Project SIXTY was Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s ambitious planning effort undertaken during his first sixty days as Chief of Naval Operations. It was without precedent in naval history, as no CNO ever attempted such an extensive agenda change. This was not a situation of implementing change for change’s sake but the Navy at the time was in desperate need of significant improvement. As noted in Admiral Worth Bagley’s oral history, “when he came in, this wasn’t much of a Navy. I mean, it was a good Navy, but it was not the kind of a Navy that people were used to, and it wasn’t the kind of Navy that would meet the sorts of strategic challenges that Zumwalt thought were either existing or looming.”
Many parallels can be drawn from that period of naval history to the situation today – exiting a decade-long unpopular war, defense spending in decline, a personnel system in desperate need of reform and a rising naval threat posed by a great power state. Project SIXTY is an excellent case study for implementing strategic changes, based on a realistic assessment of both strengths and weaknesses, in a highly resistant bureaucratic environment.
Zumwalt opens Project SIXTY with:
My purpose today is to report to you on our naval strengths and weaknesses and the actions we are taking, or will propose, to achieve the highest feasible combat readiness. The report reflects our survey of the Navy to date and sets forth the change of direction which we think necessary. It is impossible to discuss these changes outside the context of potential budget reductions. We will indicate the effect of such reductions; they would curtail our capabilities critically, regardless of our actions. However, we hope to emphasize the theme of the changes that we feel must be undertaken, whether we can maintain our present expenditures or not.
(For the full text of Project SIXTY, see Newport Paper 30.)
There are several important observations derived from Project SIXTY:
Take Risks: There is no question the Admiral Zumwalt was a risk taker and was unhesitant to act upon his convictions. His entire concept of modernizing the Navy was based on accepting short-term risk for long-term gain. As Zumwalt recounted in his memoirs, “given the Nixon administration’s determination to reduce military budgets, the only way I could see for the Navy to free funds for developing up-to-date ships and weapon systems that could cope with the new Russian armaments was to retire immediately large numbers of old ships and aircraft.”
Naval capabilities were seriously reduced in the early seventies while the new systems were being designed, built, and deployed for the 1980s. Leaving a much smaller Navy than what was inherited would be a difficult position for any CNO to take and would certainly leave him open to extensive criticism from inside and outside the Navy.
Further, Zumwalt personally set the tone for accepting risk. As the new CNO introduced himself to his immediate staff, he stated, “My basic philosophy is, if a proposed change is in doubt, make it and see what happens. It is easy to get a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t do something. If the odds are even 40 in favor and 60 against, my reaction is to change it and see how loud the screams are.” In today’s bureaucratic environment many offices are empowered to say no or to stop an initiative but few can actually approve something. This imbalance must be addressed – will greater use of social media within the Navy enable good ideas to immediately gain the attention of senior decision makers, thus marginalizing habitual naysayers at intermediate levels?
Set the Agenda: Although having a vision to modernize the Navy was an important factor in being “deep selected” for the position of CNO, Zumwalt felt it was important to meet with a wide-range of military and civilian leaders prior to starting his reform effort. Admiral Zumwalt traveled to several overseas locations on his return from Saigon and met with foreign officials, senior military officers from other services and a large number of junior officers and enlisted men in fleet units to hear their thoughts and concerns.
Project SIXTY had a clearly established set of issues to address from the start:
- How far to reduce current capability so as to get the most money possible for modernization?
- How to achieve balance through the high-low mix of platforms?
- How to allocate resources between the general-purpose and strategic forces?
- How to maintain high quality force when the draft expired?
- How to maintain sufficient capabilities during the modernization process?
In total, 52 separate issues were addressed during Project SIXTY.
Have a Project Manager: Admiral Zumwalt selected an outsider in Rear Admiral Worth Bagley to manage the day-to-day work. Bagley was Commander of a destroyer flotilla and was unable to immediately assume this essential position. Captain Stansfield Turner, Executive Assistant to the SECNAV at the time, was given this assignment temporarily and was told to “write a strategy for the Navy.”
