Author Archive

In Afghanistan today, it is the general meta-trends that matter.

In his twitter feed, our co-blogger here at USNIBlog and SHAPE, Admiral Stavridis, points to a link for a very nice story that really is worth your time to read, as it does represent the very best of our partnering with the ANSF – and what should have been the general condition of our relationship in 2012, vice just a specific instance;

1st Lt. Michael Molczyk had heard stories about “insider” attacks — and the Afghan soldiers and police officers who grew to see their partners as enemies. As a platoon commander, he couldn’t ignore those assaults on American troops, which during bad weeks were reported day after day.

But to him, he said, the stories sounded like news from a different planet. In Molczyk’s corner of eastern Afghanistan, uniformed Afghans had saved American lives time and again. They had developed a brotherhood with their U.S. partners that felt earned and unassailable. … no relationship mattered more to Molczyk than his partnership with Jalaluddin, the head of the Afghan police in Jaji district …

Sadly, that relationship between two specific individuals is not in line with the general trend in Afghanistan – and with each Green on Blue we need to look that fact square in the face. While there are always individual stories that can tell any side of an issue – it is the general trend that you need to keep an eye on.

The bottom line is this; we are well along the scheduled withdraw on a calendar-based vice conditions-based OPLAN. That is a polite way of describing a retreat under fire. Those we will leave behind, and those who will fill the vacuum after we leave are acting in a rational manner, and the second and third order effects of our decision to leave the field will continue to fill your news feed as the process takes its natural course. We have been here before.

As noted last month;

The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.

Actually, it was four years ago that the uplift of forces started – but let’s not quibble.

That little note from last month was one of the critical junctures following President Obama’s 2009 West Point Speech where he announced the end of conditions based planning for AFG. Gone was the “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build”, and in was the race to slap something together with bailing wire and duct-tape until our then 2011 (and now 2014 thankfully) drive to whatever will be our version of the Friendship Bridge.

Defeat, like decline, is more often than not a choice. In AFG, it is/was unquestionably a choice. We threw away a good chance for an acceptable outcome the minute we told our enemies, and more importantly our friends and those on the fence, that we lacked the strategic patience to follow through on our promises, creating in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. They have seen this before.

As the cliche states, “Hope is not a plan.” In war, hope is a path to self-delusion and defeat. So it has always been, so it will always be.

In the executive summary from the International Crisis Group’s, Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition, they cut right to the chase;

Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organising a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections’ chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition. In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim. The electoral process is mired in bureaucratic confusion, institutional duplication and political machinations. Electoral officials indicate that security and financial concerns will force the 2013 provincial council polls to 2014. There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favoured proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.

Yes, our timing is that bad.

Quiet planning should, nonetheless, begin now for the contingencies of postponed elections and/or imposition of a state of emergency in the run up to or during the presidential campaign season in 2014. The international community must work with the government to develop an action plan for the possibility that elections are significantly delayed or that polling results lead to prolonged disputes or a run-off. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should likewise be prepared to organise additional support to Afghan forces as needed in the event of an election postponement or state of emergency; its leadership would also do well to assess its own force protection needs in such an event well in advance of the election.

Does anyone see a ISAF, post-USA withdraw, getting involved in AFG domestic police actions? Really?

No, they/we won’t. The Taliban also know we won’t. They know we have left the field for them, and they are patient. We no longer have the ability or will to break their back, and with only one more fighting season left until we are totally focused on withdraw – we can’t.

I am reminded of one of the heartbreaking scenes – for a military professional – from the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields.

In the background as Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg watch the fighting between Khmer National Armed Forces and the Khmer Rouge, we see Tom Bird’s US military adviser character do what he can to push his Cambodian forces on, to let them know that the USA was with them. Pointing to himself (in bold below);

00:27:00 What did he say?

00:27:01 He said he thought all American people left already.

00:27:05 Made in the USA.

00:27:10 Are we winning?

00:27:12 No, you’re not winning.

We have seen this before, and so have those who were our friends.

Much more will be written about our AFG experience over the next couple of decades. Somewhere there is a young man or woman who will be the next McMaster, who will cut their PhD teeth on how this all came apart. How a conscious decision was made to slide from a position of strength and progress to one of weakness, vacillation, insecurity, and decline. Why thousands of years of sound military experience was thrown away one evening in New York State, pretending that the lessons of history didn’t apply to us. We thought that because it was spoken, so it would be done; that hope and luck would beat the calender and patience. Through it all, the silence of “make it happen” marched forward in to the maw, again.

Rest assured, we won’t be leaving these problems behind in AFG. No, then enemy has a vote – and they too have seen this before.

CBS correspondent Lara Logan put it well recently;

“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”

She made a passionate case that our government is downplaying the strength of our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a rationale of getting us out of the longest war. We have been lulled into believing that the perils are in the past: “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight. In your arrogance, you think you write the script.”

The Taliban and al Qaeda, she made clear, “want to destroy the West and us,” and we must fight fire with fire, She appeared to leave the assembled alternatively riveted and just a bit troubled by a critique with interventionist implications clearly drawn from her reporting.

When you have the person who just tried to kill you on the ground, with your knee on his chest and your knife at his throat, but then you get off and try to walk away without finishing the job – should you be shocked when he gets up and attacks you? Should you be shocked if he does not stop his attack simply because you stopped it? Will he stop if you cry uncle? If you bow, apologize, and plead?

