Please join us on Sunday 29 March 2015 at 5pm, EDT for Midrats Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC:

This week we will return to the “unsexy but important” topic, specifically that of “alternative naval platforms and missions.”

In part, the concepts that underlay Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons” are in practice on a smaller scale today. In most cases they are being conducted using Military Sealift Command assets and the Navy Reserve.

To focus on this part of our maritime power, our guest for the full hour will be Commander Chris Rawley, USNR. President of Periplus Holdings in his day job, he is also Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Afloat Mission Command and Control Units in the Navy Reserve, in addition to being Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or pick the show up later from our iTunes page here.


For the past few years, professor Timothy Demy and Major General John J. Salesses, USMC(ret.), have been teaching the elective the Pen and the Sword at the US Naval War College. It’s a class, Demy says, that uses the literature of war to explore the relationship between the fiction and reality, the written word and the lived experience.

Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton

Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton

Students study leadership, ethics, and the experience of war from the pens of those who have experienced it as well as those who have imagined it. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Demy and talk about books, poetry, and the state of reading in the military today.

I noticed that you teach the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd the Sailor. Why that book?

Billy Budd is a leadership issue and an ethics issue. Here the captain is a witness to an event [Budd strikes another crew member]. And he clearly sympathizes and empathizes with Billy Budd, but he still has to hold captain’s mast. It is one illustration that personalizes the challenges of command. The commander always brings his or her personality, morality, and ethics to the job. I think we read literature like that through a different lens once we have had some military experience. Of course, students, they’ve read the books and seen the movies — but once you’ve had some military experience it becomes more than entertainment. The purposes of literature are to entertain and instruct — those are the two great purposes of literature. So usually when people read they are reading for entertainment. But we are trying to get students to really learn. I think you’ll find that the challenges of leadership don’t change through the centuries. War literature shows that and how literature really is a conversation throughout history.

Why do you think so many people really don’t want to tackle someone like Melville?

For a lot of people, literature was something that was thrust on them. So it was more of something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Most products of American high-schools, at least for my generation, endured 10th grade English; we were just trying to get through Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” And military leaders are incredibly busy people; It’s hard to find time to do everything. Sometimes their lack of reading is lack of desire, sometimes it’s simply priorities, lack of time, or a lack of a sense of direction. Or what little time the leader may have is used carefully. Do I go to the golf course? Do I go to the gym? Many of them are out there trying to balance many things. You kind of have to cram it in when you can, but I’m sure there are those out there that would like to get more reading done.

Do you think poetry is relevant today?

It seems that 99% of the population cringe when you mention poetry. But once you understand what it does it can be very powerful. There is a poem called the Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. A very short poem; a WWII poem. I once had a student who signed up for the class, and he came up to me and asked me if he could read and discuss the poem in class. He told me that he had been in Fallujah, and that he read that poem everyday, and he prayed his experience would not be the same fate as the character in the poem. Poetry gives voice to that which is otherwise often unspeakable.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,

And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.

Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,

I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.

When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

What poets today do you think are approachable for a military audience?

The First World War poets are worth reading. They are a watershed in the history of war poetry. Before that it was the Charge of the Light Brigade, and themes of God, King, and Country, that sort of stuff. The WWI poets on the other hand were very personal. It wasn’t for God and Glory; it was for me and my mates. It’s very intense. I recommend the Oxford Book of Poetry. It’s a good anthology through the centuries. We read a number of poems in there. The poems of Thomas Hardy; his poem Drummer Hodge or The Man He Killed are Boer War poems and are worth reading. Certainly Kipling’s poem Tommy is very well known. If you read Tommy, it brings out all the things you would discuss in a class about civil-military relations. Kipling’s words are based on an earlier short poem: In times of war and not before/God and the soldier we adore/In time of trouble and not before/The battle over and all things righted/God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.

