This past week, Navy leaders called for sailors, civilians, and researchers to commit themselves to emphasizing and adopting robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve warfighting challenges. In a memo to service chiefs, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called for the DON to consider “how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.”
Why do commercially developed AI and robotics offer such promise to the sea service? Are these advances decades away? And how can sailors in the fleet help drive the change Secretary Mabus is calling for? Let’s examine these questions further.
The Virtuous Technological Cycle: Faster and Cheaper Computing
Pop culture is familiar with the concept of Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits. Simply put, this maxim states that computing power has tended to double every 18 months for the last several decades. This leads to steady advances processing power and resulting technical advances.
But Moore’s Law is not the end of the story. As speed and computing power have increased, the cost of these capabilities has decreased rapidly. Consider the cost required to execute a gigaflop, a standard measure of computing power. In 1984, it cost $42,780,000 in hardware to complete this task. By the year 2000, this figure had dropped to $1,300. Today, it costs less than eight cents in hardware to complete this task.
These factors create a virtuous cycle. More advances in power lead to more applications where a technology might be adapted. More applications lead to more demand, which in turn lead to larger numbers of chips being manufactured. More investments in manufacturing lead to more investment in research and therefore quicker development. The cycle feeds on itself.
As computing power becomes faster and cheaper, it allows scientists to harness machines to complete new and more challenging tasks. Artificial intelligence programs can sift through massive repositories of data to learn patterns they can then recognize. Software can be programmed to observe situations and “learn,” just as a human does from experience.
Consider the Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks, or BRETT, under development at UC Berkley. BRETT is programmed to utilize “deep learning” techniques to observe a problem, orient itself, and solve the issue. While it takes several hours to solve a simple task, with increases in computing power, its speed will grow. Just as a child’s simple brain grows into an elegant masterpiece, so too will such machine learning technology develop rapidly as computing power continues to race forward.
Adopting Rapid Technological Solutions: How to Outfit a Truck
In an article in Proceedings in 2012, CNO Jonathan Greenert wrote about budgetary and acquisitions challenges. Due to lengthy development of new platforms, Adm. Greenert suggested that rather than buying “luxury cars” with numerous built in features, the Navy ought to buy “trucks” that can carry modular payloads. Such open architecture systems can easily and rapidly adopt new sensors, weapons, and technology at relatively low cost.
This flexibility combined with rapidly advancing computing technologies makes the near future very bright. While DoD has been and remains at the forefront of research and development, there are many commercial entities building robots and AI products that have dual military uses. Tools like autonomous robots, facial recognition databases, and speech recognition and translation software have all been developed in the civilian sector and offer great promise in military applications. The speed of commercial innovation is regulated by market forces and Moore’s Law. The speed of our acquisitions system is regulated by a bloated process developed by legislators and implemented by managers with a vested interest in its perpetuation. Which system do you think is faster?
By adopting commercial technology in open architecture systems, the pace of adopting new capabilities can accelerate. Enhancements to ensure information assurance and security will be required. Acquisitions processes will have to be respected as well. But this will minimize costs as well as cut down on the multi-year interval between requirements for a weapons system being frozen, and initial operating capability milestones. Open architecture systems in the aviation, submarine, and surface forces that will enable these capabilities to quickly “plug and play,” with upgrades coming in months rather than years. This will bring new capabilities to match the pace of technological advances as closely as possible.
Imagining the (Not so Distant) Future
How realistic, though, is the introduction of machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence into military service? Certainly, the Navy has adopted systems like the X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System. But are these other technologies more pipedream than reality? Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
While writing, I imagined flying a mission in the near future in my most recent fleet aircraft, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Such a jet would have an AI system that could analyze the ocean environment, predict the actions of a threat submarine, and recommend to its operators where to search. Acoustic operators using SSQ-125 multistatic sensors would be assisted by an AI system that used machine learning techniques to analyze reflections from underwater targets and provide its judgment whether the return was a submarine or a shipwreck. The aircraft would be equipped with an autonomous communications intelligence (COMINT) recording and translating system. This system would automatically record, translate, and transcribe chatter it received.
Sound like science fiction? If it does, the reader may be surprised to know that all these technologies either already exist in various forms, or are very close to reaching fruition. For over a decade, the MH-60R helicopter has boasted an advanced decision aid called the Acoustic Mission Planner (AMP). By analyzing the ocean, AMP can provide a crew with recommendations on where to employ sensors and search. Updated in real time, its algorithm provides a changing search plan as the hunt unfolds. Similar tools for fixed wing aircraft are being developed.
To detect quiet diesel submarines, the navy has turned to high-powered active sonars. These systems, in theory, are subject to high false alarm rates, and require operators to decipher the returns. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing machine learning software that observes how humans classify returns, and then mimics that behavior. Such “human mimetic” behavior can augment the performance of a less-experienced human operator or speed up classification by a seasoned aviator.
