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.
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.
The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.
It brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.
I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.
Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.
I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.
That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.
Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.
What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.
This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.
Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.
Billy Hurley discusses his time at the Naval Academy, his best moment in the U.S. Navy navigating the Suez Canal, his strong ties to his PGA sponsors and fellow players who support the military.
To the 2015 graduating class, “It’s just beginning now…as a Division Officer on a ship…how can you lead them…inspire them…how can you improve them?”
Did he hit golf balls off of a ship?
Last year on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” host Kai Ryssdal closed many of his interviews in the Corner Office segment by asking those captains of industry to describe what their firms do in 5 words or fewer. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich came close: “We make everything connected and smart.” Most didn’t come that close.
A couple of months ago, DoD and DHS teamed up to unveil “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Admiral Greenert, General Dunford, and Admiral Zukunft got together at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with Admiral (ret) Stavridis to discuss the new strategy, and give those in attendance a chance to ask a few questions. They didn’t make it in 5 words.
The challenge for the Chief of Naval Operations: In 5 or fewer words, what does the Navy do?
To be fair, bedrock guidance for the at-sea service of a global power will probably have to flesh things out a bit, and the Cooperative Strategy certainly does: What does the Navy do? How do we aim to do it? How do we sustain those efforts into the future? Check, check and check, but at 48 pages it isn’t exactly accessible. To those of us who live, eat, and breathe Navy, it is clear and understandable. How does it resonate with the millions of Americans who do not spend their days poring over budget exhibits and JCIDS documents, but still pay taxes, vote and watch CNN?
The 5 word definition by itself is not important. The conversation is. The Navy doesn’t need this description to replace the “global force for good,” and 5 words is probably impossible. To paraphrase Ike: plans are worthless; planning is everything. It is important to our young talent pool who may choose to honor us with their service. Junior officers and NCOs will want to know why to stay. Taxpayers will want to know what they’re buying. So why 5 words? The Navy needs to hone its messages, and needs a barrier to drive creativity. Set the bar high, and force discussion, argument and compromise. In 5 words, no one will get everything they want, but everyone will have to make a strong case for it. So where does this exercise drive us?
The Navy needs champions, vocal leaders in the service, in Congress, and elsewhere to communicate a compelling vision of the value the United States Navy provides for the country and the world. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s compelling argument of the importance of Seapower left a lasting imprint on U.S. policy. He didn’t see the future in terms of hardware and tactics, but he didn’t have to. Presidents, Congressmen, and the people took note, and the United States funded and built a Navy capable of playing in a balance-of-power world. Champions of the Navy must articulate clear objectives and cogent arguments. While the QDR and 21st Century Strategy provide top-level guidance, they seem to indicate that we should be doing everything. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority, and we’re left with POM competition to determine our path. “Five words” discussions will force us to be brutally honest about what we want to achieve, what we can afford, and what the limits of American Seapower may be.
Another important group the Navy needs to inspire is young people, the workforce of the future. While pop-cultural generalization indicates Millennials seek out inspiration in their careers, the truth is everyone, of all generations, wants to be inspired. Everyone wants to believe that their contributions are meaningful. Access and aptitude for using technology and navigating the ever-growing web of information apparently makes Millennials more difficult to lead than the coffee house slackers and the “Me Generation” that came before them. This changes neither the Navy’s requirement to recruit and train a fighting force, nor the fierce competition with other services for talent. As economic recovery continues, recruiting and retention challenges will only continue to mount. Focus counts to anyone who considers joining the Navy.
While the economy may have taken a step forward from 2009, pressure on the national budget remains. Even though years have passed since 9/11, virtually no one will say that defense spending is not important, but increased funding for defense spending is not in the offing. Many tax payers will wonder if it is as important as it once was, and as critical as other agencies’ concerns today. The focus and debate stimulated by the 5-word question will help hammer out how best to spend limited resources. How do we put a price on readiness? How can we calculate the cost of a sufficient deterrent? We must prove to the country that we are making the most of our resources.