There are two great themes in poetry — one is romance and the other is war. Once people read a few poems, they’ll realize how similar they are to their own experiences. We read a poem called The Lament of the Frontier Guard. It’s a seventh-century Chinese poem translated by Ezra Pound. Anyone who has stood a late night watch can relate to this, regardless of how old it is or what culture it is from. This is a similar experience that transcends centuries. Poetry can help you think: “That’s me, I can relate to that.”

What do you think fiction does for us? Many military readers read because they want information, so they turn to nonfiction.

There is a lack of appreciation that through reading fiction we gain insights into humanity, the human experience, and the challenges of life. We are able to be transported to other worlds — real and imaginary. And everybody loves a story… “Once upon a time”; “In a galaxy far, far away.” Story telling is part of the creative experience of people. And some cultures and people spend more time telling stories than others. C.S. Lewis said that “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality. In reading great literature I become one thousand men and yet remain myself, like the night sky in the Greek poem I see with a myriad eyes but it is still I who see.” He also said, “Instead of stripping a knight of his armor you can try to put his armor on yourself.”

What are some of your favorite books that you teach?

I really enjoy C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd and also his story Rifleman Dodd. I also enjoy Bridges of Toko Ri.

What are some of your favorite books Fiction and Nonfiction?

Well, for nonfiction, a great book that is not really known is a book called To War with Whitaker. It is by the Countess of Ranfulry. She was Australian, married a Brit, during the Second World War. She follows her husband to the Middle-East in WWII. It’s her wartime diaries. Because of her competence she meets all the great leaders in WWII, and ends up working for some of them. Her husband gets captured. It’s just a fabulous memoir. When I got to the last third of the book I had to ration my reading. I’ll go on Amazon.com and buy a few used copies and give them away to friends as gifts — it’s just a great book. Gordon McDonald Frasier’s Quartered Safe Out Here, which is his war memoirs, are fabulous. He’s often known for his Flashman Series, which are also great. I enjoy C.S. Lewis; his letters are excellent. A great book that every student should read is Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War. And after that, people need to read his book Matterhorn. Len Deighton’s Bomber is also a powerful book. And a little bit different, but also a great book is Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

What it is LIke to go to war

What do you read for entertainment?

I enjoy the detective stories of Philip Kerr. I’ll read all of the Flashman series. I tried to get into science-fiction, but it just didn’t click with me. I tend to like the things that are a little bit different. I enjoy the Patrick O’Brien series, so much that I’ve started it a second time. But it takes a while to get through it. The NY Times called it the best historical fiction novel; and it is. And just looking at my shelf, I notice my copy of World War Z, and it’s also a great book. I was surprised, really, on how good it was. My motto is never go anywhere without a book. I either have my Kindle with me, or a book. You never know when you’ll have some free time which to read a book. And I keep a mixture of novels and nonfiction. I will often have two or three books going at the same time.

How do you become a better reader?

First, you need to read more. But you want to identify for what purpose you are reading something — is it for entertainment or instruction? Write down words and phrases and sentences that mean something to you. Figure out what you are reading and why.

Sir Thanks for your time.

Thank you. Great talking with you.


Professor Timothy J. Demy is Professor of Military Ethics at the Naval War College. A retired Navy chaplain and the former chaplain for the NWC, he holds doctorates in historical theology (Th.D.) and humanities and technology (Ph.D.) and several master’s degrees including the Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College from which he was the President’s Honor Graduate. He also received a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge in international relations with an emphasis on religion and international relations (honors thesis). He has published extensively in the areas of ethics, theology, history, and international relations. As a chaplain for 27 years, he served in a variety of assignments including Navy afloat and ashore assignments and tours with the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.


What are the intellectual responsibilities of the naval professional? What is the canon sound thought in the maritime realm is based?
Historically, what has been done, what has worked, and what should we be doing? Should the naval professional just focus on his narrow area of expertise, or does he need to have a more interdisciplinary approach to his intellectual development?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be William M. Beasley, Jr., associate attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLP in Mississippi. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Mississippi with a BA and MA in history where his graduate thesis examined the impact of popular culture, inter-service rivalry, civil-military relations, strategic planning, and defense unification on the “Revolt of the Admirals” of 1949.

