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[Ed. Note: This reads like a report, because it is. This is what I turned in for my expository essay in my Writing 101 class. I got a 93 on it, and I've been trying to write this more as a blog. But, it's already written, so why am I reinventing the wheel? And so here it is: How I finally began to truly understand the rank structure in the military and where the tactical fades into the strategic.]

There is a quote I frequently see while playing Rome: Total War attributed to Julius Caesar, “[i]n war important events result from trivial causes.” I had always considered the quote cogent and well said. But, more recently, I came across a new (to me) terminology for a type of event called a Black Swan. Once I had made the connection in my mind between Caesar’s quote and a Black Swan, I found myself thinking about another work by General Charles Krulack, USMC (ret) where he spoke of the importance of junior leadership in modern conflicts. Between Caesar’s quote, Black Swans and General Krulak’s work, there is a coherent theme explaining rank structure in the military and the synergistic relationship that exists between the tactical and strategic levels of warfare.

Caesar’s quote strikes me as a tacit understanding of “Black Swans” and their implications for military campaigns. Nassim Taleb introduced the terminology for a “Back Swan” in his book The Black Swan. Taleb defines a Black Swan as an event denoted by its “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” Meaning that a Black Swan is an event of great significance that was never expected nor predicted to happen. According to Taleb, Black Swans explain why things occurred in history and our personal lives.

Caesar’s words intersect with Black Swans in that Caesar describes the causes of “important events” as “trivial.” Caesar, states there to be causation between the “trivial” and “important” while also denoting a qualitative difference between cause and effect in his words. It is logical to conclude that if one has a series of trivial events, that their sum would be trivial as well, or that there is a linear relationship between trivial events and their effects. However, by Caesar’s words, this is not the case. Rather, it is the sum being greater (important versus trivial) than the whole—a nonlinear relationship. To individuals looking at a series of trivial events and attempting to predict the outcome, it is hard to see how they could predict anything important deriving from the trivial–Such “low predictability” is a key aspect of a Black Swan.

Caesar’s words come from a strategic perspective. As the leader of the Roman Legions marching through Gaul, Caesar was responsible for subjugating 300 tribes and destroying 800 cities, in all affecting three million Gauls, killing close to a million of them. But, what was trivial to Caesar may not have been so trivial to one of his Centurions—it is a matter of perspective. Such perspective is inherent in the duties between those who are charged with leading tens of thousands and those leading hundreds (or less). Does the fact that there are two different perspectives mean that Caesar was wrong in calling such causes trivial? In a word, no. He is correct based on his perspective and context in-which he performed his duties. Caesar did not confuse his duties and station with those of his cohort commanders. What’s more is that his Centurions would probably call the duties Caesar carried out as trivial in comparison to the harsh realities of fighting hand-to-hand.

As events transpire, the implications of what causes Black Swans are of importance at the tactical level, and the Black Swan itself is important at the strategic level. However, at any level it is of importance to have an understanding of previous Black Swans (their causes and the event itself) that are not limited by post hoc narratives.

General Krulak is well known for this article titled the “Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War.” His work concerns a fictitious conflict occurring in a few blocks of a city. He describes the tactical actions of Corporal Hernandez and their possible strategic implications. Caesar’s “trivial causes” are described. But, the General goes beyond merely describing decisions and their ramifications in stating that junior Marines have an intuitive—intuitive, not explicit—understanding of their “trivial” actions resulting in “important events.”

The General explains how Cpl. Hernandez’s decisions were made in such a manner that it, in essence, prevents a Black Swan type event from occurring. Cpl. Hernandez took the training he had been given, and imbued with an intuitive understanding of the implications of his actions and made the right decisions, thereby preventing the tactical situation from evolving into a situation with “strategic implications.” Where Caesar does not, in a single sentence quote, comment on the role of his Centurions in battle or their ability to prevent Black Swans, Krulak does by describing the challenges faced by Corporal Hernandez. Caesar is describing events from a ‘big picture’ perspective, and General Krulak described them from a ‘smaller picture’ perspective, Taleb’s Black Swan is the concept that ties the two together.

From the age of the Roman Empire to today the military has been facing the same types of challenges. It is from these challenges that we have decided how best to partition responsibilities, delegate decision-making authority and deal with the unexpected. Black Swans will never allow perfect predictability. Black Swans have always existed, and military professionals have been discussing them, the implications and best methods for overcoming them since Caesar. The only difference between what military professionals have had to say regarding Black Swans is the vocabulary used.

