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.
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.
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?
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.
I think it safe to say that one thing almost everyone who comes by USNIBlog shares is a deep and abiding love and respect for our maritime heritage and the exceptional record history made by those who came before us.
Without its history, a organization is ungrounded and without a baseline to reference. In that light, what are we to make from paragraph 2 of the Navy IG’s Command Inspection report from AUG 11 (you can get the entire document here) ?
Three core mission areas are at risk in the future because of facilities challenges, command practices and resource constraints. … the perceived quality of work life at NAVHISTHERITAGECOM is the worst we have observed since NAVINSGEN began collecting such data in January 2006.
Give it a good read.
What is going on? An internal battle over the direction of an organization that has leaked in to a Command Inspection, or is something this important broken?
We are spending millions of dollars chasing numbers for the sake of numbers. What if we – the Naval service – knew that the ability to change the racial and ethnic numbers coming in to aviation was totally outside our control? What if we also knew that the data being entered was full of errors, inaccurate, and not related to the larger desired outcome?
What if we knew that – but – decided that we were not only going to continue to try to control the uncontrollable, but to try to create accurate metrics from inaccurate data?
Well – that is what we are doing – and we’re even saying it.
The Naval Audit Service put out a report in OCT of 2011 titled, “Naval Pilot and Naval Flight Officer Diversity” that was released in a redacted version via a FOIA. You can get your own copy of it here. There is a lot of good in the report, and it deserves a full read.
The problem as some see it is outlined early.
The Naval Pilot/Flight Officer communities, a significant portion of the Navy’s commissioned officers, are not on track to reflect the diversity of the nation. In his 2011Diversity Policy, The Chief of Naval Operations states that we “must…build a Navy that always reflects our Country’s make up.” Low enrollment, high attrition, low preference,and low selection at commissioning sources for certain minority groups, and low performance in flight training, are contributing to the lack of diversity.
If this trend continues, future senior leadership in the aviation community will not reflect the diversity of the nation.
That identifies the “what” and “so what.” Is the solution inside the lifelines of the Navy to correct? As real barriers were removed well over half a century ago – then, “what next?”
The reasons for the delta are now socio-cultural in the nation at large. Just one of the core entering arguments:
We know it is beyond our control too.
A review of the “reasons why” certain groups enroll at low rates, or have higher attrition, may identify issues beyond or outside Navy control.
This is good. This is a modern, mature, and logic based approach to a tough problem; sadly we don’t flesh it out much in the report – but it is a start.
Objective standards are fair, but do not guarantee equal outcomes when, on average, the indicators for success differ at the start.
Student Naval Pilots/Flight Officers’ performance is measured using a Navy standard score. To be eligible for the jet training pipeline, a student Naval Pilot must receive a score of 50 or above. We reviewed the flight training performance standards and found that they appeared objective.
However, we determined that African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic students’ average Navy standard scores were lower than Caucasians. These lower scores negatively affected the number from each minority group entering the jet pipeline.
Is that the Navy’s fault? No – that simply reflects the educational and socio-cultural challenges the broader nation has.
In the past, the Navy has got itself in trouble by pushing good people with good intentions to start to do bad things. This is where the bad comes in.
Establish metrics to monitor and track progress of enrollment, graduation, preference, selection, and performance …
We all know what metrics mean. From measures of effectiveness to “goal achievement.” If you cannot move the needle due to factors outside your control and only have objective criteria based on indicators for success under your control … what can you do to move the needle that the metrics demand? The answer isn’t good for anyone.
Even if we could chase numbers – are the numbers accurate?
It should be noted that race and ethnicity was self-reported by the students, and they could self-report as a different race or ethnicity when asked at different times.
Well, there we go. It is good to see in print what we have all seen in the Fleet. Fraud, folly, or foolishness; it is there when it comes to checking the block, and it increases the margin of error for all these numbers.
To our credit, the Navy has not lost faith in its objectivity, but knows there is pressure to move away from that objectivity. More than most warfare specialties perhaps, aviation is exceptionally sensitive to standards due to the minimal margin for error in that line of work. You can feel that undercurrent in this report – the professionals trying to push past the retrograde zeitgeist.
We concluded that the Multi-Service Pilot Training System, used by Chief of Naval Air Training to measure student performance, appeared objective. To account for potential differences in scoring across training squadrons, student scores are normalized over the last 60 students that graduated from the same squadron to create the Navy standard score.According to Chief of Naval Air Training officials, the Multi-Service Pilot Training System is a legally defensible and objective system.
Towards the end, the authors touch on a survey that was a lost opportunity. What would have been the results if “non-diverse” and male students were asked the same questions about themselves? Just to compare results, it would be interesting.
We also reviewed the “Naval Aviation Student Training Attrition Report,” a summary of exit surveys administered to student Naval Pilot/Flight Officers after they resign from or complete major phases in flight training. When asked whether diverse students were discriminated against, 0.08 percent (4 of 4,996) of respondents indicated that this occurred, and 0.39 percent (3 of 766) of diverse respondents indicated that this occurred. When asked whether female students were discriminated against, 0.46 percent (23 of 4,996) of respondents indicated that this occurred, and 2.67 percent (12 of 450) of female respondents indicated that this occurred.
In any event – those are incredibly small numbers and considering the human condition – numbers to be proud of. You will never find 100% of people who think they are being treated fairly – but 99.92% to 97.32% ? Even by Soviet election standards — that is exceptional.
This whole exercise is sad in another, broader sense. This is the second decade of the 21st Century. Many of those entering flight training are 22-23 years old. They were born in 1990-91. So much of the training, ideology and talking points about diversity seem stuck in the 1970s. It simply is not reflective of today’s generation of young people; why are we forcing division down their throats?
Unlike those of earlier generations who are making these decisions, today’s young men and women live diversity every day. It is a natural part of their lives, and to force such a multi-racial and mixed-race generation to divide themselves by something as meaningless yet divisive as race (my family can pick a minimum of three if they want) is, at best, counter productive.
At worse? Review history – your answers are there.
Vietnam said earlier this week that six Buddhist monks will soon take up residence on one of the Spratlys. The monks, who reportedly will stay for the next year, belong to the government-sanctioned wing of the Buddhist church.
In all seriousness though, this has all the ingredients; oil, sea lines of communication – and overlapping claims that adds fuel to it all.
…to re-establish abandoned temples on islands that are the subject of a bitter territorial dispute with China.
The temples were last inhabited in 1975, but were recently renovated as part of efforts to assert Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.
The monks’ delegation is being organised by the local authorities in the southern province of Khanh Hoa, which exercises administrative responsibility for the islands on behalf of Vietnam.
It has also paid for the refurbishment of the island shrines. They include three larger temples and several smaller ones.
The monks have been appointed abbots of the island temples for a six-month period.
Along with China and Vietnam, parts of the islands are claimed by the the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
To get the Monks there takes just a boat – to keep them there or to kick them off takes the ability to project naval power ashore.
Is this a provocation? Of course. The billion dollar question is; what national security concern is this of ours? If it isn’t, when does it become one, if at all?
Neptunus Lex – as he was known in the Navy milblog community, Captain Carroll LeFon, USN (Ret.) to the rest of the world – is gear-up, flaps-up and well on the way for his final mission. You can hear why by following this link.
Back in the early days of the milblog world, there were very few. Lex was out there early in late ’03, and when I started in mid-’04, I was already familiar with his work as one of the few Navy voices out there. With Sean, Joel, Chap, Will, Skippy, EagleOne – it was a small group in the beginning and we all helped each other out getting started, and Lex was there for all of us.
I hadn’t been blogg’n for long when he first reached out to me – in a good humored way – to let me know that I may want to dial it back a bit. I think our conversation went something like this as an active duty Captain to active duty Commander;
Lex: “Not to tell you how to run your blog, but I think you went to far on that post yesterday.”
Me: “Am I on report?”
Lex: “No, just thought I would give you a little nudge on your last post, as it is a bit too much.”
Me: “I know. You’re right.”
Lex: “It’s OK, its your blog. You just might want to let it sit for awhile before you take it out of draft next time.”
After our initial email conversation, I teased him a bit as the “Navy milblog SOPA.” As at that time we were mostly to fully anon in many ways; we didn’t really know who was the senior active duty blogg’r – but we generally gave Lex the nod.
A gentleman, officer, good stick, good writer, and just plain good man. Over the years, we would comment on each others blog now and then – and exchange emails much more to share ideas, pass off tips …. or return to our original conversation. That was Lex; part blog buddie, part mentor, part philosopher, but a gentle professional always.
There were also a few projects we worked on together over the years in that way you can in the blogosphere. Always a pleasure to coordinate with as he was always focused on the goal of the collaboration – not himself. Thanks to the opportunities provided by USNI, I even had the opportunity to break bread with him a few times. He retired right before I did, and as I made that transition I watched Lex’s path.
The path that took him back to the aircraft. In a fashion, he died serving his nation as he knew best – in the cockpit.
In life, on-line and off, he built a strong network of acquaintances and friends – that too speaks a lot for the man – and most of us are in the same place right now.
On that note, I will leave Lex with a thank you, well done, and farewell for now.
When we meet again.
History shows that the national mood determines spending priorities as much if not more than even economic needs. In a representative republic, our elected officials respond to the mood and desires of their constituents in fits and starts – but usually head in that direction.
If you are making long-range plans, like military budgets and systems development, to avoid spending time and money on systems that Congress or a future Pentagon will never support for production – because they don’t meet the mood and direction the nation is going – you need to make sure you can see the big picture.
To do that, you need to make sure you are not stuck in either group-think in your small circle, or worse than that – have tunnel vision such that you are unaware of what is going on around you.
A nation and a society can often have trouble with self-reflection. In the national security arena, a professional must make the effort to read widely and deeply; seeking out not just like-minded ideas, but even more importantly contrary ideas. Better than that, make an effort to read foreign sources of opinion and analysis.
Where do you look? Well, if you want to get an outsider’s view, the Anglophere-centric The Economist is good. The English version of Der Spiegel works. The major British papers and their English language counterparts from Japan, Singapore, Al-Jazeera works too. Everyone finds their mix.
There is no nation that is more like the United States – and therefor more likely to pick up our nuanced trends – than our friends to the north, Canada. Some don’t really “get” us – but our fellow North Americans usually do.
You could do worse than to take the time to listen to a relatively objective opinion from a friend. The Canadian Conference of Defence Associations Institute (a non-partisan think-tank) has its strategic assessment out. It is well worth your time to read the whole thing, but the opening section on the United States has an interesting hook;
Americans are war-weary, disappointed with what has been achieved at great expense, and feeling exploited by ungrateful allies. Debate is intensifying over how national interests should be defined and the degree to which the security of Americans requires expenditure of lives and treasure in faraway places. There is a rising mood of disengagement which will translate into actual disengagement in selected areas no longer deemed to be in the national interest.
There will be no going back to Iraq whatever happens and 2012 will feature continued drawdown of US forces and involvement in Afghanistan. The Administration will find it very difficult to send forces anywhere in 2012 unless the security interests of the United States or those of its closest friends and allies are openly threatened or humanitarian needs are overwhelming. With the economy improving but remaining fragile, the United States would be hard pressed to finance or gain public support for any new foreign policy or defence initiative not directly in support of the supreme interests of the country.
In the event Washington cannot avoid sending forces into harm’s way in 2012, there is every indication the Pentagon would want any engagement to be short and sharp, with objectives which are as narrow and clearly defined as possible, and with little or no chance of stretching into a lengthy and complex intervention of the type which characterized the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. One should expect the Administration’s posture to prefer persuasion over force and, when diplomacy and sanctions fail, to favour the employment of military force with as much precision as possible.
If they are correct – what are the implications for the defense budget and the Navy-Marine Corps team? Are we training and equipping our forces to be ready for this in a shrinking resource environment? Are we adjusting our manpower allocations to ensure that the “high-demand-low-density” assets will be there in the right amount, or will they be put under the same haircut as everyone else?
If the American public’s mood continues along these lines – are we being realistic on what kind of budget we will have in 10-years? Are we being too optimistic, too pessimistic – or just about right?
Having served with the Canadian forces, have Canadian friends, and heck – even took the family to Canada for our summer vacation last year, I admit to being a Canadaphile – as a result, agree or disagree, I always give them a good listen.
This time, I think they about nailed it.
Hat tip T.E. Ricks.
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