Mr. Beasley received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal. Prior to joining Phelps Dunbar, Mr. Beasley worked as a research consultant with the Potomac Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He is a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and his work on maritime history and security has appeared in Proceedings, The Strategy Bridge, and USNI Blog.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also get the show later from the Midrats iTunes page.


This is worth an hour of your time:

If you have doubt, there is this Reuters headline, U.S. missile defense agency warns of “jeopardy” from budget cuts:

Further budget cuts would put the U.S. military’s ability to protect the United States in “serious jeopardy” at a time when Iran and North Korea are advancing their own missile programs, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday.

Vice Admiral James Syring told U.S. lawmakers that failure to lift budget caps in fiscal 2016 would force him to delay urgently needed steps aimed at improving the reliability of a system that top military leaders have already called “unsustainable” given growing threats and budget pressures.

It is not rational to think standing still means your potential enemies will also call a halt to their activities.

U.S. Naval Insitute News offers up Army-Navy Memo on need for Ballistic Missile Defense Strategy, referenced in the above:

UPDATE: Robert Work, Deputy Defense Secretary on budget issues as found in the Aviation Week opinion piece, “Budget Blunders Threaten U.S. Military Superiority”:

Sequestration is a blunder that allows our fiscal problems, not our security needs, to determine our strategy.


Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”

In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”

Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and

fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be

Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).

A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.

Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or if you prefer, you will find the show later on our iTunes page here.


12th

It’s Math

March 2015

By

150311-N-UF697-147Greg Easterbrook’s recent column “Our Navy is Big Enough” in the New York Times demonstrates that one lecture at the Naval War College does not a naval expert make. Easterbrook advances two arguments. First that the Navy, at 275 ships, is large enough to meet all of the nation’s naval maritime security needs. Secondly he states that the Navy’s proposed budget proposed budget of $161 billion is far in excess of spending requirements. That he would correlate the size of the Navy’s budget with the size of the force deployed demonstrates his shallow awareness of matters maritime. In both the case of the size of the fleet and the size of the budget, it all comes down to math.

The size of the fleet is measured largely against two separate standards. The first is the size of the force necessary to fight and win the nation’s wars. This standard often looks first to the capabilities a potential challenger might field and then estimates the size of the US naval force required to ensure US victory. Such analysis attempts to present the capabilities required to operate in a lethal and effective manner. Cost and efficiency factor into these calculations but not in a large way. Decisive victory is the objective.

The American navy derives it’s lethality from the brutal and exquisite nature of its naval platforms. Aircraft carriers have occupied the central position in naval force planning for more 70 years. These 100,000 ton behemoths carry an air wing of over 70 tactical aircraft and can strike targets with precision hundreds of miles away. As threats to the carrier have mounted over time, they have been increasingly surrounded and protected by a fleet architecture of cruisers and destroyers, generally four, equipped with the latest state of the art radars and missile defense systems. They are also protected by two nuclear powered fast attack submarines that prowl the ocean in search of opposing submarines and enemy shipping.

The number of conflicts to be fought also factors in. The United States has two coasts so, for most of the 20th century and all of the 21st, the nation has maintained a fleet in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This lesson was well learned in World War II when the nation faced existential threats in both oceans. To fight and win the nation’s wars the Navy requires ships of sufficient capability and quantity to move to and from battle without interruption, factoring in projected combat and material casualties. Factoring our current carrier-based force structure and near peer competitors in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters has results in a requirement for 10 carriers, 20 cruisers, 20 destroyers and 20 fast attack submarines as well as 33 associated amphibious assault ships and 30 logistical support for a total of 163 ships to meet the bare minimum requirements to conduct combat operations. This number allows no room for extensive maintenance, reactor refuelings, combat repairs or prolonged training and readiness exercises.