The challenges of leading men into battle do not change, only how we chose to describe those challenges. With Taleb’s words we find a common vocabulary that bridges thousands of years. With this common vocabulary we can better understand what is said by other writers and find the other truths that have endured through the centuries.



I continue to be impressed and humbled with how much Belgians remember the sacrifices made by others for their freedoms. No one asks them to do it, nor do I think the Belgians themselves make any effort to let Americans back in the States know what they do. They remember Americans of my Grandfathers generation just because they want to, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by this fact.

This weekend Mons marked the anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis. Mons was the first city in Belgium to be liberated (2 September). In remembering this event, Belgians, French, Spanish and others dress as US Service members did during WWII.

Seeing Belgians remember Americans for what we did means a lot to me, not just because I wear a uniform today, but also because one of my Grandfathers served in Belgium as an ordnance officer during WWII.

A block from my Apartment I ran into General Patton. He didn’t speak alick of English. But, he did carry a picture of the General with him in his wallet, which if I understood him, his father took back in 1944.

Most of those dressed as GIs wore the 101st unit patch, despite the fact that it was the 1st Infantry Division which came through Mons. The fact that Band of Brothers centered around a unit from the 101st, is what I assume to the reason why so many Screaming Eagles were present today.

I’ve been told that Mons displays more tanks and American WWII vehicles for their liberation day than anywhere else in the World. The Grand Place isn’t a small square by any means and today it was filled with vehicles.

I am not able to identify the class of Tank with the yellow “F-12″ on it. But, the building behind it was standing when we came through Mons (its been there since the 1500s).

This is the second time that Belgians have humbled me with how they remember their and America’s shared history. What makes it mean the most, I think, is that no one asks them to remember America’s part in their history. They don’t have to wear American uniforms, or lovingly restore parts of America’s history. But they do, and what’s more is that when you talk to them and they hear your American accent, they are surprised that an American is even there.

Though, out of everything I saw today, I think I got the biggest kick out of the ‘Sailor’ I met today wearing Utilities that she though were dungarees. I still have my utilities and there is always next year.



Ed Note: The post below was written by a mentor of mine from the Chief’s Mess, who has asked to otherwise be anonymous in this post. I will say nothing else, and let him take it from here.

Navy manning policy cycles through phases so regularly it could be best described as a soap opera “As the Pendulum Swings.” First was the Reagan Era build up, then a Clinton Era “peace dividend” drawdown. With Donald Rumsfeld came “faster, leaner, more lethal,” and the twin monsters of “Optimal Manning” and the infamous “Top-6 Roll-down.” Broken ships and ineffective crews were the result. Now the revealed Word from Washington is that the Optimal Manning Experiment is over. ADM Greenert’s statement of “we’re going to effectively migrate, reconstitute in a way, the surface fleet afloat,” is encouraging, but the actions needed to meet his goal of sustaining the fleet seem distant, if not impossible given the corporate track record.

The Balisle Report recommended that over 6,500 billets be restored to the fleet. Only 2,200 were approved, with another 3,900 slated for FYDP accessions. The fine print never makes the headlines in All Hands, or the Navy Times. At this time we are told to cut the Navy by 9,000 Sailors. We have to cut solid performers who happen to be in overmanned ratings, while we should cut those who don’t meet standards, or are marginal performers at best. Why must we do this? Because personnel costs, and the billions of healthcare dollars those personnel require for readiness and recovery, are “eating us alive.” Leadership chants the mantra of “people are our most important resource,” but the reality of where the Navy is putting its money is clear. The Naval Vessel Registry lists 245 active hulls as of June, 2011. The same registry lists 268 Flag Officers: 243 Active, 22 Active Duty for Special Work, and 3 Full Time Support. Last time I walked the Naval Station piers, only three ships had broken an Admiral’s Flag at the masthead. Merging Second Fleet into Fleet Forces Command is supposedly one such “cost savings” designed to optimize the Fleet. But, no Flag billets were harmed in the merger. With President Obama announcing a drawdown of 33,000 combat personnel from Afghanistan, and Congress clamoring for further cost savings, it is only a matter of time before budget pressure on incoming Secretary of Defense Panetta turns the magnifying lens on our “greatest asset,” Deckplate Sailors.