Really?

So there we are; we have emphasized the meme of the weak horse, and the butcher’s bill will be dear because of it.

What is the solution? Frankly, I think it is too late to get back to where we were in late 2009. We are almost three years in to the signal of retreat that we sent. Those allied nations in ISAF who have not already left will soon. Those AFG on the fence have already made plans and associations with our enemies to protect the interests of their families, villages, and tribes in the expectation that we will abandon them. Smart move, if I were them I would do the same thing.

A precursor to the Soviet withdraw were their version of Green on Blue – the AFG remember that and are seeing it again. They have indications and warnings too.

Could the NOV USA election change anything? No. With the lack of top-level support and enthusiasm for the mission, the American people lost whatever will they had to aggressively sustain operations in AFG – and with much of the uplift gone and force levels back to late-’09/early-’10 levels and falling, that momentum is gone and even if the will was there – it would be difficult to get back.

We are at the point now where the die is cast. This version of the war in AFG for USA forces will soon be over regardless, by design. All that remains is to see if we drive across our version of the Friendship Bridge, or leave in a helo under fire; all the while doing our best to avoid Gandamak.

Until then, there are things that can be done on the margins, but one question remains; if we are not in this to win it – do we have the political will, rules of engagement, and operational plan to create the effects on the ground to further our national interests besides just “getting out?”

Is, “Do the best we can until the summer of 2014 and then wish them luck.” now by default our Mission Statement? Has the military leadership been realistic about what can be achieved inside the POLMIL guidance it has received? What Decisive Points have we achieved in our Lines of Operation? Are they in-line with expected time-line dates? What about our Effects Matrix?

District by District, Province by Province – is the Afghan government on, behind, or ahead of schedule to take over security responsibilities? Are the criteria used to determine that status tighter or looser than they were three years ago?

Yes, much of that is classified – but it won’t be forever. This story will be told, and people will be held to account. If history is any guide, that won’t mean much to the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions who will die because we did not finish what we started.

The last time we abandoned a nation like this, the losses were in the millions.



After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwellt in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.

It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?

Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.

From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211

To: Squadron Attack Pilots

Subj: COMMANDER’S GUIDANCE FOR SQUADRON ATTACK PILOTS

1. Professional hunger.

My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.

If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.

If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.

2. Professional focus.

Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”

Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.

3. Attitude.

I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”

Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.

4. Moral courage.

Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.

We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.

5. Dedication.

If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.

Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”

6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.

The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.

It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.

To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”

If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.

C. K. RAIBLE



A half-decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, a top-down movement started to take root in the US Navy around a word; transformation. The Transformationalists gained steam as they were swept up in the mid-90s Zeitgeist; all was new and now was the time to make a new Navy.

With the end of the existential threat of global Communism, technology’s promise of Moore’s Law, and with the self-esteem and optimism that their generation felt as they first gained the reins of power from the White House to the first GOFOs – this was the time where, yes, all was new – in a fashion.

There were challenges though. In the pre-9/11 Pentagon, the post Cold War was one of lean budgets and an expensive to maintain legacy Fleet. Each new ship and each new program put greater demands on a already strained budgetary pie. How do you sail in to the future with, as you see it, a sea-anchor of the past holding you back?

Even with a larger budget, as the Navy fed off the fat of the Cold War Fleet – how do you get the Fleet of tomorrow? With challenges comes opportunities the saying goes, all that was needed was a vision.

Decades, indeed centuries, of best practices of shipbuilding and aircraft development – how to build them, maintain them, and man them – were showing one path of requirements and a way forward; but that was a hard story – one that made beloved new theories come away bruised and battered. On that path to that still undefined “there” one thing was clear – we could not get “there” from “here” with the money in hand and the numbers in mind.

If experience, history, and best practice told us what we did not want to hear, there was but one thing to do – ignore that reality and create a new one. From such was born Transformationalism.

By selective hearing, blinkered optimism, para-scientific concepts, faith, a dose of hope in the best case scenario, and even more importantly – the force of personality – we thought would get “there.” Our Navy would be transformed – a Navy based on New Technology, New Networks, New Manning, New Training, and New Maintenance; the PowerPoint gods had it written; therefor it would be done.

There is a fine line between institutional optimism, overconfidence, and arrogance. When facts are brushed aside and history ignored, and instead you gird your future with untested theory and hope – you have to play the odds. As an institution we decided in that brief period in time that now was the time, it was a moment that a generation needed to grab hold of an institution and Transform it; to steer not in to – but away from the skid and see what the odds brought.

“Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!”
— Saito, from the movie Inception.

And so we threw away the charts, put the radar in to stand-by, and we sailed forth in to the sea of New Technology, New Networks, New Manning, New Training, and New Maintenance.


Who was to ride the wave of Transformationalism and have a front-row seat? Naturally, those who would make it happen would be those Captains who at the turn of the century would make Flag and would spend the next dozen years doing the best they could to bring the fruits of Transformation to the Fleet.

The best perspective would be from someone who spent a good quarter-century in the Cold War “legacy Navy” – one knowledgeable of the “build a little, test a little, learn a lot” philosophy & culture that brought about such programs as cruiser development in the 1920s and 1930s, and surface-to-air missiles from the 1950s through Aegis. They would have seen how it was done, knew how it was done.

What have those individuals who have rode that path seen? In a moment of candor – what do they have to say at the end of their travel? What fruits have come from the tree of Transformationalism?