However, as Mr. Easterbrook has pointed out, no one has been foolish enough to take on the United States in one theater, let alone two, since the end of World War II. Surely no one would think of doing so today, or would they?

The reason they haven’t represents the logic behind the second standard of measurement for the fleet: The number of ships required to maintain the peace. The presence of the United States Navy convinces rouge actors on a daily basis that today is not the day to start a conflict with the United States. If our Navy were to fall so low as to meet only the bare minimum requirements for combat operations it would invite our competitors to question whether the United States was ready and willing to defend its interests, just as the drawdown in US ground forces in Europe has encouraged Russian adventurism there today. Our maritime interests span the globe. Some interests are commercial, some are security based, and many are diplomatic. Today the United States services these interests by deploying Navy ships to key regions to demonstrate US resolve. These regions range from the north Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from the Black Sea to the South China Sea. Altogether there are 15 specific geographic regions that require frequent demonstrations of US interest. These operations assure friends and allies of continued US support as well as remind competitors of the breadth and depth of US power. Some of these regions require visits from our front line capital vessels, the carriers. Most require only frigates to show our flag and convey US resolve. This has been the manner in which Pax Americana has been maintained over the past 70 years.

To service the far flung regions, scattered as they are across the globe, requires a constant cycling of ships, generally one on station, one on its way home, one training to deploy and one in maintenance. Some of these requirements can be offset with forward based naval forces such as those that operate out of Japan, Singapore, and Spain, but in the end, when you crunch all the numbers through the force structure calculator, you arrive at a the naval force of 355 ships. It’s math, and a particular simple form of it at that. However, there is another calculation, much more arcane, that needs exploring, the math behind a Navy budget.

There is a logic to the argument that to build a bigger Navy you need a bigger budget. It seems self-evident, but is not necessarily true. When the Navy decides to build one aircraft carrier for $14 billion, it is tacitly making a decision not to build the 7 destroyers or 28 frigates those same dollars could have bought. If we hold spending constant, or live with the confines of the Budget Control Act, and yet choose to buy increasingly expensive and technologically exquisite ships, then we are making a decision to buy fewer ships in the long run. This equation largely explains the decreasing size of the American fleet over the past 20 years.

Presently we buy one supercarrier every five years, and two destroyers, two submarines and four frigates every year. These are the combatants that occupy much of the conversation regarding the size and capability of the Navy. If, however, we were to purchase only one destroyer per year and invest the $2 billion saved in the construction of four additional frigates, we could rapidly grow the size of the fleet in short order. The Secretary of the Navy has stated his opposition to trading one type of ship for another, and I would agree with that. However it is possible to trade one type of ships for several of another type. This would still allow us to field high-end war fighting capabilities in balance with the need to build a larger Navy. If we were to take a really radical path and recognize that super carriers are too large, too expensive and too vulnerable to serve in combat and cease building super carriers while investing a portion of the savings in the construction of nuclear guided missile submarines to provide the lost precision strike power projection capability previously generated by the carrier’s airwing, we could afford to grow the fleet and shrink the Navy’s budget simultaneously. This is math as well and should intrigue fiscal conservatives.

In the end we must recognize that the shrinkage of the American fleet over the past generation has begun to create a power vacuum that is inviting others to challenge the longest lasting maritime peace since man took to the water in boats. If we are to maintain peace as well as remain prepared for war, we will need to grow the fleet. That we can do so while remaining within the current budget caps presents a significant opportunity for policy makers and supporters of naval power. It’s math that every American, including Mr. Easterbrook, should be able to understand.


Strategy is not for amateurs*

Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy’s Proper Role in it:

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.

Please join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page here.

*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions


24th

The Struggle to Think

February 2015

By

While catching up on USNI posts from the past few months, the recurring themes of professionalism, education, and the need for more ideas and thoughts to move us forward jumped out from my monitor. It seemed appropriate to be reading about such topics upon emerging from the black hole of preparing for and—hallelujah—finally passing my PhD comprehensive exams. I failed my first attempt last September, so over the fall and winter I entered into full-blown hermit mode to pass it this second and last attempt. We are only allowed two attempts; failing twice kicks you out of the program, a somewhat common occurrence.

