Archive for the 'Innovation' Category
Water, PKP, CO2, Halon, and AFFF are what we use to extinguish fire (I didn’t miss one, did I?). AFFF shouldn’t really count as it’s own method, since water is still the medium in which AFFF is applied.
A clear eyed view of using water to extinguish flame on a ship floating in water–or a submarine suspended in water–is rather perplexing and counterintuitive, practicality notwithstanding. Especially in regards to the reality that air pressure can now be utilized to extinguish flames.
Reports of using sound waves to extinguish flames date back to 2004, when the University of West Georgia demonstrated
the banality of Nickelback the ability of low frequencies to extinguish a candle. In turn, by 2011/12 DARPA then further demonstrated the capability. DARPA’s demonstrator appears large and impractical for real-world applications, but clearly and audibly shows fire being extinguished by nothing more than moving air in a specific way (specific Sound Pressure Level and frequencies).
In the last year, two engineering students from George Mason University built upon work done by other researchers and DARPA, and built a handheld technology demonstrator that is capable of putting out small fires.
There’s still a lot of testing that needs to be done–this technology has to be falsified to establish the limits of what types of casualties are capable of being combated. But, the benefits of this technology fill a few niches that existing technologies do not.
Foremost in my mind is the potential application of this technology in submarines. The closed atmosphere seems poorly suited for introducing particulates like PKP, and unbreathable CO2. Submarines are suspended far below the surface making the notion of affecting the buoyancy by fighting fire with water border on a crazy but necessary evil.
Viet and Seth, the inventors of the handheld device in the above video seem to have produced their prototype for $600. Which should be a small enough price point to allow some real experimentation. We could procure 10-15 of these extinguishers, give them to the DC-men at the Naval Training Centers, and tell them to falsify this technology. We’d ask them to establish what we can and cannot do with this technology, how it could augment our existing fire fighting capabilities, and how the technology should evolve from this demonstrator to a tool ready for the Fleet. Additionally, building an array of transducers into the overhead of an engine room could provide a wide-area suppression system similar to the AFFF systems already installed.
No de-watering after securing from a casualty. No wiping CO2 ‘flakes’ off electrical equipment. Theoretically, the only thing on the MRC for this unit would be checking the battery charge level and the material condition of the transducer. There are significant benefits to adopting this rapidly maturing technology, and I believe it behooves us as a Navy to explore this technology and adopt it.
Even while stepping gingerly past the usual swamps of interservice rivalry, for most of those who have had to work with “them,” it is very clear that there is a large difference in culture between the US Air Force and the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Very different – and in important ways not good.
One of the areas of difference is in their culture’s tolerance of dissent.
While not as open as a spoken-word poetry slam, when compared to the other services, the maritime services are rather open minded and resilient to off-message discussion.
Perhaps we can trace it back to the traditions Admirals Mahan and Sims built on, improved – and eloquently brought to the front from the Revolt of the Admirals to VADM Tom Connolly. It is hard to say, but any time spent in the joint environment you can see the difference.
The events in the last few months have brought out two great examples that would be difficult to see happening in such an open way in the maritime services.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, is accused of telling officers that they are prohibited from discussing with Congress efforts to retire the A-10 attack jet, which many lawmakers would like to keep in service.
“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post reportedly said, according to a post by blogger Tony Carr on his John Q. Public website. “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it.”
Well, Post got fired for his efforts.
More recently, we had this from retired USAF General Roger Brady;
But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.
The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force’s myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.
Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.
A valid perspective, perhaps for a retired Soviet Air Force General – but perhaps a little off for one from a representative republic of a free people.
Though that attitude does exist in many places in our Navy towards any off-talking points discussion – it is usually done in quiet way among safe ears. Not in our Air Force though, no. It seems to be comfortable to come out in clear view of all.
That difference in culture can be found in glaring relief in the broader marketplace of ideas. It has long been a staple from the beginnings of new media over a decade ago that the USAF seemed to have a light footprint and not too full of boat rockers. That is getting better.