4-star Admirals come and go. Some leave larger footprints than others, and today one of the size-13 4-stars has re-joined the civilian world; Admiral Harvey – welcome to the other side – and thank you for your service.

Like one of his predecessor 4-stars from another service – Admiral Harvey has left those who are taking over the watch a gift, if they want to take it.

Earlier this month, Admiral Harvey sent out an email to the other SWO Flag Officers. I encourage you to read the whole thing; The Fundamentals of Surface Warfare: Sailors and Ships and read the embedded attachments.

Some highlights;

The past few years have been a serious wake-up call for our surface force. We discovered that the cumulative impact of individual decisions made over long periods of time, driven by unique and widely varying circumstances, had put the future readiness of our surface force at risk.

Prepare yourself, because a decade of manpower, maintenance, and programmatic sacred cows are about to be brought to task by one of the ones who raised them.

We shifted our primary focus away from Sailors and Ships – the fundamentals of surface warfare – to finding efficiencies/reducing costs in order to fund other important efforts such as recapitalization. We took our eyes off the ball of the main thing for which we were responsible – maintaining the wholeness and operational effectiveness of the surface force. Because readiness trends develop and evidence themselves over years and not months, shifting our primary focus to individual cost-cutting measures gave us a very myopic view of our surface force and the way ahead; institutionally, we essentially walked into the future looking at our feet.

Institutionally, there was a culture that had you keep your head down, and your mouth shut. Who created that culture, and why?

There is also that “f” word; “fundamentals” – that most ignored concept as of late but the record is clear; the naval gods of the copybook headings are calling for their offerings. Ignoring fundamentals in manning, maintenance, and program management were all warned of, why were they dismissed?

Did we grow an appreciative and rewarding environment of operational excellence – or did we grow and reward administrative bureaucratic bloat? Did we function as a learning and self-correcting institution of critical thinkers?

… we “trained” our people on the deckplates that improving efficiency trumped all other considerations – certainly an approach and a philosophy that was completely contrary to the institutional culture of ownership – “this is MY ship; this is MY gear” – and the institutional focus on operational readiness – “we are ready NOW” – that have been at the very foundation of our surface force since its beginnings.

… and what did we do to those who objected to this outgrowth from the cheap grace of b-school management books and silly 2-week Outward Bound MBA seminars? Simple – they either shut up or were professionally told to follow the sign to Ausfahrt. How many people did we promote that didn’t have a deckplate culture (months at sea, hours in the cockpit) – but did have other things non-related to performance at sea or in the aircraft? What were those things we valued so much, and why?

The flawed process is just a byproduct of a more critical problem, a flawed culture.

When the assumptions behind the man, train, equip and maintain decisions did not prove valid, we didn’t revisit our decisions and adjust course as required.

In short, we didn’t routinely, rigorously and thoroughly evaluate the products of the plans we were executing.

There you have your answer.

Again, the word of the day; why? Part of the answer is an undercurrent to the entire Transformationalist movement; their totalitarian opposition to dissent. They abused the very important military concept – keep your differences quiet outside closed doors.

That is a great thing for war – but a recipe for failure outside a no-kidding war war. The institutional cancer of promoting a culture of loyalty to individuals over institutions, I would offer, is north of 51% of the answer to the above, “Why?”

Those assumptions were evaluated and found wanting many times over the last decade … and those results were ignored and/or suppressed. Little action was taken for reasons related to needs of individuals temporarily in positions of power, not the institution’s long term viability.

We shifted maintenance ashore, scaled back our shipboard 3M program and reduced our preventive maintenance requirements to fit a smaller workforce, and then failed to fully fund the shore maintenance capacity we required.

The result was optimally-manned ships that we could not maintain to the performance and reliability standards we previously mandated in order to achieve mission success over service life. This result became apparent with the increase in the failure rate of the INSURV Material Inspection, the “gold standard” inspection which measures the performance of our Sailors and their ships against the established standards required to sustain wholeness and mission effectiveness over the life of the ship.

How did we respond to this? We made INSURV classified in order to further hide the problem, and protect the tender egos of those who helped create the problem. That may sound a bit harsh, but it is the only answer that can survive the follow-up question.

Here is one of the best parts of the email – one everyone should read twice.

Now in discussing these issues with you, I want to acknowledge up front that I realize how much more I could have done to fully evaluate the impact the actions I’ve described to you had on our surface force’s overall mission effectiveness. Looking back on my time as a Flag officer, I can see that I focused too exclusively on the tasks and responsibilities immediately at hand and did not take sufficient time to “step off the pitcher’s mound” and reflect more broadly on the Navy-wide/community-wide impact of what we were doing. And, when we did gather together as community leaders, we did not get to the heart of the matter: our Sailors and our ships and their collective readiness to carry out our assigned Title 10 missions. I could have done better. We could have done better. You MUST do better, because now we know better.

I was guilty too. On active duty, I allowed myself to be shut up. Why? Complicated answer for myself, so I won’t pretend to know it for someone else either – but I do know what the culture was that drove me to shut up. Even at his level, I think Admiral Harvey was in the same culture.

… our TYCOMs, ISICs and ships must be focused first and foremost on EFFECTIVENESS – if it’s cheap, efficient, but doesn’t work, it does us no good. If our budgets drop, we may certainly have to do less; but whatever it is we decide to do, we must do it well.