Given recent posts by Will Beasley and LT Misso and LTJG O’Keefe, this experience seems particularly relevant. My initial failure and subsequent furious hibernation would not be worth noting on a public site except for one thing: in my program, military members seem to struggle to pass the comprehensive exams while our civilian academic peers have not struggled to the same degree. Certainly civilian students fail at times, but their rate of failure is significantly lower than ours in my cohort. Anecdotally, servicemembers going through comparable PhD programs at separate institutions have experienced similar problems.

I was not surprised strictly by our failures; I was surprised by why we each failed. We didn’t fail due to comprehension or writing ability. Instead, uniformly, we each failed because we did not thoroughly own the literature. We did not question it at its depth and tear it apart to its roots. We did not question in it ways that existed outside of our comfort zones. Each of us fully absorbed the stuff and spit it back out along with some tepid critiques, but we fell far short of the standard expected along the way. Something about the way we learned and processed information in the services created a mindset that was fundamentally different from what was expected of us by our professors, kind of like “academics are from Mars, the military is from Venus.” While all students have to reset their way of thinking and start digging deeper inside their own brains to reach a different level, doing that as a 24-year-old right out of college is different than doing it as a 45-year-old post-command O6 who has been hard-wired to process information in a completely different manner.

One of my military peers at school thinks it’s not that we think differently, it’s that we have had to view the world as it is instead of how it is theorized to be, but I don’t buy that. Many of us began to study International Relations to understand more of the world as it is versus what we saw of it, and to that end this education has been quite a ride. Instead, I think we struggle because from day one in the military, we are expected to process large amounts of information and to live by that information. Seriously challenging convention is not something we regularly include in that process. Thinking critically, independently, and “outside the box” is given lip service (often only during PME studies), but at no point do I see it being actively, comprehensively encouraged through all aspects of our careers. The level of creativity currently desired is rarely hard to summon.

My worry is not that we are doomed to struggle to pass big exams, it’s what that signifies for how we as a force encourage thought, education, and analysis, and what this means for the future of the military. At no point in my career—ever—have I been expected to think, question, or analyze to the degree that I am now in school. When I checked into my first squadron, I was handed a stack of pubs. Over the next few months, I slept with those babies under my pillow at times, trying to absorb the information they contained into my puny brain. I wasn’t trying to learn it in order to improve upon it, challenge it, or turn it all on its head. I was trying to memorize it as quickly as possible so that I could advance in the squadron and do my job quickly and competently. I learned this mentality and applied it rigorously throughout the following years, which eventually brought me around to my comprehensive exam last fall, which I then failed. I failed the exam because my brain did not grasp where it truly needed to go.

That failure is a failure for so many of us, and I believe it indicates a failure for the military at large. Do we steer away from critical thought? Why, how, and at what point do we stop encouraging it? Is it unconscious? Automatic? And what can we do about it? Why did officers in my program struggle so uniformly? Is this because by the time we reach the ten-year mark or more, we have largely been trained to think and process info in similar ways? In the execution of our duties, do we soak in information as fast as we can, hit the pertinent parts with a highlighter, and move on? That’s what each of us did on the comprehensive exam: we took the key points, made bland yet reasonable arguments with them, and thought we had done well. Rereading my answers from this past exam, I saw no glaring problems at first. I had answered the questions on the surface. But those answers weren’t enough. I had to question the basic accepted standards of each theory, each hypothesis, and each assumption. I had to make a convincing argument that master theoreticians were wrong in ways I had never thought possible, and I was wholly unprepared to do so.