While automatic translation seems to be the realm of Star Trek, such technologies are becoming increasingly common, to the point where they are freely available through services such as Google Translate. Earlier this year, DARPA announced that speech identification and translation software could be available to intelligence analysts and combat troops as early as 2017. Such automated tech could remove the need to carry a linguist onboard, while providing the P-8 a new intelligence gathering capability with no additional manning.
Challenging the Warfighter
Adopting robots and AI systems will not just require warfighters and support personnel to consider how new technology can be employed. It will also require that we consider our relationship with these tools. Far from fearing this technology as a threat to us, or our eventual replacement, we should acknowledge that our role will shift and embrace that reality.
While machines increasingly take on monotonous or computationally intense tasks, we will take on the role of supervisor and analyst. For example, airline pilots frequently discuss their role as one of a “systems manager,” allowing the autopilot to conduct much of the physical task of flying while they observe system performance and make decisions regarding malfunctions, weather, and optimizing their route.
Joining the Conversation
New technologies and warfighting challenges will require solutions from all corners of the fleet. The Navy’s Office of Strategy and Innovation has recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as the Innovation Hatch. In the next month, leaders are challenging sailors fleet-wide to offer their ideas and thoughts on how advances in AI can solve problems they see every day on the deckplates.
The Naval Warfare Development Center has also recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as Navy Brightwork to harvest ideas from the fleet. Brightwork is more focused on warfighting applications and as such has both NIPRnet and SIPRnet portals.
It’s an exciting time both in the Navy as well as society at large as we watch technology grow and change around us. Tools that were rare just years ago are ubiquitous and cheap today. As advances in computing race forward, let us hope that sailors adopt the technology around us to seize the intellectual high ground and win the conflicts of tomorrow.
As a Junior Officer, it was very enjoyable to drive for an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) – with the sole exception, that is, of trying to make sense of the Radian Rule. I have strong memories of my attempts to internalize the relationship between the bearings and ranges. There always seemed to be one, but I never quite made it to a coherent understanding until much later in sea duty years. As an XO and CO recently, I finally had a more mature understanding of this important ship driving principle as well as numerous opportunities to train and coach Midshipmen and Junior Officers during UNREP events. In this article, I’d like to share a few approaches that take advantage of a more nuanced understanding of this well-known guidance.
The Radian Rule Equation and Its Uses
The rule of thumb that’s encoded in every table of Radian Rule values is laid out below. There are several ways to capitalize on this understanding as the team is either preparing for or executing an UNREP approach. I’ll start with a couple of the more common ones and then introduce three favored approaches to the problem. As a baseline assumption, the goal distance I’ll use for alongside separation is 180 ft. I think you’ll see soon, however, that they work equally well for any alongside separation distance.
Technique #1: Make a List
From a new Conning Officer’s point of view, this was a fairly common approach to the problem of understanding and using the Radian Rule. Many Junior Officers arrived for both the brief and the evolution with a list of bearings and ranges that would indicate the ship was on track for the desired separation. Such a list might look like this:
This technique works well if the team is able to verify bearing to the oiler at each of the yardage milestones on the list, since a single data point is seldom as valuable as a series of consecutive observations. This method is less useful if the range for a given observation isn’t one of the milestones, or if the team misses a milestone.
Technique #2: Use a Radian Rule Table to Determine Separation Distance
This technique is by far the most common, and involves a third party (typically a Quartermaster) looking up each bearing and range combination in a table similar to the excerpt shown below. While it ensures that each data point is useful in determining the overall trend of the ship’s relative motion with respect to the oiler, this method – in my opinion – doesn’t help substantially to develop the Conning Officer’s understanding of that motion. Stated differently, the difference between a good and a great Conning Officer is the ability to add his/her own evaluation of a situation to the input they get from the rest of the bridge team. I believe there are more effective ways (discussed further below) to build this capability in our Junior Officers.
A Note on Advanced Techniques
Techniques #3 – #5 have one prominent feature in common – they all depend on mental math. While this may present a challenge, there are several advantages to these methods. First, mental math promotes independent judgment by the Conning Officer and/or coach for each observation throughout the approach evolution. Second, the mental math in these methods requires that the Conning Officer and/or coach build a mental model of the relative motion and internalize the relationships among bearing, range, and lateral separation. Third, from the Conning Officer’s point of view, these techniques offer a different way to learn the evolution and may appeal more intuitively to certain Officers. Finally, from the coach’s point of view, these techniques offer yet another mental tool for dispassionately evaluating the sight picture and ensuring the bridge team is appropriately focused on providing good inputs to the Conning Officer.
With these points in mind, I’ll introduce three non-traditional techniques. Each of these relies on the Conning Officer’s and coach’s ability to mentally exploit various forms of the baseline Radian Rule equation.
Technique #3: “The Rule of 3600”
This technique works well in concert with either Approach #1 or #2 above. Since the separation distance for which we’re aiming is a constant (180 ft in this case), the right side of the equation becomes a constant:
Simplifying the Radian Rule equation, then, we get the following:
For any combination of bearing and range, we can multiply them and compare them to 3600. If the product is less than 3600, the ship is approaching the oiler at something less than 180 ft of separation. If the product is greater than 3600, the ship will approach the oiler wide of 180 ft separation. A few examples below illustrate this principle.
