Archive for October, 2013
Time is a limited resource for leaders. While many leaders are passionate about leader development, they don’t always have time to study for self-development or plan development sessions where participants sit around and discuss an article, book or other topic. Both avenues of development are easily disrupted by competing priorities. Social media and mobile technology platforms are great resources for leaders to interact with others and build relationships that will lead to learning and development. One platform that works well is Twitter. The capabilities of Twitter combined with mobile platforms allow both self-development and leader-led professional discussions to take place in any location, at any time, and not be restrained by time and location. This post is about using Twitter for self-development and leading professional discussions as part of a leader development program.
Twitter 101 (Skip ahead to Leader Development if you are familiar with PLNs, self-development and Twitter)
Twitter is one resource that leaders can use for learning by developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner connects and interacts with for the purpose of learning. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge(Click here for a good blog about PLNs) .The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. This network is relatively easy to set up over Twitter and is a simple and powerful way to both self-develop and develop others. Twitter can be a great source of information if you know how to search for and evaluate the sources. There is a wide variety of information available on Twitter; for example, almost every magazine or professional publication posts on Twitter.
People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. The learner simply searches for the topic or, if they know a hashtag associated with the subject, they can use that as the terms for the search (see screenshots below). For example, one of the screen shots below shows a search for “Land Warfare” and the results delivered range from various individuals to “Doctrine Man”, to ”Pakistan Defence”.
Once the results are delivered learners can sort through the posts and evaluate the information. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all the other tweets marked with that keyword. Many of these posts will have links to blogs or articles that contain information the learner is looking for. As the learner finds reliable posts, they can follow the user and build their PLN ( It is also interesting to see who the users you are following, follow as well.) One way to evaluate whether a user on Twitter is credible is by the number of follows and followers they have. Learners can also check out previous tweets by the source, which is another way to evaluate if the source is credible or not. The reporters and other contributors that work for most major news organizations post to Twitter as well and can be a good addition to a PLN.
Leader Development Program
Twitter is a great way to share information to develop others. Leaders connect with their subordinates over Twitter and share relevant content with a hashtag. Twitter can also be used for “Twitter Chats” . Twitter chats are chats that occur using a hashtag. Instead of tweeting one-on-one learners are now engaged in a conversation with many people around a particular topic or piece of content such as an article or blog post. Pictures and other media can be used as well to add more context to discussions. Twitter chats lets a group maximize their time on Twitter and participate in existing conversations when it is convenient for them. Twitter chats can take place over extended periods, and from any location, extending learning and development well beyond the walls of an office, building, or other location commonly used for these sessions. This capability lengthens the period of engagement and can lead to higher quality discussions, which might not be attainable in a normal face-to-face professional development session that is constrained by time and location (a leader development session scheduled from 1-2pm in a conference room). There are also tools available, like Storify for example, that can help learners manage and archive the chats for later reference. Through professional discussion, leaders can get to know their subordinates better and evaluate their level of competence, which can help build trust in an organization.
Leaders develop subordinates by creating experiences. Professional discussion is one of those experiences. It canimprove learning and leader development across an organization. When time is a limited resource, social media is an excellent and simple way to engage subordinates in professional discussion.
Deckplate innovation is receiving unprecedented attention these days, as well as its fair share of sniping from the skeptical sidelines. Innovation is indeed nothing new under the sun, and its traditional obstacles are no less prohibitive than they ever have been. What is new is the unprecedented speed at which ideas can promulgate through modern social media. The controlled brainstorming or “ideation” drive has been compared to panning for gold, but the internet has allowed us to increase the size of our pan.