If it is expensive, inefficient, and doesn’t work – then it is doubly no good. I am not sure we were focused on “cheap.” LPD-17 and its titanium fire mains were not cheap. LCS as a littoral corvette is far from cheap. The pocket battleship sized Zumwalt “Destroyers” are not cheap. I’m not sure what we have tried to make that is cheap in the last couple of decades. F-35? No. F-18? Well, they are cheaper than the alternative … but they do work at least.

Here is another quote that is valuable and deserves great reflection in our Flag Officers;

The absolute accountability of our COs for the performance of their ships and Sailors is the sure foundation for the performance of our Navy under the most challenging conditions imaginable. We know that the concept works.

So why did we so readily walk away from an approach that had accountability at its foundation with regards to how we deliver combat capabilities to the Fleet?

Yep. Accountability up? Spotty record there.

Towards the end, there is a call for an about-face to what is already the dying concept of Transformationalism;

Re-establishing the fundamentals of how we train, how we equip, and how we operate and then putting those responsible to deliver on those fundamentals back under accountable officers in the chain-of-command … for the sake of our surface force and our Sailors, be ruthless in the maintenance of our standards and keep your focus where it MUST be – on our ships and Sailors. …

That is a good start.

Some may say that Admiral Harvey’s call is too late, perhaps – but that does not matter. Is he now an anti-transformationalist? I don’t know, but he’s trending that way at least.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and all should welcome the message of this email. The higher you go, the larger the Sword of Damocles is … but of course no one but the person in the seat can see it. As most everyone does – he did the best he could for the country and Navy he served, and he did it better than most.

We should hope that this letter is the start of an ongoing conversation, not just by Admiral Harvey as he adopts the suit and tie, but by those in uniform as well.

There is a lot of ruin in a navy as big as the US Navy. Regardless of well intentioned mistakes of the past, there is still plenty of excellence left to build a better Navy from. Let us repair and redirect the damage done as we move forward from the last couple of decades of poor concepts and cultural warping. If the larger Navy community is looking for a starting point for that conversation – Admiral Harvey has provided us one to use; we should accept it in the manner it was offered and get to work.



29th

The Wisdom of a King

August 2012

By

We’ve been here before – it is common in this line of work. It goes by different names and given heft by different charters.

When does a leader need to backoff – and when does a leader need to get in to fine-granularity leadership? The more senior a leader gets – what is a constructive level of detail?

This time around this habit gained steam with “Intrusive Leadership” and the belief in that if we have a long enough shafted screwdriver with a finely engineered head, then by-golly we can get things right!

Is it people or process? A bit of both? Perhaps. Is it required, or is it simply one leader’s reaction to D&G higher up?

After awhile, even the best “Intrusive Leadership”/micromanaging/helicopter-leadership/etc reaches a point of diminishing returns by either excessive detail or context. Those at the receiving end feel frozen from action and look for a point of pivot where they can get some relief, while those at the giving end believe that the more they do of the same, the further away from what is needed they find themselves. Everyone is frustrated, and results suffer.

This week over at my homeblog, we’ve had a little fun with CNSL’s SHIPS ROUTINE message, but in all seriousness shouldn’t one ask; is this an efficient and effective way of doing business at that level?

It brings up two broad questions; are we excessively micro-managing our leaders from the highest levels, and are we making prudent use of Record Message Traffic?

As I understand it, the message we highlighted is just one of a series that’s been getting rolled out this summer (the first being about small arms), and the messages are just the *highlights* from the upcoming re-publication of SURFLANT Regulations. It is a good thing to update and clarify how things should be done … but do we really need CNSL to put out a messages (as opposed to regulations promulgated via different means) that prescribes details so minor they wouldn’t even make it in to the POD? Is that a good habit for others to copy?

ALL COMMODES, URINALS, SINKS, SHOWERS, AND DRAINS MUST BE CLEAN AND OPERABLE. SHOWER CURTAINS, MATS, BULKHEADS, AND DECKS MUST BE CLEANED AND SANITIZED TO PREVENT MILDEW.

We call it “Record Message Traffic” or “Messages,” but I always preferred the Royal Navy “Signals” – mostly because it frames the medium better. There should be very few “signals” – and those that exist should be short, direct, and of such importance that other delivery methods are inadequate – otherwise the important things get drowned out in the signal-to-noise ratio.

When, as leaders, do we get too far in to the weeds to the point that we can’t do our jobs because we are too busy doing others’ job? When is too much – just too much?

Well, as one of my commenters pointed out – when in doubt, benchmark the best. At the beginning of the year that would end with our nation in a World War, Admiral Ernest J. King, USN, then CINCLANT, put it well;

CINCLANT SERIAL (053) OF JANUARY 21, 1941

Subject: Exercise of Command — Excess of Detail in Orders and Instructions.

1. I have been concerned for many years over the increasing tendency — now grown almost to “standard practice” — of flag officers and other group commanders to issue orders and instructions in which their subordinates are told “how” as well as “what” to do to such an extent and in such detail that the “Custom of the service” has virtually become the antithesis of that essential element of command — “initiative of the subordinate.”

2. We are preparing for — and are now close to — those active operations (commonly called war) which require the exercise and the utilization of the full powers and capabilities of every officer in command status. There will be neither time nor opportunity to do more than prescribe the several tasks of the several subordinates (to say “what”, perhaps “when” and “where”, and usually, for their intelligent cooperation, “why”), leaving to them — expecting and requiring of them — the capacity to perform the assigned tasks (to do the “how”).