While it’s an imperfect measure, this technique allows the Conning Officer to corroborate his or her visual judgment with a quick check of the math, and then to combine those judgments with either of the first two approaches to refine the solution. This technique is very flexible with respect to desired separation distance, as well. If the goal is 200 ft, for instance, then the constant becomes 4000. Finally, this technique provides a good gateway to the next two approaches.
Technique #4: “Where Should You Be Right Now”
With range as an input, the Conning Officer works out the bearing he or she expects to see and then compares that prediction to reality (measured bearing separation). Direction and magnitude of any required course corrections follow relatively easily. The baseline equation, solved for bearing, follows.
This technique is a modification of technique #1, and it has two principal benefits. First, it helps the Conning Officer avoid the persistent need to divert attention from the approach to consult a list of bearings and ranges. Second, it helps to build the Conning Officer’s and/or coach’s comfort with mental math.
Technique #5: “Predict the Separation”
This technique is a modification of technique #3 and an extension of technique #4, using a different arrangement of the equation to anticipate the estimated separation for each bearing and range combination. Solving the Radian Rule equation for separation, the expression becomes:
Once the Conning Officer is adept at the mental math of multiplying the bearing and range, the only remaining step is to divide by 20. The simplest way to do this is to remove a zero and divide by two. A sample is shown below.
This is a mental math version of Approach #2. While this is more difficult than any of the four previous techniques, the principal benefit to this approach is that it gives the Conning Officer and/or coach convenient tools to mentally evaluate the geometry they are seeing on the bow. For the Conning Officer, the nuanced context available from each observation constructively builds the spatial judgment and physical intuition we call Seaman’s Eye. This technique allows the Conning Officer to take maximum advantage of sometimes-scarce evolutions and reinforces a more subtle understanding of the relative motion between ships that sometimes eludes the most seasoned veterans. I found it to be tougher than the other techniques to teach and use, at least at first, but it was infinitely more rewarding when the Conning Officer understood it and was able to use it.
It takes time and effort to learn how to safely conn the ship alongside. Proven techniques that have propelled ships alongside safely for decades are available to those who will take the time to learn and use them, and they can be improved with a small investment in systematic thinking about the geometry built into the evolution. Techniques #3 – #5 suggest ways to exploit the mathematical relationships inherent to the Radian Rule that offer two significant benefits. First, they build confidence in coaches by encouraging a more intuitive understanding of the relative motion throughout the UNREP approach. Second, they help build Seaman’s Eye in our Junior Officers by sharing those insights with the fertile minds of the Officers who drive the ship most frequently, and who are most apt to exploit them effectively.
As reported by the Washington Post on June 4th – “Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December, US officials said Thursday, and the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.”
What is OPM? The organization that collects, collates and manages all the security clearance information for US personnel. That includes biographical details about the people in the US government who hold security clearances.
This is the single biggest US security breach since at least the Cold War, although I am personally struggling to think of anything directed against the US that approaches this scale. You can change access codes, passwords and encryption standards in a compromised computer system fairly easily but once the names and biographical details of everyone who holds a clearance are stolen by a rival nation for nefarious purposes … that’s a whole different ballgame.
The identity of the Watchers at NSA, CIA and the Pentagon are now likely known to the Chinese military. Some of these individuals will be the target of Chinese surveillance operations ranging from spear phishing emails to physical shadowing. In war time they may actually become targets for kinetic operations. American spies used to be able
to watch the Iranians, Chinese and Russians secure in the knowledge that they could observe without putting themselves at risk of detection. That era – the era of the American Panopticon – is over.
Update June 25th, 2015: Its possible that the number of affected could be as high as 18 million.
In 2013, an article explored the gulf between creativity and innovation within the U.S. Navy’s ranks. It defined creativity as “investing in our future” and innovation as “finding a new way to solve an identified problem.” Innovation takes place in the Fleet every day. When Sailors are given the room to think outside-the-box in order to solve problems encountered on the deck-plates, it positively flourishes. Now back at sea, I am pleased to see that “Sailorized Innovations” abound. A few months ago, we were faced with a problem exasperated by the cringe-worthy phrase, “This is how we have always done it.”
The ship was moving from the naval station to a civilian shipyard. The assigned berthing barge – where Sailors live and work during an industrial period – was to be placed astern, vice outboard, of the ship. This configuration would require a brow – a “gangplank” for non-Sailors – be run from the pier directly to the barge. To transit between the ship and the barge, a Sailor would have to use the pier. Thus, the ship would need to stand-up extra force protection watch standers to guard the barge. These new posts would add four-thousand man hours to the crew’s watch-standing load during its stay in the shipyard.
The goal was to negate the extra watch-standing requirements. While the command was told that every ship had used the configuration in question and managed to survive, the solution seemed quite obvious and easy to accomplish. If a brow could be rigged from the already-protected ship directly to the barge, the need to guard the barge would be erased. The answer seemed simple, but getting to “yes” was another story.