In his recent post about the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum, BJ Armstrong urged us to publish and promote our ideas to those empowered to act on them; to “influence the influencers,” so to speak. Execution is, of course, the graveyard of good ideas; for our ideas to become results they must find the backing of some influential executive or “principal.” The “pitch” to a receptive principal is the most sensitive stage of an embryonic idea’s lifespan. Having made no small number of failed pitches (and a few that didn’t fail), I’ve identified a few common themes to rejection. For those potential innovators getting ready to make the pitch, please consider the following as you prepare:
Know Thyself: Hazards to Credibility
Old ideas. It’s often the case that your idea has been tried before and failed. It’s not necessary that an idea be new for it to be good—many failed innovations suffered from flawed executions, and are worth attacking again with a better plan. The important thing is that you do your homework to understand why the idea failed and what should be done differently before you try to revive it. If you don’t know until mid-pitch that your brilliant idea was tried and failed twenty years ago, then your innovation is dead on arrival.
Lacking solutions. If you’ve identified a problem but haven’t identified a potential solution, then you’ve really just filed a complaint. Unfortunately, the complete solution might be beyond your level of expertise, and it’s for this reason that many potential innovations die at this stage. Don’t let a lack of expertise paralyze you—great innovations rarely resemble their instigators’ original vision. This is a rare situation where effort can actually be more important than the immediate results—what you’re doing here is getting the process started.
Emotion. It’s rare that potential solutions are not accompanied with some degree of frustration at the original problem or the myopic organization that fails to perceive it. Frustration, skepticism, and resentment are all common sentiments among smart people in large bureaucracies—left unchecked, they can fester into bitterness, and nobody wants to listen to another bitter JO. It’s essential that you prevent emotions from bleeding into your pitch, and it can happen to either written or verbal communication. If you suspect that your passions may be too evident, it might be a good idea to run your presentation by a trusted mentor first.
What about enthusiasm? Keep it under control; remain stoical and professional if you want to be taken seriously. Principals are interested in facts. It’s good to communicate conviction, but too much enthusiasm may instead communicate naiveté, which hurts your case and calls your objectivity into question. Scott Adams beautifully dismissed the usefulness of enthusiasm in a recent editorial: “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Know Thine Enemy: Obstacles to Acceptance
Admitting to the problem. Your principal is familiar with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He or she has probably endured a career’s worth of ambitious Good Idea Fairies and gimmicks, and understands that failed executions are worse than leaving well enough alone. If a system is in place, then somebody thinks it is working, and sometimes that may be enough for your principal—effective or not, if we perform according to expectations we will be left alone to accomplish our real mission.
Finite resources. Funding is the obvious obstacle, but may not be the most difficult. Your principal has limited time and limited political capital, and must carefully budget both to do their job. You have to prove not only that your problem is indeed worth solving, but that it is more important than the other problems they’re going to have to divert resources away from. You have to prove that solving it is their job—they’re not in the business of taking on other people’s problems.
The pocket veto. This is how bureaucracies insidiously devour innovation. Rather than overtly rejecting your proposal at risk of appearing unconcerned with your problem, some principals may agree to “take it into consideration” or to “forward it along” with no real commitment to execution. Since you’re not really in a position to demand commitment, the only thing you can do is be persistent. No great idea ever caught on without a lot of hard work and follow-through.
You may have to seek the attention of other principals– be careful. It’s easy to stray into insubordination this way, but if you tailor your message carefully, your immediate chain of command may be relieved that you would seek resolution elsewhere (depending on the problem). The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to communicate your intentions aggressively. Then there is always the option to write and publish, in fact it has never been easier.
You might be wrong.
In all of our fervor over innovation, we sometimes forget that not all new ideas are good. At any given moment there is an infinite quantity of bad ideas floating around, and yours just might be one of them. You might not realize it for years, in fact you may never become convinced, and this is why the bureaucracy isn’t always a bad thing. If the principal refuses to choose your battle, it’s not because they’re an unthinking cog in a stolid machine, it’s because they feel it’s their responsibility to “just say no.” Later on, you might even come around to their point of view.
While persistence is necessary if you ever hope for your idea to catch on, it is also necessary that you be willing to move on at some point if it really is a non-starter. As usual, brutal self-honesty is in order, with an eye to improving for the next attempt. Other battles need fighting, and we need your innovation.