How would the CNO respond, in 5 words or fewer: What does the Navy do? (At best, they need to do it in 140 or fewer characters.) The answers may determine how the Navy is viewed, funded and used as a component of U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. role in global affairs. Let’s start with the corner office challenge. How about “Deterrent and coercive force of American Foreign Policy in the Global Commons?” Twelve words. Missed out on humanitarian operations, and “coercive” seems a bit impolite. “Sea control in maritime domains?” Five words, but should the United States aspire to truly control the seas? Credit Mr. Ryssdal (a former naval aviator himself), this is a tough question.
We are often quick to judge, in forums such as this. When one makes a mistake, exhibits an error in judgment, or nonsensically hews to an outdated tradition, we tend to skewer that person and then enunciate all of the ways it should have been done. We are amateur critics in a profession of arms.
But these forums can also be places where we give thanks. And today, we give hearty thanks to the many hundreds of officers and enlisted whose efforts resulted in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech at the United States Naval Academy on Wednesday. For the first time in years, the US Navy is instituting sweeping changes to reform the way we manage talent and retain our people.
For those unfamiliar, some of these policy shifts include:
-A market-based system for service selection and billets
-Expand the Command Advancement Program by replacing it with the Meritorious Advancement Program
-End GMT requirements via NKO; leave training to CO discretion
-Increase civilian graduate school and industry opportunities
-Replace promotion zones with weighted milestone achievements
-Eliminate year groups for officer management and promotion
-Changes to the PFA, including how we determine acceptable body composition
-FITREP changes for performance
-24-hour access to fitness facilities
-Increase hours at child care facilities
-Improve the co-location policy
To be sure, these efforts will not be without critics; some of them require the acquiescence of Congress. These efforts will not be without some confusion, as sailors attempt to get used to a new way of advancing or running the PRT. And these efforts will not be without calamity, as a few bad apples often find the way to take advantage of new benefits they haven’t earned.
But the actions of Secretary Mabus are a clear signal to the ranks: when he says “we’re listening,” it is not simple lip service. And that is refreshing.
So, thank you, Secretary Mabus, and all the countless individuals who have written about, debated, briefed, and taken action on the issues of talent management. While there is still much more work to do and a long way to go, this leadership has proven that, of all the services, the Navy is the best place to work and to serve.
Continue to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste.
And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
We are living in a time of crisis. From the ongoing conflict in Iraq to the lingering threat of a Greek bond default, the American-led global order is confronted daily with multiple threats to its stability. These threats are occurring at a time when the resources required to manage these challenges are stretched increasingly thin. The US methodology for dealing with geopolitical crises remains largely unchanged since the end of World War II – scramble the diplomats, rally our allies, convene the UN Security Council, and reposition the aircraft carriers. Rarely have policymakers actually resolved the crisis. Rather, they work to restore the status quo ante crisis, or at least avoid the worst possible outcome.
There is, however, an equally valid alternative approach to managing the periodic occurrence of systemically destabilizing events, an approach that has been utilized successfully by other countries, if not by the United States. In the above statement Mr. Emmanuel was, consciously or not, paraphrasing a piece of popular Chinese wisdom; when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
The Chinese have had ample opportunities to operationally deploy the “crisis-as-an-opportunity” philosophy since their reintegration into the global system in the early 1980s. Several crises have threatened China’s unique system of one-party rule; notably the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In both cases, the Chinese Communist Party was able to adjust, if not necessarily reform, the institutional responses of its parent state. In order to ward off the threats to stability, it leveraged the conditions created by the crisis to the advantage of the ruling Communist Party.
But nowhere has this quintessentially Chinese view been on display more than in the reconstitution of the Chinese Coast Guard during the Senkaku Islands dispute. The Chinese were skillfully able to leverage the dispute to improve inter-service coordination, refine their operating doctrines, and energize the bureaucracy of the Chinese maritime services to make critical reforms. This piece will not examine the broader geopolitical context of the current dispute, nor will it attempt to guess when or how the dispute, which began to flare up in September 2012, will end. Rather, the focus will be solely on how China’s maritime services have not only benefited from constant, low-level military operations other than war from a training and funding perspective, but also how the coast guard agencies fundamentally restructured themselves and become a more potent paramilitary force.