Turner was largely responsible for the four main missions of the Navy of the future: strategic nuclear deterrence, peacetime presence, sea control, and projection of power ashore. Turner also wrote 30-40 two-page (yes, this was before power point) decision papers that were sent directly to the CNO, many of which were approved on the spot. Turner maintained a notebook of ideas he kept over the years and when the opportunity presented itself, he provided them directly to Zumwalt.
Zumwalt, Bagely, and Turner, all former Executive Assistants to the SECNAV, would eventually drive a small staff to complete this task successfully. Zumwalt knew from experience that a compressed time schedule would force participants to focus on achieving results.
Additionally, Zumwalt created the position of Coordinator of Decisions. Admiral Emmett Tidd filled this important position and ensured Zumwalt’s decisions were carried out – Tidd became “Zumwalt’s SOB”. Zumwalt understood the execution phase was often a burial ground for good ideas.
Be Aware of the Political Landscape: Project SIXTY reflected a keen understanding of naval politics in the early 1970s. Zumwalt recognized that having the OPNAV staff overly involved in Project SIXTY would slow down the process and normal staff work would drain the momentum from his efforts. As Turner would later note, “Deputy Chiefs of Naval Operations and other senior officers began to offer help that wasn’t particularly helpful but seemed designed to infiltrate the work.”
The high-low mix was a central component of Zumwalt’s re-optimization efforts. He was well aware of the power Admiral Rickover held within the Navy, in the senate and on the Atomic Energy Commission. Zumwalt and staff attempted to work with Rickover but it was often impossible to do. Accepting Rickover’s stonewalling, Zumwalt had to maneuver around him.
In a 1976 Proceedings article (while Rickover was still on active duty), Zumwalt reflected, “A final malady that afflicted – and continues to afflict – the whole Navy, though the surface Navy was and is the greatest sufferer, can be described in one word: Rickover.” In the end however, Rickover was saying some of the same things that Zumwalt said at the time. In Rickover’s 1982 farewell speech he concludes, “we can’t put all our eggs in the high-value carrier battle group basket, and that we’ve got to have other and more ways of doing things.”
Having worked for political appointees, Zumwalt understood the defense decision making process. Early in this endeavor, he gained the support of both the SECNAV and SECDEF, and purposefully used language in vogue on the OSD staff to bring them onboard. Adm. Zumwalt spent a large amount of his time trying to persuade people outside the Navy of the wisdom of his changes and believed institutionalizing change would be far easier with the support of external allies.
Personal Leadership: In addition to learning his new role as CNO, Admiral Zumwalt devoted at least two hours a day to Project SIXTY and this personal attention was critical in achieving results. As a comprehensive 1993 study by the Center for Naval Analysis concluded regarding Zumwalt’s leadership:
- The personal attention that Adm. Zumwalt devoted to developing, obtaining a mandate for, and marketing his agenda (internally and externally) had a significant payoff in terms of moving the Navy’s strategic rudder.
- He introduced decision-making mechanisms such as the CNO Executive Board that allowed for participatory management by a board of directors—the VCNO and OPNAV’s Vice Admirals.
- He also introduced a disciplined cross-mission, cross-platform prioritization process that allowed for “creative friction” or competition of ideas in formulating and choosing between concrete steps.
- Further, Adm. Zumwalt introduced a decision follow-up mechanism that allowed him to ensure that his decisions would be carried out.
- Finally, Adm. Zumwalt’s push of innovative concepts to early field experimentation proved critical to the development (or honest evaluation) of a number of program initiatives.