Division officers and Leading Chiefs rarely have time, much less energy, to spend on the fine print in the “big picture.” Getting through the training cycle with often less than 70 percent of their required Sailors, often inadequately trained, to meet all the tasking given down by their Commanding Officers is an 18 hour a day job. Mandatory training days, meetings, and pre-meetings, operational briefings, watchstanding, and documenting every Sailors performance and attendance is a job in itself. Additional time to train, mentor, supervise maintenance, preservation, professional development all comes from somewhere – sleep time most likely, which NAVMAC cheerfully points out is eight hours a day – but in reality is maybe five or six.

What the spreadsheet wizards at OPNAV N1 and BUPERS missed in their calculations is a vast amount of time and work that is always needed, yet seldom calculated in manpower estimates. How do they account for the hours preparing for a 3M spot check, only to have the inspector reschedule because of a surprise visit from ATG or the Squadron Chief of Staff? Trite promises such as “civilians will do surface preservation when in port,” to justify the loss of half your deck department force, ring hollow. Standing up additional Force Protection Condition (FPCON) requirements drain away both production, and stamina. My last ship stood up FPCON CHARLIE measures in a CONUS maintenance availability because Second Fleet enforced a requirement written for “non-Navy controlled ports.” If there was ever a port controlled by the Navy, it is Norfolk Virginia. Yet that is what we did for 18 months–until leaders with the best interest of the crew proved it was hurting production far more than ensuring security. Lest anyone be ignorant, every VIP or Flag Officer visit adds another 4 hours of field day to the ship’s workforce; time also needed for training, preventive and corrective maintenance. More time is lost checking up on the contract repair teams that require quality inspection time equal to the time spent on the repair itself–another thing not factored into NAVMAC’s computer. A couple years ago I went to a conference to discuss the “standard Navy work week.” After several days of reality based discussion, the whole meeting was round-filed because our input would have increased the documented hours – and thus full time billets required – by 30 percent. “Not the answer we were looking for you to endorse,” was the message, and we went home to our ships. What safety procedures could be changed to reduce manning? Could we get by with less wing-walkers when moving aircraft? NATOPS categorically said “no,” and had safety statistics to prove it. Could we add the three hours of CNO mandated physical training to the work week calculation? No, because it would create a need for more billets. The message was clear – we want to reduce head count – don’t confuse the system. Dilbert seemed very apropos.

Manning requirements are estimates. When designed, they are one number. After built, they are usually less, because N1 is looking to save money for N4 to buy missiles. After being in service for a while that number drops again. Congress lowered the authorized end strength, or “boots on ground” requirements exceed two whole Carrier Battle Group’s worth of Sailors. Someone gets a medal, for reporting those ships stay “mission ready” despite manning shortfalls. It’s just a SHELL GAME.

Your ship must be at 90 percent or better manning to deploy. You have 75 percent. Calls are made, hands are shaken, and golf course diplomacy secures the critical NEC and general labor is sent TAD to the ship – for 90 days or so – enough to show the TYCOM you are at manning requirements. But this plus up is not really a fix. TAD Sailors in critical specialties don’t end up on the Force Protection watchbill. They often don’t end up in the repair locker. Sometimes, they don’t even stand duty. Because they are special – it’s in “the deal.” They often don’t use chipping hammers, needle guns, or paint brushes either.

Your division’s work is supposed to be done by 35 Sailors. The Ship’s Manning Document (SMD) calls for so many Sailors of different ranks, NEC and specialized schools. Odds are, You won’t have them. Due to “funding constraints” the Billets Authorized (BA) is only 30. If your command is lucky, the Navy Manning Plan (NMP) allocation might equal funded billets. Often, the time your Division’s share of NMP might be only 20. Either way, your division is still not going to have all 35 Sailors. First, some will be on terminal leave. Some billets will be gapped either from the Sailor being LIMDU, or ADSEP for discipline issues. Secondly, some billets may seem filled, but the Sailor is TAD away to required schools (that never seem to get completed) en route to your command. Depending on the billet they are designated to fill, some Sailors need up to nine months of schools AFTER reporting aboard for a 3 year tour. Lastly, the open wound of Individual Augmentation festers on your Watch, Quarter and Station Bill.

When a message tasking your ship to provide a critically needed NEC E5-6 with a perfect record, security clearance, and long enough PRD to meet the Noble Eagle mission timeline is likely to grab your divisional LPO, 3M Workcenter Supervisor, or the ONE and ONLY Sailor with that NEC needed for mission critical maintenance. You might have two on paper, but the other sailor is LIMDU or TAD to a critical school for another couple months. So, you protest. You send up your impact statement to RECLAMA. Your protest falls on deaf ears since the Commodore is going to HAVE to send someone, and dammed if it’s the guy from his flagship.