As we continue through our naval history journey, keep in mind that for much of recorded history, one of the only other non-manpowered methods of propulsion on the high seas was wind. Raises the obvious question of what do when the wind dies. Today we discuss a piece of equipment called a “sea anchor” and how the most famous ship in the U.S. Navy worked to solve the problem of no wind during the War of 1812.
Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.
Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.
Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.
I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.
So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.
Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.
I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.
One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.
It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:
Implementation is not the goal. Goal is to INFLUENCE the implementers. #DEF2013
— Michael Bob Starr (@mbobstarr) October 14, 2013
So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”
So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.
I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.
The Pacific Campaign of World War II was the greatest naval war ever seen. The names of Chester Nimitz, “Bull” Halsey, Arleigh Burke, and nearly countless others will ring through history for generations. These naval leaders were so great in part because they were incredibly aggressive and willing to take the risks necessary to sail directly into harm’s way and face a peer – if not superior – adversary at sea. Since winning WWII, the Navy has not been seriously challenged at sea, so there has been no need to take great risk for the potential of great gain. This has resulted in the aggressive and tenacious culture necessary to confront a peer or near peer adversary gradually dwindling. That void has been filled with the need to continuously mitigate risk, and this culture has expanded far beyond tactical risk taking to include taking risks which could adversely affect someone’s career.
The result has been developing a stagnating case of atychiphobia – the fear of failure. This affliction has been taking hold culturally since the conclusion of WWII and has now spread to virtually uncontrollable levels. The current system does not give any permission to fail. Not even a little. This removes a valuable learning mechanism from the professional development of leaders. The emphasis placed on leadership development from the earliest stages of training focuses on preventing mistakes and risk mitigation. Risk is too often associated with recklessness. While aggressiveness and calculated risk taking can be necessary to win a conflict, recklessness has no place on the battlefield. Reckless leaders may succeed in the short term through sheer chance, but recklessness will ultimately bring failure throughout sustained operations. Properly mitigating risk is essential to good operations, but when it becomes the mantra of an entire career, or worse, that of an entire organization, it quenches virtually any chance of professional invention or innovation.
Learning Instead of Failing
History has many examples of failure being essential to learning. Thomas Edison’s quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” referencing his repeated attempts to invent the light bulb, is quoted much more extensively. But when discussing leadership development, Mark Twain probably described it better when he said that “good judgment is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgment.” So many great minds have proclaimed that they have learned more through failure than success. The most robust professional development does not come through repeated success but through the proper recovery after failure. Organizations and individuals who fear failure to debilitating levels cannot learn or learn at rates so slow that they effectively stagnate and are surpassed by ones who are willing to fail, learn, and adapt.
What does failing even mean? Is it not getting the specific results that were expected? Is it results which have an adverse effect on an individual or an organization? Is it adverse effects which result in the termination of an individual or organization? There are many degrees of what people refer to as failure, but the professional view within the Navy tends toward the extreme that anything which is not perfect must be a failure. A false claim has been made that this impossibly high standard drives everyone to strive for perfection, and as a result moves the organization forward. This is illogical. True perfection is impossible, so the only alternative to avoiding failure and adversely affecting a career is to generate the illusion of perfection. To have the illusion of perfection, one does not have to accomplish great or even good tasks. All they must do is avoid negative marks on their record. This directly drives an apprehension to doing anything and is a perfect recipe for stagnation. This removes all chance of the inventiveness and creativity necessary to move an organization forward.
Sorting Instead of Failing
Failure is viewed as a very strong word with clearly negative connotations. No one wants to be a failure, but is not being selected for the next milestone on a certain career path always truly failing? Can this not simply be finding one of the things that do not work? Hopefully it does not take 10,000 attempts to find the career that someone is best suited for, but failing can be a healthy part of the process. Everyone cannot be good at everything, but virtually everyone is good at something. The only way to know is to try something and see if it works out. If it does not then it is time to try something else. Someone who is not suited for a particular job within the Navy is most likely not a bad person, they have just not found what they excel at. Instead of a failure, it should be viewed as an opportunity to try and find what fits.
