Archive for June, 2012

Navy Lt Kurt Albaugh’s recent piece (“The Return of the Privateers”) at news.usni.org is valuable in the discussion about an old concept made new in response to the challenge of Somali piracy off the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean. The private sector is adapting to new markets. In this case, a private security industry has emerged to address the needs of the private sector’s threat by pirates, especially in that region of the world.

Appropriate terminology is the first step in understanding this issue. Privateers were ships authorized by states to engage in armed conflict against another state’s commerce. Letters of marque were issued by a state to formalize that authorization. They were considered such an integral part of naval warfare that the founding fathers included that specific power for Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. During the War of 1812, for example, the U.S. government with a small navy of approximately sixteen ships at the war’s outset, issue some 500 letters of marque to privateers which, subsequently, captured more than 1,300 British prizes (see Charles Brodine, “The War’s Pervasive Dimensions,” Naval History, June 2012). Letters of marque were later issued by the independent Republic of Texas in the 1830s and the Confederate States of American during the Civil War. The Treaty of Paris (1856) (see “Contracts of Marque,” Proceedings, November 2007) ending the Crimean War banned the use of privateers by the war’s combatants. The U.S. later signed the Hague Convention of 1907 signaling its own end to the use of privateers.

Consequently, the term “privateer” is not an entirely accurate reflection of today’s emerging maritime security industry since the companies are a) not hired largely by states and b) not engaged to seek out and capture or destroy enemy commerce. The current termed that has gained acceptance is “PCASP” – Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel. This includes both the armed guards hired on board ships and as well as a subset of the maritime security industry.

The proposed Convoy Escort Programme, a private naval force underwritten by Lloyds, despite indications otherwise in the past several years appears poised to finally materialize. This concept is not new. Since 2007, when piracy began to emerge as a threat to shipping at first in the Gulf of Aden, several firms have claimed they had or intended to buy ships. While the former Blackwater was the first to produce a ship – the former NOAA ship McArthur – it arrived in the Red Sea without any clients and the ship never provided protection to commercial clients as intended. Other firms, including U.S. and French companies, made bold assertions that they had many boats at the ready, but upon investigation none existed and the stories rapidly changed. (see “Private Security Companies and Piracy,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, March 2009). Several companies have, however, had platforms in the region including Protection Vessels International (PVI) which has operated three escort boats on a consistent basis. Other firms have also emerged providing logistics platforms such as “floatels” (floating hotels).

The response to piracy has included both state navies and a far more robust response from the shipping industry including improvements to Best Management Practices as well as the reluctant acceptances of on-board armed guards. State navies have existed for thousands of years and control of the seas were determined by battles such as Salamis between the various Greek city-states and the Persian Empire or Actium between the competing Roman and Egyptian forces. But, on occasion, usually out of necessity, states and shipping companies (such as the East India Company) have turned to the private sector, right or wrong, to supplement their numbers or address other shortcomings.

Lt. Albaugh piece echoes the fundamental questions of accountability, rules of engagement (or in PCASP parlance “use of force”), and interests of the state – or more appropriately the shipping companies, are important. These and other questions are being debated but the answers are by no means set. Finally, the market itself may change as radically as it has in the past five or six years.

With some 20,000 ship transits in the Gulf of Aden annually, the opportunities for maritime security companies seemed encouraging, but the actual number of vulnerable ships to pirates is far less depending on the speed and ship structures which are both preventative to most attacks. Six years ago, only six to twelve firms offer armed maritime security guards (according to my co-editor on “Maritime Private Security”). Today the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) has over 120 firms as members. Some estimates suggest the number of firms is higher than 200. Arguably not every firm has the same capability, offers the same services, or is as robust as others. Some may simply be an individual through whom other contracts and resumes are processed. The number of Gulf of Aden transits will not markedly increase. With the proliferation of PCASPs and the decreased number of successful attacks (primarily due to armed guards), it is possible that if these conditions hold the market in that region has been saturated, that opportunities with it will diminish and marginal PCASPs with no other choice than the leave the market or to find other markets, should they arise, such as the Gulf of Guinea.

Lieutenant Commander Claude Berube is the co-editor of “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century” (Routledge, 2012). His articles about private security as sea have appeared since 2007 in Orbis, Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Washington Times, Forbes.com, and Naval Institute Proceedings. He serves on the Editorial Board of Proceedings.



This is the final installment in my series of posts on William Sims and what his discovery and development of continuous aim fire a century ago can tell us about junior leaders and innovation. They are part of the remarks that I delivered at NWDC’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.