It is no mistake that Tony Carr’s blog “John Q. Public” has been at the front of both of these events and others on the USAF side of the house – he is one of the few contrary voices out there from that side of the Pentagon – and he is getting good traction as result. He is serving a very underserved market … and the quality of his goods is feeding the demand even more.
As I have seen in comments as of late – I wish this insight was originally mine – there may be something to consider about one potential source of the USAF vs. USN/USMC culture difference. The USAF does not have its version of the US Naval Institute and Proceedings.
Let’s look at the mission of USNI again;
To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.
I think that is something the USAF could dearly use.
As imperfect as it is in execution and perhaps even support – this is something we should all step back now and then and ponder the 2nd and 3rd order effects that the Institute has on our larger culture, and the health of its collective professional intellect.
Do we have our Posts and Bradys? Sure … but they don’t feel supported by a general culture or empowered by their sense of intellectual entitlement to come out in the open and say it.
Looking at the pushback this year – maybe the USAF is headed our way in this respect. Good.
It isn’t just good – the USAF deserves better than this “shut up and color” type of leadership. Those leading the USAF at the highest levels were mid-grade officers in DESERT STORM. In that conflict, one of their leaders was General Charles Horner, USAF (Ret.).
Like many of his generation of military officers, his views were formed by what he saw in the Vietnam War. He and his peers knew what they didn’t want to be when it was their turn.
In Eric Schlosser book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, the author gives a snapshot of where the USAF leadership was in 1991 from Horner’s view, looking back to the General Officers leading the USAF in Vietnam;
I didn’t hate them because they were dumb, I didn’t hate them because they had spilled our blood for nothing, I hated them because of their arrogance… because they had convinced themselves that they actually knew what they were doing and that we were too minor to understand the “Big Picture.” I hated my own generals, because they covered up their own gutless inability to stand up to the political masters in Washington … (I would) never again be a part of something so insane and foolish.
Has the center mass of USAF drifted this far away again? Again in an arrogance not willing to consider the views of their company and field grade officers?
Culture is never a fixed thing, but there can be parts of a culture that can be a damping rod to provide constancy through change. Thinking about our sister service’s battle with the free exchange of ideas and open discourse, at least for me, gives me a greater appreciation of our Institute and its mission.
Along those lines … take a break from reading and hit the keyboard. Someone’s tree needs shaking, and USNI is always looking for writers.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
BCC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia, Boris in Belarus
Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Decisions, Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email Is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Today, information is all around us. The proliferation of digital technologies and resultant data explosion does not simply affirm the efficacy of digital systems over their analog predecessors like letters, the telegraph, and carrier pigeons. Rather, the data revolution mandates a shift towards a world permeated and enabled by data in a whole new way. This requires a mindset shift that will have significant consequences, many of which are not readily apparent even to experts. From the emergence of digital currencies such as bitcoins, to personal technologies like Fit Bit, the intimate fusion of the digital with our physical and social experiences is an increasingly salient aspect of culture. We have a level of connection to data the like of which historically has been reserved for spouses and significant others.
Data and the digital world are nearly ubiquitous in the military and broader society. With so much data now readily available, data and the digital world have fundamentally altered and enhanced how humans arrive at evidence-based decisions. To adapt to this, conventional military decision-making models and technological practices should have been re-examined to leverage the untapped military potential hidden within our data stores. Although the growth in complexity and quantity of data analytic packages and modeling platforms HAS altered decision models in realms as disparate as weight management and finance, the Navy faces a glaring deficiency in this arena.
