands Water District to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges for misleading investors, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today launched an investigation with several of his congressional colleagues into a major settlement agreement between Westlands and the federal government. The settlement agreement, currently pending in Congress, would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars owed by Westlands yet lacks key safeguards and assurances that the water district will hold up its side of the bargain.

    The SEC recently charged Westlands and two of its top officials with misleading investors about its financial condition, noting that the water district had used “extraordinary accounting transactions” to hide the fact that insufficient revenues were available to cover debt obligations. The General Manager of the Westlands Water District called this practice “a little Enron accounting” to his board of directors, and both the General Manager, a former Assistant General Manager, and the Water District itself agreed to pay significant penalties to resolve the SEC charges.

    Separately, Westlands negotiated a sweeping legal settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior, resolving longstanding litigation over the management of drainwater from selenium-impaired farmland in the water district. While that settlement awaits Congressional consideration, the Interior Department continues to negotiate a similar agreement with Westlands’ neighboring water districts. However, as part of today’s investigation, Huffman released a new report from the Congressional Research Service that raises serious questions about the lack of safeguards in the Westlands settlement — safeguards that the Interior Department had previously identified as necessary for both taxpayers and the environment.

    Inside baseball for anybody not in California, but Westlands is sort of the Exxon of water agencies, the management team is staffed by ex-Bushies and they have DiFi and McCarthy on speed dial. Bat signal to Ranch & Syrup.

  32. 32
    Chip Daniels says:

    When I was younger, the stereotype of the military general or admiral was out of Dr. Strangelove, the wild eyed belligerent.

    But over time, I’ve noticed its the civilians who are the wild eyed warmongers, and (usually) the military brass who are reserved and cautious about the use of force.

  33. 33
    Raven says:

    @Chip Daniels: But dey iz loosers!

  34. 34
    The Lodger says:

    @Chip Daniels: Isn’t the amount of caution mostly determined by whether the commander is in charge of a ship or a desk?

  35. 35
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    IIRC, the nutty generals of that era were influenced by real-life figures like Curtis LeMay and post-WWII Douglas MacArthur. And we still have them today — who was that nutjob running around making speeches about Jesus being on our side in the war on Islam?

  36. 36
    oz29 says:

    Something similar happened in 2000 when a couple of SU-24s flew over the USS Kitty Hawk in the Sea of Japan. As I recall, the Navy’s response was about the same and a Russian intelligence analyst referred to the flights as “lighthearted hooliganism” by the pilots.

  37. 37
    bystander says:


    If we did kill annoying people, Bernie would lose half of his supporters.

    Dammit. This is why we need a “like” button.

  38. 38
  39. 39
    debbie says:

    Pity they didn’t go after the perpetrator in this Naval mishap. You know, the Bush donor.

  40. 40
    Mnemosyne says:


    Yep, that guy. Yeesh.

  41. 41
    A Ghost To Most says:

    Willam G Boykin?

  42. 42
    jl says:

    @Mnemosyne: Boykin? The Iraq War will show them that our god is bigger than their god.

  43. 43
    Feathers says:

    I bet the Captain was saying “Wow, they’ve got some jackass pilots too!”

  44. 44
    jl says:

    @Trollhattan: Thanks. I will definitely read all the links.
    That place (Edit: WWD, not BJ ‘this blog will pay for itself’) was a financial and environmental mess from the beginning, and I think everyone knew it.

    Maps, for those who want to know where it is. Westlands has produced a lot of heavy metal pollution from the place in surrounding wildlife refuges and farmland, which I think everyone knew would happen from beginning. Corporate welfare mess, IMHO.

    Westlands Water District maps

  45. 45

    @Chip Daniels:

    But over time, I’ve noticed its the civilians who are the wild eyed warmongers, and (usually) the military brass who are reserved and cautious about the use of force.

    I think things vary over time and place. For example, the military leadership in Japan during WWII were a much worse bunch of war mongers than the civilian leadership. My impression is that part of the trigger for WWI was that both military and civilian leadership were pretty eager to go to war. My suspicion is that the more, an the tougher, the combat experience military leadership has, the less eager they are to stir up another war, but that there’s no similarly simple rule for civilian leadership.

  46. 46
    Chip Daniels says:

    And history will record that one of those jackass reckless pilots will go on to become a candidate for President of Russia, and nominate a woman from Siberia who notes that she can see America from her house…

  47. 47
    jl says:

    @bystander: And a ‘dislike’ button.