In the Navy, “the box” is frequently defined by Standard Operating Procedures – usually well-established, sometimes stained in blood, and all-too-often acting as blinders to the here-and-now. These can turn into the sworn-enemy of innovation. As Clayton Christensen suggests in his book of the same name, breaking down these confines and pushing the solution to the identified problem outside-the-box, or looking beyond today, is truly the Innovator’s Dilemma. How does one come up with a new way to solve a problem – innovate – if they are told that they “cannot get there from here?”
Successful innovation requires a questioning attitude. It requires positivity. It requires a clear goal and buy-in. And finally, it requires tenacity.
It is far easier to say “no” than it is to embrace, or even experiment with, change. This is especially true of people who do not have a vested interest in solving the identified problem; ironically, usually the same people who have the power to institute change. When you encounter a problem and are told to make-due, ask questions. Do not be bowled-over. Do not be bullied. A questioning attitude not only improves quality-of-life, but it has the potential to save a life. If presented with the cop-out, “This is how we have always done it,” ask “Why can’t we do it this way?” A questioning attitude will require others to engage in the problem and ultimately defend their position amidst your scrutiny.
Negativity is an anti-body to innovation. The concepts are mutually exclusive. The successful innovator must be positive. They must look for solutions, not problems. They must take set-backs in stride and always keep the good that can be done by their innovative spirit at the forefront of their mind. Maintaining a positive, forward-leaning attitude also has a measurable impact on relationships and networking. The keepers of the purse and the makers of the rules will always choose to work with the positive person over their negative counterpart. The innovator’s team will move mountains for a positive leader.
Possibly the roughest patch in the pursuit of innovation is that place where it intersects with creativity. Creativity involves coming up with a new idea – investing in our future – and normally does not address an identified problem. Creativity may also add more work for the end-user, hence the moniker, The Good Idea Fairy, used so frequently throughout the military. The Fairy comes out of nowhere, taps his wand, creates a new requirement where none was needed, and flies away as the troops struggle to implement his “gift.” Whereas creativity often occurs in a vacuum, successful innovation takes place in the moment and requires a clear goal. What are we trying to solve? This goal ensures that we focus our efforts and maximize the efficiency found in the eventual solution. For the innovator’s efforts to gain any traction, they must have buy-in – both from subordinates, who have the know-how, and from superiors, who provide top-cover and latitude, keeping the innovation-incubator safe from intrusion and exerting influence over outside entities.
Most importantly, the successful innovator must be tenacious. Few people are inclined to expend extra effort on another person’s behalf. When one attempts to solve an identified problem through innovation, they will more-than-likely be met with a resounding “no!” It is easy to give that answer – it requires half a breath and no brain power. The successful innovator – endeavoring to solve a problem – will hear that answer over and over again. Every new approach to the solution will result in more reasons why “it cannot be done.” Innovation is impossible if the innovator does not have the stomach for “no” and gives up in the face of adversity. This is where a questioning attitude, positivity, clear goals and buy-in really count, because with those tools in the innovator’s kit, the tenacious flame will remain eternal.
Meaningful innovation is rarely sexy. Though it was not flashy, the ship’s innovative solution – running a brow between the ship and the barge – was a non-starter with the shipyard. The ship was told that this configuration was not the way it was done. Though a seemingly benign situation, the ship’s leadership had their ideas cast aside. Yet, the commanding officer not only supported the plan developed by his innovators, he in fact directed it, knowing that it would be a major win for the crew and most importantly, would ensure their safety and that of their ship. Through willpower, tenacity, and a drop of common-sense, the ship was able to win the day. A brow was rigged from the ship directly to the barge and one team of watch standers was utilized. This configuration endured for 3 months and ultimately proved popular with both Sailors and the shipyard. It was a shining – if not a somewhat mundane – example of successful innovation.
So who cares? A brow was placed in a new spot instead of the usual spot. Big deal. The reason this matters is that our lower echelon units – in this case, our warships – are suffering under the crushing bureaucracy of higher headquarters and civilian support entities. As one colleague phrased it recently, every single waking moment at work seems as if there are a thousand flaming marbles raining from the overhead – ceiling – and letting one hit the deck will bring about the end of the world. All too often we are faced with minor challenges while our hands are tied behind our backs, our ankles are cuffed, our mouths are taped shut, and someone continually pokes us in the eyes. We must not settle for that. We must seek out the small victories. Our units, our equipment, and our people – not to mention the missions we exist to carry out – are far too important to live by the lowest common denominator. Diving in and having the moral fortitude to respectfully push-back and find innovative solutions to every-day problems, produces an exponential return on an investment of sweat-equity. Things are tough these days and throwing up our arms in exasperation is the easy answer; it is not, however, the right answer.
In this case, it was a “misplaced brow” that overcame one of the million “face-palm” situations we are presented with on a nearly-daily basis. This configuration did not save lives and it did not win a battle. It did make a positive impact, though, and as leaders, that should always be the goal. Be respectfully stubborn, innovate as if you are trying to find your way out of a scene in Inception, and keep the fire in your belly burning as you stare down Goliath with steely-eyed determination. Our service and our nation will be put to the test again soon enough. Missiles will fly, explosions will roar, and victory will rely on leaders at all levels who can think for themselves when the lights are out and chaos is everywhere. Train like you fight – do not wait for lives to be on the line – innovate today.
The nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN), with its embarked carrier air wing(CVW), is the only maritime force capable of executing the full range of military operations necessary to protect our national interests.
From deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations,Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) stand ready to answer the call in all phases of conflict. Navies across the globe aspire to extend their influence by building aircraft carriers and developing deployment models that mirror what the United States has been doing for more than eighty years. Our innovative leadership in this arena must continue to grow as the need for a modern aircraft carrier remains critically important to the continued freedom of navigation on the high seas.
Geopolitics and global threats require that we maintain a maneuverable and visibly persuasive force across the globe that can accomplish a number of missions, over sea and land. The carrier is the only answer to this requirement and the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will soon be underway fulfilling this critical need.
The Ford is not a notional, larger than life project that may never see the light of day. Ford is alive and pier-side in Newport News. Ninety percent of the actual ship is structurally complete, and multiple cutting edge systems are coming online each month. She is nearly ready to go to sea and a community of sailors, shipbuilders, engineers, and citizens cannot wait to take her to the front lines.
Return on Investment
Despite the significant costs of developing the world’s newest aircraft carrier, the investment is absolutely critical to our national security over much of the next century. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the U.S. to operate without a “permission slip” for host nation basing. Ships like Ford will generate the full range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries with minimal notice or diplomatic coordination. It is understandable that the cost of operating 100,000 tons of fast, highly-lethal combat power should come with a high price tag, but we’ve been committed to rigorous oversight and management of cost and delivery deadlines. Looking at cost in a vacuum without considering how unmatched warfighting power is extracted from each of those dollars would be shortsighted. Overall, the Ford class brings improved warfighting capability, quality-of-life improvements, and reduced total ownership costs. Together, these efforts will reduce manning by approximately 700 billets, reduce periodic maintenance, improve operational availability and capability, and reduce total ownership costs through its 50-year life by $4 billion for each ship over its Nimitz class counterpart. With the exception of the hull, virtually everything has been redesigned; it is the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years. The ship’s design includes sophisticated new technologies that deliver capability now and will continue to grow with the incorporation of future weapons systems. A new nuclear propulsion and electric plant on the Ford class will generate almost three times the electrical power over the Nimitz class, leading to higher aircraft sortie rates and excess power to incorporate future technologies, such as the employment of directed energy weapons. From the Advanced Arresting Gear to engineering efficiencies, the Ford class is cutting-edge.
Ford Class delivers enduring, unmatched air power
The Ford and Nimitz class will remain relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging. While Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, our Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats. It is important to look more broadly at how the CSG as a whole is equipped to deal with these complex threat environments. With an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the CSG remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary, where it matters, when it matters.
Additionally, the air wing itself will grow and adapt around the carrier to keep pace with technological advances and future capabilities. We’ve seen this before with the former USS Enterprise. The air wing aboard the Enterprise in 1962 was nearly unrecognizable from the modern composition of aircraft when she decommissioned in 2012. Nevertheless, that mighty ship was still able to execute missions and outmatch threats over a 51- year period. When you leverage the capabilities of the F-35C, our fifth generation fighter, with the capabilities of our F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60R/S Seahawks, you have what you need to fight and win against adversary threats in the near and long term. Future systems like the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program will only add to CSG lethality while diminishing vulnerabilities. Unlike other classes of ships, the aircraft carrier does not need to be retired when its primary weapons system becomes obsolete – the ship will continue to operate and dominate in any environment as its air wing and company surface combatants evolve.
History has proven time and time again that when the United States’ national security or national interest is at risk, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will steam ahead and be the first to answer the call. There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of the modern carrier on global events than events that have occurred this past year. After the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) expanded through the Middle East, our deployed CSG surged forward to protect citizens and interests throughout the region. Carrier Strike Group Two and the USS George H.W. Bush deployed into the Arabian Gulf to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. CSG 2 formed the only armed response option for the nation for 54 days. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group and Carrier Strike Group One followed, flying 12,300 sorties, including 2,383 combat missions. Now, the USS Theodore Roosevelt stands watch with Carrier Strike Group Twelve, an indispensable tool at the Combatant Commander’s disposal to fight a brutal enemy.
Beyond air power alone, the integrated nature of the sensors and weapon systems within the entire CSG is invaluable to Combatant Commanders and decision makers in Washington, D.C. Cruisers, destroyers, maritime patrol and reconnaissance force aircraft, and national sensors integrate with the CVN and CVW to broaden the reach of our most capable assets. Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is a game-changing concept that will greatly enhance Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) missions. NIFC-CA relies on a family of sensors rather than a single system. Inputs from air and surface assets create a common operational picture among platforms and incorporate integrated fires (from air and surface platforms) to counter and neutralize missile threats. This revolutionary capability is already integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group.