PREVIOUS:

 A Junior Officer and a Discovery.

The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation 

Years after serving as the Navy’s Inspector of Target Practice, as World War I raged, Rear Admiral William Sims was sent to England to command all U.S. Naval Forces based there. Promoted to Vice Admiral, he arrived as the U-boat Wolfpacks of the German Navy were decimating the supply lines across the Atlantic. The British Isles were on the verge of starvation. The Royal Navy had been completely ineffective against the German submarines as they massed their battleships to take on the German Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet.

When Admiral Sims arrived he was approached by a group of young Lieutenants who brought him an idea which the Royal Navy had refused to implement. These Lieutenants were the Commanding Officers of a new class of warship called a Destroyer, and they believed that working together they could convoy supplies across the Atlantic and take on the Wolfpacks, swarm against swarm. The Royal Navy’s Admiralty refused to adopt the new tactics. Sims requested more destroyers from the States, and told the Royal Navy that the US would help out if they tried the young JO’s ideas.

The convoy system showed results almost immediately. The convoys were so successful and so vital to the war effort that Sims – the very definition of a Battleship Admiral – cabled back to Washington and told the Department of the Navy to stop building Battleships and put all shipbuilding into Destroyers … all because he listened to a group of Junior Leaders with a good idea.

After the war was over, Sims took over as the President of The Naval War College. He made adjustments to the curriculum and he started running officers through war games. These war games included early work on a war plan that could be used for a conflict in the Pacific. The work that Sims started on the Pacific plan, which became War Plan Orange, suggested that the U.S. Navy should look into investing in a new kind of ship … the aircraft carrier. The Battleship Admiral, who championed Destroyers because of the tactical and operational innovation of junior leaders, turned to the birth of naval aviation because of the ideas of his subordinates at the War College. The Milwaukee Journal wrote that Sims “continued to be a thorn in the fat flesh of the naval hierarchy during his entire career.”

What can we learn from this story?

First, you have to know where your expertise lies. You have to study, and do the deep research needed to understand why things are the way they are. You have to understand that you don’t know everything, and like Sims working with his wardroom mates and his gunner’s mates, you have to work to identify challenges and problems. It’s important to admit that you don’t know everything. Once you admit it, start learning as much as you can. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote, “The study of history lies at foundation of all sound military conclusions and practices.” The key element in his principle is that we have to study and develop our expertise.

Find a way to talk about your idea. Take Sims’ warning to heart though and don’t be insubordinate, don’t write a letter to the President (it’s probably not going to get you anywhere today anyway). However, you need to engage both inside the system and outside the system. Inside the Navy and the Military you have NWDC concept development. You have SUBFOR’s TANG that we heard about from VADM Richardson earlier. And we have some of the resources that Dr. Fall from ONR described. You also have your chain of command. You can submit changes to TTP’s and manuals, NATOPS changes, or write white papers to submit up the chain. Outside of the lifelines there are also options. Write an article for USNI’s Proceedings or write up your idea for one of the online publications like USNI Blog, Small Wars Journal, Information Dissemination, or the Next War Blog at the Center for International Maritime Security. We can also engage with the community professional organizations like Naval Helicopter Association, Tailhook, or the Surface Navy Association.

Third, find something you believe in and demonstrate your own grit. You have to want to do this. This isn’t a fast or sure way to a fitrep or an eval bullet. This isn’t necessarily going to get you another ribbon for your chest candy. This is for the combat effectiveness of the Service. This is about professionalism. You have to be willing to spend 2 years writing 13 reports that everyone appears to be ignoring. You have to be willing to invest the time and energy and hard work needed to see your idea through. Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian, “Don’t expect to be thanked, by the way, the life of an oppositionist is supposed to be difficult.”

Finally, we all need to learn to listen. This is especially true as we become more senior. Today we may be the junior leaders, but that means tomorrow some of us will be the mid-grade leaders, and in the future some of us will be the senior leaders of the Navy. Sims is proof that when you remember it’s not about you but instead it’s about the idea and about the Service, you can continue to innovate as you are promoted. However, as a senior officer or senior enlisted it takes more listening and more encouraging of your subordinates, because they’re likely to have the next great idea…like convoys or aircraft carriers. Having senior leaders that listen, and who become the champions of the great ideas of their subordinates, is just as vital as having junior personnel with innovative ideas.

There’s a reason why the title of my last slide says “Lessons Observed.” These lessons are just ideas that I’ve pulled from this story. William Sims offers us all a great example to learn from. However, whether or not these observations actually become lessons learned … that’s up to you.