As large amounts of digital data have increasingly become the basis of decisions today (including those of potential military adversaries), many of our naval decision-making processes and framework have remained in the 19th century. For the most part, advanced Navy systems for managing, synthesizing, and sharing data have failed to materialize. This problem does not simply manifest itself in the realm of supercomputers and high-end weapons and analysis development. It is all-encompassing, the most corrosive example of which is the foundation of our military communication: email.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia
Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Just Because it’s Digital Doesn’t Make It Better
Email simply took an ancient model of communication — the sending and receiving of written word–and digitized it. While the physical act of transmission is far more efficient, the human, cognitive limitations on reading and processing speed remain. We have failed to develop the technologies needed to augment the human brain and actually use email traffic in its totality. There is an easy analogy: imagine if you received 200 letters in your mailbox every day. In its current form, that is all email is. We have created an environment where millions of “letters” are generated without parallel capacity to make use of the information they contain. This doesn’t even begin to deal with the problems created by forwarding – imagine if those letters had stapled to the bottom a copy of every preceding letter, which you would need to read through in order to understand what the original letter was about!
Everyone with a .mil address knows the trials and tribulations of operating within the email construct, especially when utilizing an IT infrastructure that is inadequate, outdated, and scandalously overpriced due to the inherent deficiencies of our acquisition strategy. Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day, most of which we will frankly delete at the expense of some critical information they may contain. For the emails we do choose to read, the legibility of email traffic is compromised by the ratio of actionable information to extraneous routing data. We spend more time reading “looping in Tim’s” than tending to the “meat” of our emails.
As processors, human brains are poorly designed to collate and apply analytic rigor to the amount and format of information in our inboxes–this is why we can never quite seem to get caught up on email. The way the human psyche evolved renders humans attentive to environmental anomalies but very bad at focusing on environments that don’t stimulate the “threat detection” portions of our brains (ex. parsing emails that all look largely the same). In other words, we get distracted easily, like when we put this youtube video right in the middle of this article.
Fortunately, there are some examples of best practices we can turn to remedy our information dilemna. Financial statements used to be nearly meaningless to a broad set of the population. However, when free easy to use budgeting tools like Mint were developed, the ability to visually understand through graphs and trend summaries transformed the way many people think about saving and spending money. If Mint is an example of making large datasets meaningful and the catalyst for behavior change, then Microsoft Outlook is the opposite–equivalent to reading all of our financial statements and purchase transcripts without any frame of reference to understand what it all means.
The continued reliance on email as the cornerstone of our not only our business processes but many of our actual warfighting processes therefore renders the Navy organization hopelessly inefficient, vulnerable to security compromises, and frustrating to operate in. The time expenses, shortcomings in data presentation, and lack of analytic capacity in the email construct ensure blind, non-data-driven decision-making. The lack of enterprise-wide, algorithm-driven governance of data sharing and retrieval means protocol implementation is informed by culture rather than system design. As a result, information sharing etiquette is poorly enforced by end users who are expected to navigate the abject complexity of web traffic–locating, identifying, sharing, and safeguarding information without the assistance of modern tools. And ironically, when email fails to produce needed critical information, we naturally seek to correct the information deficit by sending more emails–adding noise to the already impossibly complex and overburdened data management construct. The over-cultivation of information makes information worthless.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google
Fw: Fw: Subj: Some thoughts about thinking differently
While we tend to think of email as a business instrument and not a warfighting tool, every warfighting outcome refers back to this communication medium in various degrees. One alternative to the current email construct would be for the Navy to eliminate email entirely and introduce a cloud-based information retrieval system. Imagine a Navy where instead of having to ask Bob to ask Sally to ask Fred for a particular piece of information (who may ultimately opt not to share it), the data object of interest could simply be queried via a Navy-wide search engine, then integrated into a more meaningful picture. For example, current year equipment casualties could be instantaneously generated alongside relevant trend data. The time savings and decision enhancement acquired by installing such a system would be astronomical.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran
Fw: Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Maybe we like it this way
However, even if the shortcomings of the acquisition system could be overcome to make such a cloud solution a reality, it is unlikely to be implemented. To start, the fact that naval personnel have continued to tolerate the email construct this long belies reason. Imagine if you didn’t empty your physical mailbox in over a year. After a series of notices from your post office and a few angry neighbors, legal action might be warranted owing to the growing piles of (sensitive) information. Yet it is also exposed to the elements, degrading and disappearing. Juxtapose this example with the email environment, where the descriptive and injunctive norms of our Navy validate this behavior. We must ask ourselves why.