According to a 1982 assessment of Project SIXTY by OP-965, the results of Zumwalt’s ambitious efforts were mixed. A partial list includes:
Successful during Zumwalt’s tenure:
- Explicit missions and rationale for justifying the Navy (see Turner, Missions of the US Navy)
- Minesweeping Helicopters
- Marine Air Squadrons on carriers
- Oliver Hazard Perry Class Ships
- Trident Submarines
Successful after Zumwalt’s tenure:
- Vulcan Phalanx CIWs
- Ocean surveillance systems
- Sea Control Ship
- Surface Effect Ship
Regardless of the outcome of specific weapon programs, Project SIXTY made significant improvements to the Navy’s personnel system. Zumwalt’s goal was clear – create an improved system that allows enlisted sailors and junior officers to do their jobs better. As Bagley noted, “he wanted to create the mental atmosphere, the social atmosphere, and the professional atmosphere that would enhance motivation to get the professional job done in the most effective way.” This goal is consistent with CNO’s ongoing project to Reduce Administrative Distractions.
Bagley also noted the effect Project SIXTY had on the OPNAV staff during Zumwalt’s tenure, “it’s worth saying that we had a common and clear perception, from the Project 60 product, of what was to be done. There wasn’t one single policy paper that I can remember in three and a half years there in which it wasn’t perfectly clear from the Project 60 work the direction of decision that should be taken.”
In the OP-965 assessment, Dr. David Rosenberg noted in the two decades prior to Project SIXTY, the powers of the CNO were significantly curtailed by the growth and incursion from the OSD. This fact makes Zumwalt’s accomplishments even more remarkable. Since the 1982 assessment even more authority has shifted from the CNO to the OSD and Joint Staffs and the Unified Commanders, thanks in large part to Goldwater Nichols. Given this unfortunate reality, it is unlikely that any future CNO will be able to achieve the same level of success in modernizing the Navy as Admiral Zumwalt accomplished during Project SIXTY.
In September 1992, the Naval War College gathered naval experts from around the world to examine the works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond in the post-Cold War context. From the conference papers, the book “Mahan is not Enough” was published.
One excellent article from this compilation that remains particularly relevant today is “Process: The Realities of Formulating Modern Naval Strategy” written by Dr. David Alan Rosenberg.
Rosenberg uses the works of Corbett and Richmond to illustrate the importance of leveraging and integrating the expertise of naval historians and naval officers to fully understand naval strategy.
The key takeaway from this piece is a valuable framework for understanding the modern naval strategy-making process. It includes a list of seventeen topics for investigation, and while delving into each factor is too lengthy for this post, a cursory examination reveals the complex nature of naval strategy:
- The nature of training and education programs, career patterns, and professional specialization of officers in the naval service;
- The career patterns and operational, technical and staff backgrounds of individual naval officers in significant leadership positions;
- The procurement costs, capabilities, operating patterns and sustainment requirements of naval weapons systems;
- Changes in tactical doctrine and/or naval art;
- The administrative structure, operational doctrine, strategic plans and command and control organization of tactical units beyond individual ships;
- The sources of intelligence information;
- The process of intelligence production, analysis, and dissemination;
- The structure, organization, and procedures of naval service-wide strategic planning;
- The structure, organization, and procedures of naval service-wide program and procurement planning;
- The state of research and development progress of a nation’s naval warfare technology;
- The state of the national scientific and industrial infrastructure for research, development, and production of naval warfare technology;
- The character and personalities of naval service and national leadership;
- The structure, organization, and procedures of national strategic military planning;
- The structure, organization, and procedures of national program and procurement planning;
- The character and personalities of national defense leadership;
- The character and structure of the national political system as it relates to defense issues;
- The character, structure, and status of national financial and economic systems as they relate to national defense.
While this framework is valuable for researchers and students of naval strategy, it also provides a useful guide for aspiring naval strategists to consider. To become a proficient naval strategist, a broad knowledge-base attained through experience, education, and professional reading is essential.
For those interested in learning more about the history of naval strategy, the Center for Naval Analysis provides a repository of their superb work on this topic. Each of their products provides a thorough examination of navy capstone documents and covers the political, economic, and military context within which it was formulated.