The author would like to thank VADM Daly, Bill Miller, and Mary Ripley from USNI for encouraging his involvement with the NWDC conference.



The news today carried the notice of the passing of actor Frank Cady, aged 96. Frank Cady was best known for playing shopkeep Sam Drucker on the 1960s sitcom “Green Acres”. Mr. Cady looked old then, which was more than 40 years ago. What strikes one who reads the cast list for “Green Acres” is the fact that actors who played three major characters, as well as the composer of the “Green Acres” theme song, were all veterans of World War II. (Warning: clicking on the link will cause that song to run through your head during important meetings and possibly religious services, so do so at your own risk. )

That composer was the late Vic Muzzy, who served in the United States Navy. Actor Alvy Moore, who played Hank Kimball, was a US Marine combat veteran in the South Pacific. And most notably, star Eddie Albert was a Navy salvage officer who experienced the terrible carnage on the beaches of Tarawa. He talked of his experiences in the 1993 History Channel documentary Death Tide at Tarawa. Moore passed away in 1997, Eddie Albert in 2005, and Muzzy in 2009. Frank Cady was the oldest and the longest-lived of them.

These stars are all gone now, as are most of the Hollywood veterans who put their careers on hold to serve our nation. Gone with them is their collective consciousness of service in wartime that made them so very different from those who act and produce what Hollywood makes and sells today. Not every change is for the better.

 

 



There’s a generation gap in our military today. It happens every 20 years or so, of course, as members of younger generations enter the military in greater numbers and older generations retire. Signs include dissonance between the norms and priorities of older, senior leaders and those of younger, junior servicemembers. Today, for example, senior leaders wonder why junior servicemembers are selfish and act entitled, while younger men and women ask why those in leadership positions have lost perspective and don’t understand problems facing younger generations.

Current events and comments support this growing disconnect, as Baby Boomers fill senior leadership positions and retire while Millennials (those born after approximately 1979-1980) flood the lower and middle ranks.

A November 2010 Boston Globe article addressed the generation gap exhibited in both the implementation of DADT and its much-later repeal (1 Nov 2010, “A Generation Gap on ‘Don’t Ask’ Policy,” AP). It’s a quick read, stating what many people currently serving know: to the majority of Generation X and Millennial servicemembers, the sexual preferences of those we serve with just aren’t that big of a deal. And most believed it wouldn’t affect morale or unit readiness negatively. Older servicemembers, however, had/have a harder time with the idea of homosexuals serving in the military. The survey results are posted here.

I saw the generation gap both on active duty and as a reservist. When flying with older pilots, both as a student and later as an instructor, I consistently heard, “Well, I’ve never flown with a woman before.” It happened so often that we would joke about it in the squadron, and I came up with a set of one-liner responses (“Huh, is that right, sir?” gets old). But I never heard it from those my age or younger. Not once. To younger Marines, it didn’t matter. Who cared? They’d worked with women before, and it just wasn’t important. Later, while pregnant for my oldest, I flew regularly, and peers and younger pilots thought that flying with a pregnant pilot was either interesting or a non-event, usually seeing it as a chance to get three people in a Cobra at once and make jokes on flight grading sheets like “both of you are now DACM qualified.” But I never heard it called wrong, disgusting, or unsuitable for military service until I wrote about flying while pregnant on this forum.

Which brings up my next point: the Naval Institute’s efforts to engage and attract junior members. Two weeks ago, USNI sent a letter to members stating that the #1 job this year is to “engage young professionals and groom them to pick up the baton for the next generation.” On the USNI website, under “Where We’re Headed,” Objective #3 states that USNI must “increase, broaden, and engage our membership.” It specifically cites a need to “bring more active duty personnel…into the fold” and that “we must pass down USNI’s historical treasures to the next generation. They must be present for that to happen.” They are spot on, and meeting this objective is key to keeping communication lines open between generations so that we can continue to learn and improve the force. Asking around at work and among Navy/Marine Corps friends, I found that while some were familiar with USNI and its work, the majority were not. Of those that were, they generally considered it either out of touch with current servicemembers or an organization catering to retired personnel.

My point? There is a growing generation gap in the military (and the larger American culture), and we need to address it. It happens about every 20 years and it can be transformative. Baby Boomers caused major changes to how America views its wars, wartime leaders, and politicians, and, with Vietnam burned upon the collective consciousness, they brought about broad policy changes to ensure (as much as possible) that we do not find ourselves committed to another war that we either can’t or won’t win. Two decades later, Generation X began entering the military after being raised by single parents and in dual-income households at a higher rate than previous generations. Having grown up with the Feminist Movement, Generation X women were among the first to serve on combat ships and aircraft, and young men and women of this generation joined a military that largely allowed them to serve together.