  48. 48


    And a ‘dislike’ button.

    This is Balloon-Juice. We would have a “fuck you” button rather than “dislike”.

  49. 49
    debbie says:


    Except that Boykin now seems normal to General Thomas McInerney, who insists that the disappeared Malaysian airplane was really just hidden to be used later for a nuclear attack by terrorists.

    These guys make Buck Turgidson seem like milquetoast.

  50. 50
    jl says:

    @Roger Moore: How war nut tendencies evolve over time might be affected by recent history. Before WWI, European military and civilian leadership had memory of a number of splendid little European wars. Awful slaughter on the ground due to advances in weaponry (like end of US Civil War), but winners won and got what they wanted without much social cost. Everyone assumed WWI would be like that, a splendid little war to teach so-and-so a lesson and get a good trade deal. Didn’t quite work out that way. Lessons from US Civil War were ignored since it was just a mob action run by ignorant unlearned generals.

    US had a number of splendid little wars before the Iraq invasion. So, some nut jobs learned wrong lessons and got wrongly inspired.

  51. 51
    jl says:

    @Roger Moore: Thanks for correction. I guess in BJ comment secstion, a punch on the ol’ the dislke button is considered the default.

  52. 52
    boatboy_srq says:

    You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying

    It’s a real pity the Reichwing doesn’t understand this.

  53. 53
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Roger Moore: I’ve always considered “fuck you” to be a term of endearment here.

  54. 54
    Gravenstone says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Careful, or you’ll give some people the false impression that they’re actually popular.

  55. 55
    Tim C. says:

    @Roger Moore: One of my favorite things about both Grant and Sherman was the level that both of them went to to piddle all over anyone who ever described war as anything but a complete disaster of epic proportions.

  56. 56
  57. 57
  58. 58
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @jl: Actually the European governments learned a lot from the American Civil War, especially the uses of railroads as a military force multiplier. They practiced it a little in the war between Germany and France in 1870 (where they also introduced the idea of observation balloons and aerial bombs) but it was brought to fruition in the First World War which only happened (at least on the European front) because of railway schedules. Mobilisation plans were based around co-opting the railways to move tens of thousands of soldiers and equipment to the front in a hurry and once one side started doing that the other had to respond by mobilising too without delay.

    WW1 technologically speaking was a completely different affair from the US Civil War and there were few direct warfighting lessons to be taken from that experience — A cavalry charge into massed machine-guns was not going to work very well, for example compared to the US Civil War charges.

  59. 59
    redshirt says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Do you know if European countries had observation teams in America for our Civil War?

  60. 60
    Jim says:

    This kind of thing has gone on for a long time. And “both sides do it” to some extent. As a result, back in 1972, cool heads prevailed and set up what’s known as the INCSEA, or Incidents at Sea, agreement between the US and Soviet Union (I assume it persists under Russia). As the Wikipedia article says, the whole idea is to provide procedures to keep things from escalating. And it has served both countries well for more than 40 years.

  61. 61
    Chris says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    When I was younger, the stereotype of the military general or admiral was out of Dr. Strangelove, the wild eyed belligerent.

    But over time, I’ve noticed its the civilians who are the wild eyed warmongers, and (usually) the military brass who are reserved and cautious about the use of force.

    Two things.

    One, in the old days, the generals really WERE very nearly as crazy as Hollywood makes them out to be. MacArthur would’ve joyfully started World War Three over Korea, and Curtis LeMay would’ve done the same over Cuba. We can all thank Truman for firing the former and Kennedy for not listening to the latter. They’re not that bad nowadays… there are still those kinds of barking madmen, like Boykin as mentioned above, but they usually don’t make it as high as Supreme Allied Commander or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs anymore.

    Two, I wonder to what extent the military’s really changed and to what extent it simply looks that way because the civilians are so different. Look how far the country’s drifted right in the last few decades, and the foreign policy/national security sphere in particular has increasingly become an only-Republicans-allowed playground. Maybe today’s generals just look more sane and reasonable because the civilians above them are so often people like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

  62. 62
    JGabriel says:

    Navy Times via John Cole @ Top:

    “You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying,” said Hoffman, who commanded frigate DeWert and cruiser Hue City.

    An attitude which is pretty much the complete opposite of Donald Trump’s platform and the longings of the GOP base.