Training our brains to think in a new way is not impossible, but it’s tough when you’ve trained for years to think differently, sometimes under life-or-death stakes. Yet more than ever before, we need challenging thinkers and writers in the services at every level. The level of comprehension and analysis I needed to develop to pass my comp was far beyond anything I’ve attempted before, and nothing in the past two decades prepared me for it. However, it has been surprisingly fun and liberating, and it is making me better in other aspects of my life too. It’s changing the way I look at everything. I wish I’d started this program years earlier.

Given the complexities of our world, the need for stronger civil-military integration, and the budget realities we face, we need people who are not afraid to look at a problem upside down and see a new solution or a new path. Can we encourage and teach this in the military? PME schools can make a dent in developing how we think, but don’t approach the amount of “immersion” and reaction to established theory that the group in my program needed to summon.* Resident programs don’t reach enough people, non-resident programs aren’t intense enough to produce deep changes in the ways we think, and programs targeting senior officers and enlisted are too little too late. While we have existing programs to send servicemembers to higher education, I wish we did a much better job of encouraging younger Marines and Sailors to dig into the world from the start instead of waiting twenty years. We should encourage and want everyone to not just comprehend a problem, but to find its shortcomings, pick apart its vulnerabilities, and imagine other options. We don’t all need to graduate from Princeton and redefine counterinsurgency, but we should encourage creative thinking and new perspectives from the beginning. How? I haven’t figured that one out yet, but pushing critical thought via the written word is a start. I do wonder how the last 14 years would have looked with a more questioning, challenging military.

*It would be great to hear from anyone associated with a PME school here. Do you see similar problems among students? Different ones? Opposite experience?


The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.

The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.1

In 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, British Defence expenditure accounted for 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64.9% of Total Government Expenditure (TGE).2 In 1914 at the beginning of World War I it accounted for 3.2% of GDP and 40.1% of TGE. In contrast, in 2014, after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with pirates operating on both the East and West Coasts of Africa attacking ocean trade, a greatly more pro-active Russia, on-going disputes and troubles affecting key allies in the Middle East and Far East, and territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar constantly recycling, British Defence Expenditure accounted for 2.1% of GDP and 4.4% of TGE. The difference of course reflects, the growth in other areas of government expenditure, i.e. National Health, and welfare, but also a change in the subject of the defence debate.

In the early 1800s the debate was whether to pursue a ‘Continental’ (Army to fight in Europe) or ‘Blue Water’ (Navy to blockade Napoleon and his allies in Europe, while transporting the Army around the world to acquire colonies, and other resources) strategy; these were ideas which divided the nation, and that caused much heated discussion – not only in parliament, but also across the great houses, coffee houses and ale houses of the whole country. In the early 1900s, the age of Dreadnought battleships, machine guns and high explosive, but alongside this often very technical discussions of specific weaponry, there was still the strategic debate going on – of whether to focus resources on Europe or to look to the rest of the world. On both occasions, the reality that was perceived, was that it was necessary to be able to do both, to a lesser or greater extent and this is reflected in the relative budgets allocated to the two services.

Recently the defence debate in Britain has stopped the discussion of strategy, and equipment (baring Trident), instead it is an almost constant discussion of the % of GDP allocated to defence. Furthermore, this debate often revolves around the figure of 2%, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation minimum, and any difference from this figure is obsessed over – whether positive or negative. The reality though is this is an artificial debate, its focusing on spending as aim in itself, rather than spending in terms of what is procured, and as such obscures the debate which should be taking place. In actuality, for defence (as with all government spending), Britain needs to debate, and then decide what is needs to do, and what it would like to do; only when these things have been decided must the decision as to what needs to be paid for and how much should be paid be decided.

The first question is the most difficult, as it can depend upon perspective, after all it can be reduced to the just the territorial integrity of the nation; which at its base point, could be defended on an international level by the strategic deterrent, and some form of reserve army – to deal with possible internal disruption caused by extremists. That though is rather simple, and relies upon a nation resorting to nuclear weapons the moment they are threatened – a powder-keg situation, that could come to put the nation at more risk than protect it.