There is no doubt that our aircraft carriers remain relevant in this time of geopolitical tension due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While conflicts no longer span entire oceans, there are real and dangerous adversaries that seek to derail peace and inflict harm. The investments we make now in the Ford class carrier will ensure we continue to confront these threats. Whether it is combatting terrorists, assisting humanitarian assistance efforts after a natural disaster, or deterring future conflict, the nuclear powered carrier will continue to be the centerpiece of our Nation’s initial and lasting response across the globe.
This post originally appeared at the NavyLive Blog, and is cross–posted here with permission.
Earlier this month, 36-year old Massachusetts resident Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting with Kurdish peshmerga forces against ISIS. He is believed to be the first U.S. citizen killed in action against ISIS. He was remembered yesterday in Massachusetts and laid to rest. It is unknown exactly how many U.S. citizens have volunteers to fight ISIS, though a Kurdish source suggested in March about one hundred Americans were serving in Syria alone.
This is in stark contrast to the past decade when the American media has highlighted those citizens who have fought against U.S. interests. The first high-profile citizen was John Walker Lindh who fought with the Taliban and was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in November 2001. Others have worked with Al-Qaeda included Adam Gadahn, a senior advisor to Osama bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year by a drone strike. According to testimony earlier this year before the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, stated that “more than 150 U.S. persons from a variety of backgrounds and locations in the United States have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria. A handful of these U.S. persons have died in Syria.”
Private citizens joining foreign conflicts or in the service of other nations has a lengthy history. After the American Revolution, for example, John Paul Jones left the U.S. to serve as an admiral in the Russian Navy in the Russo-Turkish War. War of 1812 naval hero Captain David Porter (the step-father and father of two Civil War admirals, David Farragut and David Dixon Porter respectively,) was court-martialed in 1824 and later commanded the Mexican Navy. U.S. Naval Academy graduate Philo McGiffin, having failed to secure a commission in the Navy, served in the Chinese Navy during the Sino-French War and the First Sino-Japanese War.
In the twentieth century, volunteer citizen-warriors became more organized. Nearly forty Americans served including eleven killed while serving with the Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter squadron, in France during World War I. American pilots served with the Kosciusko Squadron with the Polish in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21. Of more than 3,000 Americans fighting against Spanish fascist forces in its civil war (1936-38), nearly 700 died as part of the Lincoln Battalion. Prior to entering the Second World War, American pilots comprised three Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons. Still others fought the Japanese with Clair Chennault’s Flying Tigers.
Broomfield was the first citizen to die fighting ISIS but, as history shows, it is unlikely he will also be the last.
Innovation is the buzzword of the day in naval circles. On the heels of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation,” even Senator John McCain is calling out for innovation in the armed forces. The latter recently signaled the alarm bell in Wired magazine, paraphrasing a famous campaign line by stating, “the Pentagon confronts an emerging innovation gap.”
These leaders often cite the example of Silicon Valley, the mecca of small start-up companies and modern American entrepreneurism. The thinking goes that, if only our services could exude more “disruptive thinking,” or acquire systems faster, or flatten organizational structures—then we will achieve success.
Yet the US Navy is not a small start-up. And while many of our Sailors and Marines have great ideas that will impact technology and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) across the range of military operations, there is an insidious creep arising amid the growing “innovation gap:” central planning.
Successful innovation in the Navy has no program office, no resource sponsor. Yet as Congress and leaders begin to demand or expect it, we are in danger of morphing the ingenuity of individuals into “capital-I Innovation.” One can imagine a fate not too dissimilar to that of acquisition versus Acquisition.
Since his speech at the Sea Air Space conference in April, SECNAV has been regularly posting memoranda on his Navy.mil website. Each document contains background information on a particular area—robotics, for example—and then a list of “shall” accomplish requirements for the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, all to be completed by a specified date.
Make no mistake: this is an important advancement for our Navy. Introducing an element of outside-the-box thinking from on high is part of what our service needs.
But “shall” actions with a defined deadline miss the point of innovation. In fact, the concept of innovation itself stands at odds with the increasingly managerial, assembly-line service we live in. True innovation has no timeline; good ideas and products are tied to neither the Fleet Readiness Training Plan (FRTP) nor the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS). Few people, if any, whether they were in Silicon Valley or their parents’ garage, ever woke up and said, “By tomorrow, I am going to come up with a revolutionary idea.”
Instead of attempting to mandate innovation with deadlines and taskers, Senator McCain and Secretary Mabus should be leading discussions in three important areas:
First, how does the Navy deal with questions? SECNAV is already talking about this, but it is important to have a larger discussion on the topic. Failure to attain qualifications and expertise in rate or platform can still be unacceptable, but what about the few who show up to quarters with ideas on how to make their small corner of the Navy better, more efficient? What about the folks who constructively ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” We should expect excellence in systems and tactics, while also having the capacity to challenge our people to suggest and implement improvements in those systems and tactics. Connecting like-minded service members and making more centers for experimentation available are part of the solution, but so is leadership—from the LPO and Department Head level and beyond— that looks at its “quirky” sailors less as nuisances and more as potential assets.