3. If subordinates are deprived — as they now are — of that training and experience which will enable them to act “on their own” — if they do not know, by constant practice, how to exercise “initiative of the subordinate” — if they are reluctant (afraid) to act because they are accustomed to detailed orders and instructions — if they are not habituated to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves in their several echelons of command — we shall be in sorry case when the time of “active operations” arrives.

4. The reasons for the current state of affairs — how did we get this way? — are many but among them are four which need mention: first, the “anxiety” of seniors that everything in their commands shall be conducted so correctly and go so smoothly, that none may comment unfavorably; second, those energetic activities of staffs which lead to infringement of (not to say interference with) the functions for which the lower echelons exist; third, the consequent “anxiety” of subordinates lest their exercise of initiative, even in their legitimate spheres, should result in their doing something which may prejudice their selection for promotion; fourth, the habit on the one hand and the expectation on the other of “nursing” and “being nursed” which lead respectively to the violation of command principles known as “orders to obey orders” and to that admission of incapacity or confusion evidenced by “request instructions.”

5. Let us consider certain facts: first, submarines operating submerged are constantly confronted with situations requiring the correct exercise of judgment, decision and action; second, planes, whether operating singly or in company, are even more often called upon to act correctly; third, surface ships entering or leaving port, making a landfall, steaming in thick weather, etc., can and do meet such situations while “acting singly” and, as well, the problems involved in maneuvering in formations and dispositions. Yet these same people — proven competent to do these things without benefit of “advice” from higher up — are, when grown in years and experience to be echelon commanders, all too often are not made full use of in conducting the affairs (administrative and operative) of the several echelons — echelons which exist for the purpose of facilitating command.

6. It is essential to extend the knowledge and the practice of “initiative of the subordinate” in principle and in application until they are universal in the exercise of command throughout all the echelons of command. Henceforth, we must all see to it that full use is made of the echelons of command — whether administrative (type) or operative (task) — by habitually framing orders and instructions to echelon commanders so as to tell them ‘what to do’ but not ‘how to do it’ unless the particular circumstances demand.

7. The corollaries of paragraph 6 are:
(a) adopt the premise that the echelon commanders are competent in their several command echelons unless and until they themselves prove otherwise;

(b) teach them that they are not only expected to be competent for their several command echelons but that it is required of them that they be competent;

(c) train them — by guidance and supervision — to exercise foresight, to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves;

(d) stop ‘nursing’ them;

(e) finally, train ourselves to be satisfied with ‘acceptable solutions’ even though they are not “staff solutions or other particular solutions that we ourselves prefer.”

Verily.

One does wonder how Admiral King would react to the goings-on in our Navy. A man whose own daughter stated,

… her father was “the most even-tempered man in the Navy. He is always in a rage.”

Odds are, he wouldn’t take kindly to retired CDRs commenting on his messages. Good odds, methinks.



It has been an interesting few weeks for the LCS program. In mid-month we had Chris Cavas’ one-two punch laying bare the critics warnings coming to fruition on the cattywampus mission module concept, weaponeering shortfalls, and most critically – an unexecutable manning CONOPS.

Especially in a time of budget stress, a weak program that has gone awhile without good news gets plenty of attention.

Throw in to the mix an interesting whispering campaign and …. what is that? Blood in the water?

Makes this little paragraph from the N9 CNO UPDATE FOR 14 JULY TO 27 JULY 2012 have a bit more nuance:

LCS: OPNAV has received several requests for materials and/or briefs in relation to the LCS program, which we have coordinated with VCNO, OLA, FFC, and FMBE. Requests pertain to:
1) VCNO directed Review of the Navy’s Readiness to Receive, Employ and Deploy the LCS Class Vessel
2) CFFC War Games #1 and #2
3) Ongoing Fleet assessments and operational experiences for both LCS ships in service.

Specifically:
- SASC has requested a copy of and a brief on the OPNAV LCS Review, and the outcome of CFFC War Games. N96 SASC brief is scheduled for 27 Jul.
- HASC made similar requests, N96 HASC brief is scheduled for 31 Jul.
- SAC (D), CBO and CRS made similar requests, briefs TBD in mid-Aug.

In many ways, sadly, the LCS argument gets Groundhog Day-ish. I’m reminded of a quote from a post at my homeblog over six years ago from Carl Carlson’s LCS Characteristics Task Force Final Report from 2002 – a solid decade ago.

We recognize that LCS is a fast moving train and that some decisions may already have been made on some of the issues considered in this report. However, given the high stakes involved for those who will serve on LCS ships and for the Navy’s effectiveness in future conflicts, we hope the careful analysis of the broad and diverse expertise of the study participants who informed these findings and recommendations will receive due consideration in deciding the future direction of LCS development.

Yes, we continue to hope.



I think everyone has ideas on how we can make our FITREPs better – mine have been the same since the latest version came out in the Clinton Administration – but there is one aspect that I never really had an issue with: rankings.

It had always made sense that you had to make the call; not everyone gets a trophy and someone must be #1, #2, etc. It seemed rough, but needed in order to help others read the entrails in our opaque system to divine who are our best players.

Is there something wrong with this part of our FITREPs that may, by its very nature, be destructive to fostering an environment of innovation and progress? Is this one of the sources of our problem with more of a focus on loyalty to individuals vice loyalty to institutions?

