Please join us on Sunday, 23 November 2014 at 5pm (US EST) for Episode 255: Commanding the Seas – the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA

How do we build the future surface fleet to ensure our forces maintain the ability to access to all regions of the world’s oceans that our vital to our national interests?

Our guest to discuss this and the broader issues related to our surface forces will be Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

A basis for our conversation will be his recent study for CSBA, Commanding the Seas: A Plan to reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, where he articulates the operational concept of “offensive sea control” as the new central idea to guide evolution of the U.S. surface force. This idea would refocus large and small surface combatant configuration, payloads and employment on sustaining the surface force’s ability to take and hold areas of ocean by destroying threats to access such as aircraft, ships and submarines rather than simply defending against their missiles and torpedoes.

Prior to joining CSBA in 2013, Bryan Clark was Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and Director of his Commander’s Action Group.

He served in the Navy headquarters staff from 2004 to 2011, leading studies in the Assessment Division and participating in the 2006 and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Reviews. His areas of emphasis were modeling and simulation, strategic planning and institutional reform and governance. Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2007, he was an enlisted and officer submariner, serving in afloat and ashore including tours as Chief Engineer and Operations Officer at the Navy’s nuclear power training unit.

Mr. Clark holds a Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National War College and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Philosophy from the University of Idaho.

Join us live on Sunday or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also find this show after the live feed on iTunes here, along with its 254 predecessors.


The U.S. government loves metrics. Anyone who has ever worked for the government in any capacity is acutely aware of that. How many sorties were flown in one day? How many illegal immigrants were apprehended? How well did students do on exams? How many people signed up for health care? Metrics are found for things that aren’t easily measured – like the value of education – even if they are relatively meaningless.

So it appears with drugs. There is a wealth of metrics available regarding the “effectiveness” of drug policy, yet few appear to mean much. Air and maritime interdiction goals for drugs coming from Latin America, for example, appear almost randomly set, but then success is measured against those goals. The intent seems more to show that the United States is “doing something” than anything else.

Metrics are considered so important that the U.S. Coast Guard, largely responsible for the interdiction of drugs from Latin America, has its metrics audited by a private firm. According to this audit, the Independent Review of the U.S. Coast Guards Reporting of FY 2013 Drug Control Performance Summary Report,[1] the metrics for Coast Guard interdictions, as part of Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), are gathered from a six million square mile drug Transit Zone of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The search area for the Malaysian airliner that went missing in June 2014 was considered massive at 23,000 square miles.[2] Therefore, the very size of the area of responsibility (AOR) where searches for non-commercial maritime and airborne assets are conducted makes it nearly impossible to accurately gather metrics.

Interdiction metrics are produced based on known product coming into the United States. However, given the AOR size, it is highly likely that known product figures underestimate the amount of product actually brought in. The inability to accurately know the amount of product trafficked is not lost on JIATF-S, as one of their top goals is to “achieve 100% domain awareness,” stating outright that they do not fully grasp the amount of illicit trafficking within the AOR. In other words, the area is just too large for complete coverage.

Adding to the errors at the interdiction level is often unequal “bale” and “kilo” sizes, making it challenging to fully and accurately weigh contraband (especially if it’s wet with fuel or seawater). So metrics indicating an increase or decrease of interdictions from one year to the next are based on, at best, estimation of underestimated figures.

For example, Operation MARTILLO, a 14-nation combined operation to deny use of Central America as a trafficking corridor, is an oft-cited success story of drug interdiction. Metrics are given in the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy.

[MARTILLO] resulted in the disruption of the trafficking of more than 132 metric tons of cocaine, 41 thousand pounds of marijuana, $3.5 million in bulk cash, 315 arrests, and the seizure of 107 vessels, vehicles, and aircraft. The pressures put upon trafficking organizations by Operation MARTILLO resulted in a 38 percent decrease in illicit air trafficking activity and decreases of 29 percent and 57 percent of the illicit maritime activities in the Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific littoral routes, respectively.