Second, how does the Navy deal with failure? Operational Risk Management, or ORM, is championed around the Fleet and seems to be a mainstay in everything from work center training to holiday safety briefs. But what do we do with officers or enlisted sailors who have the right intentions and either attempt to push their platforms too far or have a momentary lapse in judgment? Our current zero-defect mentality belies our naval history: Admiral Nimitz, one of our most storied heroes of WWII, ran his first ship aground as a young lieutenant. He was allowed to continue his service, and a court-martial declared that “he is a good officer and will probably take more care in the future.” Have our platforms become so expensive, and has our fear of public relations become so pervasive, that we would fire today’s sailors in a similar predicament? What does that say about the leadership we are actually cultivating? Not all failure is catastrophic or should be treated as such.
Third, what do we do with innovative service members? Can a tinker-sailor-leader-innovator become a commanding officer of a ship, submarine, or aviation squadron if she accepts shore tour orders to a billet in ONR or the Pentagon? What if she delivers benefits to Navy platforms or TTPs while she is in this “non-production billet?” This will speak more to interested sailors—and to coaxing a groundswell of innovation—than dictates from above.
Senator McCain is right in his op-ed: our services need acquisition reform. This is a large part of the solution towards adapting to the pace of technological change.
But the greatest advancement that the Senator or Secretary Mabus could make is to view the current innovation movement not as a program of record or urgent operational need (UON), but rather as a core operating concept. We want a service that is more lethal, agile, and responsive without shelling over outrageous sums to defense contractors. Sailors and civilians, whether they are in the Fleet or in the Pentagon, are capable of outstanding innovation to that end. They need the inspiration to try, make mistakes, and carry on without fear for their jobs or their fitness reports.
This requires no act of Congress and should not be passed down through memoranda. Rather, it is a discussion to have and a change in thinking required both in the halls of the Capitol Building and throughout the Fleet. We must move from a service dictated by metrics and managers to a team inspired by leaders. This is the paradigm shift required for our Navy to move forward in this century.
Three months after the unveiling of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” or CS-21R, America’s sea services are busy as ever. While the document did not change much from its predecessor, it has elicited questions from junior officers and enlisted around the fleet, such as “how does it impact my immediate job?” and “we still get MIDRATS, right?”
CS-21R is a must-read for officers and enlisted of every rank and rate. It paints a compelling picture of naval operations in this century that can help answer some of the “Why are we here and what are we doing?” questions we frequently ponder.
Although it is a strategic document, CS-21R has implications for warfighters at the tactical level. The actions of individual sailors and aviators on ships, submarines, aircraft, and on the ground can have a marked effect on the efficacy of our naval strategy. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it does serve to highlight how those executing at the tactical level of warfare can help achieve more widespread success and competency across both our service and the joint force.
1) Know your OPTASKs, OPORDs, PPRs, CCIRs, etc. Don’t rely on the roving Air Wing or Strike Group brief or the cockpit cheat sheet; actually read the documents, comprehend them, and help others do the same.
2) Understand the intelligence and “battlespace awareness” process. Most ships, squadrons, and other units have intelligence officers, but many are not using these individuals to their full potential. Remember that your Information Dominance Corps (IDC) officer hasn’t gone through flight training or your warfare-specific school but they have been trained to help improve your knowledge of the threats you may face or the people you may interact with. Help them understand what you do, and take the time to really understand what they do and need from you. What reports are they making with your information? How can you use your sensor to give them a better product and achieve mission success? They are as much a part of the kill chain or the OODA loop as you.
3) Never rest on your laurels. Constantly strive to consider how each platform and operator influences your sphere of operation. You should work for a symbiotic relationship as much as possible; for example, understanding the operation of radio equipment onboard a destroyer can help an F/A-18 pilot better communicate across the range of operations, throughout the battlespace. This is not an assignment that will be doled out to you by some prescient being; you must actively work to create your own synergy. Pick up the phone, send an E-mail, or walk to a space and take time to do thorough coordination.
4) No platform is an island. Do not do your job alone; you must work to include all other service, joint, and increasingly, multi-national operators in your processes and procedures. The time to “get on the same page” is before bullets and bombs start flying. Each squadron, department, and division should have applicable contacts in other units performing similar missions. For example, E-2C squadrons should proactively establish a dialogue with all elements of theater command and control, including AWACS, JSTARS, CAOC, CDC, and ASOC. This can either be “tasked” by a higher headquarters or voluntarily initiated by the unit itself; either way, make contact early, and keep it often.
5) Figure out how to do a Spartan mission. The Electromagnetic Spectrum is being legitimately contested by near-peer nations and non-state actors; this may have serious consequences as our military relies more and more on complex systems and trends towards technological complacency. Paper charts, communications brevity, and even lights and signals remain important media for mission accomplishment in extremis. Excellence in operating in information- and network-denied environments is crucial. This aptitude is not easily measured, but is essential to real unit readiness.