Eliminating Duplication of Effort
Prior to July 2013, the Chinese ‘coast guard’ was an amalgamation of six different agencies, subordinate to five different ministries, all ultimately operating under the aegis of the State Council, the all-powerful Chinese Interior Ministry headed by the nation’s Premier. These agencies were guided by notionally separate but often overlapping law enforcement functions. For example, China’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) was established in May 2000 by the Agricultural Ministry to enforce China’s fishing laws, to coordinate fishery disputes with foreign nations, and to cope with major fishery contingencies both in rivers and lakes inside China as well as in China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). How did the FLEC’s mission differ from that of the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) agency? The CMS was responsible for “patrol and surveillance work in sea areas and coastal areas under China’s jurisdiction” as well as preventing illegal acts such as violations of China’s marine rights and the damaging of the sea environment and maritime resources. As the Senkakus crisis (a territorial dispute with a fishing dimension) unfolded in 2012, both the FLEC and CMS deployed their respective flotillas to uphold their missions.
These were not small duplications of effort. Both of these agencies were capable of deploying huge materiel and personnel resources – estimates of the vessels in their inventories range into the several hundreds. Each agency had tens of thousands of personnel. These redundancies were further mirrored in the operation of the four other maritime law enforcement agencies –the Maritime Safety Administration, Rescue and Salvage Bureau, the Chinese Coast Guard (more on this agency later) and the Anti-Smuggling Bureau. Clearly, a lack of resources to manage disputes was not China’s problem.
Even before the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis began in late 2012, Chinese maritime experts noted that mission duplication and bureaucratic infighting were eroding operational effectiveness. In a piece written for the Guangdong Province Party news organ in May 2012, reporters Fang Kecheng, Zeng Huiping and Zhai Man cited the longstanding need for “a leader” among China’s competing coast guard-like agencies. They went on to recommend a “ministry of the ocean” be created to coordinate China’s maritime law enforcement policies and responses to foreign infringement of its sovereignty along its littoral regions. Though the authors acknowledge that the lack of administrative leadership reaches back to at least the 1980s, today “weak maritime law-enforcement is responsible for the current situation: Islands and reefs are encroached upon; resources are ransacked; and national dignity is infringed upon (Kecheng et al).” The article goes on to cite the need for force that can go toe to toe with the “Japan Coast Guard” which is held up repeatedly as a model of superior administrative practices and material superiority.
As the Senkakus crisis dragged on into 2013 it became clear that among all the competing coast guard agencies that China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) was the organization best equipped to assert China’s sovereignty in the region. For starters, the CMS has boundary enforcement as one of its core missions. Given the degree to which all coast guard vessels had been required to coordinate closely with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) since the start of the crisis, the ascendancy of the CMS is perhaps less than surprising. When formally established in the 1960s, the CMS was headed by the deputy commander of the PLAN South Sea Fleet and continued to be administered by the PLAN until its 1981 transfer to the State Council. This history of operating with traditional naval units likely helped the CMS distinguish itself from the also-rans during the bureaucratic turf battles that have undoubtedly raged quietly since the start of the crisis.
In July 2013, the CMS’s position as China’s premier paramilitary coast guard force became official and the organization was rechristened as the Chinese Coast Guard, superseding the organization which had previously held that name. The new Chinese Coast Guard, under the aegis of the State Oceanographic Administration (SOA), was given the lead role in drafting and upholding the law enforcement regulations and coordinating the efforts of all ‘coast guard’ forces. The Chinese state press began to immediately trumpet the importance of this consolidation and praise the efforts of the new Coast Guard units to “sternly declare the Chinese government’s stance on its sovereignty over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands.”
During the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis, new Chinese maritime operating patterns were observed and commented on by Japanese and Chinese press. Though the crisis was largely a duel between coastal patrol forces, the Chinese and Japanese navies also played a critical role. Destroyers and frigates of the PLAN and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) conducted overwatch of the coast guard skirmishes. Typically, the PLAN and JMSDF operated out of visual range of the Senkakus themselves, at approximately 40-70 nautical miles from the islands, monitoring the tactical situation via long range sensors. Several times a month from 2012-13, Chinese Coast Guard ships entered into the territorial waters of the Japanese-administered islands waters. The Japanese Coast Guard then sortied and attempted to intercept the Chinese vessels.