Over at Vanity Fair, our buddy Chap sent along to me a short but devastating piece on Microsoft’s Lost Decade. A little close to home?

…. a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Not just Microsoft in the “don’t be like them” category; ponder back some more.

“I see Microsoft as technology’s answer to Sears,” said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland.

That rolled in the last line of the article reminded me of how we used to make fun of the Soviet Navy back in the day.

“They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh,” said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. “Now they’ve become the thing they despised.”

How do those in the Royal Navy see our seamanship? How do the Japanese see our PMS and maintenance practices? How do the Dutch, Danish, and Norwegian shipyards see our methods?

If we want our future Navy to think and be nimble – perhaps we could start a conversation about what organizational cultures we like, and see how they recognize and grow talent internally. That could at least be a good way to kick things off.



It is comfortable to say, “We are 5-10 yrs behind the Europeans when it comes to our budget challenges.” – I guess.

With the expansion of the budget deficit of the last few years and no move to make a serious effort to fix it, we are much closer to 5 years, if not inside that mark.

The now quaint Fleet number of 313 of just a few years ago was never taken seriously by anyone with a basic understanding of economics even before the latest budget issues, and the interesting accounting of the Fleet of 300 that we see today is also a non-starter.

Why make such a negative statement? Simple – budgetary gravity.

Back in 2008, European military budgets were sad in any event as a % of GDP. As demographics join with the inevitable default of the Western welfare state takes place in front of us, after a few years – we have this via our friends from DefenseNews.

Make no mistake – we have not even started to align our budget with reality, so what is the benchmark that we should plan for? Don’t turn away – defense is always the low hanging fruit.

Well – you can break these reduction in to three batches.
1. Doable at 5% or less: Norway, Sweden, or Germany.
1.a. Odds: minimal.
1.b. Reason for odds: We won’t be this lucky. Norway has averaged a budget surplus for over a dozen years; different planet. Sweden and Germany already made structural changes to their government systems – Sweden in the 1990s and Germany a little more than a decade ago. As a result – the budgetary stress on the defense budget is small to non-existent from the 2008 baseline. If we act soon to address larger budgetary issues though, odds of this taking place increase.

2. Painful but workable at 5% to 20%: yes, in order to protect the economic foundation that national survival requires – a 20% cut is workable. Netherlands, UK, Poland & France.
2.a. Odds: most likely.
2.b. Reason for odds: unlike Europe, we don’t have anyone we trust that we can point to and say, “Oh, they’ll take care of the international order.” These are serious nations with a serious dedication to military requirements – but they are doing what they feel them must – as shall we. Unlike those nations though, we still have a lot of inertia to maintain a global reach; close to 5% than 20% if we are lucky. More than 20% in the face of a climbing China is just hard to fathom for the USA unless ….

3. Budgetary POMageddon at 20% to 50%: if you wait too long to act on your structural budgetary challenges – the more difficult the fix. You will take on more national security risk in order to try to keep domestic tranquility. Italy, Spain, Greece, & Ireland.
3.a. Odds: small, but not minimal.
3.b. Reason for odds: Without a two-party consensus to make such a huge cut in defense, it is hard to see larger than 20% in the next half decade outside of a complete economic meltdown. With each year we delay having a budget (Senate over 1,130 days without a budget plan) and/or a view to a plan to fix present trends, the more the odds for this option grow.

So, what could POMageddon mean to the Navy? Well – let’s go to Group 3 above – Italy. Again from our friends at DefenseNews;

Italy is considering selling or donating up to one-third of its naval fleet in a bid to earn quick cash and slash maintenance costs.

The Italian Navy would be the first off the mark wit a plan to sell or donate up to 28 vessels over the next five or six years … (out of) 82 ships and six submarines. …

So, 28 out of 88 ~ 32%.

Let’s run with the fuzzy 300 ships. A 32% reduction would be a cut of 96 ships to a fleet of 204.

What was my worse case scenario a couple of years ago, 240? That would be a 20% reduction in five years. All of a sudden, doesn’t look all that out of control … if you consider what has happened to Europe.

Let’s be optimistic and cut that in half to a 10% reduction. 270 ships in 5-years. Let’s model and plan for that and consign 300 ships with 313 ships as they hang out with all those TQL books in the storage room.



We all know the phrase that nothing is more dangerous than a terminal-CDR. Ahem. Maybe ….

Well – all 4-stars are terminal, in a fashion – and when a 4-star is about to head out of the service at the pinnacle of their career, a cynic might look askew at last minute conversions – but I don’t think that is always fair. There can be something else going on when a Admiral or General goes off the reservation; “The Craddock Effect.”

In May 2009 as General Craddock was heading out the door at SHAPE, he gave a speech that said what everyone inside the lifelines knew about NATO and AFG and the story of half-truths we all sold. It was nice to hear in the open what was said behind closed doors – but one had to wonder what the impact might have had if he made the speech a year or so earlier in mid-tour – when he wasn’t a lame duck – when the full truth of his opinion could have informed the public debate … but … it was what it was.

There is a lot be be said for working within the system. Highly successful men and women get to where they are by having a track record of “making it happen” without burning those they work for and with. They often think that once they reach a certain level – then they can make things work. It usually doesn’t work that way.

