As an avid reader of naval books and Proceedings, and as a blogger who reads and writes about naval issues daily, when I began looking at the schedule for USNI/AFCEA WEST 2011 I knew instantly the first panel discussion was going to be a great one. Note to all conference organizers, if you want a great discussion try to always pick guys from the 0-5 and 0-6 ranks who will give an opinion and independent voices outside the services, you’ll never be disappointed.
The panel topic is timely: What Could Flat and/or Declining Defense Budgets Mean for Navy Plans and Programs is the right question at the right time. Asking good questions is the easy part, assembling a panel with the intellectual capital to fully explore the issue can be more difficult. The organizers at WEST 2011 came through like champs with CAPT R. Robinson (Robbie) Harris, USN (Ret) as the moderator, and a brilliant panel that included Ronald O’Rourke, Captain Victor Addison, Captain Mark Hagerott, and Captain Stuart Munsch. This panel turned out to be an incredibly thought provoking, idea generating panel on a timely topic and quite frankly, the hour and 15 minutes allocated was simply too short because I could have listened to these guys discuss the topic for another hour.
I was struck from the outset by the positive tone of the discussion, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Credit the CNO, ADM Roughead has established a positive tone towards addressing head on the difficult budget situation the Navy is dealing with, and the panel reflected that upbeat tone when discussing the opportunities that exist in the current fiscal challenges the maritime services face today.
Plato said necessity is the mother of invention, and advice towards taking advantage of any opportunity that exists in the current fiscal challenge was a consistent message across the panel.
It was very smart to have Ronald O’Rourke speak first. Robbie Harris described Ron as the most objective naval analyst in Washington, but as primary naval analyst at the Congressional Research Service his objectivity is a professional requirement. I appreciated that Ron specifically discussed the interwar years in the 20th century, basically the 1920s and 1930s as a model where America dealt specifically with reduced budgets following World War I, and how the Navy used that time period to innovate the naval force. It is important to note those innovations occurred despite the Washington Treaty that restricted the US Navy on design choices and what ships could be built. Regardless of the challenges, the Navy innovated as a necessity and was well positioned to leverage innovations made during the interwar period when World War II began.
Captain Munsch followed Ron and also drew from history, this time the history of the Royal Navy towards the end of the 19th century and into the very beginning of the 20th century leading into World War I. He specifically noted the innovations developed and integrated by the Royal Navy, long range guns and the torpedo, and discussed how force structure and concept of operations (small ships as coastal defense with larger vessels performing blue water fleet function) adapted with the innovations so that when World War I broke out – the Royal Navy felt prepared. With longer range guns, the concept of operations for the Royal Navy was for the fleet to attack at longer range thus achieve the initiative on the enemy, and sink the enemy before they could get close enough to do damage. Captain Munsch highlighted the dangers that exists with reliance on innovations that are not fully understood, because at the Battle of Jutland it was ultimately proved that while the Royal Navy could out distance the German force, fire control was so poor that the range advantage gave no real advantage to the Royal Navy at all. Because of the reduced armor and the inability to fire effectively at long range, the innovations ultimately made the Royal Navy more vulnerable because effective firing range for the Royal Navy was within firing range of the German guns.
As I think about the innovations of unmanned systems, I often wonder to myself if our communications networks today represent the same weak link that fire control represented to the Royal Navy in World War I.
Then came Victor Addison. For those who don’t know, Captian Vic Addison has only a little more than a month of service in the Navy before he retires. His recent contributions as outlined in his four Proceedings articles represent some of the most innovative new thinking in the military today. You Can’t Always Give What You Want, Captain Victor G. Addison Jr., U.S. Navy, Proceedings Magazine, January 2010 Vol. 136/1/1,283, Got Sea Control?, Captain Victor G. Addison Jr., U.S. Navy and Commander David Dominy, Royal Navy, Proceedings Magazine, March 2010 Vol. 136/3/1,285, The Answer Is the Carrier Strike Group . . . Now, What Was the Question?, Captain Victor G. Addison Jr., U.S. Navy, Proceedings Magazine, July 2010 Vol. 136/7/1,289, and the The Joint Force’s “Wildcat Offense”, Captain Victor G. Addison Jr., U.S. Navy, Proceedings Magazine, October 2010 Vol. 136/10/1,292 are important reads for anyone thinking about the opportunity that exists in the DoD today in thinking about the future of the military at a time of drawing down from 2 wars and budget reductions.
Captain Addisons presentation was the first time I had heard the articles discussed as a single presentation, and quite honestly this type of innovative thinking has a place on Capitol Hill once Victor Addison retires because it is representitive of the unique opportunities that exist in improving the DoD collectively by capitalizing on the lessons of Joint Service Warfare established with Goldwater-Nichols.
The last presenter was Captain Mark Hagerott who in my opinion, raised the most important question of the panel and something I know I will be thinking about long after the conference is over. His presentation focused on the necessity to avoid human capital consequences during the drawdown of fiscal resources. The example of the Navy’s reduced manning initiative on navy ships and the tremendous costs associated with the consequences of lower maintenance quality of the fleet represents an early lesson learned that manpower decisions for cost savings purposes can ultimately represent a false economy when we get our human capital decisions wrong in the name of budget efficiency. One of the more interesting questions raised in this discussion was how could certain jobs in the Navy that currently require a great number of hours training be turned into a job that is more comparable to a video game so that an 18 or 19 year old sailor familiar with his x-box joystick can essentially plug-and-play into a task driven by technology and perform the job that is currently done by a sailor much more experienced and currently requires a much greater level of training currently. In other words, cutting costs can also be achieved by simply changing the way a job is done without necessarily removing the job altogether.
This panel was an idea factory that consistently produced good content at a rate too quickly for my pen to keep up. Hopefully good quality audio/video was taken from the panel and USNI/AFCEA will find a way to get the panel discussion online soon. The session was an hour and 15 minutes, and with such a solid group of contributors with innovative ideas, it is well worth the time to view it should the video become available online.