Millennials are establishing themselves as the most tolerant generation on record. They are about 50% larger than Generation X, nearly as numerous as Baby Boomers. As a result of the cultural swings of the 80s and 90s, Millennials have different priorities, norms, and work/life expectations than Baby Boomers or even Generation X. Generation X and Millennials grew up in an America where women could fly and serve on nearly any aircraft or ship; where homosexuality was not something to hide or punish; where women began to graduate from college at higher rates than men; where their parents both worked full-time; and where (I’m going to use the “D” word here) diversity among Americans reached new heights.

With a looming budget crisis and after over a decade of conflict, we as a military must not alienate quality members of younger generations. Career paths, retention policies, and combat restrictions that worked 20 years ago may not work well now to attract and keep the best and brightest of younger generations. What constitutes combat has changed, our enemies have changed, and the servicemen and -women who fight our wars have changed. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the changing demographics of the family, especially the military family. The generation gap has forever altered the idea of what a family is and how it works. Considering that family reasons are the top ones given by those leaving the Navy and Marine Corps, it’s something we must pay attention to.

Some last thoughts on the generation gap and our need to ensure the services attract the best women and men 10, 20, 30 years from now:

–We need to keep an open mind when hearing complaints from other generations. It takes courage to speak up, and those doing so often don’t unless they feel it is worth the risk.

–We need to look closely at the demographics and what they tell us. Women comprise more than half of all college graduates. In stark contrast with the white-male majority in the military, the majority of all births in America are now minorities. The family consisting of a male breadwinner with a supportive wife and kids at home is a small and shrinking minority among families, most of which are headed by dual-income couples. Millennials and Generation Xers believe family is more important than work. These trends are also continuing to grow; this isn’t a blip on the social radar.

–As college degrees become more common and earning one means less competitively, more people seek graduate degrees to stand out. The average military career path makes it hard to fit a college or graduate degree in, and while some manage to do it, we need to look at ways to allow continuing education—which should be a priority—for more servicemembers.

–We must continue to monitor the retention numbers and pay close attention to the reasons given by those leaving at the 6-10 year marks; family time and the inability to achieve a balance between a military career and the demands of a family top the list of reasons why people leave the service.

–None of us are unbiased. I am a product of my experiences, as is every one of us, and those experiences are valid and deserve respect. Dismissing ideas from junior servicemembers because they are different is going to hurt us more in the long run. A decade, two decades from now, this military will be led by those midgrade and junior officers and enlisted members, and we need to do the best we can to set them up for success in every form.

Either way, one day the younger generation will have the reins, and we owe it to ourselves and them to get more creative now.



The lead ship of the magnificent Iowa-class battleships, the fastest and most advanced gun ships every to put to sea, has arrived at her new home, Berth 87 in San Pedro, opposite the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, itself newly renovated.

Iowa (BB-61) was saved from her Suisun Bay purgatory, and the cutting torch, and will be open for visitors on 7 July. The veteran of World War II and Korea was recommissioned in 1984, and suffered the tragic explosion in Turret 2 in 1989, which killed 47 sailors.

She now is the last of the four of her namesake class to be preserved, with New Jersey (BB-62) in Camden NJ, Wisconsin (BB-64 and Scott’s beloved Big Badger Boat!) in Norfolk, VA, and Missouri (BB-63) at Pearl Harbor, near Arizona (BB-39), forever in her watery depths at Berth F-7.

As a museum battleship, Iowa joins her sisters, and USS Massachusetts (BB-59) at Fall River MA, and USS Alabama (BB-60) in Mobile Bay, the two surviving South Dakotas, and the Grand Dame of US battlewagons, the venerable USS Texas (BB-35) at Galveston, TX. (Texas is the lone second-generation Dreadnought still extant, and saw service in both World Wars following her commissioning in 1914.)

Iowa began her journey from the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay in October 2011, to Richmond CA to repair and restore, scrape and paint, and replace rotted teak decks that are the inevitable result of twenty years’ time at the mercy of the elements. She also received the sprucing befitting a lady whom will be in the public eye. From there, she passed under the Golden Gate one last time late in May, and arrived off Los Angeles on Friday.

Many thanks to all those folks whose pictures I used in this post.