When they they are running out of time or after soaking long enough that they reach a moment of clarity – often a refreshing wave of candor can come from a senior leader. It is a wave that isn’t quite at odds with what they have said in the open before – but sounds more like the missing chapters of a book half read.

In that light – over at his CFFC blog, Admiral Harvey has a post out that from my perspective is, in a word; remarkable. It is somewhere between a splash of cold water and sobering slap to the face to the professional drift our Navy has been under for a decade+.

This is Admiral Harvey from his blog;

When I look at some of the big issues we’ve encountered over the past three years with programs such as LPD-17, Aegis 7.1.2, VTUAV (Fire Scout), and the many software programs (e.g. R-Admin) installed on our ships, it is apparent to me that we were not doing our jobs with a focus on the end user, our Sailors. In these instances, the desire/need to deliver the program or system became paramount; we did not adhere to our acquisition standards and failed to deliver whole programs built on foundations of technical excellence. Then we accepted these flawed programs into the Fleet without regard to the impact on our Sailors.

Yes, yes – great Neptune’s trident – YES! Sailors are our greatest asset – not our most costly liability.

I would personally add two things – everyone and Admiral Harvey knows this problem is much older than his three years at CFFC – and to change this will take the right people in the right places in power. How do we get them there? Hard question.

His comments are so spot on. Just to drag out the usual suspect; designing manning plans for LCS that has Sailor burn-out considered a feature as opposed to a bug, and is baked in to the design that we will have to deal with for decades? How do you fix that? … but let’s not get in the Admiral’s way here;

… we have entered a period in which the resources we have now and can expect in the future will no longer support the behaviors of the past. The likelihood of decreasing budgets and increasing demand for Naval forces leave us with no margin for delivering poorly designed, poorly delivered or unnecessarily burdensome programs to the Fleet. We must keep the Fleet and our Sailors at the center of the programs, systems and platforms we deliver and ensure operational effectiveness is the bottom line of our efforts, not simply increased efficiencies.

Though my selfish side wishes he put this out years ago, the professional side of me has to give him a nod to a timing that he felt worked best given his responsibilities. More responsibilities do not always translate in to more freedom to speak.

I’ve been a fan of Admiral Harvey’s curious intellect, open mind, and tolerance of other views for a long time, and this is a very welcome addition to the conversation that must be brought to the front – larger, louder, and to more readers.

To fix these problems, the hour is already late, and more delay just means a more difficult fix later.

There is more at his post to to reflect on what is creating the dysfunction we have watched over the last decade in our Navy. Admiral Harvey states the catalyst for his post was the book by Bob Lutz, the Vice Chairman for Product Development at General Motors; Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. When you think of GM from the last few decades, one car that should be in anyone’s “GM Bottom 5″ would be the Pontiac Fiero. As a smart friend pointed out to me at the linked article;

The Pontiac Fiero an economy commuter car? That’s how GM marketed the sporty coupe, which was Pontiac’s first 2-seater since 1938. GM had originally intended the Fiero to be a sports car (hence, the Ferrari-sounding name), but budget constraints forced them to ditch the original suspension design and steal parts from other GM cars. The result was a sporty coupe that didn’t actually deliver racing performance with a meager 98-hp 2.5-liter I4 engine in a heavy body.

Sure, let’s go there again to what remains the poster child to what Admiral Harvey describes – to the gift that keeps on giving.

Isn’t speed and handling performance are most important for a sports car? Likewise, aren’t offensive and defensive firepower performance the most important for a warship? With the similar failure of basic core competencies – couldn’t one say “GM:Pontiac Fiero” as “USN:LCS?”

Another quote from Admiral Harvey’s post;

… upon his return to GM, Lutz found that the design teams had moved away from an organization focused on product excellence and the end user – the customer – and instead transformed into a company driven by complex business processes, executive boards and working groups focused on eliminating “waste,” “streamlining” operations, and achieving “efficiencies.” As a result, GM produced generations of automobiles that met all the technical and fiscal internal targets yet fell far short of the mark in sales – what really counted.

Does that sound like OPNAV/NAVSEA track record as of late? Designing warships that meet all the technical and fiscal internal targets (except maybe cost, stealth, IOC, etc), but fail to meet the fundamental test of warfighting capability?

Interesting thing about the Fiero – by 1988 they actually go the design right – but by then it was too late and most of the run was – ahem – sub-optimal. Is that where we are going with LCS? The first 43 sub-optimal …. but the last dozen, success!?

Bravo Zulu to Admiral Harvey for putting this out there. Maybe after a few years with the gold watch and reflection, down the road someone might go with a Shoomaker option – I don’t know. In the word of the American songwriter Kris Kristofferson; freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose.

Admiral Harvey – enjoy your freedom.



To do a complete stoplight review of China’s Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic levers/influencers of national power is much more than one post on a blog, but you can broad-brush a few things.

In the last couple of decades, China’s “Diplomatic” and “Military” areas are a solid green with up-arrows. Though I would give “Information” a yellow with an up arrow, I will give a nod to those who would give the Communists a green.

Economic? That is a lot trickier than people think. I lean towards the demographic-wonk mantra, “China will get old before they get rich,” – but if you want a good look at another view on China’s “Economic” that you won’t get from Thomas Friedman, a nice primmer would be Reihan Salam’s latest at NR.

Without a sound economy … the dragon may not be as large or as scary, as some think – but it may be more dangerous for other reasons.

… across a wide range of economic, technological, and military indicators, the United States is actually, in the words of political scientist Michael Beckley, “wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991.” As Beckley explains in a recent article in International Security, China’s growth in per capita income, value added in high technology, and military spending is impressive primarily because China is starting from such a low base. That the United States has continued to grow across all of these dimensions is making it exceedingly difficult for China to catch up. Beckley thus concludes that China is “rising in place.” That is, while China is improving its economic and military position in absolute terms, it is stagnating relative to America, even in an era of sluggish U.S. growth.

While we can expect China at some point to have an economy somewhat larger than that of the United States — after all, China has four times our population — the country is plagued by pervasive corruption and bad debts that are already undermining its growth prospects.

China’s population is aging rapidly, and soon the country will have to carry the weight of tens and eventually hundreds of millions of retirees. … China’s growth is already slowing as a result. Since 2001, China has grown at an annual rate of 10.1 percent. This year, however, Chinese GDP is expected to grow at 7.5 percent. Further, the official statistics almost certainly conceal the extent of the decline.

The real threat from China is not that it will grow so economically strong that it will bestride the world like a colossus. Rather, it is that it will become so weak and vulnerable as to collapse, or to lash out at its neighbors.

When you build the next military – do you ponder how to deal with a near competitor in 25-years, or how to handle the violent collapse of a nation 4-times your size in 25-years? How would they look different, and how do you hedge one outcome vs the other?



13th

Reimagining LCS

April 2012

By

In many ways, for critics of LCS this evolution was as inevitable as it was self-evident. As more hulls were pier-side speaking truth than PPT illuminating briefing rooms, expectations would have to change to stay inside the lines of credibility.

Dreams of stopping the run and pivot to building a better platform reached the equal-time-point an election cycle ago. We will have LCS, and it will inside a little more than a decade form a larger percentage of our Fleet. The question remains – what will we actually be able to do with it given its known limitations, unknown tactical utility, and completely undeveloped mission modules that are the only thing that prevent it from being a +$600 million mobile 57mm gun with a flight deck?

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. at AOLDefense has a nice review of the CNO’s speech at the National Press Club breakfast 12 APR that touched on LCS. Let’s do a little light fisking this Friday morning, shall we?

“These are not large surface combatants that are going to sail into the South China Sea and challenge the Chinese military; that’s not what they’re made for,” Greenert said of the LCS class.

OK. A warship that is 1.5′ longer than a Fletcher Class DD is not a large warship … but she is not small. South China Sea?

The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi). The area’s importance largely results from one-third of the world’s shipping transiting through its waters, and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.

The South China Sea contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. The features are grouped into three archipelagos (listed by area size), Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal:

So, we have a warship that has both “Littoral” and “Combat” in its name that we do not intend to challenge a regional navy with in an area full of littoral waters? Do we really mean that – or are we trying to tell the Chinese that even though we are putting Marines in northern Australia and warships in Singapore; we are only there to have quick access to nice liberty ports? Either way – that isn’t impressive.

As Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work likes to tell us, the United States Navy does not need frigates. Think back to how we have used our frigates since the Vietnam War, and then square this statement;

“Littoral Combat Ships will tend to displace amphibious ships and destroyers in Africa and South America. That will free up surface combatants, more high-end ships … “

That is what your classic multi-mission FF/FFG has been doing for decades – a much more useful ship than a low endurance uni-mission LCS. Just saying.

The next fisk is sad.

I intend to go in harm’s way.
- John Paul Jones

That is what we said once as a Navy. What do we say now?

“I don’t worry per se about its survivability where I would intend to send it,” Greenert said of the LCS. “You won’t send it into an anti-access area.”

Back that up a bit. Littoral is near land. Any land mass is, by its nature, going to be an anti-access area in a non-permissive environment. Are we really going to have a foundation Class of warship in our navy that we will not put in harm’s way?

That is just silly – of course we will. When it is the only ship around and you need things done, either you don’t do it or you ask LCS to. Also – why does it have weapons if you don’t need them against someone who can shoot back? We did build a Fletcher Class sized warship as “Level I” for a nation that is casualty adverse – so I guess that reality is sinking in.

This final bit of reimagining is actually a re-invention.

On that crisis, the CNO tried to strike a delicate balance between confrontation and conciliation. The US and its Asian partners must stand ready to “confront” the Chinese when they trespass on international norms, Greenert said, but the real solution is to prevent a crisis in the first place through quiet confidence-building — including the kind of low-profile partnership and presence missions for which the Littoral Combat Ship is suited.

That describes something the Chinese are very familiar with – the gunboat. I think he is humming CAPT Henry J. Hendrix, Jr’s tune, but others may hear it differently.

The thing is – in the 20th century, we didn’t plan to have such a large portion of our Fleet be gunboats. Most of the low-level missions described above were handled by destroyers and cruisers for most of the century, joined by frigates in the later part … which did a good job in peace, and when it came time for war – were of actual use to the Fleet commander. LCS?

On balance – all the snarky fisking aside – this was a very good admission by the CNO. Though we won’t know for sure until an actual FMC mission module makes an appearance later this decade (we think) – at least we are as an institution starting to talk clearly about the sub-optimal nature of LCS and its limited utility.

Why is that good? It is good because when you send under-armed, under-manned, fragile warships in harm’s way – Sailors die wholesale. It is better to admit that in peace, than to learn it in war.



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