These incursions occurred at the time and location of China’s choosing, forcing the Japanese to assume a permanently defensive posture. During these incursions, the PLAN and JMSDF ships also drew closer to the Senkakus, ‘backing up’ their smaller compatriots – the nautical equivalent of relying on your bigger cousin to back you up in a bar fight. These tactics required both Coast Guards to coordinate closely with their respective navies. Both nations’ Coast Guard and Navy ships had to share tactical information and intelligence on enemy units and force distribution. This allowed China’s Coast Guard and its Navy to develop and modify joint tactics and doctrine in a simulated combat environment without risking sinking – vital training for a force seeking to increase its professionalism and effectiveness.
China was able to use the Senkakus crisis as an impetus for much needed administrative reforms while simultaneously improving joint operability between its coast guard force and the PLAN. The CMS ultimately overshadowed its competition and assumed the mantle of the Chinese Coast Guard. The leaders of the former CMS certainly have much to celebrate, but in the final analysis, it is the Chinese government that is the real winner. With a consolidated, streamlined and increasingly professional Coast Guard, the Chinese are more easily able to challenge Japanese sovereignty of the Senkakus. China likely transferred these lessons learned to other areas where it feels its maritime sovereignty is being threatened, including the South China Sea.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
BCC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia, Boris in Belarus
Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Decisions, Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email Is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Today, information is all around us. The proliferation of digital technologies and resultant data explosion does not simply affirm the efficacy of digital systems over their analog predecessors like letters, the telegraph, and carrier pigeons. Rather, the data revolution mandates a shift towards a world permeated and enabled by data in a whole new way. This requires a mindset shift that will have significant consequences, many of which are not readily apparent even to experts. From the emergence of digital currencies such as bitcoins, to personal technologies like Fit Bit, the intimate fusion of the digital with our physical and social experiences is an increasingly salient aspect of culture. We have a level of connection to data the like of which historically has been reserved for spouses and significant others.
Data and the digital world are nearly ubiquitous in the military and broader society. With so much data now readily available, data and the digital world have fundamentally altered and enhanced how humans arrive at evidence-based decisions. To adapt to this, conventional military decision-making models and technological practices should have been re-examined to leverage the untapped military potential hidden within our data stores. Although the growth in complexity and quantity of data analytic packages and modeling platforms HAS altered decision models in realms as disparate as weight management and finance, the Navy faces a glaring deficiency in this arena.
As large amounts of digital data have increasingly become the basis of decisions today (including those of potential military adversaries), many of our naval decision-making processes and framework have remained in the 19th century. For the most part, advanced Navy systems for managing, synthesizing, and sharing data have failed to materialize. This problem does not simply manifest itself in the realm of supercomputers and high-end weapons and analysis development. It is all-encompassing, the most corrosive example of which is the foundation of our military communication: email.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia
Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Just Because it’s Digital Doesn’t Make It Better
Email simply took an ancient model of communication — the sending and receiving of written word–and digitized it. While the physical act of transmission is far more efficient, the human, cognitive limitations on reading and processing speed remain. We have failed to develop the technologies needed to augment the human brain and actually use email traffic in its totality. There is an easy analogy: imagine if you received 200 letters in your mailbox every day. In its current form, that is all email is. We have created an environment where millions of “letters” are generated without parallel capacity to make use of the information they contain. This doesn’t even begin to deal with the problems created by forwarding – imagine if those letters had stapled to the bottom a copy of every preceding letter, which you would need to read through in order to understand what the original letter was about!
Everyone with a .mil address knows the trials and tribulations of operating within the email construct, especially when utilizing an IT infrastructure that is inadequate, outdated, and scandalously overpriced due to the inherent deficiencies of our acquisition strategy. Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day, most of which we will frankly delete at the expense of some critical information they may contain. For the emails we do choose to read, the legibility of email traffic is compromised by the ratio of actionable information to extraneous routing data. We spend more time reading “looping in Tim’s” than tending to the “meat” of our emails.