As a reminder for those interested in naval history, the United States Naval Academy hosts the 2013 McMullen Naval History Symposium in Annapolis, Maryland, on 19-20 September 2013. The list of presenters and topics is impressive and the event provides an excellent forum for naval officers and historians to interact.
Considering the current fiscal climate and pressure to reduce defense spending, policy makers and military leaders are looking for innovative ways to reduce operating costs. The Pentagon is not alone in this endeavor and the entire federal government is undergoing similar belt-tightening efforts.
One approach directed by the President’s Office of Management and Budget in its Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Guidance is the increased use of evidence based decision making as a way to reduce costs and improve program effectiveness. This aligns well to the old management axiom “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” and should be applied to the ongoing effort to Reduce Administrative Distractions.
When one compares defense acquisitions to product development in the private sector, the amount of oversight and administration in defense programs are significant factors in the cost-per-unit disparity. Every private American automobile, aircraft and ship manufacturer would certainly be bankrupt if they had to contend with the excessive oversight each defense program must endure.
After the Cold War, many in the defense community explored new ways to leverage the rapid expansion of information technology beyond traditional command, control and communications functions. Naval innovators were at the forefront of this effort. Most notably Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski proliferated the concepts of Net Centric Warfare and Admiral William Owens partnered with Harvard professor Joseph Nye to pen an influential Foreign Affairs piece on America’s information edge. Owens and Nye argued that the US military advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control, and precision guided munitions enabled “a general ability to use deadly violence with greater speed, range and precision.” In other words, information would provide a significant advantage in conventional military operations.
At the same time, CDR Randall Bowdish focused his intellectual work on expanding the use of psychological operations in the information age. Bowdish clearly took a different approach in his research and notes, “By combining Clausewitz’s and Sun Tzu’s ideologies, we can discern a goal for information age psychological operations (PSYOP) -to compel the enemy to do our will without fighting. This goal is particularly relevant today in view of an increasing American intolerance for casualties. Information-age PSYOP, more than any other military instrument, may provide us with an increased capability to pursue our national interests without bloodshed.”
Historian and researcher Nate Jones of the National Security Archive marks the 30th anniversary of a tension filled year in Cold War history by publishing an interesting three part series on the geopolitical gamesmanship that occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1983. At the center of Jones’ research are the events that preceded and culminated in NATO exercises ABLE ARCHER and REFORGER. Jones posts an impressive collection of recently declassified documents that will certainly be of interest to Cold War historians and those on active duty during this period.
As the 1980s were known as the decade of “Maritime Strategy”, naval forces certainly played a vital role in this period of escalated tension.. As Benjamin Fischer of the Central Intelligence Agency recounts:
The Marine Corps must contend with two issues – to innovate after a decade of war and to operate under the fiscal pressure faced by the entire Defense Department. It will likely have to reduce its endstrength while adapting to a variety of new threats. These challenges should force the Marine Corps to reconsider some fundamental premises today that will help it effectively adapt to the operational environment ten to twenty years from now.
The Marine Corps must intellectually contest some basic organizational issues. The fundamental structure of the Marine Corps is based on a model that was effective during the World War II and Korea, where high casualty rates, limited communications, and massing of firepower were primary concerns. Is the same organizational structure, particularly the use of enlisted Marines, right for the Marine Corps of 2025 and beyond?
While amphibious operations will be the cornerstone of the Marine Corps for the foreseeable future, it could also find itself in a host of other roles and missions: complete integration into the special operations community, fully distributed operations, partnership building, and even supporting federal law enforcement or intelligence units to counter transnational threats. How will the Marine Corps adapt?
Below are a few “what-if” challenges that should stimulate debate among Marines at all levels on the use of the greatest asset in the Marine Corps, the enlisted Marine, over the next several decades.