The fact that we as an institution continue the use an email system that is openly acknowledged to be terribly designed and marginally effective is underpinned by a more deeply rooted problem that email has continued to facilitate; secrets remain the organization’s authoritative currency. From our budgeting process to our conversations with detailers, power in the Navy organization is extracted from our capacity to control the dissemination and transparency of information. Enacting a cloud-based system that allowed users to query for any piece of information would threaten this culture of secrecy calcified by our continued use of 19th and 20th century information exchange models. For example, making information related to a program-of-record readily available would completely dismantle the Navy’s current methods of defending its budget. . The current method is stating in a unified manner across the leadership that that every program is equally vital and equally successful becomes impossible if information on those programs is readily available. Similarly, the military’s rank structure is reinforced by a practice of knowledge hoarding (“I out-rank you, therefore I get to be the exclusive owner of this information and you have to beg for it”) that breaks down if access in a cloud-based system is relatively free and open. These are just two of many ways in which the precession of secrecy would be fundamentally disrupted by efficient communication mechanisms.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea
Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Therefore, ensuring our information management practices allow the Navy to remain a relevant instrument of national power depends on more than the adoption of new hard and software–it requires coming to terms with the very real socio-cultural barriers that prevent us from using information appropriately and effectively. Email as a communication medium is no longer relevant given the growth and availability of powerful analytic and collaboration tools. And if we do not find ways of making our culture and business models more receptive to the use of these tools, we will quickly find ourselves outmatched by our most agile and innovative adversaries. These adversaries will outpace us in decision-making and have better situational awareness. They will also have the tools and analytic capacity to exploit the currently untapped data flowing over our own relatively insecure networks (the more data we produce in the form of useless emails, the more opportunities there are for exploitation). If the US Navy is to remain the preeminent naval force in the future, it must restructure its processes and identity around something other than secrecy. Until we can effectively exploit our own data, we will lag our adversaries in the information space.
The Institute is pleased to have the guidance of a select panel of Navy Officers who believe this destination can continue to host the most important lines of thought concerning naval policy and the nation’s defense. LTJG Chris O’Keefe and a network of junior naval officers have agreed to assemble content for the USNI Blog, focusing specifically on key issues that they describe below in their inaugural post.
They are not strangers to the forum, and already have an impressive resume of posts and articles. They continue a fine tradition of important discussions on the USNI Blog led by a strong network of key Navy figures including guest bloggers from the naval blogging community, who were responsible for guiding the USNI Blog to three consecutive years of being named “Best Navy Blog” sponsored by Military.com and USAA. Our founding guest bloggers will continue to contribute as they desire.
Mary D. Ripley | Director of Digital Content
Bill Miller | Publisher
Since 2008, the Naval Institute’s blog has served as a key forum for thinkers and naval leaders to collaborate, argue, think, and write. The blog, with its essentially unlimited audience and condensed production timeline, helps ensure the Institute continues to play a vital role in shaping the dialogues that will shape the Navy of the 21st century and beyond. It is important therefore to periodically step back and ensure that the blog’s content sufficiently captures the critical discussions taking place throughout the Fleet. A small group of junior naval thinkers is working to facilitate this, and we would like you to join our ranks through thinking and writing.
Looking forward, we’ve identified conversations in the naval sphere that we believe are not getting enough attention, and that are ripe for dynamic debate. The four identified areas are:
-The navy and cyber
-Future war fighting
-Revitalizing practical professional notes
One of the flagship platforms for naval discourse is Proceedings. However, the capacity of the magazine is finite, and there are many discussions that simply may not meet the threshold for publication in a particular issue. The blog team is coordinating with the Proceedings editorial staff to develop a framework for two-way content flow between the magazine and the blog. A rising tide raises all ships, and just because an article doesn’t find the right home in the magazine does not mean that it is not a valid discussion piece meriting dissemination. Therefore, beginning shortly, authors who submit to Proceedings whose articles are not accepted for publication will be invited to submit to the blog team for editorial assistance and publication. At the same time, blog authors whose pieces are well received will be invited to contribute a larger, more comprehensive piece to Proceedings Magazine. Our essay contest winners will also begin to have entries published on the blog, and we will eventually sponsor online-only essay contests. Combined with other events, we hope broaden naval discussion by encouraging more people to write, speak out, and be heard.