Optimal Manning was supposed to streamline training to “just in time” pipelines that provided fully trained Sailors to ships at the right time, so no loss of readiness occurred at PCS time. It’s a pipe dream. The Sailor you are losing has years of experience with that equipment, which is guaranteed to be slightly different from another ship of that class. The new guy is very likely to be junior, or not quite fully recovered from LIMDU, or missing the pipeline training. The last 30-60 days of the outgoing Sailor are focused on THEIR moving off. The arriving Sailor might not report for weeks or months after he transfers. End result is you’ve lost six months of effective production from that billet and everyone else in the workcenter, duty section and ship needs to work that much harder.

Optimal Manning never seemed to hit the Wardroom as it did Mess Deck or Goat Locker. My last ship was designed for a complement of 23 officers. Most of the time we had 40 officers on deck, and a few more off TAD, IA, or other places. It was sickening how many titles started with “A.” Yet, officers need training, and the best place for that is at sea. But many officers without portfolio cab give the XO heartburn, so they all get some job. VBSS officer, Anti-Terrorism Officer, Fire Control Officer, Weapons Officer, Magazine Officer, and other such lofty titles were given the Ensigns, despite the requirement for those billets to be held by second-tour division officers or department heads.

If the Navy needs to save money on personnel costs, I suggest it start with the Wardroom, and then move on from there. I would have a more effective ship with 25 officers, and use the cost savings to retain 30 more blue jackets. If the Enlisted Retention Board is kicking out Sailors who made Senior Chief Petty Officer in less than 14 years, simple fairness suggests we explore ALL options. Lengthen sea tours for officers to develop them further, rather than an 18 month sprint to the next ticket punch. Increase the time in grade from ENS to JG, and JG to LT. Since it’s an automatic promotion, it cannot “hurt their career.” Do we really need all 268 Admirals on the current (and future) payroll? Could all the limited duty officers be as effective as Warrant Officers? Many could, and it would save money for other programs.

My take is this: When 23 of your 40 officers are LT or senior, almost no junior officers are left in duty sections to stand watch, get leadership experience, and master their craft. Being a commanding officer is a grueling slog with professional pitfalls surrounding you. Spending a few more years moving up the chain, especially as a junior officer afloat for 3 year sea tours, 3 years in grade, would give current CO’s the TIME they need to develop them. With the XO fleet up to CO on many ships, that XO/CO will now have the time on board to see that process through, rather than a 14-20 month snapshot.



Admiral Harvey posted to his blog that SAN ANTONIO is underway again.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was serve aboard SAN, especially during the last deployment and the start of the yards period right after — Afghanistan was nothing compared to the deployment aboard SAN (granted, I was a fobbit out there). I am incredibly proud to have served aboard her, and of my Shipmates in seeing her underway again, especially of those still aboard who checked-in the same year I did (2006).

Galrahn had a post the other day saying that no one has been held responsible for all the challenges SAN and the class have had. I would add a caveat to his statement: The crew has been held responsible for all of the challenges. The crew has constantly worked to meet those responsibilities — no matter what happens the crew returns to the 17 every day, stands their watches, works to fix the problems. There were times when I couldn’t get my head around how the Snipes did it, how they stood all the watches, how they would be so ambivalent over being doused with lube oil multiple times during the deployment, how they were able to keep pushing despite challenge after challenge was discovered. The ITs running all over the Ship dealing with SWAN challenges. The officers and Chiefs earnestly working to manage all of it, and also standing their watches. Through three ‘generations’ of crews I watched and was apart of all this.

Outside the skin of the Ship, you don’t see nor hear it. But, there’s a lot of emotion invested by the crew into their Ship, a lot of emotion. The sweat and tired eyes are just the tip of the iceberg. Coming back from the maiden deployment, I was in a way worse state of mind than when I came back from Afghanistan.

If you haven’t seen the door to the chartroom, it’s well worth it. As it is emblematic of the spirit that has carried the crew through it all. It has never been easy to read Naval blogs as I do being a SAN ANTONIO Sailor. You can’t help but take even the best intentioned criticism of the Ship a little personal. But, because of the crew I will always hold my head high and say I sailed in LPD 17 for the maiden deployment — I was there. HOOYAH SAN ANTONIO!