As processors, human brains are poorly designed to collate and apply analytic rigor to the amount and format of information in our inboxes–this is why we can never quite seem to get caught up on email. The way the human psyche evolved renders humans attentive to environmental anomalies but very bad at focusing on environments that don’t stimulate the “threat detection” portions of our brains (ex. parsing emails that all look largely the same). In other words, we get distracted easily, like when we put this youtube video right in the middle of this article.
Fortunately, there are some examples of best practices we can turn to remedy our information dilemna. Financial statements used to be nearly meaningless to a broad set of the population. However, when free easy to use budgeting tools like Mint were developed, the ability to visually understand through graphs and trend summaries transformed the way many people think about saving and spending money. If Mint is an example of making large datasets meaningful and the catalyst for behavior change, then Microsoft Outlook is the opposite–equivalent to reading all of our financial statements and purchase transcripts without any frame of reference to understand what it all means.
The continued reliance on email as the cornerstone of our not only our business processes but many of our actual warfighting processes therefore renders the Navy organization hopelessly inefficient, vulnerable to security compromises, and frustrating to operate in. The time expenses, shortcomings in data presentation, and lack of analytic capacity in the email construct ensure blind, non-data-driven decision-making. The lack of enterprise-wide, algorithm-driven governance of data sharing and retrieval means protocol implementation is informed by culture rather than system design. As a result, information sharing etiquette is poorly enforced by end users who are expected to navigate the abject complexity of web traffic–locating, identifying, sharing, and safeguarding information without the assistance of modern tools. And ironically, when email fails to produce needed critical information, we naturally seek to correct the information deficit by sending more emails–adding noise to the already impossibly complex and overburdened data management construct. The over-cultivation of information makes information worthless.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google
Fw: Fw: Subj: Some thoughts about thinking differently
While we tend to think of email as a business instrument and not a warfighting tool, every warfighting outcome refers back to this communication medium in various degrees. One alternative to the current email construct would be for the Navy to eliminate email entirely and introduce a cloud-based information retrieval system. Imagine a Navy where instead of having to ask Bob to ask Sally to ask Fred for a particular piece of information (who may ultimately opt not to share it), the data object of interest could simply be queried via a Navy-wide search engine, then integrated into a more meaningful picture. For example, current year equipment casualties could be instantaneously generated alongside relevant trend data. The time savings and decision enhancement acquired by installing such a system would be astronomical.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran
Fw: Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Maybe we like it this way
However, even if the shortcomings of the acquisition system could be overcome to make such a cloud solution a reality, it is unlikely to be implemented. To start, the fact that naval personnel have continued to tolerate the email construct this long belies reason. Imagine if you didn’t empty your physical mailbox in over a year. After a series of notices from your post office and a few angry neighbors, legal action might be warranted owing to the growing piles of (sensitive) information. Yet it is also exposed to the elements, degrading and disappearing. Juxtapose this example with the email environment, where the descriptive and injunctive norms of our Navy validate this behavior. We must ask ourselves why.