If no one takes risks and everyone just shoots for the average, it becomes virtually impossible to determine who is good at what. The sorting function is unable to perform as necessary. Through the selection process bad commanders will slip through and potentially good commanders will not be recognized. There is also the added disadvantage of robbing a potentially good commander of the valuable lessons they may require from some healthy failures in their professional development. These are lessons that they could bring with them to command and as a result make the entire force stronger.
The cultural shift toward atychiphobia was gradual and unintentional. It was not the conscious decision of a few within leadership, but instead the natural tendency of an organization on the top of its field. For over half of a century the United States has had the privilege of possessing the greatest Navy that the world has ever seen, but history has proven time and time again that all glory is fleeting. Aggressive and tenacious leaders wielded a fleet which was fueled by American technological innovation. The present day fleet is full of many technological innovations. One can only hope a lack of aggressive tenacity bred from a fear of failure will not bring a fall from glory.
The incredible power of innovation and entrepreneurship often produces an unfortunate exhaust of innovocabulations. Ideate is one of those words, and made quite a show of force at DEF 2013, hosted graciously at the Chicago Booth School of Business. However, as irritating as a not-words may be, ideate serves DEF2013 core spirit as a fitting metaphor. Ideate is merely the word “idea” verbed. Rather than concentrating as many do on creativity and the idea-creation process, DEF2013’s central thrust was the array of actions necessary to turn ideas into realities.
To foster that concentration on acting on ideas, the conference content was split between presentations and break-out problem-solving sessions.
Pleasant Surprise- Presentation Twitter-Wall:
Although the break-out sessions would be the conventional show-case of attendee collaboration, the integration of the twitter-wall to the presentations was a great way to get the audience engaged. While following the flow of “#DEF2013” commentary on the boards, members of DEF could note particular phrases or points of the speaker, argue amongst themselves, or perhaps just be snarky cough #hipstermahan /cough.
The twitter conversation during presentations was also great track-two way of “meeting” forum attendees as you retweeted poignant observations on presentations, debated points of contention, or collaborated in solutions to problems brought up by speakers and form members alike. In the break sessions, I “met” forum members, though often much of the ice was already broken by conversations we’d already had I’ve long incredibly skeptical of twitter, but I found its use in this context a rather redeeming and collaborative experience!
Oh… and it was nice to get a tweet from Harris Teeter about the Oxford Comma too. As you can tell, some of us may have gotten off topic occasionally. But hey, why buy pizza not worth defending? #pizzafort
Presentations- A Mile Wide and a Mile Deep:
Part of me will never graduate college and will always enjoy a rich lecture. While the twitter was fun, it’s foundation was the excellent presentations being given by our guest speakers. You can find those on YouTube if you missed the live feed. Some of the video is uncut and you have to jump around to find the speeches, but many are well worth it.
Rather than turn this into a book report, I’ll delve into a by-no-means-comprehensive collection of points I thought were worth taking away.
You Don’t Have To Be The Innovator/Doing Your Homework: BJ Armstrong’s The “Gun Doctor” presentation is an instant classic, and has appeared in various forms at several venues. It only gets better with time. That said, a key piece of information from that presentation is that ADM Sims started with an innovation from someone else that he considered worth his effort and attention. The conference closed with a presentation by Phil Nevil of Power2Switch taking a similar angle, how his own ideas failed but he succeeded when he championed the cause of another. In both cases, an important part of championing an idea was doing the research: becoming familiar with both your market and your product. If ADM Sims hadn’t done his research and tests on Percy Scott’s continuous-aim firing, no one would have taken him seriously. Likewise, if people in private industry just “ideate” without doing tests, research, prototyping, and probing their market, they’re not “innovating”, you’re just talking.