What if… the US economy remains flat and unemployment rates climb because automation and robotics have replaced humans in labor-intensive fields? A typical rifle squad of the future may consist of all college graduates and the only difference between an E-1 and O-1 is the training path selected by the Marine Corps. How does the Marine Corps maximize personnel and prevent underutilization of the talent entrusted to it by American society? Harvesting civilian education and skills may become as important as making Marines.
What if… the line between Marine officers and enlisted Marines is erased or significantly blurred? Many retired military officers and scholars alike note the problems with the antiquated military personnel system. Changes in the private sector are often compared to changes that should occur in the military, particularly closing the gap between the roles of officers and enlisted. How can the Marine Corps close this gap? Will 25 different ranks still be necessary to distinguish levels of authority or should the rank structure be compressed?
In a recent post at AOL Defense, I examine Congress’s role in the problem of excessive overhead within the Department of Defense. Because of a series of legislative actions dating back to 1947, the bureaucracy within the Department of Defense has grown unwieldy and draws scare resources away from the warfighter. Given the current fiscal problems facing the nation and the American public’s waning support for defense spending, now is the time to reconsider some fundamental issues pertaining to the organization and management of the military forces of the United States.
From the start, a goal of the National Security Act of 1947 was to make the military more efficient and effective. The first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, wrote to President Truman after the Key West Conference in 1948 stressing the need to integrate policy and procedures throughout the military in order to produce an effective, economical, harmonious businesslike organization.
Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. was unquestionably one of the most influential and controversial officers in US Navy history. The challenges of his era, both in and outside the military, were significant and it is important for naval leaders today to study how ADM Zumwalt was able to effectively battle the naval bureaucracy to achieve significant results.
In the recent biography of Zumwalt, Larry Berman notes that Secretary of the Navy John Chafee and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were looking for an officer to replace Admiral Thomas Moorer as CNO who would serve as an agent of change within the Navy. Specifically at the top of the list for the incoming CNO to address were the challenges of modernizing ships and weapon systems to counter the growing Soviet naval threat and to resolve long-standing personnel problems related to institutional discrimination, prolonged operations in Vietnam, and issues with the all-volunteer force.
While leading the brown water navy in Vietnam, Zumwalt was deep-selected over seven admirals and twenty-six vice admirals his senior for the position of CNO. “Admiral Z” served as the 19th Chief of Naval Operations during a tumultuous period in American history, July 1970 to June 1974.
Shortly after assuming the watch as CNO, Zumwalt established a small strategic study group that examined current and future navy possibilities. “Project Sixty” as the group was known was aptly named due to the 60 day limit imposed on the group by Zumwalt. Project Sixty identified four core missions of the Navy:
- Strategic Deterrence
- Sea Control
- Power Projection Ashore
- Naval Presence
The 1974 article “Missions of the US Navy” written by Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner in the Naval War College Review succinctly articulates the rationale behind these missions and their importance to the modernization of the Navy.
At the same time, Zumwalt circulated the 1950 article “A Case Study for Innovation” by Elting Morison among the admiralty. The article makes the connection between entrepreneurship and the social necessity essential for leading revolutionary change in the Navy. Morison uses the introduction of the continuous-aim firing weapon system in the US Navy during the early 1900s as the primary case study. The essence of the article is similar to recent works by current naval innovators. (See Armstrong, Kohlmann, Munson)
To address the ongoing “people” issues, Zumwalt formed several retention study groups consisting of junior officers and/or enlisted Sailors from various communities to address issues affecting Sailors and their families in the fleet. These groups reported directly to the CNO (and frequently the SECNAV). From his previous experience on the OPNAV staff, Zumwalt understood that ideas from these groups would get diluted if they went through the normal staffing process.
Finally, Zumwalt used his famous Z-Grams, 120 in all, to communicate his intent and guidance to all levels of command and directly to the Sailors in the fleet. The “zingers” excited the Navy (both positively and negatively) and attempted to instill a sense of fun and zest, as Zumwalt often described his experience in the Navy, back into naval service. Many of the Z-grams repealed previous regulations described as “Micky Mouse” regulations in Zumwalt’s memoirs “On Watch”. During his tenure as CNO, retention rose from below 10% in 1970 to 32.9% in 1974.