About a month ago, there was a request for volunteers to participate in the Memorial Day Ceremonies here in Belgium. Four Sailors and myself volunteered. One other Sailor and myself on the Color Guard and the rest as members of the Honor Platoon or wreath bearers. I’ve marched before; I’ve held a rifle before. But, my god, I’ve never done so much of it over the course of a weekend — not even in being part of a 900 Division in boot camp.

We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in…”

– Secretary of State Colin Powell

There are three cemeteries in Belgium:  Ardennes, Henri-Chapelle and Flanders, we honored the fallen at all three. The love and care put into the grounds there are at a level beyond anything I can remember seeing in the States. There was literally nothing that looked unkept, everything was immaculate and proper. Those who care for the grounds there we owe a huge debt.

I really was not sure what to expect from a Memorial Day celebration outside of the United States. I wouldn’t expect anyone but American Citizens to ever want to honor the memory of those we lost in battle. When we practiced we were told that they were large, well attended ceremonies. But, I still couldn’t conceptualize what I actually saw over the course of the weekend.

I don’t know the exact count. But, there must have been over 200 people in attendance at each Cemetery (standing room only at Flanders), the minority of which were Americans. I met a very nice lady from the Netherlands and her friend. They had taken pictures of me at Henri-Chapelle and shared them. She has adopted grave sites and the names of the missing at Cemeteries in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. She attends the Ceremonies every year, and has never looked to be recognized for her support. There were a significant number of Belgian Veterans in attendance, you could spot them by their awesome mustaches (it seriously must be a requirement to grow an epic mustache to receive veteran benefits in Belgium) and the medals they wore. Many had their Unit’s colors with them, embroidered with the dates of the campaigns they fought in. School Children in Waregem have learned our National Anthem since the 1920s, both the Belgian and US National Anthems were sung by them. Speeches were given by the US Ambassadors to the European Union and Belgium, The US Military Representative to NATO and Senator Leahy. From Belgium the King sent a representative and the Mayors of the towns in which the Cemeteries are located also spoke.

In all 14,151 of our dead were honored. There were no Belgians, Americans, or anyone of any Nationality there. There were only we who remembered those who gave the last full measure of devotion to a cause greater than themselves and their homelands. The French version of the Belgian National Anthem has a line which translates as “To you we stretch our hearts and arms” and that is how I felt this Memorial Day weekend. I would never expect anyone from a Nation other than the US to thank me or anyone for our service and the sacrifices we make. But, they do and they are sincere when they give thanks.



When you play chess, you learn that you don’t win because of what you did right. You win because of what your opponent did wrong, that the person who wins made the least amount of mistakes. Many commentators are taking about how the US got Bin Laden. Dr. Barnett over at Time’s Battleland Blog mentions Boyd’s take on Sun Tsu, “Interaction permits vitality and growth, while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”. The credit for this isolation is given to the US by the constant pressure we placed on Bin Laden in our efforts to find him. But, one thing I am stuck by, is the lack of mention of Bin Laden by anyone, on either side, for the majority of any of the wars.

Since the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan and ran South of the Durand line, our strategy in Afghanistan has not focused on Bin Laden. Since that time we’ve focused on rebuilding two countries, and termed our enemies as those who are against stable and viable States. The moves we have decided to make have only been in terms of isolation by proxy. Our ability to articulate our goals and the benefits of a liberal system of governance have not been exceedingly successful. We did not isolate Bin Laden. Bin Laden, his ideals and his own strategy did that.

We originally went after a small group who wished to see grand political change from India to North Africa and used the United States as their narrative’s foil. Before 9/11 the perceived size and ability of Al Qaeda was not considered a threat. From the hysteria of 9/11 our perceptions changed and our enemy seemed much larger and more capable. As we got onto the ground first in Afghanistan, then into Iraq, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula we found that not everyone who uses violence and quotes the Koran thinks the same way Bin Laden does. Those who we war against today, have much more local aims than Al Aqaeda does and only align themselves with a more popular organization for clout.

We’ve found that “Global Jihad” has an inherently local flavor. The groups and organizations we fight against form strategic partnerships based upon very specific criteria that do not readily lead to a Caliphate, as the notion of a Caliphate is not something many will rally around. The central failing of Bin Laden has been that you can’t talk to people about radical political change across much of the Eurasian and African landmass when they still worry about feeding their families and the security of their neighborhoods, let alone regional security and clear political hegemony. Bin Laden’s dreams fall flat, even with a central enemy to rally around. We didn’t isolate Bin Laden in any meaningful way. The images of Bin Laden looking like Howard Hughes are fitting not in that he was stuck in a building. But, that he was looking back over recordings of when his message was still viable.