Fighting a Loyal Insurgency Inside the System: Stealth, focus, and aggression are not always necessary when innovating, but can be good tools when combatting entrenched interests. Peter Munson’s speech was about how leaf-eaters learn to defend the system for at the detriment of adaption and effectiveness and meat-eaters charge forward at opportunity. In an organization like the DoD, there is a reality to the necessity and purpose for the system and its leaf-eater accolytes. Innovators must carefully pick and choose their battles. This idea was summed up by the delightful peregrine falcon, Dora. Play in the system (like dora moves stealthily through the clouds) and aggressively attack when opportunity arises (poor, stupid duck). If Dora flew around squawking all day and making a mess without that focused action, too many leaf-eaters would be alerted and defend their steaming piles of process.
Building an Army: Human capital is a critical part of innovation, if not the tipping-factor in-and-of itself. Howard R. Lieberman’s presentation hit the hammer hard on the point of building a body of stakeholders and champions to help push your ideas. Don’t start with the question of what the value of your product is, but rather push what value it brings to people. Finding the meaning of your idea for other people is what builds stakeholders, who may be champions for your ideas or loyal foot-soldiers doing the testing and development who will sacrifice their time and resources to see your idea through to the end. Some of those stakeholders may provide top-cover. Many of his stories involved his company president giving him cover for his “special projects” that the board didn’t always agree with. The ground-forces are great for “taking the hill” of an idea, but close-air-support flying high in the chain of command can really change the equation. No man is an island, and no innovation is a one-man mission.
Execution, Execution, Execution: Every presentation was about how action, not creativity, is the germ of real innovation. That said, the second day of private-sector entrepreneur presentations was a wall-to-wall show of how the ability to find market-demand while developing the necessary supply is the center of the innovation universe. The difference between a real-life innovator and the chatting classes is action.
My one real criticism of the conference does lie in this category. I felt like the innovations we discussed were mostly historical or from private industry. We didn’t have a body of speakers who, as members of the military, wrestled with and executed significant innovations. That may be an indictment of our system and whether those people have been able to be truly successful or just that it is easier to success in the business world. Whatever the case may be, there will be plenty of years of DEF to find more live-streaming innovation successes within the life-lines. And yes, before you say it, I know DEF itself is a successful inside-the-lifelines success… but you know what I mean!
Don’t Get Killed in a Good Battle: Dan Moore’s presentation on breakthrough leadership through the lense of Boyd was particularly great because I found myself in a room full of Boydians debating the legacy of Boyd, army tactics, thrust lines, decision-analysis, etc… but while all of this was fascinating, the newest detail to a complete Boyd amateur like me was the disaster of his personal life. “To be or to do,” shouldn’t happen to the detriment of “being” things like a good father, husband, or just healthy individual. If you’re a hard charger and an innovator, the military needs you healthy, not burnt out fighting every battle to the hilt. You’re needed in far more than the one fight you might be in now. Dan Moore’s final point, and one to always keep close is, “don’t get killed in a good battle.”
USNI Is Awesome: Sam LaGrone’s presentation was about some self-evident truths.
There is far more material, and none of the descriptions are by any means comprehensive. While these are good takeaways, the speeches are definitely worth watching on the YouTube channel.
Breakout Groups- Thoughtifying:
What would an Entrepreneurs conference be without some actual innovating? It certainly wouldn’t be as fun. The afternoons at DEF were dedicated to breakout sessions intended to building actionable solutions to real-world problems.
I found my time in the PME “ideation” group to be an education in many already-existing processes of other branches that I wished the navy had, from selection-means-attendance to the USCG’s libertine “selection-ignores-rank”. I hadn’t realized how different the different services PME systems were, and I found it a bit depressing how some may put PME in the side-car when others described the rigor and seriousness of their selection processes.
Nathan Finney led our group, and the vast array of “free the beast” ideas to put education in the driving seat were, very pragmatically, whittled down to a single free and actionable item: use of twitter for class comprehension analysis by teachers. A great example of how the system would work was Michael-Bob Starr’s discovery that the reason he had an odd feeling he’d lost his audience for about 5 seconds was that I had tweeted “never trust a man with two first names,” during his speech. Of course, in the PME version, it wouldn’t be on all the screens and would be more a way for teachers to get input on comprehension, class observations, and the like.