The online blogging forum presents unique technological affordances compared to traditional mediums. In thinking about the implications of the blog’s digital existence, we were forced to reflect on how the digital has altered the form and practice of naval discourse more broadly. By extension, we were prompted to contemplate how the digital space has fundamentally altered naval disciplines. Therefore, as our first effort, we will be launching a conversation starting May 3rd about the Navy and cyber, and how this discussion should be framed and shaped.
Why May 3rd? On that date in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue began a 6 game re-match with chess champion Garry Kasparov. Although Kasparov won this match, an apparent bug in Deep Blue caused it to make a move that puzzled Kasparov. American statistician Nate Silver believes that “Kasparov had concluded that the counterintuitive play must be a sign of superior intelligence. He had never considered that it was simply a bug.” His confidence shaken, Kasparov would go on to lose the series, marking the first time under tournament conditions a computer had defeated a reigning world chess champion.
Deep Blue’s name is particularly appropriate for conversation about the Navy’s cyber domain, and this comes on the heels of the launch of the concept of all-domain access within the new maritime strategy. We already have a few articles ready in rough draft form, and have been in conversations with leaders at all levels in the naval cyber realm. We invite you to submit an article between 800 and 1000 words that would help shape the conversation on how we integrate the navy and the cyber domain.
In the next week we will announcing our revised blog submission policies and instructions on how to submit posts for publication. Whether you are a member of the nation’s Naval service, or an armchair admiral, the groundswell of naval thought is palpable, and we hope you will put pen to paper or open your laptop to join it.
Chris O’Keefe is an active duty naval officer who spends much of his spare time working to foster professional naval discourse by helping and encouraging current and future thinkers and writers.
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 19 April 2015 as we return live, after a two week hiatus, for Midrats Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
The next book from USNI’s 21st Century Foundations series is 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era, edited by Capt. B.A. Friedman, USMC.
This book covers the work of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC who in 1921 predicted the coming war with Japan.
Included in this collection are some of his articles on counterinsurgency and conventional war based on his experiences in WWI and the Philippines.
Capt. Friedman will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more.
Capt. B.A. Friedman is a field artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC. He is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies through the Naval War College.
Please join us on Sunday 29 March 2015 at 5pm, EDT for Midrats Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC:
This week we will return to the “unsexy but important” topic, specifically that of “alternative naval platforms and missions.”
In part, the concepts that underlay Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons” are in practice on a smaller scale today. In most cases they are being conducted using Military Sealift Command assets and the Navy Reserve.
To focus on this part of our maritime power, our guest for the full hour will be Commander Chris Rawley, USNR. President of Periplus Holdings in his day job, he is also Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Afloat Mission Command and Control Units in the Navy Reserve, in addition to being Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security.
What are the intellectual responsibilities of the naval professional? What is the canon sound thought in the maritime realm is based?
Historically, what has been done, what has worked, and what should we be doing? Should the naval professional just focus on his narrow area of expertise, or does he need to have a more interdisciplinary approach to his intellectual development?
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be William M. Beasley, Jr., associate attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLP in Mississippi. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Mississippi with a BA and MA in history where his graduate thesis examined the impact of popular culture, inter-service rivalry, civil-military relations, strategic planning, and defense unification on the “Revolt of the Admirals” of 1949.
Mr. Beasley received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal. Prior to joining Phelps Dunbar, Mr. Beasley worked as a research consultant with the Potomac Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He is a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and his work on maritime history and security has appeared in Proceedings, The Strategy Bridge, and USNI Blog.
Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”
In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”
Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and
fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be
Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.
Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!