  63. 63
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chip Daniels: @Raven: @The Lodger: @Mnemosyne: This is by design. While each service does its selections for senior field grades and general officers/flag officers (GO/FO) a bit differently – as in looks for different things, no one makes GO/FO without graduating from a Senior Leader College (one of the war colleges or the Industrial College of the Armed Forces). Selection to attend one of these schools is selective. Between all six schools, there are only about 1,500 lieutenant colonels and colonels/commanders and captains (O5s and O6s) that attend the resident course. About 230 to 300 per school. There are slightly larger numbers in the distance education courses. We also run specific senior O5s and O6s through a number of senior level fellowships at a variety of universities, research institutions, think tanks, government agencies, etc. The whole point of all of this is that it caps off a career’s worth of training and education that occurs at regular intervals. Quite often senior O5s and O6s, let alone generals and admirals, have a far better understanding of how policy is established, strategy developed, and the process around both of them than not only their civilian agency counterparts, but also the elected and appointed officials they are serving. While some of these civilian agency counterparts do attend the senior leader schools, its only a handful a year. The result of this is to produce senior leaders who are thoughtful, have a strategic outlook, and are good stewards of the public’s trust and effective military leaders for the Nation.

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @debbie: @Mnemosyne: @A Ghost To Most: @jl: LTG Boykin was something of a unique occurrence. One of the retired Green Berets that trained me knew him – though he was senior to him at the time. He had a reputation for being a hail fellow well met and for being a hell of a special warfighter. When you combine this with the fact that US Army Special Forces (ARSOF) has different standards for promotion, LTG Boykin’s service history, and that he was a hard charging, highly devout SOF general under a President (Bush-43) that prized such things, its not surprising that his career took him where it did.

  65. 65
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @redshirt: Sort of. The Confederacy had a number of foreign military officers, from Britain, France, and Prussia, accompanying different commands as observers. They were counting on good reports being sent back, which would bring these countries into the war on the side of the Confederacy. There were a group of such observers at Gettysburg. General (then lieutenant colonel) Freemantle of the Coldstream Guards wrote about it:

  66. 66

    @Tim C.:

    One of my favorite things about both Grant and Sherman was the level that both of them went to to piddle all over anyone who ever described war as anything but a complete disaster of epic proportions.

    AFAIK, they both did that quite deliberately because they saw a casual attitude toward the horror of war as a big contributor to the Civil War. Sherman, who was in Louisiana when the war was brewing, famously told the people there just how reckless they were being but was obviously ignored. There was clearly war fever in both the North and South, as can be seen from civilians’ casual attitude toward the early battles; there were sightseers who came out to watch First Bull Run thinking it would be fun to watch.

  67. 67
    Chip Daniels says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Thanks for the background.
    Which touches on something all too rarely noted, is the beneficial effect of a large bureaucracy, that by design insulates the decisionmakers from politics of the moment and short term thinking.

    The market concepts of “disruption” and “dynamism” and all the other awful buzzwords of corporate speak have been allowed to infiltrate research universities, civil service, and other institutions where we really don’t want or need that sort of thinking.

  68. 68
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Chip Daniels: Its not perfect. But it helps.

  69. 69

    Culturally, WW1 changed Western Civilization’s whole attitude towards war. Europe was waiting eagerly for the excuse to launch glorious conquests in 1914.

  70. 70
    burnspbesq says:


    As with so many things, Lenny Bruce got there first.

  71. 71
    J R in WV says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I thought sure we already had a “Fuck you” button. I mean, what is B-J all about??

    But Now I Don’t SEE it!!!

    Alain, where is Our Da FUQ YOU Button!!!! What did you do with it?!?!


  72. 72
    Ruckus says:

    We did a couple of NATO cruses when I was stationed on a DDG during Vietnam. We sailed alongside Russian destroyers on more than one occasion. Within a 1/4 mile or so. That’s pretty close for 2 ships in the ocean that are not refueling. Especially ones not on the friendliest terms. And there was never any alarm or anything out of the ordinary like general quarters, because this is what is done by militaries. Hard to huff and puff and strut around if you aren’t in sight.

  73. 73

    @Robert Sneddon:

    where they also introduced the idea of observation balloons and aerial bombs

    That’s not true. There were observation balloons in the American Civil War; look up Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, for instance.