The fact that we as an institution continue the use an email system that is openly acknowledged to be terribly designed and marginally effective is underpinned by a more deeply rooted problem that email has continued to facilitate; secrets remain the organization’s authoritative currency. From our budgeting process to our conversations with detailers, power in the Navy organization is extracted from our capacity to control the dissemination and transparency of information. Enacting a cloud-based system that allowed users to query for any piece of information would threaten this culture of secrecy calcified by our continued use of 19th and 20th century information exchange models. For example, making information related to a program-of-record readily available would completely dismantle the Navy’s current methods of defending its budget. . The current method is stating in a unified manner across the leadership that that every program is equally vital and equally successful becomes impossible if information on those programs is readily available. Similarly, the military’s rank structure is reinforced by a practice of knowledge hoarding (“I out-rank you, therefore I get to be the exclusive owner of this information and you have to beg for it”) that breaks down if access in a cloud-based system is relatively free and open. These are just two of many ways in which the precession of secrecy would be fundamentally disrupted by efficient communication mechanisms.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea
Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Therefore, ensuring our information management practices allow the Navy to remain a relevant instrument of national power depends on more than the adoption of new hard and software–it requires coming to terms with the very real socio-cultural barriers that prevent us from using information appropriately and effectively. Email as a communication medium is no longer relevant given the growth and availability of powerful analytic and collaboration tools. And if we do not find ways of making our culture and business models more receptive to the use of these tools, we will quickly find ourselves outmatched by our most agile and innovative adversaries. These adversaries will outpace us in decision-making and have better situational awareness. They will also have the tools and analytic capacity to exploit the currently untapped data flowing over our own relatively insecure networks (the more data we produce in the form of useless emails, the more opportunities there are for exploitation). If the US Navy is to remain the preeminent naval force in the future, it must restructure its processes and identity around something other than secrecy. Until we can effectively exploit our own data, we will lag our adversaries in the information space.
Today, understanding national security means understanding the ‘cyber’ dimension of warfare. For the last twenty years we have lived in a world where every day more people gain access to the global online commons and benefit financially, politically and educationally from that access. The concept of cyber warfare, taken to its logical extreme, will threaten the very nature of the global commons and force policy makers to improvise strategies to defend it.
The tools, tactics and strategies of cyber warfare are rapidly evolving in complex ways – a process that will be greatly accelerated in the event of conflict between two or more nation-states with mature cyber capabilities. While it is impossible to predict exactly how cyber warfare will shape the future battlespace, a sustained cyber conflict will likely pose an existential threat to the global, lightly regulated internet most liberal democracies know today. The Chinese model of the internet (a tightly regulated national network with few connections to the global system) will likely seem increasingly attractive to policymakers under intense political pressure to stop the constant barrage of foreign cyber-attacks. The global consequences of a shift to such a system would be devastating to the current paradigm of free-flowing information upon which much of the global economy is based.
War As Geopolitical Phase Change: Chaotic Systems and Phase Changes
Imagine a straight line composed of individual dots on a piece of graph paper. The line moves left to right. At a certain point along the line the dots begin to jump around and the line breaks up. Eventually the points are drawn together and reform a line. If you draw a box around the points between the two smooth segments of your line, the points inside that box will be scattered, without any rhyme or reason. In this example, the line is an orderly system, moving in a way that is understandable and predictable. The box that bounds the sporadic points is the outline of a chaotic system. The activity within the box seems strange and erratic.
The graph can be used as a model of human experience. Typically, events proceed in a way we can understand and plan for – a linear progression – but sometimes the nature of events becomes chaotic and we find ourselves unable to make sense of the world around us. War is the ‘phase change’ period of geopolitics, an inherently chaotic state during which unlikely or seemly insignificant events can play outsized roles in shaping the course of events. Once a person or a civilization is affected by war, the effects can be almost impossible to model. Who in early 2001 envisioned a major American deployment to Afghanistan by the end of the year? Importantly, the effect of war on technology can be also nonlinear and impossible to model.
Cyber at the Threshold of Phase Change
Highly specialized weapons of cyber warfare already exist in the form of STUXNET-class worms. Those weapons have already demonstrated an ability to inflict massive damage on targeted industrial systems. Clearly, cyber weapons will play a role in future conflicts, but it may be impossible to model the extent to which they will reshape the battlefield.
We are likely standing at the end of the first ‘linear’ period of the history of cyber warfare. Over the last two decades, crude denial of service attacks have evolved into more sophisticated distributed denial of service attacks. Vulnerabilities in operating systems have been used to exploit industrial control systems previously thought to be safe from manipulation due to the ‘air gap’ separating these control systems from the internet (in the case of STUXNET, the virus was introduced via a USB thumb drive). Cyber tactics are being developed, tested, combined, and retested on a daily basis.