The situation becomes even more complex when factoring in the island Britain’s reliance upon imported food and energy,3 as well as its economic reliance upon global trade;4 defending these is more difficult and requires a wider range of military capabilities. It requires a global presence (if decisions are made by those who show up; interests can only be protected by those who are present) which can be provided simply by suitably equipped ships, but in certain regions may be judged to require a larger commitment, i.e. a port agreement, air base or even possibly a garrison. It could also require allies, which of course entails further capabilities and political agreements being necessary; as collective defence is only truly effective when all members of the collective contribute – there will be some members more capable than others, but it will only work if all members are able to live up to their commitments. Ultimately, the capabilities required for this are some form of presence, and some form of ‘reach’ – i.e. a capability such as that offered by aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces, a deployable force that is capable of providing assistance allies, reaction to events and an escalation in presence to deter potential aggression.

The second question, comes down to choice, what does Britain want to be able to do? Does it want to be able to conduct conflict stabilisation operations? In which case should the number of infantry battalions, and military police be maintained or even supplemented further by reservists? Does Britain want to be able to provide significant ground forces for allied operations? If so then should then cutting the number of main battle tanks would seem illogical. Does it want to be able to conduct interventions independently? In which case, the decision has to be made as to what level of opponent is anticipated, and from there what composition/quantity/quality of forces will subsequently be required. These are decisions which have to be made, not muddled, as once they are made then the personnel, the equipment, the training has to be made, undertaken and paid for.

The third and fourth questions are in many ways the most to address, as they put to one side the almost traditional belief that British governments have practiced since 1918 – that the best defence is a strong economy. They put aside this idea, because the decision makes defence not an issue of economy, but an issue of security and strategy. By asking these questions it is acknowledged that no matter how successful the bank is, if it doesn’t pay its taxes, and support a decent police force, it will get robbed. The final amount that needs to be paid may be less than 2% of GDP, it will probably be at least slightly more, but it won’t be being spent because of some artificial logic based on treaty – but will be being spent because of a proper, thorough, public debate that has decided what is necessary, what is needed and therefore what should be done. Unless Britain’s defence debate learns from its past, and returns to strategy, technology, in other words capability! Instead of the simplistic and false debate about % of GDP; the British Armed Forces, will never have a hope of being what they are needed to be, when they are needed.

Such a debate though is not only required by Britain, it also required by allies; in an age of austerity, where the cost of everything is debated it becomes more important than ever that the value is also understood. This can not be provided by a debate taking place in the abstract and focused on %, it can only be done by a thorough and open debate that goes into the detail, of interests, of capabilities and of technicalities.


  1. Clarke, Alexander. 2014. “We have the centrepiece…but what about the rest of the board?” European Geostrategy. 4 July. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2014/07/centrepiecebut-rest-board/, and Clarke, Alexander. 2015. “What to do about the Disappearing Royal Navy….” U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 22 January. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://blog.usni.org/2015/01/22/what-to-do-about-the-disappearing-royal-navy 

  2. Mitchell, B. R. 2011. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Chantrill, Christopher. 2015. ukpublicspending.co.uk. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/ 

  3. Wright, Oliver. 2014. “Britain’s food self-sufficiency at risk from reliance on overseas imports of fruit and vegetables that could be produced at home.” The Independent. July 01. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-food-selfsufficiency-at-risk-from-reliance-on-overseas-imports-of-fruit-and-vegetables-that-could-be-produced-at-home-9574238.html 

  4. Osborne, Alistair. 2011. “Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’.” The Telegraph. August 12. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8696607/Britains-reliance-on-sea-trade-set-to-soar.html, and Duncan, Hugo. 2013. “British exports to countries outside EU soar to record £80BILLION as economy reduces dependence on Europe.” Mail Online. August 9. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2388429/British-exports-countries-outside-EU-soar-record-80BILLION-economy-reduces-dependence-Europe.html 


In responding to a question posed at the recent USNI/AFCEA WEST 2015 Conference regarding ‘tell-all’ books that have been published MCPON Stevens answered, in his words, “with a thought”. His thought was that a chief petty officer is a humble, quiet, servant and he took some time to expand upon what that means. MCPON stated that “not quiet in the sense that when we talk, we don’t talk about ourselves, we talk about our people.” Just as MCPON was commenting with ‘a thought’ in response to the question posed, I comment here with a thought and how I came to that thought.