    WW1 technologically speaking was a completely different affair from the US Civil War and there were few direct warfighting lessons to be taken from that experience — A cavalry charge into massed machine-guns was not going to work very well, for example compared to the US Civil War charges.

    WWI was more technologically advanced, but there were still lessons that the Europeans should have learned from the Civil War- and the Crimean and Franco-Prussian Wars, for that matter. The biggest one was that modern riflery, much less machine guns, were enough to make modern battlefields much deadlier than earlier generations’. Cavalry in the ACW was limited mostly to reconnaissance and service as dragoons (i.e. mounted infantry) because horses were so vulnerable. Even infantry suffered horrendous losses unless it took shelter, and trenches started to crop up all over the place. Machine guns and modern artillery exacerbated those trends, but they didn’t create them.

  74. 74

    @J R in WV:

    I thought sure we already had a “Fuck you” button.

    It’s mislabeled “Reply”.

  75. 75
    J R in WV says:

    I was on a Submarine Tender, and the scariest thing we did was under-way replenishment. Running ropes between two under-way ships, and pulling big pallets of freight from the big ship to the little ship.

    You can also pull a big hose across on the ropes, and refuel the little ship from the bigger ship’s reserves. I think our ship being replenished was a little destroyer, I remember their radar on the topmost mast was just about dead even with the boat deck where we Bosuns Mates were busting it moving material across t the other ship.

    The big deal here is that it’s very difficult to maintain a consistent distance between two ships underway, so the ropes get tighter and looser. Too tight and you can break a hawser, which then whips around with enough energy to tear sailors up. Plus you lose whatever cargo was on the hawsers.

    Now they use helicopters, which is still dangerous, but differently hard.

  76. 76
    redshirt says:

    Perhaps it’s the militaries of the world that can unite and bring us peace?

  77. 77
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Roger Moore: The trench, as we understand it, from WW I was partially a creation of LTG James Longstreet during the Great Rebellion. He didn’t completely come up with the idea, as you know trench warfare had been around for a long time, let alone using other forms of earthworks, but he created a transverse trench that hinted at where things would eventually move to by WW I.

  78. 78
    steverinoCT says:

    Inbound, surfaced in the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland in the USS Kamehameha (SSBN 642). OOD and lookout on the bridge, Contact Coordinator on one scope and me on the other shooting visual bearings to navaids. All of a sudden, an enormous BOOM! and rumble comes down the hatch. I spin around on the scope, and there are two F-111s climbing out after buzzing us. Dicks.

  79. 79
    Bill_D says:

    @Turgidson: David Brock or David Brooks?

  80. 80
    jonas says:

    Thank FSM military commanders like this captain have a goddamn head on their shoulders — unlike many of the folks who would like to be his CIC. Am definitely not watching Faux or other outlets this evening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the punditariat isn’t all going off on how we should have shoot-to-kill orders for any vessel or plane that comes within 20 miles of a US ship for any reason and the Russians are only doing this because they know Obama’s a pussy, etc.

  81. 81
    MikeBoyScout says:

    1) the Russians gave up more on those passes than they could get (surveillance)
    2) in the event of an actual emergency those planes would have quite easily been blasted out of the air
    3) “crazy Ivan” was stupid in the 80’s. Absurd in 2016

  82. 82
    redshirt says:

    Perhaps Putin is about to mess with our elections.

  83. 83
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Trenches were used extensively in seige warfare from the Middle Ages onwards to provide defence from the besieged defenders who usually had a height advantage, as well as lines of countervallation to protect the rear of the besiegers from relief forces. WW1 degenerated into a stationary battlefield mostly because open-field manoeuvres couldn’t be achieved in the face of machine-guns and long-range artillery spotted by aircraft and after that static trench systems were inevitable since any above-ground structures would be smashed by artillery in short order.

  84. 84
    boatboy_srq says:

    @steverinoCT: HEY! A Polaris A3 / Poseidon C3 boat! My dad worked on those…

  85. 85
    Paul in KY says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Definitely a mistake that he was promoted to where he could embarrass US in that manner. Sounds like a guy who should have topped out at O-6.

  86. 86
    BruceJ says:

    Heh. I had a friend who was a crew member on the Big E back in the 70’s. Both sides used to do this shit all over the Med. As he tells it a couple of pilots flew their Phantom at about this height over a Soviet ship (after the Soviets had disrupted flight ops on the E with some flybys).

    At about Mach 1.2.

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