If this already seems like a hopelessly complex problem to solve, I’ve got bad news for you. Kim Zetter, in her novel Countdown to Zero Day, states that, to date, the total volume of cyber-attacks conducted by nation states still only numbers in the hundreds, and those attacks largely have been conducted independent of conventional military actions. A notable exception, the ‘cyber salvo’ that Russia launched against Georgia immediately before Russia’s 2008 invasion, made headlines, but was only the beginning. Several hundred attacks sounds like a lot, but it’s still a small enough number that each attack can be studied and understood. Sustained conflict between any of the mature cyber powers (US, Israel, China, Russia, France, and Iran) will exponentially increase the number and complexity of attacks. Such a conflict will herald the beginning of the phase change.
At the Other End of the Chaotic Interval (The Example of Border Controls)
Though it’s impossible to model the way that cyber warfare will evolve once the phase change begins, we can still speculate, as many security experts have, about how a sustained cyber campaign might affect our world. The doomsday scenarios trotted out repeatedly over the last decade have become depressingly familiar: the banks will crash, satellites will fall out of the sky, and the dams will be blown open, flooding everything. Each of these scenarios imagines a particular cyber tactic being violently directed against a defenseless target. These scenarios contain two problematic misconceptions. The first problem with all these scenarios is that they presume to know which tactic (targeting banks, satellites, and dams) will be adopted by cyber actors. It’s impossible to know for sure which tactic will be adopted because that decision will likely made during wartime and hence occur during the chaotic interval when nothing can be safely predicted. The second problem is that these scenarios fail to appreciate the ways in which systems under attack will evolve to defend themselves. Warfare is a struggle between forces. Even if targeted nations are slow to understand what’s occurring, they will eventually develop strategies to counter cyber threats.
To use an analogy from the early 1900s, before World War I it was possible for a French citizen to travel from France to China with little or no documentation. The pre-World War I era was one of globalization – the states of Europe had not yet developed the mechanisms of border control we now associate with the inter-war and Cold War periods (imagine the fortified checkpoints surrounded by concertina wire and frowning soldiers crouched in machine gun nests).
After World War I, the surviving states all implemented strict border controls. They did this despite the cost and the detrimental effects that checkpoints have on trade and commerce. The risk of uncontrolled borders was just too great. In many cases these control measures lasted until the early 1990s when the European Union made a concerted effort to remove those barriers and expand the freedom of movement of goods and people throughout Europe.
The Fate of the Global Internet
Today’s internet is a truly global phenomenon. Users in the United States can easily access websites hosted in Russia, Poland, France, Kenya or Iran. These connections are lightly regulated by most nation states, though China is a major exception. These connections are also highly lucrative. The global internet has allowed financial institutions to quickly and efficiently synchronize operations around the world. Without the internet, there would be no online ordering or ‘just in time’ manufacturing chains. The social and economic benefits of a direct, unpoliced US – Russia internet connection outweigh the risk of, say, a concerted effort by Russian cyber actors to infiltrate the US banking networks. That may not always be the case.
The response of European states to the violent chaos released by World War I was to severely restrict inter-state economic traffic and the movement of people across borders. A similar phenomenon may occur following the first sustained conflict by major cyber actors. While countries may not completely choke off their citizens’ access to web addresses hosted in hostile nation states, it may be incumbent upon those countries to severely restrict that access in the name of network security. China has already moved in this direction by creating the Great Firewall, a system that strictly regulates the points where China’s internet connects to the rest of the global commons. President Putin recently called on Russia to build its own internet, calling the existing global internet a ‘CIA project.’
The movement away from a global Internet and toward a system of national or regional networks (North Atlantic, EU or North American for example) is one possible outcome of a future cyber conflict. While there is no guarantee that such segmentation will occur, it follows from the way that nations typically react to security crises for which they are unprepared. In a word; they ‘overreact,’ and tend to put heavy-handed structures in place that can take generations to remove (see also, post-9/11 airport security in the US). For the reasons outlined above, it is likely impossible to know exactly how a cyber-conflict will change our world… but human nature doesn’t change much. If we fail, as a nation, to appreciate the degree to which cyber conflict will change our world, we will likely make short-sighted decisions in the heat of the moment that may take a long time to fix. We should start grappling with the implications now, while we’re still in the linear phase and have some control over events.