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As Mr. Robert Evans points out, I am guilty of a most egregious omission. USS North Carolina (BB-55) is preserved beautifully in Wilmington NC. Shame on me for missing the “Showboat”. Especially since it was a favorite destination during my two tours at Lejeune!!!



This is the second installment in my series of posts on William Sims and what his discovery and development of continuous aim fire a century ago can tell us about junior leaders and innovation. They are part of the remarks that I delivered at NWDC’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.

PREVIOUS: A Junior Officer and a Discovery.

Recently Jonah Lehrer, a writer for Wired and other magazines, wrote a book about the developing field of science that studies creativity and innovation titled Imagine: How Creativity Works. In his book, Lehrer tells us that researchers have “discovered that the ability to stick with it – the technical name for this trait is grit – is one of the most important predictors of success.” Whether talking about Bob Dylan taking years to get a song just right in order for it to become a classic, or J.K. Rowling sending her kids book about a wizard school to 12 publishers before it was accepted and we all got to read Harry Potter, that tenacity, never-give-up, never-say-die attitude is necessary for true creative or innovative success.

Lieutenant William Sims had plenty of grit. Even though he had heard nothing from Washington he continued to write reports to the Bureau, updating his findings, refining the techniques, and suggesting new tactics that could be developed. He still heard no response. Sims knew what was happening…he knew that the Bureau was ignoring him because he was simply a Lieutenant, and one that was deployed at that. He wasn’t even an expert on the Bureau’s staff. Sims wrote to a friend and fellow officer:

“With every fibre of my being I loathe indirection and shiftiness, and where it occurs in high place, and is used to save face at the expense of the vital interests of our great service (in which silly people place such a child-like trust), I want that man’s blood and I will have it no matter what it costs me personally.”

While Sims respected those who were senior to him, rank alone didn’t seem to impress him. Navy Staffs that stood on bureaucracy and focused on building bullets for their own fitness reports over the combat effectiveness of operating forces were his enemy. He apparently felt pretty strongly about it.

I’d say that Sims certainly had true grit in this case. He continued writing reports. However, his language became more dramatic as he pointed out the risks involved in ignoring the TTP’s he was developing. Besides sending his reports to the Bureau he began to send them to battleship Captains across the Fleet, on his own initiative. He got his Commanding Officer to endorse the reports, and the Admiral who headed the Asiatic Squadron on China Station. They had seen TERRIBLE and KENTUCKY in action and couldn’t deny the success.

As word spread in the Fleet the Bureau realized that they needed to do something. Captains were writing messages back to headquarters and asking questions. They developed a test to prove that continuous-aim-fire didn’t work. After the test, they wrote a report that said Sims’ claims were a mathematical impossibility. However, they conducted the test without making the modifications Sims suggested to the guns, and they completed the test on land…for a gunnery practice designed for a rolling ship. The Bureau of Ordnance submitted their report that continuous-aim-fire was impossible. Belief in Sims’ claims evaporated overnight.

Sims had submitted 13 reports in all, over the span of two years, each one continually improving his method and technique. When he heard that the Bureau of Ordnance had completed a test and proved that what he claimed was impossible, he finally had enough. He knew that if the United States Navy went up against a force that was using continuous aim fire it would be decimated. Destruction of the fleet would open up the U.S. coast to invasion, as the Brits had done in the War of 1812 (a war that was roughly as distant to him as World War I is to us). He believed that the nation’s security depended on his success.

Lieutenant William Sims did something that he later characterized as “the rankest kind of insubordination.” He wrote a letter to the President.

President Roosevelt had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. He was a navalist in the truest sense of the word. He was the author of the seminal work “The Naval War of 1812” and friends with Alfred Thayer Mahan. He would become the inventor and deployer of The Great White Fleet. As Presidents sometimes did a century ago, he actually read the letter that the young Lieutenant on China Station sent him, and he was shocked. If Sims was right and continuous-aim-fire worked, then he was also right that it was an issue of the highest importance.

Roosevelt had ordered a gunnery exercise in order to demonstrate the existing state of naval skill. The results were worse than anyone predicted. Five ships from the Atlantic Fleet each fired for five minutes at a former light-ship, at a range of about a mile. After 25 minutes of firing, two shells had gone through the light-ship’s sails and none had struck the ship itself. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to bring Sims back from China Station, saying: “Give him entire charge of target practice for eighteen months; do exactly as he says. If he does not accomplish anything in that time, cut off his head and try someone else.”

Lieutenant Sims returned to the United States and assumed the responsibilities of the U.S. Navy’s “Inspector of Target Practice.” He held the position for six and a half years. He was given a small staff of two junior Lieutenants and was tasked with revolutionizing naval gunnery. Three Lieutenants, change the world…no sweat.

Sims re-circulated his reports to the Fleet and instituted annual practice requirements for gunnery. He didn’t make his method of continuous aim fire mandatory, he simply sent out the reports for gunnery officers to read. He established a yearly fleet wide gunnery competition. Every ship in the Navy would compete, and could use any system or technique that they wanted. They were all welcome to start with continuous aim fire. The winning ship would be identified to the Navy and the country, and the winning gunnery officer was responsible for writing a report on his TTPs. Each year, the gunnery officers across the Fleet would pour over that report, and the reports that came before, and make constant refinements and adjustments to gunnery TTP’s. They sent out their own reports out and wrote articles for the Naval Institute’s place for disruptive thinking, the journal Proceedings.The winning ship each year received a pennant that they could fly on their yardarm, a pennant with an E on it for gunnery excellence. This was the birth of “The Battle E.”

Sims was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and he and his assistants Lieutenants Ridley McLean and Powers Symington were in constant demand to visit the ships of the Fleet. Here you can see an invitation to “The Gun Doctor” and his assistant’s “Ping” and “Pong” to visit the wardroom of the USS Missouri for a “silent dinner,” which was like a Dining-In, with rules like Vegas: what happened at a silent dinner stayed at a silent dinner.Toward the end of Sims’ years leading the gunnery revolution, one gunner on the winning ship made fifteen hits in one minute at a target 75 by 25 feet at the same range as the test ordered by President Roosevelt years before; half of the hits were in a bull’s eye 50 inches square.

The US Navy rapidly overtook the Royal Navy as the greatest gunners in the world…and it wasn’t until the US adopted continuous-aim-fire that the Brits realized that their own Gritty revolutionary Percy Scott had been onto something all that time, and they followed the American TTPs that had been developed from watching Scott. Even Admiral Newton Mason, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, admitted “The renaissance in gunnery which came about chiefly through the instrumentality of Commander Sims, has … led to great improvements in ordnance.” In the Fleet Lieutenant Commander Sims became known as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”

NEXT: Expertise, Voice, Grit, and Listening…A Look At The Possible.



Join us Sunday, 10 June, at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Midrats 10 June 12 :Episode 127: “Disruption, Disfunction and Leadership” on Blog Talk Radio, a show that poses some interesting questions:

What is a “crisis in leadership?

In an organization that prizes the Type-A personality that takes risk combined with a strong intellect – yet at the same times asks from it silence and order – what happens when each end loses faith and trust in the other?

Our guest for the full hour will be Peter Munson, Marine officer, KC-130 aircraft commander, Middle East specialist, author, and editor of Small Wars Journal.

As a starting point, we will use his article in SWJ, Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem:

“Today’s military is facing a significant crisis. … The rank and file of the military who have made or witnessed the massive efforts and sacrifices of the past decade, and who have seen so very little in the way of satisfying results in return, … They are disappointed by the failures of leadership and imagination that have yielded toxic commands, a rash of firings in some services, and a breach of trust with our most vulnerable service members. They wonder about the future of the weapons systems that support and defend them as they read tales of acquisition woe. They question the growing focus on bureaucratic minutiae. They question how they can be trusted so completely in a combat environment, but are treated as children in garrison. They wonder how a military system that prides itself on justice will reward the generals that have presided over failure, … while at the same time eroding the autonomy and discretion of junior commanders with a creeping campaign of bureaucratic centralization.

These are symptoms of a malaise facing the military, of an ossified and decadent institutional culture and a bloated bureaucracy that has grown a profusion of power centers that jealously guard their territory and their budget.”

A crisis or a return to the old “garrison mentality” that follows all wars? A return to a system that punishes warriors and rewards “toadies” who are all “book?”

Seen the movie, “Heartbreak Ridge?” – remember the major out to get Gunny Highway? He’s one of “role models” we’ll be talking about.

I suspect that John Boyd’s name will come up.

Can’t make the show? Pick it up later at Midrats on Blog Talk Radio or from Midrats on iTunes



First, congratulations to the graduates of the various programs offered by the Marine Corps University who were honored on 6 June. You are an impressive group, you mid-career Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Army officers, along with the remarkable group of foreign military students from Afghanistan to Ukraine who were your classmates.

For those of you who could not attend this ceremony, part of the MCU is the Command and Staff College (CSC) which enrolls Marine/AF/Army majors and Navy/Coast Guard Lieutenant Commanders who have taken on the challenge of a military career.*

If not all future generals or admirals, these CSC grads will be part of that core around which forms the U.S. military. And, yes, I know that there are those other Command and Staff schools who also annually send a couple of hundred of graduates out into the field for field commands but I was at this graduation.

For the graduates, a career milestone has been checked off. The first PME has been fulfilled.

Of the 204 or so 2012 graduates of the CSC about 164 received Masters of Military Science degrees. Unknowing civilians may scoff at such a degree, noting its apparent lack of usefulness in their civilian world.

That civilian world misses the point.

You want your military to have read Clausewitz, to have walked the fields of Gettysburg, to have studied logistics and read John Boyd, because that is the world of the military professional.

You want that hard-charging young major or LtCol to draw on more than just personal experience when the nation’s defense is in his or her hands.

So, again, congratulations to the grads. And a further congratulations to the American people. You should take pride that in the service of your country are such amazing young people.

Second, let me talk about the graduation speech for the class of 2012. The Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps delivered it.

It was short as such things go, but a couple of things struck me. In the absence of a transcript, you will have to live with my recollection (and I was not taking notes).

General Dunford pointed out that for some time there were few changes in the way in which the Marines went to war. He noted that when he entered the Corps, he was issued the same “cold weather gear” that his father had used in the Korean War (“not like the gear my father used, but the same gear”) and that a platoon leader in Korea or Vietnam would not have had difficulty, if magically transported to the future, with the tactics first employed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He then noted in past few years that great changes have occurred in the ways of war. Changes such that a Marine who fought in Afghanistan 6 years ago would not find things the same – there had been such a rapid revolution in tactics and equipment that the American battlefield was off in a new direction. A platoon once responsible for a limited front, now has coverage of a vastly larger area. Better communications, better equipment, and (I assume) better Marines allow such an expansion of responsibility.

So, Lesson #1: “Things change”

Then the challenge – he had a couple of good yarns about things that seemed, well, “unnecessary” at the time they occurred. He spoke of an effort he led, as a young colonel, to assess the threat to and protection of various key national infrastructure assets – ports and bridges and highways and the like – which his boss did not really appreciate the need for, at least in early 2001.

He also spoke of a paper written by a young officer that addressed the threat of “improvised explosive devices (IEDs or roadside bombs)” and suggested a look at the South African response to such weapons. All of which ultimately led to the MRAP vehicle. The paper was written in 1996 by an officer taking a “what if?” look at things.

Things change. You never know exactly how, so you need to be flexible and ready.

So, Lesson 2: “Challenge the conventional thinking.”

We no longer line up in box formations and attack in broad fronts. The aircraft is not just used for spotting targets. Submarines are not interesting novelties. Anti-ballistic missile systems can work. OODA.

Revolutions in military affairs were not led by assuming things have to be as they have been.

 I don’t know how many of the graduates were listening to the speech.

I can’t remember a single line of any graduation speech I have ever heard because, well, I had other things on my mind. Like getting the heck out of there.

But, if they were listening they should have heard the warning order implied in the softly delivered speech, which I took to be:

We do not know what you will face in the future, We only know that you will need to use your education and experience to face those challenges that come your way. We have added to your tool kit and trust you to put those tools to good use.

Our national defense is- well – you and your band of brothers in arms.

Be flexible, be ready, be strong.

Because you never know.

 

 

*And FBI/DEA/BATF/DOS and others



On 6 June, I was invited to speak at Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leaders Innovation Symposium. NWDC put on a great event and a lot of good material was presented. You can visit the website and find the slides that went with the presentations, as well as a lot of great reading material like LT Ben Kohlmann’s article on Disruptive Thinkers from Small Wars Journal (Ben also presented) and LT Rob McFall’s call for tactical innovation here at USNI Blog (Rob also spoke immediately following my presentation).

The following is the first section of the remarks that I prepared to deliver to a standing room only crowd of 230+ Junior Officers and Junior Enlisted which gathered at NWDC’s headquarters in Norfolk, and the 200+ that joined us online via DCO. As I said, these are my prepared remarks, so if NWDC posts the video online you’ll surely find differences since I worked from notes rather than reading directly from the page as well as some mistakes. I’ve broken the material into three blog posts. This is the first section which tells about Lieutenant William Sowden Sims’ discovery of continuous aim fire and how he developed his discovery, a new gunnery technique which revolutionized naval warfare. The next post we’ll look at what he did after developing his idea in order to get the Navy to adopt it. Finally we’ll look at what Sims learned during his career about innovation and what we can observe from the history. 

Good afternoon everyone. I’d like to start this afternoon by thanking Admiral Kraft and the team here at NWDC for inviting me to be a part of today’s event. We’ve had a lot of interesting speakers this morning, full of experience and expertise in innovation. I’m not going to be one of them. I’m just here to tell you a story. I’m a Sailor just like you, maybe not as young as some of you anymore, but with the same desire to make my Service better and more effective. The only reason I’m up here is that I’ve done a little research and I’ve got a story to tell you about a Junior Leader who changed the USN from his stateroom on a ship while deployed in the Pacific.

This is a picture of Vice Admiral William Sowden Sims. William Sims wasn’t always a Vice Admiral though. In 1900 he was a Lieutenant, fresh off staff duty in Europe as an intelligence officer. He had orders to China Station to join the U.S. Navy’s newest and most powerful battleship, the USS KENTUCKY. He arrived aboard the battleship having studied the early Dreadnaught battleships of Europe and the gunnery practices of both potential allies and potential adversaries alike.

Sims checked onboard and discovered that the Navy’s “newest and most powerful” may have been new, but it certainly wasn’t powerful. There were a number of problems with the ship. The hull was armored under the waterline, but the sides and gun turrets were open and un-protected. The gundecks were so low to the waterline that when the ship was fully loaded and took heavy seas water would pour into the turrets. And there was no separation of the magazines and the weatherdecks and gundecks, so a hit from an enemy shell could directly access the magazines.

Sims was incensed. He set about recording the deficiencies. In a letter to a friend he wrote: “The Kentucky is not a battleship at all. She is the worst crime in naval construction ever perpetrated by the white race.” 

Sims was a man who had strong opinions. However, he was part of KENTUCKY’S crew, and he couldn’t really change the design of the ship while they were on China Station. So, as he earned his qualifications and began standing his bridge watches, he looked for a way to make the ship better through what today we call tactics, techniques, and procedures or TTP. It was while steaming through the South China Sea and along the coastal cities of China that he met a man from the British Royal Navy who would serve as an inspiration.

Percy Scott was a Captain in 1900, and the CO of the HMS TERRIBLE. Scott was a bit of a pariah, and part of the reason he was on China Station was because of a longstanding feud that he had with an Admiral who was on shore duty back in the home islands. China was as far away from England as they could send him. Scott had developed something that he called “continuous aim fire” and it was a TTP that would revolutionize naval warfare, but he couldn’t get anyone to catch on that it was important.

Gunnery hadn’t changed much since the days of USS Constitution battling it out with the British frigates in the War of 1812. The gun director would estimate the distance to the enemy ship, set the elevation of the gun, and then each time the ship rolled he tried to time the firing so that the shell would hit the enemy. The technique was the reason why most sea battles in the age of sail took place at very close range. This was neither a very accurate way to shoot, nor a very rapid way to engage the enemy.

Scott re-geared the elevation gear on his heavy guns and added new telescopic sights. The new gearing allowed the gun directors to move the gun continually as the ship rolled, and the new sights allowed them to keep the weapon aimed directly at the enemy ship. This meant that gun crews could fire as fast as they could reload.

Aboard KENTUCKY, LT Sims watched the TERRIBLE conduct gunnery practice and he realized this new technique would change naval warfare. A battleship using continuous aim fire could take on an entire squadron of enemy that wasn’t. Accuracy increased dramatically and the rate of fire could quadruple, which resulted in hit rates that increased over 1000% on some ships. Sims immediately sent a report back to the Bureau of Ordnance in Washington, D.C.

Sims befriended Scott, and learned exactly how the Brits were accomplishing their dramatic results. He set about modifying the gear on KENTUCKY and teaching his gunners the new techniques. Soon, KENTUCKY was performing nearly at the same level as TERRIBLE. Sims wrote another report, detailing KENTUCKY’s experience with continuous aim fire, outlining how to modify American guns, and laying out the procedures to be used. Sims waited. And he waited. And he waited. He heard nothing.

His reports arrived at the Bureau of Ordnance at the Washington Navy Yard. They were read, but the claims of the young Lieutenant out on China Station were outlandish and unbelievable. The reports were filed away in a basement file cabinet and were forgotten. The Bureau of Ordnance had developed the procedures that were in use throughout the Fleet and had designed the guns that were mounted on American Battleships. American hardware and American Sailors were the best in the world, they told themselves. Nobody even considered “what if” the reports were true…they simply couldn’t be. Silly Lieutenant.

NEXT: The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation



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