Archive for the 'Aviation' Category


Recommend Low Vis Calls

October 2015


The Chief of Naval Air Forces has been roundly pilloried in the last 24 hours by the military blogging establishment. The conspiracy theories about a recent E-mail he sent to Naval Aviation leadership are at a high warble. You can read about them here and here.

OK. The ship is still in Case I, but it’s a little hazy out there. Before we do irreparable damage to our collective reputation, make a call to Tower. Let us say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Consider what we know:

  1. Air Boss sent a message–a “PFOR”–to leaders in Naval Aviation. Presumably, these are people he should be able to trust since they are charged with leading planes, pilots, and payloads into harm’s way.
  2. That message leaked outside of its original intended channel. Given our “information everywhere” environment, perhaps that was inevitable.
  3. The message deals with Aviation Major Command selection. Clearly, the operative section is this: “I will have the authority, if I so chose, to adjust the category for which an officer was selected. As I stated earlier, my intent is to closely follow the board’s recommendations, and only shift selected officers between categories to better manage Naval Aviation’s talent, or to address a future need/requirement or officer preference.”

So, who is the Air Boss?

Recently, a small group of junior officers (myself included) has been openly critical of the Aviation Major Command selection process. We wrote an article in Proceedings and asked pointed questions of leadership at CSIS and Tailhook.

No one has been more supportive of our efforts–throughout the process–than Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker. He was under no obligation to be, but he considered our point of view and engaged us respectfully.

This is not to say, “Aw shucks, what a guy.” It is an anecdote that reflects his three decades of honorable service and wise counsel.

I trust the Air Boss. I trust him both as a naval officer and as the leader of our Naval Aviation Enterprise.

Though recent posts have allowed that he is a “good guy,” this sense is getting lost. If we trust the Air Boss, we should take him at his word. Under no obligation to give this word–he could have kept this to himself, and exercised truly “behind closed doors” (as has probably been happening for years already…)–he came out and communicated to his fellow leaders, which is exactly what we expect of a person in his position. Is this naivete, or is it how a professional organization of warfighters operates?

So, if we take him at his word, is it not conceivable that his new position is a reflection of last year’s almost-unprecedented burn-list of Major Commanders? Folks who had no mechanism to have their preferences heard, who instead turned down their selection in frustration?There is nothing wrong with a leader standing up and saying, “I am going to take an active role in the future of the leadership of my community.”

For the critics, considering hypotheticals is important. But safeguarding the sanctity of the process is an annual job regardless of what anyone in any position says–mine the results, consider red flags, address appropriately. Mass hysteria and finger pointing before there are even facts to dispute is not right.

We are collectively suffering from confirmation bias. We bite off on one anecdote–the rumors of last year’s AMCSB slate and the favorite leadership pariah to some–and use it to nod our heads vehemently in unison. This is just a personal guess, but I do not believe the Red Phone between SECNAV’s office in the Pentagon and CNAF’s in Coronado is used for topics of this caliber. Not knowing all of the facts about the situation, we infer comfortably–and unfortunately.

Naval Aviation has suffered a lot of bad press over the past few decades. We have too often been on the defensive. The overwhelming majority of officers did not deserve this. However, it is where we are.

But again, too often, our attempts at an offense end up being offensive. We are often so busy trying to defend ourselves from those within our own service that we end up mortgaging away that which we cherish most deeply–trust in us.

If we are going to build public trust in our processes and in our leadership, we have to debate in the open, constructively, and with respect. We must work to prove that the way we select our leaders is above reproach. This was true before any alleged “cronyism” last year, and is still true now. As this year’s AMCSB Precepts now reflect, we are making improvements.

Certainly, we should watch board results and stay engaged with the process. We should raise a red flag when blatant injustice appears. There are ways to do all of this without insinuating that the leader of our enterprise–a human being that we trust–is now a nefarious opponent. We should be leaders–not complainers.

No process is entirely fair to all people all the time. And, as the authors of “On Becoming CAG” can attest, the topic of Major Command Selection espouses sharp emotions. But we should not fear open, constructive debate about how we make those processes better. We should not fear the discussion of change just as we should not fear the defense of tradition. In fact, this makes us more credible as a community.

We are a professional organization of warfighters. We fly naval aircraft in the most austere conditions. We do so far from home, in moments of maximum danger, in defense of the land we love. This is what defines us as a community–not a board, not a FITREP, not a cushy shore tour.

Everything else is just a false indicator light.

Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.

As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.

However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.

After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).

He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.

Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:

1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.

As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.

As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.

The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.

The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.

Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.


A Woman of Substance

October 2015


stockdalesAs my father let me know early on in my life, the most important decision a man can make is the woman he marries. It wasn’t until I was much older, and well in to my own marriage, that I realized how true his observation was.

While all relationships have their own dynamic, there are some who are a benchmark – a spouse who match the greatness of the man they helped make. They are the scaffold all else was built around.

If someone is about to join another on a journey with a spouse that is serving, Sybil Stockdale is a good benchmark to use.

She has left us to join her husband after a long time away. Via the DailyMailUK;

Sybil Bailey Stockdale, a Navy wife who fought to end the torture of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam, has died.

Stockdale’s son, Sid Stockdale, said Tuesday that his mother died Oct. 10 at a hospital after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She was 90.

Stockdale is the wife of the late Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. She found her calling after her husband’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1965 and he was taken prisoner. The U.S. government at the time discouraged military wives from speaking up about the mistreatment of the prisoners of war, Sid Stockdale said. Nonetheless, Stockdale organized military wives who demanded the U.S. government pressure North Vietnam to abide by the Geneva Convention.

Stockdale helped found the League of American Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and she served as the organization’s first national coordinator.

She appeared on national television, met regularly with then-President Richard Nixon and confronted a North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. At the same time, she worked closely with the CIA to be able to write secretly encoded letters to her husband, who was tortured by his captors.

The military credited Stockdale with helping secure the safe return of her husband and other POWs in 1973.

James Stockdale, then a commander, disfigured himself so he could not be used in Vietnamese propaganda films — an action for which he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, according to the Navy Times.

Sen. John McCain, a naval aviator, was a fellow POW in the Hanoi Hilton with Stockdale’s husband.

“Sybil’s selfless service and sacrifice fighting for American prisoners of war, those missing in action, and many who are still unaccounted for has left an indelible mark on this nation that will never be forgotten” McCain said in a statement to the newspaper.

To know the full background on what this incredible woman did in a challenging time, I highly recommend you get a copy of the book, In Love and War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years;

“I think the book’s message was to recognize that there’s a place and time and need to be loyal and recognize the military is a unique institution with a big job to do, but then at the end of the day, it’s very important if you feel as though you need to speak up, then you should do so. I think it’s a fantastic message,” he said.

Her papers and memoirs from the Vietnam era, written in long hand on yellow legal pads, today are kept at the Hoover library.

Until the end, she continued to meet at her home monthly in Coronado with the wives of POWs and those missing in action.

A memorial service will be held for Stockdale in Coronado and she will be buried beside her husband on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

We all benefited for her love and passion for her husband, her Navy, and her nation.

CommandDuring the period of August 17-21, a short informal survey querying desire for command was promulgated by junior officer across junior officer forums. When the survey closed on the 21st, we had collected 442 responses, from all of the unrestricted line communities, plus many more. We found that of the survey respondents, 53% did not desire command, 23% did desire command, and another 23% were unsure. These results anecdotally validate our hypothesis that fewer than half of today’s junior officers seek command. In the unrestricted line communities, where we had enough responses to draw some conclusions from our data, we found that while men and women desired command at approximately the same rate, that rate was not uniform across communities. In the Surface Warfare Community, 33% of respondents desired command, while only 13% of Aviators and 14% of Submariners did.


We promulgated our five survey questions via the US Naval Institute Blog, the JOPA Facebook page, the Female Navy Officers’ Facebook page, and our own personal accounts. The survey was available online for four business days.


This survey serves as a baseline, and is not sufficient to analyze trends. Additionally, the survey methodology does not guarantee an unbiased respondent population; it is likely that we are seeing a response bias in favor of those with strong opinions about the likelihood of their continued service. We do hope that these results will serve to help gauge the current climate amongst the JO corps.

A few questions for discussion:

  • Are these numbers actually a problem?
  • Junior officers tend to be instructed that they should aspire to command. Do these numbers indicate a disconnect between the institutional expectation of command aspiration and the reality?
  • Should we “do something” about the aviation community’s apparent lack of desire for command? If so, what?
  • What other questions should we ask in future surveys?
  • Is there a place in the Navy for those who desire continued service, but don’t aspire to command?


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Representative Responses

We found that the responses we received from our 442 survey-takers were extremely thoughtful. Most respondents wrote us at least a paragraph; some wrote several. We have curated a representative sample below:


Any other reason to stay in is wasting my time. If I stay in, then I stay in for the whole deal. Too much time away from my family to just sluff off and not add value to my community, get an opportunity to lead a squadron into combat, set my expectations for leadership and mentorship within the squadron. I like that it is very hard to get to be a skipper, it makes me want to be the best and eventually (if the almighty timing is right) get selected for command.

In my limited 6 years of submarine service, I have had both good and bad leaders (Dept Head and above). When I was leaving my last submarine, I had a check out interview with my CO. I asked one final question before shaking his hand and walking off the ship: “Sir, has your command tour been worth it?” He responded, “I always thought that being a CO would be very tactical, but I am often surprised that tactics in today’s navy make up a smaller percentage of the job. I often have to take a moment to look past the fact that I am mostly getting the ship ready for inspections and evaluations to I realize that I am afforded the opportunity to go on deployment and do what we constantly train to do. In those moments, I feel very satisfied. I was somewhat shocked to find out that my CO (a great CO by the way) had the same perspective as that of a Junior Officer. It was at this moment that I aspired to be a CO and could possibly do his job someday.

It’s an exciting time for the SWO community – where we’re placing an emphasis on talent, tactics, innovation, options, work-life balance, and FUN! I want to mentor JOs and help change SWO culture for the better.

You don’t spend a career as a SWO to execute someone else’s command philosophy.

I love working with Sailors. I’ve served under two amazing Captains and an amazing Executive Officer now moving on to CDR command of his own. Their mentorship, guidance, and leadership have been inspiring and refreshing in a sometimes negative climate/community.

All the pain and suffering up until command is the investment that pays off when you’re sitting on the bridge wing of your own ship watching the sunset. Not striving for command wastes all of the effort that comes before. I’m in it to win it! — NOTE: No interest in Flag.

I can think of no better test of my personal will, creativity, character, and moral courage than to command an operational squadron. The number of people and value of the mission make it a task that seems immensely daunting but equally rewarding.

Command at sea is the pinnacle of the leadership challenges that the Navy offers to me as a Surface Warfare Officer. At no other point in my career do I have the enormous responsibility that command at sea requires. I am responsible for the ship and its most important asset, the Sailors and Marines that serve aboard the ship. I chose to continue serving in the Navy because of the incredible leadership opportunities that this job presents to those lucky enough to have the honor of command.

My happiest moments in the Navy are building successful teams. No better way to do that then be a CO. Because I’d like to change and be a positive leader. Especially for so many enlisted females that we have, I’ve never had a female DH, much less female CO and I think it is important for our sailors to see both

I desire the opportunity to test my leadership and decision making capability in a harsh, remote environment. I believe in our mission and am committed to leading our country’s brightest men and women to achieve victory in battle.

I aspire to only early command, and want no part of CDR command or major command. Command is not what it used to be, and I do not want to be second guessed on every single decision I would make as CO. As with many things in the SWO community, I believe a mentality shift would be required away from our zero-defect and administrative warfare obsessions before I would put any serious thought into CDR command or higher.

I desire to have the ultimate responsibility for a ship, her crew, to craft her into state of readiness that reflects my standards, and to slip the lines, sail over the horizon to do our job. I love Sailors, I love the pressure, I’ve thrived on the competitiveness required in getting to the precipice of command, and I think there’s something supremely traditional about command at sea; I think across all warfare areas, commanding a ship at sea reflects the core warrior ethos of the American Navy.Did I always want command? No, I didn’t as a division officer. Not at all. However, once I made a decision to be a department head and really began to thrive professionally, my heart changed. I think if you’re committed to your profession, and for me, I’m a professional mariner-Surface Warfare Officer, then why wouldn’t you aspire to have the opportunity to do things your way, change it up, apply your standard, train a ship how you see fit, sail a ship down range under your guidance to fight and win? If you haven’t committed to a career, then I get it—I didn’t aspire to command at that point. But if you’re in for the long haul, why wouldn’t you? I speak strictly as a straight-stick SWO; I acknowledge there are alternative career paths.


It seems every O-4 and O-5 I’ve worked for is chained to a desk and email. I have yet to talk to LCDR that said they actually enjoyed their job.

Politicization of the officer corps and the loss of reality that comes with it.

Our department heads are miserable and we are taught that the only way to make CO is to follow the Golden Path, a path that no one actually wants to take. The amount of time we waste at work to “show face” is absurd. Most of our “work” on days when we are not event planning or flying could be accomplished in two hours, but we stay at work all day so that we can be “seen” because in the long run this is what influences your fitrep. I just feel that so much time and talent is being wasted at the JO level and that the job is not what we all thought it would be.

The challenging nature of the job has been lost; furthermore, I have spent enough time away from family. I performed the last 6 months of my DIVO tour essentially performing a DH job. I lost the enjoyment in the job and I do not want to spend 2 years performing that job. I explored other communities, but the ones of interest won’t allow me to lateral transfer into them, even though I am in most cases qualified if not overqualified with schooling.

Because it seems the number one goal of COs these days is to NOT get fired. Everywhere you look there is some ridiculous reason why a CO is getting fired. Publicly elected officials and political appointees are held less accountable for their actions. I joined the military to join the military, not to work on the Hill or in politics. Command should not be viewed or held equal as to someone in politics. We don’t “elect” our COs. Firing COs don’t solve the problems for certain issues. Their job is to make sure the job gets done. If the Commodore or Admiral didn’t personally select them for command of a ship or boat in their squadron, then they should fire themselves. There is WAY too much overhead in the Navy and an organizational structure that is in place right now within the Navy would never last or even be put into place within a corporate environment. It also seems that the overhead takes the wind out of sails of CO to actually take command and run the ship how they want to run it. Within the first 6 months as an Ensign onboard a DDG, I knew that I had zero aspirations to shoot for Command at Sea. The COs I’ve had just seemed like puppets vice leaders.

There was a time when I would have served the Navy for no compensation at all and now seeing the models that I have to follow of “look better than the next guy” and DH’s who use you and your work as a stepping stone whilst slandering your name for not being as good as they are, I have little interest in playing a game to stay on a golden path instead of doing something I love. Think I’m being melodramatic? Observe, if you will, your DH’s when FITREPs are rounding the corner and also then note the number of JO’s that don’t have a DH living inside their behinds. How could command ever seem appealing when I would apparently have to make up things to do to appear busier than the next guy as a stepping stone to the next job and where I’ve got to monkey around instead of focusing on how to actually be good at something useful, meaningful, and important for my growth as a naval officer? Admittedly, many JO’S of my generation tend to expect success to fall into their laps but I believe it’s because we don’t have the right kind of mentorship, someone to clone good habits into us. What we do have are entitled and jaded O-4’s and O-5’s that just want you to know they’ve been there/done that already without considering that young JO’s will emulate that same attitude which in turn only inspires the people who want to step on the next stone to command without considering the magnitude of the responsibility to people other than yourself and your career. This path is just extremely unappealing and just sucks the enjoyment out of what I once thought would be a really satisfying job.

I feel as though CO’s are always needing to “look over their shoulder.” CO’s fear getting fired for “poor command climate” or worse, collision at sea. I feel like if I were to take Command at Sea, I would need to literally live on the bridge to ensure that if anything happened, I felt I did everything possible to not get fired. I do however, feel like I would love to take command of a Small Boat Unit, ACU or something “non-due-course.” This is not what the Navy wants from its SWO’s though. And I think that is a real issue with the SWO community. There needs to be other options for SWO’s that don’t necessarily want to take command of a warship, but still want to continue their career in the Navy.

Transitioning to civilian work force and spending time with family. Tired of moving every 2 to 3 years; Doing more with less; Inability to tell Chain of Command that we can not accomplish a mission or project without the fear of getting fired; Big Navy saying “Taking Care of Sailors”, when it is all lip service; Right sizing or down sizing, or what every catchy phrase they dream up that utilizes the slash and burn technique vice targeting the Sailors who really are not doing anything for the Navy vice your star performers; Navy not getting ride of more E7-E9 personnel that are underperforming; Get ride of CMDC rating, they have become bureaucrats and have lost touch with deck plate issues; The ugly and uncomfortable NWU’s that make us the circus clowns of the DOD; The crappy PT uniform; Intrusive leadership, I really don’t want to know or care if a 21 year old Sailor is out drinking at 2 AM, they are adults and such be treated like it. Sorry for rattling on. Some of these items are trivial, but I was on a roll.

Someone in the comments said a piece of it best… It’s not (necessarily) that I don’t aspire to be a CO, it’s that I don’t want to grind in the bureaucracy to get there.

1- we are required to change duty stations and jobs almost every 2 years

2- we package crap jobs with the best (IA/GSA to Bahrain, get xxxxx job) so performance doesn’t help me get the best job, no one wants does.

3- we’ve become a “GS” mentality Navy. Instead of working to get a job done, the vast majority of commands require their personnel to be present during certain hours, regardless of op-tempo, duty, deployment schedule, etc. As a Suppo, I’m busier at the end of the month, so I stay late then- why must I keep my folks until 1600 at the beginning regardless of workload, etc.

4- training – NKOs and training have literally wasted HUNDREDS of hours of my life. They do NOTHING to stop criminals, rapists, sexual assault, computer hacks, etc.

5- stop being zero fault… Everyone screws things up. Not everything has to go into the system, or people’s personal records. You can teach and most great sailors by mentorship and LEADERSHIP, vs using njp, drb, xoi, etc.

6- Evals/fitrep system is COMPLETELY broken. EACH CYCLE is and should be independent of the previous one, and have nothing to do with it. “Progressing” and “improved superior performance” is crap. If I’m the best, and I leave one command and go to another- odds are, I’m the best there. Why do I have to come in as an MP so I can progress to an EP?! And if someone who’s been at the command longer than me was “pretty good” before I got to the command and was the EP, why is his career crushed, if I get an EP he moves down to an MP? EVERY CYCLE IS SEPARATE from the one before.

7- stop being risk averse. Let people make decisions and mess things up. Let JOs speak out at meetings, and question decisions… In the end, the CO is going to make the decision, but we have become a navy of “yes men,” and if I speak up, KNOWING I’m right, it doesn’t matter. “HEAD DOWN, MOUTH SHUT-PROMOTE”.

Complete a technical PhD outside the Navy, on my own terms, own time, and take control of my career.

Why leave? We are less about warfighting and more about the sanctification of the bureaucracy, careerism and political manipulation at the highest levels of government, and increasingly delusional about the reality and nature of today’s threats. Commanders do not command anymore – they are simply cogs in a greater machine, and when they get squeaky or deviant, are either smashed back into place or replaced altogether. Perhaps when we lose a few ships and subs in some yet unforeseen calamitous conflict, the Navy will rediscover it’s gritty purpose. Until then, not interested in playing full time! Two days per month will do it for me.

Does not look like any of my three COs were having any fun. Angry, plagued by so many regulations and directives that their hands are tied when it comes to being able to make decisions that actually affect people in any positive way. Submarine COs are no longer, and have not been for some time, the maverick independent actors given wide latitude in judgement – they feel the heavy hand of a cautious, risk-averse bureaucracy every day and night.

The Navy has a system set up for officers that essentially forces everyone who stays in long enough to lead more and more people and eventually lead an entire command. “Force” isn’t really the right word since if you do not show forward progression by leading more and more people as you progress through to the O-3 ranks, then you will not get promoted to O-4 and get booted out of the Navy. The Navy has to realize that not everyone who join the officer corps are meant to be leaders. Some can lead small teams but will fail when they are in charge of a larger group. Some have no desire to lead but instead want to spend their time as operators. The Navy has to be willing to accommodate different people’s character traits. If someone starts off their Naval career as an extraordinary operator, whether it’d be operating keyboards for a computer network operation, or standing engineering officer of the watch on a nuclear submarine, they should be allowed to remain at that level. Imagine how good they would be if that’s all they ever did and that’s all they ever wanted to do? Leadership and command isn’t for everyone and the career pipeline shouldn’t be catered specifically towards that. They should be given the option to stall at a certain level and have a successful and fulfilling 20 year career doing what they love. It’s unfortunate, the Navy will lose a lot of good talent to private industry due to the way the current system is set up.

I’m not sure

I started my career as a submarine officer and command was clearly not my goal because I was fortunate enough to transition into a career in medicine. I stayed in the Navy to pay for school and I enjoy the sailors in the Navy and would like to serve them. Aspiring to be the skipper of my own submarine didn’t interest me because it’s an extreme sacrifice of your time and life for a mission that wasn’t particularly rewarding. Driving boats and going on deployment for me didn’t justify the strain it puts on a family. It’s difficult to not sound bitchy talking about this because the overwhelming sentiment during my time on a fast attack was negativity. Alcoholism was a major problem for officers and enlisted alike, it was a toxic environment to be in. Some guys really liked being on a submarine, it’s certainly unique and the enlisted sailors on subs are generally great people who for one reason or another ended up enlisting instead of finishing college. For me I realized that the submarine force is just a job, and it’s a ****ty one. When you deploy you can’t communicate at all with home for months at a time, the work you are doing is usually tedious and is dictated to the letter by rules and regulations, and it’s thankless. Outperforming your peers meant you got more responsibility while the ****bags got less, and that doesn’t translate into better pay or faster promotions or a bigger bonus, just better fitters, maybe a medal, and eventually screen for rank and put it on a little faster. If you’re competent and work hard you can be infinitely more successful elsewhere, have a better family life, make more money, do work that is rewarding and maybe even helps others. That’s obviously specific to my own aspirations but I know a lot of guys who share that sentiment. The Navy is good at dangling a carrot for people and convincing them they have it good.

Too much guide by wire from upper echelons. Command by negation is nearly extinct in the surface fleet. Rather than reading the DIMs and executing smartly, we have Chat terminals and Voice over IP phones at every command and control station- including next to the CO’s chair on the Bridge – so his boss can take him in close control and essentially assume command authority instead of relying on him to execute IAW the “special trust and confidence” commensurate with his position of authority. I may stay for Command, but it would take a drastic change in culture to move back to trusting your subordinates… In our increasingly connected world and reliance on technology to execute C2 and avoid risk at any cost, I don’t think we’ll get there before I’m in the right-hand seat.

Recently, partnering with CSIS and USNI, Naval Aviation leadership hit the streets to talk about the future of manned and unmanned aviation. With Tailhook on the horizon, and fundamental debates happening throughout the Fleet, we need constructive writing on the course of both people and platforms in Naval Aviation.

From 14-18 September (after you’re rested from either participating in or following the Twitter feeds of Tailhook attendees), the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) will be hosting a “Future of Naval Aviation” Week. Below are the particulars, cross-posted from their NextWar blog:

Week Dates: 14-18 Sept 15
Articles Due: 9 Sept 15
Article Length: 500-1500 Words
Submit to: nextwar(at)cimsec(dot)org

Back in January, CAPT Jerry Hendrix (USN, Ret) and CDR Bryan McGrath (USN, Ret) had a stirring debate on the future of Aircraft Carriers. However, the debate quickly shifted from the carrier itself to the nature of the airwing it carried. Indeed, the carrier is nothing more than a host for the platforms provided by naval aviation – and only one of many ships that can carry aviation assets.

That discussion, driving into the world of the carrier air wing, was the inspiration for this week of discussion on naval aviation in general. From the maritime patrol aircraft deployed from the reclaimed Chinese reefs in the South China Sea, to US Army Apaches operating from amphibious assault ships, to 3-D printed drones flown off a Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel, to manned and unmanned ideas for the carrier air wing as carriers proliferate around the Pacific -we want your ideas and observations on where global naval aviation will and can go next.

How will the littoral navies of the world change with new, lower-cost unmanned aviation assets? Are carriers armed with legions of long-range unmanned drones the future for global powers – will these technologies exponentially increase the importance of smaller carriers – or is unmanned technology a limited path that may be resisted (rightfully?) by pilots and their communities? Will surface fleets embrace the potential from easily produced drone swarms deployed from ships of the line… should they? What is the future of land-based naval aviation? What innovations will be ignored, what will be embraced, and what will the air assets of future fleets around the world look like? What will the institutions, the leadership, and C2 structures that support all these assets of their varied nations look like? The topic is purposefully broad to bring forward a myriad of topics and inspire future topic weeks on more specific subjects.

Contributions should be between 500 and 1500 words in length and submitted no later than 9 September 2015. Publication reviews will also be accepted. This project will be co-edited by LT Wick Hobson (USN) and, as always, Sally DeBoer from our editorial pool.

SpaceShipOne lands victoriously after a successful flight to space. Photo by Mike Massee. Courtesy of Scaled Composites, LLC.

SpaceShipOne lands victoriously after a successful flight to space. Photo by Mike Massee. Courtesy of Scaled Composites, LLC.

We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.

On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.

From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.

After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.

Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.

Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.

The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.

In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”

Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.

In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.

2015-02-15-ALASAConceptImage2From hapless Norwegian coastal battleships in WWII to last decade’s unarmored HUMVEEs, there are things that look good on paper and are highly functional for a nation at peace, that in hindsight do not seem all that great once an enemy gets a crack at them.

There are a few reliable constants to war at; one is that the things you rely on the most, your critical vulnerabilities identified by the enemy will always be targeted first.

A competent commander is self-aware of his own critical vulnerabilities, and makes a reasonable effort to protect them. Understanding the chaotic and dynamic nature of war, no critical vulnerability can be fully protected and needs backups – you need redundancy, especially if you have a critical requirement that is also one of your critical vulnerabilities.

For so long we have assumed access to the electromagnetic spectrum as a given, and access to satellites – those gloriously exquisite linchpins of the modern navy – as a given, then perhaps we should consider how we can provide Carrier Strike Group Commanders and Maritime Component Commanders the ability to replace wartime losses and complicate the enemies targeting our satellites.

Satellite constellations set up in peace are the fixed coastal defenses of the modern age – easy to target and plan against – and most likely first on an enemy’s targeting priority list.

What if a local commander could re-establish capabilities or even create new ones using those units under his command, at his discretion?

What if that capability wasn’t just an idea, but close to making a shadow on a ramp? This is something I pondered while reading about DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program, or (ALASA);

If all goes according to plan, a series of 12 orbital flights would then commence in early 2016 and wrap up by the middle of the year, DARPA officials said.

“The plan right now is, we have 12 [orbital] launches. The first three are fundamentally engineering checkout payloads,” Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said Feb. 5 during a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. “The other nine will be various scientific and research development payloads that we’re after.”

The ALASA military space project consists of an F-15 fighter jet carrying an expendable launch vehicle underneath it. Once the F-15 gets up to a sufficient altitude, the rocket releases and ignites, carrying its payload to orbit. The F-15 would then return to Earth for a runway landing, after which it would be prepped for another mission.

Perhaps we are at the point that it is still too big for anything smaller than an F-15E … but … put the engineers on it. Platform or payload, one of them should be able to be modified at a reasonable cost.

Additional satellite communications, ISR, etc – all just a magazine elevator away. Ponder it a bit.

In war, few things are better than for your opponent to think you are blind and helpless and then they move in for the what they think is the quick and easy victory … or that they think that is what you want them to do … but if you don’t have that capability then, well … you don’t. You miss an opportunity to deceive your enemy, or to sow doubt and confusion in the mind of their commander – two things anyone would like to have in their quiver.

… and no, “Call the USAF and have them do it for you from CONUS.” is not the correct answer. To call the USAF from WESTPAC, you need … ahem … satellites – or still have low-baud HF TTY. Oh, and … well … priorities.


The nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN), with its embarked carrier air wing(CVW), is the only maritime force capable of executing the full range of military operations necessary to protect our national interests.

130126-N-YX169-134 NEWPORT NEWS, Va., (Jan. 26, 2013) The 555-metric ton island for the future nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is lifted into position on the shipÕs flight deck during an island landing ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding. The island-landing ceremony marks the final super-lift in the construction process for the ship. The Gerald R. Ford is the first is a new class of aircraft carriers, and is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathanael Miller/Released)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va., (Jan. 26, 2013) The 555-metric ton island for the future nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is lifted into position on the shipÕs flight deck during an island landing ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding.

From deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations,Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) stand ready to answer the call in all phases of conflict. Navies across the globe aspire to extend their influence by building aircraft carriers and developing deployment models that mirror what the United States has been doing for more than eighty years. Our innovative leadership in this arena must continue to grow as the need for a modern aircraft carrier remains critically important to the continued freedom of navigation on the high seas.

Geopolitics and global threats require that we maintain a maneuverable and visibly persuasive force across the globe that can accomplish a number of missions, over sea and land. The carrier is the only answer to this requirement and the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will soon be underway fulfilling this critical need.

The Ford is not a notional, larger than life project that may never see the light of day. Ford is alive and pier-side in Newport News. Ninety percent of the actual ship is structurally complete, and multiple cutting edge systems are coming online each month. She is nearly ready to go to sea and a community of sailors, shipbuilders, engineers, and citizens cannot wait to take her to the front lines.

Return on Investment

Despite the significant costs of developing the world’s newest aircraft carrier, the investment is absolutely critical to our national security over much of the next century. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the U.S. to operate without a “permission slip” for host nation basing. Ships like Ford will generate the full range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries with minimal notice or diplomatic coordination. It is understandable that the cost of operating 100,000 tons of fast, highly-lethal combat power should come with a high price tag, but we’ve been committed to rigorous oversight and management of cost and delivery deadlines. Looking at cost in a vacuum without considering how unmatched warfighting power is extracted from each of those dollars would be shortsighted. Overall, the Ford class brings improved warfighting capability, quality-of-life improvements, and reduced total ownership costs. Together, these efforts will reduce manning by approximately 700 billets, reduce periodic maintenance, improve operational availability and capability, and reduce total ownership costs through its 50-year life by $4 billion for each ship over its Nimitz class counterpart. With the exception of the hull, virtually everything has been redesigned; it is the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years. The ship’s design includes sophisticated new technologies that deliver capability now and will continue to grow with the incorporation of future weapons systems. A new nuclear propulsion and electric plant on the Ford class will generate almost three times the electrical power over the Nimitz class, leading to higher aircraft sortie rates and excess power to incorporate future technologies, such as the employment of directed energy weapons. From the Advanced Arresting Gear to engineering efficiencies, the Ford class is cutting-edge.

131117-N-ZZ999-101 NORFOLK (Nov. 17, 2013) The aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is moved to Pier 3 at Newport News Shipbuilding. The ship will undergo additional outfitting and testing for the next 28 months. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries by Chris Oxley/Released)

NORFOLK (Nov. 17, 2013) The aircraft carrier Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is moved to Pier 3 at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Ford Class delivers enduring, unmatched air power

The Ford and Nimitz class will remain relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging. While Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, our Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats. It is important to look more broadly at how the CSG as a whole is equipped to deal with these complex threat environments. With an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the CSG remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary, where it matters, when it matters.

Additionally, the air wing itself will grow and adapt around the carrier to keep pace with technological advances and future capabilities. We’ve seen this before with the former USS Enterprise. The air wing aboard the Enterprise in 1962 was nearly unrecognizable from the modern composition of aircraft when she decommissioned in 2012. Nevertheless, that mighty ship was still able to execute missions and outmatch threats over a 51- year period. When you leverage the capabilities of the F-35C, our fifth generation fighter, with the capabilities of our F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60R/S Seahawks, you have what you need to fight and win against adversary threats in the near and long term. Future systems like the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program will only add to CSG lethality while diminishing vulnerabilities. Unlike other classes of ships, the aircraft carrier does not need to be retired when its primary weapons system becomes obsolete – the ship will continue to operate and dominate in any environment as its air wing and company surface combatants evolve.

History has proven time and time again that when the United States’ national security or national interest is at risk, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will steam ahead and be the first to answer the call. There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of the modern carrier on global events than events that have occurred this past year. After the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) expanded through the Middle East, our deployed CSG surged forward to protect citizens and interests throughout the region. Carrier Strike Group Two and the USS George H.W. Bush deployed into the Arabian Gulf to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. CSG 2 formed the only armed response option for the nation for 54 days. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group and Carrier Strike Group One followed, flying 12,300 sorties, including 2,383 combat missions. Now, the USS Theodore Roosevelt stands watch with Carrier Strike Group Twelve, an indispensable tool at the Combatant Commander’s disposal to fight a brutal enemy.

141010-N-AP620-012 ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 10, 2014) The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) prepares for a vertical replenishment with the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Juan D. Guerra/Released)

ARABIAN GULF (Oct. 10, 2014) The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) prepares for a vertical replenishment with the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8).

Beyond air power alone, the integrated nature of the sensors and weapon systems within the entire CSG is invaluable to Combatant Commanders and decision makers in Washington, D.C. Cruisers, destroyers, maritime patrol and reconnaissance force aircraft, and national sensors integrate with the CVN and CVW to broaden the reach of our most capable assets. Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is a game-changing concept that will greatly enhance Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) missions. NIFC-CA relies on a family of sensors rather than a single system. Inputs from air and surface assets create a common operational picture among platforms and incorporate integrated fires (from air and surface platforms) to counter and neutralize missile threats. This revolutionary capability is already integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group.

There is no doubt that our aircraft carriers remain relevant in this time of geopolitical tension due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While conflicts no longer span entire oceans, there are real and dangerous adversaries that seek to derail peace and inflict harm. The investments we make now in the Ford class carrier will ensure we continue to confront these threats. Whether it is combatting terrorists, assisting humanitarian assistance efforts after a natural disaster, or deterring future conflict, the nuclear powered carrier will continue to be the centerpiece of our Nation’s initial and lasting response across the globe.


This post originally appeared at the NavyLive Blog, and is crossposted here with permission.

Away All Boats! This battle cry met American theater goers in a 1956 movie by the same name, an adaptation of a novel by Kenneth Dodson based on his experience aboard the USS Pierce (APA 50) in World War II. The film stars the crew of a fictional amphibious attack transport Belinda and features one of Clint Eastwood’s first unaccredited roles as a Navy Corpsman. But those who know something about military films remember it for its Technicolor realism and gritty depiction of amphibious warfare in the Pacific. The last few days on the USS San Antonio have felt like a modern reinterpretation of this classic.

one two

The flagship is brimming with Swedish, Finnish, British, and American Marines, their vehicles, boats, and support staff. Some of the Scandinavian forces sport beards worthy of Viking ancestors (one carries an axe as a guide on), the chow lines have been longer than usual, the cooks are working overtime, and all are in good spirits. Finally, today the order all had been waiting for was given, “AWAY ALL BOATS!”


Today, the 700-strong multinational BALTOPS Amphibious Landing Force stormed the beach of the Ravlunda training range in Sweden, one of the largest amphibious exercises ever orchestrated in the Baltic region. Also participating were Soldiers from the 173rd Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. The landing force came from a NATO sea base, consisting of the big deck, HMS OCEAN (LPH 12), USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), and POLISH LSTs: LUBLIN (LST 821) and GNIEZO (LST 822). A variety of amphibious vehicles served as connectors to get the Marines ashore from the sea base including fast and maneuverable Combat Boats (CB 90s), Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) and numerous other amphibious assault craft.

fourfiveWhat we accomplished today on the Ravlunda range is a testament to NATO’s robust amphibious capability—or “amphibiousity.” Demonstrating this capability is just one of the many facets of BALTOPS, a training exercise that is testing NATO’s ability to conduct air defense, undersea warfare, mine countermeasures operations, and maritime interdiction operations, skills that NATO has been practicing ever since the first exercise took place forty-three years ago.


What makes this BALTOPS different, though, is that it is being conducted under a NATO flag. I am joined here by my deputy Read Admiral Tim Lowe of the Royal Navy and Chief of Staff of Operations Rear Admiral Juan Garat of the Spanish Navy who have built an amazing team. My Lisbon-based staff of Striking and Support Forces NATO is aboard the command ship USS SAN ANTONIO, working diligently to ensure that we maximize training opportunities for the entire force.

sevenThe exercise is part of NATO’s broader goal to show its commitment to regional security. From the very beginning the numbers alone attest to this unwavering resolve. BALTOPS 2015 is larger than ever, a multi-national exercise conducted in a joint environment by 14 NATO and three partner nations throughout the Baltic Sea and Baltic region at large. We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime personnel.

eightWe are grateful that Sweden and Finland could join us in this exercise – because regional security is a collective effort and requires us to communicate, understand each other, and establish lasting relationships. These relationships are built on common values and interests.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Swedish Prince Carl Philip and his wife to be, Ms. Sofia Hellqvist on their wedding day. The Prince serves his country as a Major in the Amphibious Forces of Sweden. We hope that the newlywed couple will view today’s events in Ravlunda as a token of Alliance appreciation for Sweden’s partnership and a significant contribution to the peace and security of the Baltic Region.

moustachepricelessWhat I saw today was not a Technicolor movie. There were no actors. It was not art. It was life. What the cameras caught and what you see in pixels on Youtube is the force of ideals truly embodied in the young men and women who serve our individual nations and who are willing to protect and defend our values.

Three months after the unveiling of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” or CS-21R, America’s sea services are busy as ever. While the document did not change much from its predecessor, it has elicited questions from junior officers and enlisted around the fleet, such as “how does it impact my immediate job?” and “we still get MIDRATS, right?”

CS-21R is a must-read for officers and enlisted of every rank and rate. It paints a compelling picture of naval operations in this century that can help answer some of the “Why are we here and what are we doing?” questions we frequently ponder.

Although it is a strategic document, CS-21R has implications for warfighters at the tactical level. The actions of individual sailors and aviators on ships, submarines, aircraft, and on the ground can have a marked effect on the efficacy of our naval strategy. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it does serve to highlight how those executing at the tactical level of warfare can help achieve more widespread success and competency across both our service and the joint force.


1) Know your OPTASKs, OPORDs, PPRs, CCIRs, etc. Don’t rely on the roving Air Wing or Strike Group brief or the cockpit cheat sheet; actually read the documents, comprehend them, and help others do the same.

2) Understand the intelligence and “battlespace awareness” process. Most ships, squadrons, and other units have intelligence officers, but many are not using these individuals to their full potential. Remember that your Information Dominance Corps (IDC) officer hasn’t gone through flight training or your warfare-specific school but they have been trained to help improve your knowledge of the threats you may face or the people you may interact with. Help them understand what you do, and take the time to really understand what they do and need from you. What reports are they making with your information? How can you use your sensor to give them a better product and achieve mission success? They are as much a part of the kill chain or the OODA loop as you.

3) Never rest on your laurels. Constantly strive to consider how each platform and operator influences your sphere of operation. You should work for a symbiotic relationship as much as possible; for example, understanding the operation of radio equipment onboard a destroyer can help an F/A-18 pilot better communicate across the range of operations, throughout the battlespace. This is not an assignment that will be doled out to you by some prescient being; you must actively work to create your own synergy. Pick up the phone, send an E-mail, or walk to a space and take time to do thorough coordination.

4) No platform is an island. Do not do your job alone; you must work to include all other service, joint, and increasingly, multi-national operators in your processes and procedures. The time to “get on the same page” is before bullets and bombs start flying. Each squadron, department, and division should have applicable contacts in other units performing similar missions. For example, E-2C squadrons should proactively establish a dialogue with all elements of theater command and control, including AWACS, JSTARS, CAOC, CDC, and ASOC. This can either be “tasked” by a higher headquarters or voluntarily initiated by the unit itself; either way, make contact early, and keep it often.

5) Figure out how to do a Spartan mission. The Electromagnetic Spectrum is being legitimately contested by near-peer nations and non-state actors; this may have serious consequences as our military relies more and more on complex systems and trends towards technological complacency. Paper charts, communications brevity, and even lights and signals remain important media for mission accomplishment in extremis. Excellence in operating in information- and network-denied environments is crucial. This aptitude is not easily measured, but is essential to real unit readiness.

6) Take time to understand unit, service, theater, and national Command and Control (C2). More than bullets or bombs, information is the most critical commodity in today’s conflicts. How does that information flow? Where does it go? Who communicates? What is the dwell time of each communication? What is each communication supposed to sound like? Why does it behave this way? Taking time to understand “who’s who in the zoo” and establish good relationships can be the difference between success and failure in critical phases of combat.

7) Get innovative with mission planning. It is important to understand and respect the past actions of the threat, but always consider how the threat may evolve to catch you off guard when you least expect it. As General Stanley McChrystal advises in his book Team of Teams, “data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.” Be smarter than your enemy, not just more technologically advanced.

8) Leverage unmanned systems to maximize your lethality and effectiveness and to improve your survivability. Surveillance feeds from unmanned air and surface craft can also increase situational awareness, especially as platforms operate across domains (such as when a surface ship fires a Tomahawk missile at a land target, or a manned rotary wing aircraft is executing surface search against maritime targets).

9) The network is a means, not an end. Too many entities act with the belief that “the network will save us.” Use it for leverage, or to quicken your reaction time and increase situational awareness. But remember that you can’t fire a network at a ballistic missile or unidentified surface contact.

10) Ensure a thorough understanding among all theater players of your TTPs. NIFC-CA and other concepts increase the complexity of operations. Leverage capabilities and technology but keep the plan simple. This goes beyond immediate mission planning—ensure a level of understanding throughout all theater players on your TTPs and capabilities. If you are on the ground, and the only asset you can contact for air support does not understand what you are asking or speak your particular “language,” the time for teaching may be extracted at a price.

Tactical actions have strategic consequences.

Read. Think. Write. Debate. Then, Operate.

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