How many right moves have we made, and how many wrong moves have our enemies made? But, the question is more than that, isn’t it? We’re playing a game of chess, where we’re also switching opponents. Bin Laden made a lot of wrong moves. But, what of the rest of the players? There’s a lot more isolation to be done. The war isn’t about geopolitics as much as it used to be, we enter the middle game.



You may have seen the following quote making the rounds across Facebook:

‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The quote is in response to the popular reactions — euphoria in many circles — across the World to the killing of Bin Laden. As it turns out, this quote is not completely real. This memetic event displays the paradigm through which many people base their understanding of conflict, why it exists and how to prevent it.

Security Analyst Adam Elkus penned a brilliant response to the quote,

But neither love or hate are policies, strategies, or tactics. They’re only emotions and ideal categories. They are not instrumental devices that we use to get what we want. So let’s stop pretending that they are causal forces, that somehow rejoicing in the end of a mass murderer is going to conjure up more hate which in turn leads to more conflict.

Read his post, there is not much I can add to his words. Except for on the fact that emotions are not “policies, strategies, or tactics” is why taking up arms can exist as a profession, and why there is a difference between a mob and professionals-at-arms. As Adam mentions, conflict does not exist out of a primordial hate. Nor does it end because of a sudden emotional realization that there is some ‘better way’. There is a spectrum to conflict, the same hatred that can be felt for a mortal enemy is the same hate felt for the Shipmate who cut you off on 264 going into NOB. Both forms of hatred are dismissed through the same cognitive process as well — though the means through that process differ significantly. At one extreme only the acknowledgment of the emotion is necessary for it to quickly dissipate. On the other, is the application of violence by professionals. This is to say that despite the irrationality of emotion, there is a rational and deliberative process that ends conflict. That objectivity defines modern conflict resolution (note: There was VERY little that I interpreted happening to me objectively while I was downrange. Afterwards, in getting home, my objectivity returned to me).

By looking at conflict objectively we have come to better understand the causes of conflict and have attempted to address our understanding of the causes through organizational constructs (NATO, UN, IMF, WTO — deliberative bodies) as well as methodical approaches (COIN, CT — tactics). But, in assuming the causes of conflict only as a function of emotion we remove any hope of conflict prevention. It is ironic that the sentiment expressed in the fake quote are actually an affirmation that violence and conflict are unavoidable and that humans are incapable of being disciplined enough to rise above their emotions.



I’ve looked online, and I’ve asked both on Twitter and Facebook. No one seems to recall this ever happening before.

Two smaller Libyan crafts were fired upon by the A-10 using its 30mm GAU-8/ Avenger cannon, destroying one and forcing the other to be abandoned.

A P-3, USS BARRY and a USAF A-10 were all engaged against Libya Coast Guard craft yesterday. BARRY “provided situational awareness for the aircraft by managing the airspace and maintaining the maritime picture”. Amazing. BZ and well done to all the Sailors and Airmen involved in the fight yesterday.

UPDATE: They’re talking about this over at Galrahn’s place too.

UPDATE II: Everyone is talking about it, see CDR SALAMANDER’s place too



I was rather surprised to see that CDR Salamander took what I considered idle, but pointed comments to one of his posts here at USNI, and wrote a piece over at his place.

I was so new to the Navy when I first heard the term ’1000 Ship Navy’, that I hardly knew my way from my berthing to my work center aboard SAN. I read all the blog postings about it back in 2007, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it. But, in seeing how my old Ship and others functioned in CTF 151 in 2009, how EUNAVFOR operates in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Indians, Russians, Chinese and others all in an ‘effort’ against piracy, I started to notice a similarity between the words I had read on the 1000 ship navy and what I saw seeing. With the assembled ships and aircraft from many NATO Nations as well as the aircraft from the UAE and Qatar, I am again seeing actions that mirror then CNO Mullen’s words.

Membership in this ‘navy’ is purely voluntary and would have no legal or encumbering ties. It would be a free-form, self-organizing network of maritime partners — good neighbors interested in using the power of the sea to unite, rather than to divide. The barriers for entry are low. Respect for sovereignty is high.

While adding the NATO dimension to operations off Libya, the notion of the fleet being ‘free-form, self-organizing’ is not exactly applicable, the rest of the quote is still rather accurate in terms of how hostilities began off Libya.