In being a deckplate leader one has to stop talking as much as they did as a junior sailor. In many if not most instances the junior sailor is the one that is doing the end-point task required of the mission. Whether that is sweeping the deck, performing maintenance, or standing watch they are the one who is on station doing the physical actions required–their duty. In performing their duty it is incumbent upon them to report the varying degrees of success they achieved to their leaders so that an accurate depiction of reality is understood, so that the next decisions can be made by leadership. Deckplate leadership is the first point of contact with reality, the first link in the chain of command to understand whether the P-way is clean, that all hands are present and accounted for, that the engines are being properly maintained and capable of performing missions.

As a junior sailor I was asked if I had accomplished the duties I was assigned, and I would relate the ‘why’ I had varying degrees of success. My chain of command always had questions for me, always had a reason for me to say more. As well, my personality is such that I want to say more than less, and to opine on things I had little experience to accurately speak towards. What resulted from this tacit training was that, as I had my first few instances of having service members serving in my charge, I wanted to talk more to them than I did to hear from them. This is not to say that there were no conversations that were had, or that I would constantly tell them they were wrong. Rather, it is that based on the experience I did have doing the tasks (usually mundane) assigned to them I would extrapolate from what they attempted to relate to me and assume I knew reality rather than probe for more information from them and make sure I understood what they were relating to me.

A leader has to be humble, not assume they can extrapolate answers from what their sailors say to them. When they talk to their sailors they have to know how to ask the right questions, they have to know how to lead their sailors to relating the correct details and information, leaders have to know how to teach their sailors to talk to leadership and inform leadership’s decision making process. All this starts with being a quiet, humble, servant-leader. You won’t hear what is being said to you if you’re not being quiet, without humility there is hubris, as the first link in the chain of command you are leading your sailors and serving the chain of command–you are a vital conduit through which decision makers base their decisions on.

Of course, there is an additional dimension beyond the direct performance of duty for a leader to understand. And again, humility in terms of “think more of others” means to me that I have to know my sailors: who that sailor is; what their abilities, strengths and weaknesses are; and the challenges each sailor faces in their personal life that can affect their ability to do their duty. This abstract dimension informs my decision making in terms of what duties are assigned to a sailor to most effectively accomplish the division’s mission. A sailor facing issues in their personal life will perform their duty differently than a sailor who does not have similar issues, a sailor who is not motivated performs less well than one who is–I have to know the ‘why’ behind it all.

A leader serves their sailors in that the Navy is ripe with tasks sailors cannot accomplish successfully on their own. Look no further than administrative paperwork and you’ll find that everything that a sailor might want to do with their career requires explaining/mentoring the details of what they’re interested in, informing them of what paperwork must be done, how to access the programs and databases required, double checking that all supporting documentation is being provided and that the paperwork in accurately filled-out, and certainly that the paperwork is forwarded up the chain of command and onto Naval Personnel Command, and that the sailor is kept informed of the progress of their paperwork. As a leader and especially a deckplate leader, one is leading that effort and serving their sailor by informing them of the process as it progresses.

There are a very few broad things (with a lot of details behind them) a leader must do to effectively lead. As we develop as leaders most of the lessons to learn are subtle, and to an extent we must unlearn what we were accustomed to as junior sailors. MCPON’s thoughts at WEST highlighted for me notions I was only starting to grasp at, but now have a deeper appreciation for. “People first” because leading people is the hard part, and leading them effectively ensures the mission is accomplished.


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2014 Information Domination Essay Contest