A 1993 assessment of Zumwalt’s efforts to institutionalize strategic change in the Navy by the Center for Naval Analysis noted the following important lessons about leading change:
- Be bold, be quick, and be specific in setting an agenda for change
- Get a mandate from above for that agenda
- Keep the focus clear and consistent on that agenda
- Vest the agenda into the structure of the organization
- Balance top-down management to overcome inertia with participatory management to develop sufficient consensus to counteract opposition
- Establish independent bodies for internal creative friction and review
- Establish independent internal watchdog agencies with the power to enforce compliance
- Encourage innovation to ensure that change transcends one CNO’s “watch”
Zumwalt’s accomplishments as Chief of Naval Operations were certainly controversial and many of his initiatives were reversed by subsequent CNOs. However, given the gravity of the issues facing the naval services today, much can be learned from his ability to make significant changes from within the system.
In Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, the author highlights the president’s frustration with the military advice he received leading up to the surge in Afghanistan. Woodward recounts an exchange between the president and the chairman of the joint chiefs:
Obama: You guys just presented me with four options, two of which are not realistic… Of the remaining two, 40,000 and 30,000 to 35,000 are about the same… You have essentially given me one option. You’re not really giving me any options…. We were going to meet here today to talk about three options.
Mullen: No, I think what we’ve tried to do here is present a range of options, but we believe Stan’s [McChrystal] is the best. (p. 278)
The issue of presidential dissatisfaction with military advice is not a new one; problems in the Kennedy, Johnson, Ford and Carter administrations are well documented. As a result, improving military advice to civilian authority was one of the fundamental goals of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (G-N).
At the heart of the problem, political leaders often seek options for the best use of military force while military leaders present advice in the form of a recommended course of action, derived from a consensus-based planning process. Former DASD for Plans Dr. Janine Davidson masterfully describes this problematic relationship in her forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly (Winter 2013). She concludes, “Ultimately, the output of the military’s planning process fails to deliver the type of nuanced advice in the form of creative options that the president needs.”
Davidson attributes the “broken dialogue” to three sources of civil-military friction. The first source relates to the difference in expectations of civil-military control. Two differing schools of thought help frame this issue. Military leaders are more likely to be part of the Samuel Huntington school while political leaders are likely to subscribe to the Eliot Cohen school.
As military operations in Afghanistan wind down and pressure to reduce defense spending heats up, policy makers and military leaders must carefully assess how to effectively posture the US military for the challenges of the 21st century. Part of this assessment must include identifying the right mix of general purpose forces and special operations forces.
Given the potential demands for traditional capabilities during the so called “Naval Century”, striking an affordable and sustainable balance between the two-forces must be of particular concern for the Naval Services. A recent CSBA report on strategic choices for the DoD identified Special Operations Forces as one of the four “crown jewels” that should be protected in light of forthcoming austerity measures while reducing the size of the Marine Corps and the number of Navy surface ships.
Over the past several months, two reports from the Congressional Research Service began to scratch the surface on this complex issue. First, Andrew Feickert identified that the increasing demand and expanding role of special operations forces will push up against its self-imposed force endstrength limits, intended to maintain the high-quality of personnel within the SOF community. This creates a greater demand for special operations “enablers” from the conventional forces. This shift will have to occur at the same time reducing the endstrength of the Army and Marine Corps is taking place.
- Ears Open, Mouth Shut: How the Navy Should Really Approach Innovation
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #23: Engine Order Bell and Telegraph from USS Kearsarge
- The Warping Effects of an Unbalanced Mind
- Defense Forum Washington 2013: Senator Kelly Ayotte
- Defense Forum Washington 2013: The Honorable Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy