Archive for the 'Aviation' Category

X-47B Taxi

Today’s successful launch of an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator marks a significant turning point for Naval Aviation, as much for its cultural acceptance by the community as for its technological significance.

As a newly minted Naval Aviator in 2002, the mere mention of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the ready room was enough to send most discussions into overdrive. The Navy, after all, would never have a need for drones, especially not ones launched from an aircraft carrier or a surface combatant. When a leading aircraft manufacturer’s UAV team joined us during a cruise in 2003 to measure the GEORGE WASHINGTON’s flight deck, the response was a mixture of mild curiosity and more than a little negativity.

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F/A-18 Nose
“I won’t be offended if you turn away to watch the planes flying. I do it myself all the time,” NAS Oceana commanding officer CAPT Bob “Goose” Geis tells our group as he starts his brief on the facility’s history and operations. It’s an appropriate introduction to a meeting being held in the control tower conference room, a space seven stories above the tarmac with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, giving a 270 degree view of everything happening on the airfield. It’s an impressive sight, and you can’t fully appreciate the scale of NAS Oceana’s aircraft operations until you see it from above.

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USAF photo

Please join CDR Salamander and me on February 10, 2013 at 5pm Eastern U.S. for “Episode 162: Air Diplomacy, Air-Sea Battle, and the PAC Pivot”:

Photo: Lockheed Martin

As we shift from ground combat in Asia and reset to a more natural position of a naval and aerospace power, are we thinking correctly on how to best leverage our resources and strengths?

Photo: MDA

How should we be using sea power and air power to create the right effects during peace, yet be poised to have the best utility at war? Are there concepts, habits, and systems that have had their time and should be moved aside for newer tools and ideas?

Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Adam Lowther, Senior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC.

He is the author of numerous books and articles on national security topics and previously served in the US Navy.

Join us live if you can here or download or listen to the show later here or on our iTunes page here.



CarrierUnable to attend the 2013 USNI West Conference and Exposition in San Diego last week?

Well, you might have missed some really good information – except that you can still view some of the key presentations and panels by watching them on USNI’s YouTube page and get a summary of each day’s summary here.

Almost like being there except you miss the giveaways at the vendor’s booth.

Also, given that Midrats has Super Bowl “Best of” going this Sunday, it’s a way to get your “talking ’bout National Security” fix.



26th

Over to whom?

November 2012

By

With the Big E coming home for good, the NIMITZ acting a bit old and busted, there has been a lot of discussion as of late about the ability of the US Navy to do what she has become accustomed to doing; projecting power globally from the sea with almost impunity – and the large-deck carrier being the tool primarily used to do so.

Through gross program mismanagement, myopic POM-centric rice bowl games, and simple parochialism – much of the nuance, depth, and flexibility of what was on those decks are gone as well, most notably the loss of the S-3, ES-3, organic tanking (fighters tanking don’t count, silly goose), and independent long range strike – gone and replaced with a deck of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none RW and light fighters with AEW thrown in for character.

Add to that the ongoing “to the right” extended deployment of our Amphib “small deck” carriers (yes, I know, I know, I know) and their ARGs, funkyesque methods of Fleet number counting, and the expected contraction in shipbuilding budgets that all but this ordered to say otherwise accept will be the new norm – then more and more smart people are trying to step back and get the larger view.

What exactly are the larger Strategic implications of the clear decline in the US Navy’s global reach?

As is often the case, to help break the intellectual gridlock, it is helpful to bring in outside views. Over at the UK blog Thin Pinstiped Line, Sir Huphrey speaks with big medicine. The whole post is worth a read – but everyone should ponder the below a bit.

The reality is that the USN now is probably in the same place as the RN found itself in the mid-1960s – mid 1970s. Reduced budgets, elderly vessels still in service, while the new designs (T42s, 22s) were taking longer than planned to come into service, and yet operationally committed across the globe.

The ability of the USN to operate with impunity across the globe, steaming where it wanted on its terms, and able to stand its ground against almost any aggressor has gone forever. Todays’ USN remains a fiercely capable and strong navy, but its ability to exert unlimited and unchallenged control of the high seas has gone, probably forever. Instead it would be more realistic to judge that the future USN will provide a capability to deploy power into some areas, but only at the cost of reducing capability and influence in others.

In a classic, “over to you” moment as the Royal Navy slowly retreated West of Suez after the late 1950′s unpleasantness, and with the final moment by Prime Minister Wilson in the annus horribilis that was 1968 – the world approaching mid-21st Century is stuck with a quandary.

The British at least were handing things off, indirectly, to her daughter; a relatively smooth transition to a nation that was cut from the same cloth and whose interests were more often than not those interests of Britain.

If, as Sir Humphrey states, we face a future where the global capability of the US will decline in proportion to her navy – then who will be there to fill the gap? Multiple smaller regional powers? A rising power? Status quo, but thinner? Nothing?

None of those three are in the interests of the US.

Willfully abandoning territory – enough of the “global commons” PR stunts, please – to the whims of whatever power has the will to take it, is a classic description of a nation in decline. In our case, that would be a willful decline – but almost all declines are willful.

Is everyone on board with that? It is a choice.

Hat tip BJ.



21st

For the Reading List

November 2012

By

Last week, I read one of those books that is impossible to put down. I read it—devoured it is more like it—in about a night-and-a-half of reading instead of sleeping. That’s something I don’t do these days, but I had to finish it.

It was weirdly familiar and hard to read, and in many ways it resonated. It’s called After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey, and it was written by Dan Sheehan, a fellow Cobra pilot. It’s—sort of—a recall/analysis of his time in Iraq in the early days of OIF and a discussion of the aftermath. I haven’t flown since 2010, but while reading his book, it felt like yesterday. I could smell the cockpit like the blades had just stopped turning, could feel the switches and gauges under my fingertips again, and remember well the post-mission stupor exacerbated by the dull, strong whomp-whomp of the blades echoing up my back.

Dan is an acquaintance; we both served as instructors at the Fleet Replacement Squadron right before we each left active duty. I don’t know him incredibly well, but he’s got a stellar reputation and was exceedingly competent. But that’s not why I hope people read his book.

I hope people read it because what he writes about is important. Yes, flying is interesting, and he describes what that’s like so expertly and eloquently that it made me physically miss it (as if I didn’t miss it enough already). So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fly and fight a Cobra, he’ll tell you. But the beauty in this book—if I dare use that word to describe the critical part of his story—is his ability and willingness to stand up and put a face to what so many veterans have experienced and continue to experience.

It’s a book that may not get a huge following, as it’s kind of in its own category. But if it doesn’t get widely read, then it’s a crying shame. Despite the fact that we’ve been at war for over a decade, less than 1% of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan (yet many of those endured multiple deployments), and I find myself repeatedly surprised by how few citizens have a real awareness of just what has been happening since 2001. I want people to read Dan’s book, both those who have served and those who have not. Those who have might see traces of themselves in his story, and those who have not served need the perspective. Thank you, Shoe. Keep writing.

 



Mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation… Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Innovation is back! There is an undeniable renewal of interest and forward momentum in innovative thought in the United States Navy today. Why is this? What is driving the renewed attention to innovation?

Several factors influence innovation in both a positive and a negative way. Stephen Rosen discusses many of these factors in his book, “Winning the Next War: Innovation in the Modern Military.” Rosen talks about “technology push,” which occurs when new and disruptive technologies are discovered and sometimes reluctantly incorporated into our warfighting platforms. Though not immediately embraced, over time these technologies can – and often do – revolutionize how we fight. The triumph of steam over sail in the United States Navy is a good example, but one that was hard fought to incorporate or inculcate into the minds of naval officers of that era. Likewise, Rosen’s “demand pull” (or mission pull) stimulates innovation when there is a critical warfighting need and no platform or technology currently available to meet that need. Brave men fought the first and second Battle of the Atlantic in diesel submarines that were cold, cramped, noisy and vulnerable. The need to remain submerged and undetected for long periods of time created a mission pull for nuclear propulsion which contributed to our modern day fleet of highly capable nuclear powered submarines.

While we would have eventually figured out how to put an atomic pile inside a submarine, I think it is fair to say it would not have happened as fast without the contribution of a “maverick” like Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. He drove this process relentlessly and against much opposition, eventually putting to sea the modern SSN. Rickover was unconventional in his methods but he got results. Nowadays, mavericks must learn to work within an even more complex rule set and hierarchy which can stifle innovation. Today’s acquisition process is rather burdensome and although we make the best weapon systems in the world, we must be more responsive in pacing or better yet, exceeding adversary threat capabilities. This of course puts incredible pressure on traditional timelines in research, development and acquisition. Our ongoing efforts to introduce agility and speed into this process must continue if we are to remain a dominant power.

Beyond traditional red-tape, another factor driving – or inhibiting – innovation is money. With competing priorities in the President’s budget, some savings have been realized through reductions in defense spending. Budget reductions and periods of fiscal austerity invariably serve to stimulate critical thought and innovative ways of warfighting. Admiral Jim Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), often quotes a well-known figure in the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Jackie Fisher who said at the beginning of the twentieth century, “Now that the money has run out we must start to think!” SACEUR’s reference is poignant, as Fisher is primarily celebrated as an innovator, strategist and developer of the Royal Navy of the First World War era. When appointed First Sea Lord in 1904, he recapitalized older vessels still in active service but no longer useful and set about constructing modern replacements. Fisher is rightly credited with creating a battle fleet well prepared to fight Germany at sea during World War I.

By any account, our Navy budget is not insignificant, but we must continue to adapt to potential changes. Following Fisher’s suggestion to “think” may provide the catalyst to innovating our way past many of the challenges we face today. This may seem too obvious, for how else does one find an answer, except to think. But how frequently do any of us commit to the type of thinking required to fully understand issues and then devise possible solutions? Rear Admiral Terry Kraft, Commander of the Naval Warfare Development Center (NWDC) recently published The Innovators Guide which dedicates a full four pages to creative thought and generation of ideas. Thinking may not be as simple as it sounds, but we must commit to it in order to find the right solutions.

Recognizing these constraints, the CNO has challenged us to facilitate innovation across the Navy, and several organizations have taken great strides towards this end. The NWDC is a key stakeholder, and its mission is to “link tomorrow’s ideas to today’s warfighter through the rapid generation and development of innovative solutions to operational challenges.” This is done by operating at the speed of the Fleet and maintaining a focus on non-material solutions for the future. In this way, the NWDC serves as a “think tank” for how we fight tomorrow’s battles.

So why NWDC? I would offer that there are many lessons we must learn from history, and one of my favorites is examined by Barry Posen in The Sources of Military Doctrine, in his study of the German doctrine. He notes that Germany “won the battle of France and lost the Battle of Britain. She won the battle for which she had prepared and lost the one for which she had not. Her military doctrine had long envisioned major land campaigns on the European continent. Operations beyond its shores had been given little thought.” The doctrine worked well, until the context of the battle changed to exceed its design. In operating at the “speed of the Fleet”, the NWDC is positioned to look forward and adapt to the changing battlefield and its dynamic conditions.

I recently read RADM Kraft’s NWDC post entitled “Naval Innovation Reboot”, which provides thought-provoking messages about the rapid pace of communications facilitated by social networks where ideas are transformed into reality at a very high rate. He argues that the Navy has yet to capitalize on the benefits of these advancements, and suggests that we better empower our Sailors – already more than comfortable with this technology – to use it to our advantage. To more directly engage these junior leaders, last summer, the NWDC hosted a “Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.” The symposium was designed to educate these leaders on the importance of innovation, empower them to contribute new ideas, facilitate connected discussion and start to harvest their ideas. In keeping with their broad-based approach, NWDC also brings together leadership from industry, military and academia to ensure an awareness and openness to innovative solutions and ideas. In other words, Kraft knows that the water’s edge for innovation is NOT at the water’s edge.

One of the most recent efforts from NWDC examines the establishment of a Rapid Innovation Cell. In broad terms, the cell is envisioned as a mechanism to transform disruptive ideas into solutions and as an alternative path to fielding solutions.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is another highly-valuable player in this endeavor. As the Department of the Navy’s Science and Technology (S&T) provider, ONR leads the cutting edge of S&T solutions to address Navy and Marine Corps needs. This effort is developed within and among three directorates, one of which is committed to innovation. ONR’s Directorate of Innovation “cultivates innovative science and technology approaches that support the Department of the Navy and facilitate rapid and agile responses to our changing national security environment.”

Armed with state-of-the-art test facilities and a team of world-class scientists and engineers from a variety of fields, they are well-equipped to advance innovative solutions for the most challenging issues. ONR supports a number of programs aimed to streamline the fielding of technology to the Fleet and Forces. When urgent needs are identified through the Urgent Operational Needs Statement (UONS), Joint UONS (JUONS) and Joint Emergent Operational Needs (JEONs) programs, ONR experts are called upon to ensure available technologies are leveraged in solutions for the fleet. As a complementary process ONR also manages CNO’s Speed to Fleet program, which aims to provide quick-reaction mature and new technologies to deliver working prototypes to warfighters in high-risk or high-threat areas within 12-24 months.

Also within ONR’s quick-reaction S&T portfolio, the Tech Solutions program is a transformational business process created by the Chief of Naval Research to provide Sailors and Marines with a web-based tool for bringing warfighter needs to the Naval Research Enterprise for rapid response and delivery. The program accepts recommendations and suggestions, via an on-line submission form, from Navy and Marine Corps personnel working at the ground level on ways to improve mission effectiveness through the application of technology. It is solely focused on delivering needed technology to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, within 12-18 months, and moving the sea services toward more effective and efficient use of personnel. The program has a proven track record too, resulting in technology to the fleet including a Catapult Capacity Selector Valve Calculator (CSV) – a hand-held Flight Deck Ops Assistant which eliminates a laborious process of referencing paper manuals to determine catapult settings.

With NWDC and ONR working as partners, the Navy has an infrastructure which is well-postured to support innovation. Just a thought before I move on… One of our S&T scientists recently e-mailed me a link to the U.S. Coast Guard Innovation Program. It’s a five-page document which formally establishes the Coast Guard Innovation Program. There may be a risk of institutionalizing innovation, but we might also benefit from having a written plan which supports innovative thought. The Coast Guard has an Innovation Council not unlike the current effort undertaken by NWDC. It also recognizes innovation in the ranks with an annual award and incentive program and sponsors an annual USCG Innovation Expo in partnership with industry. Perhaps we should follow suit?

Innovation has been described as having several forms. These range from technological to strategic, and I’ll give a more detailed outline of my thoughts on some of these later, but we suggest we must also contemplate the nature of innovation we aim to achieve.

In a recent Proceedings article entitled Payloads over Platforms, the CNO calls for the “decoupling of payload development from platform development (to) take advantage of a set of emerging trends in precision weapons, stealth, ship and aircraft construction, economics, and warfare.” By tracing a timeline of successful payload shifts across the service of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), his article illustrates some innovative success the Navy has enjoyed, but these successes were a result of coincidence, and perhaps a dose of good luck, rather than initial design. And, even if the blueprints were drawn up to facilitate payload changes, this approach to design is not pervasive enough to support the CNO’s goals. NWDC and ONR have both adopted or structured approaches to facilitate significant changes like this. If we can successfully tap the ideas of our junior leaders on the deck plates, I believe we are well-suited to develop solutions to propel us in the direction the CNO is pointing.

We face difficult challenges, and innovation provides us one path to solving many of them. I encourage all of our Sailors to discuss ideas and contribute thoughts to this blog or any others I have referenced. We need solutions, and we must be open in our search for them. Is the Navy, as an institution best optimized to innovate? How can we do better? I yield to the “wisdom of the crowd” on this matter, and I am confident that many of you have outstanding ideas that we haven’t yet heard. Get ‘em out there!



The passing of Neil Armstrong, an American treasure and icon, seems lost in the steady drumbeat of electoral rhetoric and the 24-hour news cycle. How unfortunate, since he serves as a standard-bearer for what has been so good and right about America. The accomplishment that he represents, the once inconceivable act of landing a man on the moon, demonstrates that even during a period of international tension and national despair we can still rise to meet the greatest of challenges. In so doing, Armstrong personified two incredible ideals: A nation’s ability to unite for the accomplishment of a grand achievement and an individual who remains selfless, putting service to one’s country before personal gains.

Yesterday’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral was a fitting send off for one of our Nation’s finest, a naval aviator and true patriot who proudly served his country. The tone was set from the very start, with the playback of President Kennedy’s 1962 address at Rice University in which he committed the Nation to landing a man on the moon. President Kennedy’s speech recalled the monumental challenges that existed in going to the moon but, as he so famously put it, that we choose to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Technical hurdles were only one part of the problem, as the Nation would require individuals with a truly unique skill set to go safely to the moon and back. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Astronaut Gene Cernan both pointed out that while many were capable of landing on the moon, in retrospect only Armstrong could carry the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a Nation on his shoulders and then, having accomplished such a lofty endeavor, could portray himself as simply an ambassador who represented the hard work and dedication of others.

During the service my thoughts drifted back to elementary school, when teachers would wheel TVs on roller carts into the cafeteria so that students could watch the space shuttle launch. I’ll never forget the palpable silence in the room as everyone collectively held their breath when the last few seconds of the countdown started, only to be broken by the thunderous applause of hundreds of children clapping and cheering with a successful ignition of the booster rockets. These moments resonated around the world. A friend and fellow aviator who attended the service, but who grew up Asia, recounted how his school in Taiwan played a tape of Neil Armstrong’s first footsteps on the moon as an example of a historic achievement for the world. These were the events that assured so many of us that great achievements were possible. He, like I, learned to dream just a little bit bigger because of Neil Armstrong.

In a time of self-promotion, when our Nation’s youth look to rock stars and celebrities for role models, we should not pass up this opportunity to champion an American Hero who always declined to champion himself.



Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a change of office ceremony for the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the “Sail Loft” of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, D.C. It was a gala event, that paid tribute to the incredible work ethic, energy and achievements of RDML Denny Moynihan during his four and a half-years on the job. RDML Moynihan was relieved by RDML John Kirby, another super-charged officer who is highly regarded in the Navy and the Navy Public Affairs community for his support of Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and most recently, as the military spokesman for Secretary Leon Panetta in OSD Public Affairs.

By nature of his position as CHINFO, which supports the Office of the Secretary of the Navy and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, RDML Kirby will have a direct impact on the Navy and Navy programs and people every day. He has myriad responsibilities that he will want to prioritize, but in many cases, the 24 hour news cycle will modulate and modify his priorities as current events involving U.S. Naval Forces unfold around the globe. As CHINFO, he will be one of the most important architects of the Navy’s Strategic Communications strategy.

Accordingly, he may want to examine our current “brand.” In enterprise terms, Strategic Communicators employ the marketing strategy of “branding” to focus on the objectives achievable with the goods and services that the company can offer its clientele. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of a “brand” is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

Sounds very business-like doesn’t it? But, let’s agree that the Navy has achieved some incredible efficiencies by adapting industry best practices to streamline support to the warfighter-Lean Six Sigma for example. So it follows that we might embrace “branding” as a method of unifying our strategic message to a target audience.

Since I joined the Service, we’ve adopted many different brands, even before the term and the enterprise approach became popular. Do you recall:

“It’s Not Just a Job… It’s an Adventure!”

“Let the Journey Begin!”

“Navy, Accelerate Your Life!”

And our current brand. “Navy. A Global Force for Good!”

Defining the target audience is part of the discovery process in adopting a brand. Those in the Human Resources aspect of what we do tell me that the target audience is the quality young men and women that we recruit annually to join our Service. We want the best and brightest from the pool of eligible young Americans. With an all-volunteer force, opportunities to learn new skills and be assured of job security, although necessary, are not enough – you need an appealing tagline! Human Resource specialists tell me that our current brand sells well with the Millennial Generation. Those joining our ranks today want job skills and a career, but they also want to make a difference-to be a part of a global team that has a raison d’etre- i.e. to make the world a better place. Recruiting, however, is normally tied to the economy and right now, our recruiting and retention statistics are pretty good. That could all change in a heartbeat with a major change in our economy, so it makes sense to keep a regular drumbeat on the theme of recruiting. Our brand is intended to attract and retain the very best, our challenge is to identify the Navy as a choice worth considering in the minds of those choosing and the minds of those providing advice and counsel.

I wonder however, if new recruits are the only audience? Shouldn’t our brand also appeal to the American taxpayers and their direct representatives on Capitol Hill? To the teachers, counselors, parents and coaches—those figures America’s youth look to when trying to figure out their personal way ahead? The point is that the “brand” has to appeal to a broad audience, with different levels of experience and different perspectives. The challenge is to reach and appeal to this wide audience with a clear and concise message of who we are.

In the marketplace, brands appeal to consumers and stifle the competition. Consumers of our brand are the American people, who want a safe and secure environment with conflicts resolved far from our shores. Our competition in the market of national security could be a peer competitor, a downright enemy of the state, or worst case – apathy and the belief that national security is someone else’s job. So, how will our brand keep us moving forward and deter our adversaries? This is an important question, if in fact you subscribe to the theory that our brand has multiple target audiences. Could we or should we change our brand to send a different message or a message to a different audience. I don’t have a good answer to these questions, so I thought we might benefit from the wisdom of the crowd–hence the reason for this blogging effort?

The CNO has given us three simple tenets and only six words on which to base our day-to-day fulfillment of our duties: Warfighting First! Operate Forward! Be Ready! Does our brand convey these three tenets? Do we need more than one brand for more than one audience? Do we need a brand at all?

I always liked the poster of the Aircraft Carrier that you see in many Navy Facilities-”90,000 tons of diplomacy.” A picture is often worth a thousand words, but that picture combined with that caption conveys many things about our Navy and our great country. It champions our industrial base and the United States’ ability to construct and operate not one but eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It illustrates our ability to operate from our sovereign territory—the flight deck of the carrier—anytime and anyplace where our national interests may be threatened or where a helping hand may be needed. It epitomizes our ability to take the fight to the enemy far away from our shores. Finally, it sends the message that when diplomacy or deterrence fails, standby! American resolve and wherewithal will be there, ready to act if called upon. Perhaps we should adopt a brand that does all that?



We have lost a truly great one. Military Historian and analyst Sir John Keegan, OBE, has died at the age of 78.

The Telegraph announced the death of this nonpareil author and military historian. No serious student of the Profession of Arms should fail to read Keegan’s seminal work, The Face of Battle, nor many of his other numerous and superlative works, including The First World War, The Second World War, Six Armies at Normandy, and The Price of Admiralty.

Keegan’s genius in explaining the incomprehensible, warfare, at all its levels, was simply remarkable. His was a once-in-a-century intellect, and he shall be missed.



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