To start, I do not think the term 1,000 ship navy is the right term to use. That name itself is antithetical to Admiral Mullen’s words in that he said,”Respect for sovereignty is high.” After all, a Navy is defined as “the whole body of warships and auxiliaries belonging to a country or ruler”. Where as the definition of fleet, “the largest organized unit of naval ships grouped for tactical or other purposes”. What Admiral Mullen was proposing was never a navy, it was a fleet at best.

Alliances of any form, or even just bilateral security agreements between nations are a difficult thing. The ever changing political calculus of each government involved is something that can defy the abilities of even the best statesmen in holding an alliance together. A situation that would warrant the vast array of nations to muster the strength to find enough common ground in bringing their combined maritime forces to constitute a single navy (or fleet) is on par with the World Wars–not a possible reality that is likely enough to warrant such an initiative to become the cornerstone of US Naval Operations.

More well put would be the notion of a Complex Adaptive Fleet (CAF) [note: I called it a Complex Adaptive System Fleet, in the comments. But, The term I use here is less of a mouthful.]. I call it complex, because of the myriad of different Standard Operating Procedures that each ship brings to the fleet. I use the term Adaptive, because the fleet is being joined based on the demands of the specific operation. The number of hulls made available to the fleet, as well as the number of nations contributing to the fleet are not the point, so there is no reason to reference any numbers in the terminology for such a fleet. The marketing, design and grandeur placed on the 1,000 ship navy is what made the initiative a nonstarter.

At the highest levels of World Navies is where this initiative was espoused. But, it is from the highest levels of national power where such an initiative has to be started and implemented, as it has been off the coasts of Libya and Somalia. What the then CNO was looking to do was only a Naval matter in a secondary sense. Primarily, what the initiative looks to do, is increase the amount of cooperation at the highest levels of government, and it is there that the most amount of work is needed to improve our ability to operate in such a manner. We already practice the skills needed to operate in a fleet such as a CAF, we do so by war games with allied and friendly nations and in personnel exchanges. The only place where such an initiative such as a CAF would have a noticeable impact on doctrine is at the level of government where people don’t wear uniforms any more.

At this point I should be clear. For the US Navy today, in terms of power projection or in terms of war at sea a la WWII we do not truly require any allies. However, putting holes in ships and Tomahawks on land isn’t all there is to war fighting. Hell, there isn’t even much fighting to war fighting at sea any more (that is not to say that such a reality can’t change in a heartbeat). The ‘everything else’ in war fighting has to be included. The reality is that for any conflict at sea we are likely to see we will need something like a UN Security Council Resolution. I will also say that the current operations off of Libya set a precedent that Mediterranean operations will demand NATO involvement. The causes of this reality are not so much the waning power of the US, as much as it is stronger regional powers (stronger politically, if not militarily). Isn’t warfare just the continuation of politics? If so, then how we operate in conflict must be in accordance with the political realities of where we are operating — which means allies and partners are required. Which means the banalities of an alliance are as necessary to put up with, work through and make the best of, as the Sun in Kandahar was for me a few months back.

By stating all of this, I do not mean to say that clear objectives are not required for operations. Or that a logical unified command structure is no longer a necessity. What I am stating here is nothing more than the political realities I’ve found in nearly every operation the United States has been engaged in since… Well, most of my life. Again, I do not feel that the US Navy or most other navies have much they need to change in terms of doctrine, not yet at least. On the part of the Navy, I view this as a continuation of the resistance to joint operations a few decades back. But, at the higher civilian levels, I do think there is much work to be done. Where as we have certain tripwires that trigger different responses aboard ships, we also need well defined tripwires geo-politically which trigger certain steps in any escalation of force against a common threat that nations face. As we in the military have preplanned courses of action against potential enemies, we need more planning at the political level between sovereign governments, so that operational caveats are not done in such an ad hoc and clumsy manor when operations should have started days/weeks ago. A notion such as the CAF does not lend itself well to anything beyond what we are seeing today in Libya or Somalia. It is a methodology best suited for sudden turns of events that demand quick action by nations and, as such shouldn’t be considered for anything outside of low intensity conflicts.

None of it would be easy to work out, nor do I have complete faith that such arrangements can be pulled off politically. But, as I said, the only think I think I am doing here is pointing out what I’ve seen as a reality, and offering how to do what we’ve already been doing, better.