6) Take time to understand unit, service, theater, and national Command and Control (C2). More than bullets or bombs, information is the most critical commodity in today’s conflicts. How does that information flow? Where does it go? Who communicates? What is the dwell time of each communication? What is each communication supposed to sound like? Why does it behave this way? Taking time to understand “who’s who in the zoo” and establish good relationships can be the difference between success and failure in critical phases of combat.
7) Get innovative with mission planning. It is important to understand and respect the past actions of the threat, but always consider how the threat may evolve to catch you off guard when you least expect it. As General Stanley McChrystal advises in his book Team of Teams, “data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.” Be smarter than your enemy, not just more technologically advanced.
8) Leverage unmanned systems to maximize your lethality and effectiveness and to improve your survivability. Surveillance feeds from unmanned air and surface craft can also increase situational awareness, especially as platforms operate across domains (such as when a surface ship fires a Tomahawk missile at a land target, or a manned rotary wing aircraft is executing surface search against maritime targets).
9) The network is a means, not an end. Too many entities act with the belief that “the network will save us.” Use it for leverage, or to quicken your reaction time and increase situational awareness. But remember that you can’t fire a network at a ballistic missile or unidentified surface contact.
10) Ensure a thorough understanding among all theater players of your TTPs. NIFC-CA and other concepts increase the complexity of operations. Leverage capabilities and technology but keep the plan simple. This goes beyond immediate mission planning—ensure a level of understanding throughout all theater players on your TTPs and capabilities. If you are on the ground, and the only asset you can contact for air support does not understand what you are asking or speak your particular “language,” the time for teaching may be extracted at a price.
Tactical actions have strategic consequences.
Read. Think. Write. Debate. Then, Operate.
Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.
Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.
Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.
This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.
*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.
Midshipmen have a hunger to learn and to exert ourselves intellectually. We want our lectures to simulate the level of in-depth analysis that will be expected of us in the Fleet.
We are second-class midshipmen at the US Naval Academy who, after eight combined semesters of 20-credit course loads, want more out of the Academy’s academic mission. We believe that the academic curriculum should remain challenging, but that it can be tailored with an emphasis on developing midshipmen into problem solvers. We understand there is currently a conversation in the upper echelons of Navy leadership about reenergizing the Naval Academy curriculum. We offer our opinions to provide experience-based input into these discussions.
Consider what many midshipmen perceive as one of the most mundane courses at the Naval Academy: navigation. Imagine if instead of passively listening to the lecture, our weekly assignment includes perusing the New York Times, selecting hotspots around the world that will likely elicit a US Navy presence. What Numbered Fleet claims responsibility for this area?
What capabilities do we have to respond? Logistically, how is the response executed? What grand strategy is associated with this response? What are the responsibilities on a junior officer level? Lessons are most engaging when the instructors are able to incorporate their own Fleet experiences to illustrate the relevance of the course material. The navigation instructors have the experience to take our thinking to the next level.
Integration of practical skills, professional knowledge, and complex international relations is key to engaging midshipmen in a productive manner. The majority of students sulk through the seamanship and navigation program uninspired and apathetic. Let’s revitalize these core classes to provoke thought and excitement about their future responsibilities as Navy and Marine Corps officers.
This renaissance can extend to the entire core curriculum, to include not only social sciences but also courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The academic culture of the Academy is currently no different than any other civilian college or university, where the core knowledge is learned in order to pass the class and to graduate. As future officers, these courses have the potential to not only give us baseline proficiency in the sciences, but to develop us into better problem solvers. Our objective is not to simply learn the material, but to practice a way of thinking representative of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our core classes ought to have deeper value: developing an analytical thought pattern that will be applied to our future careers. The core does not need to be dry; it should be there to encourage critical thinking in all realms. Both the strategic implications of a surface warfare mission, as in navigation class, and the way we solve our physics problems are related in how we approach a situation.
Academics represent something more than just a grade; they are a critical proving ground for developing the way future officers solve problems and communicate ideas. Instruction at the Naval Academy must challenge midshipmen to think, to ask us the unanswerable questions and require us to defend our conclusion. There is a symbiotic triad between students, faculty and the institution that needs to exist for this atmosphere to be achieved. It is just as much the midshipman’s job to become individually invested in the material as it is for the faculty to stimulate productive discussion and the institution to revamp the curriculum to match the intellectual expectations of the Fleet.
We understand that there is a balance between time demands, quotas from the Fleet, logistical considerations of the curriculum and the egalitarian nature of the Naval Academy. We are not suggesting a heavier academic workload, or that the solution rests with a single group. Our goal is to spark a discussion on how to better foster a culture that produces critical thinkers which is collaborative between midshipmen, faculty, and the institution. By offering an opinion from a midshipman’s perspective, we hope to draw others into the conversation. The first step towards an environment conducive to this culture shift is a dialogue about how to maximize our four years in Annapolis.
Junior officers are expected to be professional problem solvers. The mission of the Naval Academy is to produce the most competent officers. Allow us to better uphold the mission by integrating this mentality into the classroom. To be proficient in this skill set, we need to practice now. Challenge us to think, to learn, and to take a vested interest in our futures as Navy and Marine Corps officers. We will match your level of intellectual intensity.