Other great innovations were produced, from the Emotional Vitality Assitant (EVA) to create a hand-held link directly to mental health professionals to the DEF X-prize, rewarding military members for great ideas or great execution of ideas (we hadn’t decided yet). The dream of pushing half the acquisition system into the sea and replacing it with a 100 page paper was quite the utopian ideal, but no knives yet exist that are long enough to penetrate to the heart of the procurement beast.
The People are the Product
The lectures and break-out sessions were great, but the real reward of DEF2013 was meeting the people I’d only known through writing and reputation (or the ones I didn’t know, for that matter). In his closing words for the conference, a closing speaker said it best, “people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” No one came to DEF2013 to see a particular innovation or idea, but to spend a weekend chatting about their passions with people of the same level of intensity. Every branch was represented with civilians and veterans alike, but we were all there for the same “why.” They came because they believed in that process of critical thinking and seeking the greater good. We didn’t seek innovation for innovation sake, but we sought mission victories, safety and effectiveness for our fellow warfighters, good stewardship of the resources in which we were entrusted, and the importance of good ideas having their day in the arena. DEF2013 didn’t create an innovation, it bolstered the community that is going to build them together.
This article is featured at CIMSEC’s African Navies Week. The previous articles of African Navies Week have been Al-Shabaab is Only the Beginning (LT Hipple), Searching for a Somali Coast Guard (James Bridger), and East Africa, More than Just Pirates (Breuk Bass).
In the din of East African security issues, the navy of Africa’s most populous nation has fallen out of the international eye. With continued pressure on diversified procurement, increasing capability, and new international cooperation, Nigeria’s Navy is slowly growing to fill a void dominated by piracy, petroleum smuggling, and other criminal elements that is re-engaging international attention in Western Africa. Whereas the state of Somalia has been quite unable to manage its offshore affairs, the Nigerian Navy has plotted a course out to sea under the pall of its severe security challenges. If the challenges of oversight, funding, and collusion don’t capsize their efforts, it may become a quite fine sailing.
Procurement-Let’s Go Shopping:
Since 2009, Nigeria has been pursuing an aggressive new procurement program. During the last Nigerian naval modernization period, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nigeria purchased a vast number of vessels from Germany (LST’s) , France (Combattantes), the UK (Thornycraft), Italy (Lerici minesweepers), and others. Unlike the procurement processes familiar in larger navies, such those of NATO, Nigeria ran an “open-source” program, pulling already-proven foreign systems off the foreign shelf. This new buildup is similar, with some new attempt to build local ship-building capacity.
The three big ticket “ship of the line” purchases are the 2 “Offshore Patrol Vessels” and the NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder is the old school “off the shelf” style ship purchase, bringing a Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutter, the ex-USCG Chase, into Nigerian service in 2011. The “Offshore Patrol Vessels” were commissioned with China Industry Shipbuilding Corporation and approved for purchase by President Jonathan in April of 2012. The fleet’s major combatant until the NNS Thunder was the NNS Aradu, an over 30 year old vessel and Nigeria’s only aviation-capable ship. The new contenders will add a total of 5 new 76mm Oto Melara’s added to the fleet, a none too shabby improvement of overall firepower for littoral operations. The 45 (NNS Thunder)/ 20 (OPV’s) day endurance will give the Nigerian Navy an impressive new stay-time for continuous at-sea opeartions. Arguably most important is that all three vessels have maritime aviation capabilities that will greatly expand the reach and ISR component of Nigerian maritime operations. These three ships are right on target to fill critical gaps in Nigeria’s capabilities.
Nigeria’s littoral squadrons are also scheduled for improvement. Nigeria is purchasing several brown-green water patrol craft to bolster her much-beleaguered inshore security where smuggling of all kinds is rife. Singaporean Manta’s and Sea Eagle’s, US Defender’s, Israeli Shaldag Mk III’s, and others will add potent brown and green water assets to Nigeria’s toolbox.
However, not all of Nigeria’s purchases are imports. Thi package also begins the cultivation of indigenous ship-building capability. One of the aforementioned OPV’s is scheduled for 70% of its construction to occur in Nigeria. To more fanfare, the NNS Andoni was commissioned in 2012. Designed by Nigerian engineers and produced locally with 60% locally sourced parts, it is considered a good step forward for building local expertise and capability in the realm of the shipwrights. More local capacity and expertise will further increase the ease with which ships bought locally, or abroad, can be maintained.
-But Avoid the Bait and Switch!
While flexible, this off-the-shelf model can lead to some bad dealings either by vendors or government buyers. Flexible US defense procurement specialists would love more unilateral authority and oversight compared to their gilded cage of powerpoint nightmares. However, the opposite can lead to incredibly terrible purchasing decisions. While Nigeria’s 2 OPV’s are running for current a total cost of $42m, a proposal was made to purchase one 7 year old vessel for $65m dollars. That vessel had a further $25m in damage that needed to be repaired. That particular vessel now sails as the KNS Jasiri after a large financing scandal of several years ended. At the time of delivery it appeared completely unarmed as well, though since it has since had weapons installed. If one were to ask why Nigeria would want to buy a single unarmed vessel with no aviation capability for the price of 4 more gunned-up and helo-ready OPV’s, the answer is probably not a “clean” one. Oversight is going to continue to be an issue in a country with one of the bottom corruption ratings.
Capability- Shooting more, shooting together :
Ships are all well and good, but what matters is what you do with them and how. Though the scale of offshore criminality is likely in total hovering around 10 billion, and the entire naval budget is roughly a half billion, the Nigerian Navy is moving more aggressively to course-correct their coastal regions. Several instances include a successful gun battle in August, ending the careers of six pirates, further arrests for oil theft in september, and a nice little capture of pirates in August for which photo opportunities were ensured for the press. The Nigerian Navy is further attempting to extend the “immediacy” of their reach by establishing Forward Operating Bases, like the ones at Bayelsa and Delta states. These and many other instances are the nickles-and-dimes as the Nigerian Navy chips away at the corners of their behemoth security challenge at sea. Every journey begins with a single step, and though the Nigerian Navy has reached a bit of a trot, they have a long way to go.
But even in the Navy, no man is an island. With a limited budget and math-rough half of the budget going to the army, the Nigerian Navy needs support. The civil and military authorities are moving closer to that “joint” model with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on the use of NAF assets in Anti-Piracy operations. With an existing MoU between NIMASA, this creates further points of coordination between civil, naval, and air force assets in a coordinated battle against criminals at sea. It’s no J3/J5 shop, but it’s a start.
-But Don’t Undershoot!
The Nigerian Navy’s take from the $5.947bn defense budget is a cool $445m. This is a continued increase for both the defense budget overall and the navy budget specifically and is expected to continue increasing. While this is all well and good, the Nigerian Navy faces a criminal enterprise worth billions: Piracy ($2bn), Oil Theft: ($8bn), and others. The Nigerian Navy itself has a way to go with shoring up its vast body of small arms, ammunition, and gear. In 2012, a fact-finding mission by members of the Nigerian senate found an appalling state of affairs in regards to equipment shortages, maintenance, and a whole slew of other steady-state problems. Enthusiasm and new ships can only go so far. The Nigerian Navy needs to spend the extra money to shore up their flanks, refurbishing or replacing their vast stock of older ships, weapons, equipment, and ordnance stores (without forgetting training).
Cooperation- Team Player:
Nigeria is no stranger to international cooperation. Many forget that in August 26th, 1996, ECOMOG (under ECOWAS) actually conducted an amphibious assault into Liberia led by Nigerian military units. From peacekeeping in Liberia, to Sierra Leone, to Darfur, to Mali, etc… etc…
Nigeria troops have been a staple of many peacekeeping efforts. Now, their typical face abroad, the boots on the ground, is pulling back to the homeland to fight Boko Haram. However, the navy is still extending its project to integrate into partnership programs through both engagement at home and extending the hand abroad.
Nigeria is an active catalyst of the regional security regime. For one, ECOWAS is a factor at sea as well as land. At an ECOWAS conference ending 9 OCT, the naval chiefs of Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Togo agreed to a common “modality” for the combating of terrorism and agreed to set up a “Maritime Multinational Coordination Center” in Benin to coordinate security efforts.
It also doesn’t hurt to host the maiden run of a major procurement/policy forum in your continent, namely the “Offshore Patrol Vessels Conference” for hundreds of African and interested parties. Networking, though an intangible product, is an important way of building institutional strength and connections.
Nigeria also engages with US and NATO training missions, like the most recent Operation African Wind: a training exercise for the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other regional militaries in conjunction with the Netherlands Maritime Forces under the auspices of the United States sponsored African Partnership Station. In Lagos and Calabar, units will learn about sea-borne operations, jungle combat, amphibious raids, etc… over 14 days of training and 4 days of exercises.
Finally, Nigeria’s navy has made a very respectable show of striking out by conducting a “world tour” of sorts with the new NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder made a tour around Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean for an historic visit to Australia this month for International Fleet Week. The Nigerian Navy seems determined not to remain shackled by their previous bad position, and is aggressively pursuing an expanded mission and self-image through more than just procurement. Despite the challenges ahead, they’ve demonstrated a reach few of their continental compatriots can lay claim to. It may not help against pirates, but it should be a fine addition to espirit de corps.
-But Also Collusion, Not Always the Right Team…
However, while the navy coordinates with foreign navies, some officials in Nigeria coordinate with the criminal elements. Such “industrial scale” theft of oil in particular would be impossible without the involvement of at least some security officials and politicians. The wide-spread collusion helps stall policies designed to curb the vast hemorrhaging of wealth, since the wealth is hemorrhaging to some with influence on the levers of power. This collusion is further muddled by the revelations about government payments to stop oil theft. While a pay-off policy might be effective in the short term, as it has been in Honduras, the long-term promise is muddled, especially if it turns off the money spigot to those receiving graft. While corruption has improved since the end of the patronage-heavy military state, some see very little hope at all: from the luxurious government salaries to wholesale theft from government coffers. Whatever the case, even local perceptions of transparency are depressingly negative. If internal collusion with the criminal underground cannot be controlled, the Nigerian navy will never find itself with truly enough allies to defeat the foe some of their leaders look to for wallet-padding.
Right Course, Add More Steam:
The Nigerian Navy is making good progress. With new ships, expanded operations, and continued engagement the bow is pointed in the right direction. However, without maintaining the engineroom and navigational equipment by battling corruption and putting enough fuel in the diesels by increasing their defense budget, the Nigerian Navy will find itself floundering in the storm.
Join us this Sunday, 13 Oct at 1700/5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Episode 197: Sea Swap & Small Unit Leadership :
While good ideas are often forgotten, bad ideas seem to pop up over an over again – especially the sexy ones that sound so good, but never seem to work well. The answer, of course, is to try again and hope for a better result.
Some would argue that sea swap is one of those sexy ideas that just isn’t that practical in actual operation.
A good idea? One of the good ideas mostly forgotten is that of the Junior Officer in significant positions of authority. LTJG as XO? LT as Skipper? Sure… used to be common; now not so much outside the MIW and PC community.
What are the different challenges for the officer on a smaller warship? As JO command opportunities shrink, what is our Navy losing?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and anything else the squirrels deliver will be Lieutenant Matthew Hipple, USN.
We’ll start the conversation from his article in the July 2013 Proceedings, Sea Swap – Its a Trap – then we’ll be off to the races from there.
LT Hipple is a surface warfare officer who graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is Director of the NEXTWAR blog and hosts the Sea Control podcast. While his opinions may not reflect those of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or US Government, he wishes they did.
To join us live or listen to the show later, click here.
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- Aboard the Charles de Gaulle: Sea Power and la République
- On Midrats 22 November 2015 – Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
- Leveraging our military relationships on the homefront
- Bring your voice once more unto the breach