I’ve been thinking a lot about what Wikileaks, Anonymous, Tunisia, and Egypt mean for force structure of the military. Increasingly, I see conventional forces as modern day fusiliers, used to pin down an enemy while other types of forces maneuver around. Where as back in the Napoleonic era the maneuver forces were cavalry or lighter troops, today I view ‘other forces’ to be forces that do not even participate in actual combat. Where I see the most maneuver occurring is in the battlefield of ideas. After all, isn’t that the whole premise behind winning hearts and minds? I see this becoming difficult for leaders in that communication has to occur on two fronts at once – domestic and international. A lot was made over the claims that the Commander of NTM-A in Afghanistan was conducting psyops against Senators. This episode is evidence of this emergent nature of conflict – not because of what may, or may not have actually occurred. But, because that this event was even plausible to have occurred. When I was in Afghanistan, I had as much contact with my family as I did in the States (I know, I’m not a very good son, I don’t call home often enough). Being deployed isn’t being all that far away from home any more, maybe not in a literal sense, but in a cognitive and communicative sense it isn’t that far at all. How is a commander supposed to handle that connectivity?

Mao said that ‘political power comes from the barrel of a gun’, or something to that effect. While I don’t refute this fact completely, I will submit that the barrel of a gun no longer holds a monopoly on generating political power. Organizations are no longer required to organize people. It can be done nearly ‘automatically’, as evidenced by Tunisia, Egypt et al. political power now emanates as much from the tip of the Ethernet cable as it does from the gun. Woe unto the government which uses guns against those who wage a campaign with information, as well (e.g., using the internet to generate force does not warrant kinetic force in return). I’m sure that a lot of you are thinking that what I am saying here is all just apart of 4th generation warfare. But, I think this is beyond 4th generation. This is the 5th generation.

Sun Tsu talked about formlessness – how a general must keep his true disposition of forces concealed from his enemies. Anonymous is the epitome of such an axiom. Thousands of individuals motivated by all kinds of different things: For the lulz, political persuasion, a sense of belonging, to be cool, or even viewing organizations as their enemy. You can’t pin down a single cause, nor can you remove a single person and the organization collapses, you can’t point to a single type of person, you can’t name them all, they don’t even have a single raison d’être or cause célèbre. However, they do have a center of gravity, which is the ambiguous nature of ethics today. Any threat that emerged over the last year has done so in the moral and ethical gray areas created by the information age. The notion that information is now free is at the heart of the entire information revolution, the most extreme example of this being Wikileaks.

As a society, we are so far behind the curve in deciding and setting precedent for what ethics are now that information and communication are so ubiquitous that we are hurting ourselves. This too is a larger problem than what the military can fix, which is why we are left to hold the line while other more nimble forces must maneuver around to decide the outcome. Amazingly enough, I think these forces will culminate in the average citizen. It will be their interaction with others online that decide the outcome of this. However, I do not think it will be a simple affair, more formalized organizations will resist change and the debate will create more events like Egypt, in extreme cases. More common will be organizations like anonymous, not all of them will be hackers. But, will organize similarly and possibly cause much more difficulties for whomever they organize against.

I’m not completely sure what this is going to mean for force structure, but I know we can’t buy our way out of it. Nothing that any contractor can, or could, sell us will adapt the military to these challenges. What the Army has done to change from Division based deployments to Regiment based didn’t impress me much when I was in Afghanistan. My view of it was that it just caused a lot more confusion between the units (It was amazing to me to see such cultural differences between the different patches worn out there). The jury is still out (and will be for some time) on whether or not the modular concept for ships will work (I believe it will, but we’re learning it the most painful way possible). However, these initiatives are in the right spirit. It is that they just don’t strike at the heart of what we need to change. In reality, for us to adapt to the nature of modern conflict we’re going to have to change our culture. Medals, ribbons, uniforms and our organizational methods are all centuries old concepts. It was from the Prussians that we got our concept of the Flag Staff. It’s been nearly 100 years since Prussia ceased to exist (for all intents and purposes). Nothing I am proposing, or have said is ‘new’ is a revolution in any sense. All change that has occurred has been evolutionary in nature, and all change that must occur in the military must too be evolutionary. Directly working towards creating a Revolution in Military Affairs is like trying to grab a cloud. The whole of the military doesn’t need to evolve into some Wikileaks-Anonymous hybrid. But, their effectiveness needs to be noted and emulated. Bullets can’t kill ideas, only debate and dialog can.



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