These metrics, however, are drawn from known product figures, which may or may not be representative of actual product movement. Additionally, while known trafficking is considered reduced via air and littoral routes, this doesn’t mean the cartels have stopped operating. They simple change their routes and conveyance means. This “phenomenon” is not unknown to policymakers as they note traffickers will switch to unchallenged routes and become more creative in getting their product to market.[3]

The 2014 National Strategy goes on to say that during FY 2013:

184 metric tons of cocaine were seized or disrupted in the transit zone out of a total documented flow of 646 metric tons, as recorded in the Consolidated Counterdrug Database (CCDB). This represents a 28.5 percent removal rate, which, while below the annual target for 2013 (36 percent), is consistent with the historical average of 25 percent over the past decade and well above the removal rate in 2012 (23.8 percent).

But what do these figures really mean?

Traffickers regularly toss overboard or destroy product if they are being pursued by the Coast Guard or Navy, hence the reference to “disruption,” and consider it the cost of doing business. So it appears that based on the amount of product the United States knows reaches the United States or is estimated to be destroyed before seizure, which given the size of the AOR is underestimated, still goals are set to bring that number down. Equally unclear is how these goals are set.

Why was 36 percent set as the target removal rate for 2013 rather than 40 percent? Why not 25 percent? Are the effects of budget realities and consequently how much money the Coast Guard and Navy is able to spend to sail ships or fly aircraft searching for traffickers taken into consideration? Regardless, even the goals set based on underestimated figures could not be reached.

Hypothetically, should these removal rates be reached, would all the issues associated with illicit drug use in America and the problems that come from trafficking magically go away? Will drug use in the U.S. stop? Terror and poverty found in communities that narcoterrorists thrive simply disappear? Addiction will not cease overnight, terrorist activities will not go away as organizations look to replace their income.

The United Nations points out statistical issues that exacerbate U.S. and global interdiction figures in its World Drug Report 2012.

Comparing absolute numbers of total cocaine seizures and manufacture could be misleading. To understand the relationship between the amount of annual seizures reported by States (694 tons cocaine of unknown purity in 2010) and the estimated level of manufacture (788-1,060 tons of cocaine of 100 per cent purity), it would be necessary to take into account several factors, and the associated calculations would depend on a level of detail in seizure data that is often unavailable. Making purity adjustments for bulk seizures, which contain impurities, cutting agents and moisture, to make them directly comparable with the cocaine manufacture estimates, which refer to a theoretical purity of 100 per cent, is difficult, as in most cases the purity of seized cocaine is not known and varies significantly from one consignment to another. The total amount of seized cocaine reported by States is also likely to be an overestimation. Large-scale maritime seizures, which account for a large part of the total amount of cocaine seized, often require the collaboration of several institutions in a country or even in several countries. Therefore, double counting of reported seizures of cocaine cannot be excluded.

Drug interdiction numbers appear a prime example of using meaningless statistics to show anything desired.

The American public demands action on the War Against Illegal Drugs – though the consumer of the drugs – and the violence, corruption and multiple other secondary effects illegal drug trafficking brings with it. And so the Coast Guard, the U.S. military through Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and law enforcement must respond. But based on the metrics so carefully compiled and verified, their efforts seem to result in little more than Whack-A-Mole campaign that the traffickers incorporate into their business model.

U.S. SOUTHCOM Commander General John Kelly, speaking before Congress in March 2014, talked about how budget cuts will make the situation even worse.

Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking. I simply sit and watch it go by. And, because of service cuts, I don’t expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets to work with in this region of the world.

So whatever effectiveness has been achieved is likely to decrease with budget cuts.

Further as well, if somehow all the drugs from Latin America could be stopped, the drug problem in the United States would not go away. A new supplier from another geographic region would quickly step in. While consideration of how to effectively fight drug problems in and that affect the United States is beyond the scope of this article, it is clear – just from the metrics – the current approach is not working.

The U.S. government has spent over a $1 trillion on the drug war,[4] to little avail, with tens of billions budgeted every year. The metrics on exactly how much is spent are difficult to gather – like all other drug war related metrics – because funds are budgeted across so many different agencies. Beyond money, American military members and law enforcement officials have lost their lives in this war. Fighting transnational organized crime, drug cartels, is the prevalent problem addressed by the U.S. military in the Southern Command.[5] Yet it is a problem, as currently framed and addressed, impossible to solve. The primary yield from the money spent and lives lost, is metrics.

[1] OIG 14-35, February 2014.

[2] http://abcnews.go.com/International/search-area-malaysia-airlines-jet-cover-23000-square/story?id=24294957

[3] Office of the President of the United States, National Drug Control Strategy: 2009 Annual Report (Washington, DC: GPO, 2009), p.29.

[4] http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/05/13/ap-impact-years-trillion-war-drugs-failed-meet-goals/

[5] http://www.southcom.mil/newsroom/documents/southcom%202013%20posture%20statement%20final%20sasc.pdf


Please join us on Sunday, 16 November 2014 at 5pm (EST, US) for Midrats Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War:

13 years into the long war, what have we learned, relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?

Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, where are we now, and where are we going?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be returning guest John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using his most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.

Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later at out iTunes page here, where you can also find the archive of all our previous shows.


Today marks the 239th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. In remembering the day when Captain Samuel Nicholas walked into a Philadelphia bar, looking for the “bravest men” of that city, Marines all over the world will hear the Birthday Message first circulated by Major General John Lejeune in 1921. Lejeune’s name is far more than just the name of another military base; he and his career are legend in the Marine Corps. He rose through the ranks, serving all over the world. When he reached Europe at the United States entry into The Great War, Black Jack Pershing recognized his leadership and gave the “Marines’ Marine” command of the whole of the 2nd Army Division. He became the 13th Commandant of the Corps after the war and to this day is known as the “the greatest of all Leathernecks.”

Yet it almost never happened. Today a discussion of military talent management has come to life, something that happens on a fairly regular cycle in American military history. Almost 125 years ago, the future of a young Midshipman Lejeune was at the whim of a bureaucracy that cared very little for his personal interests or where he and his peers thought his talents might lay.

The System

In 1890 Midshipman John Lejeune, known among his friends by his nickname “Gabe,” and his Naval Academy roommate Ed Beach returned to Annapolis after spending two years at sea. In those days Midshipmen completed the course of instruction at the Academy but then had to serve in the Fleet for two years before they were commissioned. At sea they learned the basics of life and leadership aboard ship and began earning their qualifications and standing the bridge watches that would serve as the foundations of their careers.

The two young men also returned to the banks of the Severn River unsure that they would even receive a commission. There were a finite number of officer billets in the Navy and Marine Corps. Because promotion was seniority based, not every Midshipman could receive a commission unless there were enough officers who retired. If enough officers left the service everyone would move up the seniority lists and spots would open up at the bottom for the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants.

Lejeune had wanted to be a United States Marine since he entered prep school at LSU. He finished at Annapolis in the top of his class and assumed that his standing would give him the ability to select the service of his choice. Returning to Annapolis Lejeune discovered that he had made the cut to receive a commission. But he also learned that the Academic Board, which was responsible for making service assignment recommendations, had assigned him to become an engineer in the Navy. His grades in the engineering courses were the best in his class.

Begging the Bureau

Lejeune decided to go to Washington to make his case to the Bureau of Navigation. His roommate Ed Beach agreed to go along with him to provide moral support and later related the story in his memoir. They were able to get a meeting scheduled with Commodore F.M. Ramsey, who led the Bureau and knew of the two young men because his previous position was Superintendent at the Academy.

The two Midshipmen arrived in Washington and Lejeune overcame an attack of nerves and went to the meeting with Beach at his side. He explained to the head of the Bureau that he had always wanted to be a Marine, and that because of how hard he worked and his class standing his preferences should count for something. Ramsey was the final decision maker and would approve the recommendations of the Academic Board. He was the only man who could change Lejeune’s fate. He refused. The Navy needed good engineers and he agreed with the Academy’s recommendation. The only way he would even consider changing his mind was if the Commandant of the Marine Corps requested Lejeune by name.

There was a glimmer of hope, but Lejeune didn’t put much stock in it. He led Beach toward the Commandant’s office in order to try to see him. They actually found Commandant McCawley (improperly called Remy by Beach in his recounting of the story) at a quiet moment in the office and were able to see him. However, he refused Lejeune’s entreaty to make a “by name request” for him to commission as a Second Lieutenant. The Commandant told him that the Corps would take whomever they were assigned and make no special deals.

A Desperate Ploy

Gabe had one last idea. He dragged Beach back toward Ramsey’s office at the Bureau. They were able to maneuver themselves into another audience, but Ramsey again refused to change his mind. Likely frustrated, he repeated that if the Commandant personally asked for Lejeune, then he could become a Marine. In the last moment of the brief meeting Lejeune asked his former Superintendent why? Why wouldn’t he allow him to become a Marine?

“Because, Mr. Lejeune, I am well aware of your splendid and promising mentality. Frankly, you have altogether too much brains to be lost in the Marine Corps!”

With that, Lejeune rushed out the office and headed back for the Commandant’s spaces at a run. Beach struggled to keep up, wondering what the hell was going on. But Lejeune had a new confidence about him. The two Midshipmen burst back into the Commandant’s office and interrupted a meeting with a group of officers on the headquarters staff. Before they could be reprimanded and removed from the room Lejeune shouted out:

“Commodore Ramsey says that the reason he will not recommend me to be a second lieutenant is that I have altogether too much brains for the Marine Corps!”

Ed Beach wrote “Lejeune won, then and there. The Marine Corps went into action,” and the request for Gabe to become a Marine was cut and sent to the Bureau of Navigation. The history books show there was still more maneuvering to be done, including meetings with Senator Russell Gibson and the intervention of the Secretary of the Navy. John Lejeune was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant instead of an Ensign. The rest, as they say, is history.

Another Year, Facing the Future

For more than two centuries the Marine Corps, and the rest of our armed forces, have been facing the challenges of talent management and administrative efficiency right alongside the combat stories that we read about in most of our history books. The so-called “needs of the service,” bureaucratic infighting, and service rivalry have a long tradition in how our military service members are selected, promoted, and mentored. But the story of Gabe Lejeune’s quest to become a United States Marine reminds us that sometimes the service is wrong, and sometimes we have to figure out our own “innovative” ways to work the system.

So Happy Birthday Marines. And to all the men and women in uniform who want to follow in Gabe Lejeune’s footsteps, by working both inside and outside the lifelines, to take their career into their own hands: Hoorah. Keep up the good fight.


Please join us at 5pm EST on 9 Nov 14 for for Midrats Episode 253: “The Fleet we Have, Want, and Need – with Jerry Hendrix”

What is the proper fleet structure for the USN as we design our Navy that will serve its nation in mid-Century?

Join us for a broad ranging discussion on this topic and more with returning guest, Henry J. Hendrix, Jr, CAPT USN (Ret.), PhD.

Fresh off his recent retirement from active duty, Jerry is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

A Naval Flight Officer by training, his staff assignments include tours with the Chief of Naval Operation’s Executive Panel (N00K), the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (Force Development) and the OSD Office of Net Assessment.

His final position in uniform was the Director of Naval History.

Hendrix also served as the Navy Fellow to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He has a Bachelor Degree in Political Science from Purdue University, Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School (National Security Affairs) and Harvard University (History) and received his doctorate from King’s College, London (War Studies).

He has twice been named the Samuel Eliot Morison Scholar by the Navy Historical Center in Washington, DC, and was also the Center’s 2005 Rear Admiral John D. Hays Fellow. He also held the Marine Corps’ General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. Fellowship. He authored the book Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy and received a number of awards, including the United States Naval Institute’s Author of the Year and the Navy League’s Alfred T. Mahan Award for Literary Achievement.

Listen in here (or use that link to pick the show up later) or visit us on iTunes.


This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next few days.

Contestant: Graham Plaster, The Intelligence Community LLC

Problems

Individuals
o Rising unemployment among veterans
o Long wait times for government positions
o Salary cuts
o Shifting regional focus from Middle East to small wars, Africa, Asia, Russia, etc.
o An educational pipeline mismatched to the government job market
o Need for a wider on ramp and off ramp between public and private career options

Business
o Contracts are being steered to small businesses who lack the depth of expertise and the infrastructure to meet government requirements
o Companies are trying to scale up to meet government demands while slimming down on brick and mortar costs (through 1099 independent contractor hires)

Government
o Failing to meet quotas for hiring small businesses
o Eager to harness a fee-for-service model to manage costs and eliminate overhead
o Need cross pollination of public and private work experience for the future of publicprivate partnerships to keep pace with innovation

Solutions

o The tool will be similar to other freelance marketplaces currently available such as oDesk- Elance, Guru, Freelancer, Fiverr, and others. However, this marketplace will be tailored to the US national security sector which has many special legal and professional requirements.

o The marketplace will help both small and large businesses scale to manage indirect labor costs, meet contractual government requirements, and also, broadly, give the government the ability to tap a global market of talent for emergent needs. The government is always looking for a “bench” of talent without having to carry the huge overhead of unused experts.

o This also gives unemployed veterans including wounded warriors a way to serve as consultant from home, as part time support for important work.

Why Us

The Intelligence Community LLC (“TIC”) is a US veteran owned business that moderates a worldwide network of over 47,000 national security professionals growing at over 1200 new members every month. TIC is also a member of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Innovation Gateway and will be collaborating with companies to discover ways to assist DIA with crowdsourced analysis. There has already been strong interest from government agencies on leveraging this emerging community of expertise.


This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next few days.

Contestant: Ben Bines, HBS Student, Former F/A-18 pilot

Thesis: Creating a catalyst for military members that drives them to engage in proper wealth management strategies early in their careers will result in increased career satisfaction and hence higher retention and recruiting rates.

Our military has a problem; members are not comfortable creating and executing personalized investment plans that can help them create long term wealth.

Often our members rely on too little information to make potentially life-altering decisions. If the government can find a way to unlock this wasted potential, the results could be significant for its members. The question we need to ask ourselves is why isn’t this happening without intervention?

We submit that the answer can be traced to three facts:

  1. The financial services industry is incentivized to be confusing, resulting in less sophisticated users not investing, over/underinvesting and/or investing without a holistic plan.
  2. The financial industry’s professional advice fee structures (typically 1% of assets being managed) are too costly for most peoples’ financial needs and are set up to cut out lower net worth families, thereby exacerbating point 1.
  3. The government has only attempted to engage this issue from the retirement account (TSP) perspective, not the holistic strategy perspective.

The idea that a person can create value through very long term investing in a broad market based portfolio that reflect an individual’s personal situation and risk tolerance is well known, however, this fact does not seem to equate to this strategy being well implemented. Why?

We believe the disconnect results from two factors.

  1. People tend to give up because of the perceived execution complexities.
  2. People take a segmented view on their portfolios and accept the simplicity of cookie cutter investment strategies (target date retirement funds) that result in under or over exposed positions. The misunderstood exposure results from these strategies’ attempts to control costs by relying on bucketing dissimilar individuals based solely on retirement time horizon.

The fact is the investment world is simply too complex for the average person to feel confident that the decisions they are making are based on a complete understanding of the financial tools they are employing. The financial costs of misallocating short, medium and long term funds based on miscalculated or misunderstood short, medium, and long term cash flow requirements results in forced selling and emotional investing, which destroy enormous amounts of wealth accumulation potential.

So how can we help create the cost effective catalyst that gets people over the execution hump and provides individualized portfolio strategies without asking our members to become trained financial professionals?

We believe the answer lies in merging education and execution services via virtual meeting technology with trusted, proven financial institutional partnerships. We will create a process which will allow us to walk individuals through the setup and initial execution stages of their investment plan using a fiduciary relationship standard that gets them going down the correct wealth management path. We’ll couple that with robust financial planning software that allows them to easily track goals, sets reminder, and provides easily understood instructions when it’s time to make adjustments. By getting our people confidently through the uncomfortable stages where many give up, we’ll add enormous potential value to our members’ and the military.


This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days.

Contestant: James la Porta, Assistant Editor, Blue Force Tracker

The problem: “America doesn’t know its military and the United States military doesn’t know America”
-Adm. Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The American people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the military, and an unrealistic perception of the threats facing our nation because the voices of veterans, and others with real-world “boots on the ground” experience are underrepresented in the media. The mission of Blue Force Tracker is to fix that.

The solution: In the military there is a tool called “blue force tracking,” which depicts with icons on a satellite image of the battlespace where every U.S. military unit is positioned. We want to give the American people something similar. Our intent is to help close the growing civilian-military divide by giving our audience an unbiased, unfiltered and realistic account of what the military does and the world in which it operates.

The mission of Blue Force Tracker is to report on and analyze issues related to U.S. national security, foreign affairs and veterans issues from a team of journalists with backgrounds in the military, intelligence services or diplomatic corps, as well as those who have unique first-hand knowledge of foreign regions where U.S. national interests are at stake. We aim to reach our audience with an innovative smartphone app and website, which matches the news consumption patterns of our target demographic—veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and active duty military personnel.

Most of this target demographic is part of the millennial generation, who prefer accessing their news through mobile devices and web-based platforms. Media consumption is moving increasingly toward mobile platforms, and we want to capitalize on this trend. But we also aim to counter the parallel trend of decayed journalism standards.

Just because readers access their news on mobile devices doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a need, and an audience, for quality journalism. So, while we have put a lot of work into designing an innovative, userfriendly portal through which our audience can access our product, we also realize that quality content is the No. 1 way to grow an invested and loyal audience. To do that we leverage the unique, real-world experiences of our writers to educate Americans about the threats facing our country and provide a realistic account of the challenges facing the military—both abroad and in the transition back to civilian life.

Additionally, as our armed forces transition out of more than a decade of sustained combat operations, we need to hear from veterans and their families about their needs. The transition to civilian life is often a difficult one, and we need to hear that story from the people who are living it. Finally, Blue Force Tracker is a push back against the decline in the standards of worldwide journalism. We believe in well-written, profound, original content that educates the reader and has a societal benefit. We believe that quality journalism is just as important to the survival of a democracy as the armies guarding its borders.

But all these lofty goals cannot be accomplished unless we place our stories, and the unique opinions and analysis of our writers into the palms of the people who matter. So our overall challenge is developing content that breaks the mold while constantly evolving and experimenting with ways to deliver that content in a way that best matches the lifestyles and habits of our audience.


This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days.

Contestant: Josh Steinman, US Naval Officer

Software is increasingly becoming the defining mechanism by which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps achieve tactical, operational, and strategic decision dominance. Previously the Department of Defense had achieved this ability through industry.

As software takes on increasingly prominent roles in the Department of Defense, we will need to establish closer relations with the industry that builds it, much like the Department of Defense built long-standing ties to the industrial base during the pre-War, inter-War, and post-War periods of the early 20th century. These close links will ensure that the DOD retains the ability to rapidly integrate cutting edge digital technologies into our operations, as well as influence their development at all stages.

One high-impact, low cost way to advance this goal is to establish a small joint detachment of hand-picked DOD personnel to operate primarily in Silicon Valley that would act as an intellectual “long-range reconnaissance squad”.

This entity would consist of approximately 10 personnel nominated by a small group of senior officers and civilians (plus 1 support and 1 General or Flag Officer), stationed in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Their mission would be to help integrate the defense and software industries by achieving the following tasks:

a. Ensure continuity of action before, during, and after senior officer and civilian visits with entities in the non-Defense technology sector. Achieve this by acting as travel agent for senior officials before they depart (coordinating visits with local technology companies), local guide upon arrival, note-taker and action officer while engaged on the ground, and execution agent upon the senior’s departure.

b. Identify early-stage ventures with potential DOD applicability and connect them with appropriate resources to utilize their technology for DOD purposes. Interface with DOD and service-centric early-stage and midstage venture capital firms, and liaison with entities such as DARPA, IARPA, US Army REF, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and OSD RTTO.

c. Educate students, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists on DOD challenges and process with an eye towards changing attitudes towards the DOD. This would include conducting “presence missions” at regular events like SXSW, TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT, and even Burning Man.

My proposed first step is to send an exploratory detachment of 3-5 officers out to Silicon Valley for a one-month site survey mission that would result in a full proposal white-paper, to be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff within 90 days of their return. Costs for such a survey are on the order of $6,000 per person, for one month.


The USS Ingraham (FFG-61) just completed her final successful sea and anchor detail as she transited in from the Pacific Ocean, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, returning to her homeport in Everett, Washington. After being greeted with homecoming fanfare, she will prepare for a much less exciting event, her decommissioning ceremony. On November 12th, the flag will be lowered for the last time and in January she will be struck from the battleforce inventory.

The Ingraham is one of the very last Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates remaining in the fleet. These ships were known for their steadfast performance, executing critical missions around the globe. Much like Ingraham’s last deployment to the waters of Central America, these ships have been stalwarts in the U.S. anti-drug efforts. Many are now lamenting the loss of this versatile class of ship, declaring that missions will go unfulfilled once the class has completely decommissioned next year. Demands are growing louder for a ‘next generation surface combatant’ to replace the frigates, bringing more firepower, survivability and offensive capability than the current littoral combat ships have to offer.

Yet we must be careful not to be too nostalgic when reviewing the capabilities of the frigates and demanding a better armed new surface combatant to fill their void. Certainly, the Navy needs a next generation surface combatant to fill the gaps that the workhorse guided missile destroyers cannot cover alone – there is simply no debating that our destroyer fleet is over-stretched. But, when it comes to covering the missions being carried out by frigates, we have ships that can perform at the same or higher levels – we just need to work on incorporating them.

Though it’s been a while, I distinctly recall hours spent memorizing ‘Ships and Aircraft’ as part of the standard Naval Academy plebe professional knowledge requirements. Frigates were easy…there wasn’t a lot to memorize in terms of armament. Especially since the removal of the Mk13 ‘one-armed bandit’ missile launcher. The nickname we learned was ‘missile sponge,’ due to the lack of significant offensive and defensive weaponry. Even the Mk75 Oto Melara gun onboard could only be fired when the ship presented a stern aspect to the target due to firing cut-outs. The CRU/DES advocates would joke that frigates could only fire the sole remaining offensive weapon, a mere 3-inch gun, while running away. Aviators quipped that the only real weapon onboard was the embarked LAMPS helicopter.

But it didn’t matter. Though I opted for the CRU/DES world, plenty of classmates went to frigates, where they became exceptional ship-handlers and learned how to conduct critical maritime security missions by thwarting drug-runners off our coasts and in the waters to the south, learning from the Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) that often embarked. They pulled into ports around the globe with shallow draft requirements, to the envy of those of us on cruisers at the time. They operated with the nascent coastal navies of partners around the world and didn’t tower over their counter-parts in terms of size or weaponry, making for more successful engagements.

These roles can all be filled exceptionally well by our newest generation of ships – the littoral combat ships, and even innovative platforms like Austal’s Joint High Speed Vessel. While the LCS is not a perfect ship – far from it, but that’s been covered rather extensively in the press – it can easily fill the niche role recently occupied by frigates. The speed, versatility and shallow draft of LCS make it well suited to coastal patrol missions and working with partnership navies. The Joint High Speed Vessel is an even more innovative platform, and the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) has demonstrated its worth on its maiden deployment this year. The MSC-run ship has operated in three different Fleet AORs, conducting missions with numerous partner nations and US Navy assets, proving its exceptional capabilities.

Maritime security missions will continue to be a critical aspect of the Navy’s mission – just as they have for the past 239 years. Worth noting, however, is that most maritime security missions do not require high-end Aegis ships like the destroyers commonly filling the tasks today. It may be reassuring to have destroyers tasked to anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa (or, in the case of the Maersk Alabama incident, an entire Amphibious Readiness Group), but it isn’t necessary. Instead, platforms like the LCS and JHSV are well-suited to conduct low end missions like countering piracy, illicit trafficking and weapons proliferation and can do so at a much lower cost than sending a Strike Group or a couple of destroyers. The security situation we will face demands a robust, well-trained maritime security force. Our CRU/DES platforms should be reserved for missions requiring their exceptional weapons and radar systems. With the projected build of thirty-two LCS and ten JHSV, these ships are well-poised to perform vital maritime security roles that the frigates will no longer be around to fulfill. There is no dispute that maritime security is – and will continue to be – a core mission, but we already have the right ships to ensure success while being cost-efficient.

We must be careful not to embellish the past and demand that the frigates’ replacements have significant offensive and defensive capabilities. We need to be realistic when examining the missions needing to be fulfilled and let the void left by the frigates be filled by the newer, more innovative ships that are well-suited to the missions. The next generation surface combatant can be better utilized elsewhere.


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