Archive for the 'Navy' Category

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.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also get the show later from the Midrats iTunes page.



This is worth an hour of your time:

If you have doubt, there is this Reuters headline, U.S. missile defense agency warns of “jeopardy” from budget cuts:

Further budget cuts would put the U.S. military’s ability to protect the United States in “serious jeopardy” at a time when Iran and North Korea are advancing their own missile programs, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday.

Vice Admiral James Syring told U.S. lawmakers that failure to lift budget caps in fiscal 2016 would force him to delay urgently needed steps aimed at improving the reliability of a system that top military leaders have already called “unsustainable” given growing threats and budget pressures.

It is not rational to think standing still means your potential enemies will also call a halt to their activities.

U.S. Naval Insitute News offers up Army-Navy Memo on need for Ballistic Missile Defense Strategy, referenced in the above:

UPDATE: Robert Work, Deputy Defense Secretary on budget issues as found in the Aviation Week opinion piece, “Budget Blunders Threaten U.S. Military Superiority”:

Sequestration is a blunder that allows our fiscal problems, not our security needs, to determine our strategy.



12th

It’s Math

March 2015

By

150311-N-UF697-147Greg Easterbrook’s recent column “Our Navy is Big Enough” in the New York Times demonstrates that one lecture at the Naval War College does not a naval expert make. Easterbrook advances two arguments. First that the Navy, at 275 ships, is large enough to meet all of the nation’s naval maritime security needs. Secondly he states that the Navy’s proposed budget proposed budget of $161 billion is far in excess of spending requirements. That he would correlate the size of the Navy’s budget with the size of the force deployed demonstrates his shallow awareness of matters maritime. In both the case of the size of the fleet and the size of the budget, it all comes down to math.

The size of the fleet is measured largely against two separate standards. The first is the size of the force necessary to fight and win the nation’s wars. This standard often looks first to the capabilities a potential challenger might field and then estimates the size of the US naval force required to ensure US victory. Such analysis attempts to present the capabilities required to operate in a lethal and effective manner. Cost and efficiency factor into these calculations but not in a large way. Decisive victory is the objective.

The American navy derives it’s lethality from the brutal and exquisite nature of its naval platforms. Aircraft carriers have occupied the central position in naval force planning for more 70 years. These 100,000 ton behemoths carry an air wing of over 70 tactical aircraft and can strike targets with precision hundreds of miles away. As threats to the carrier have mounted over time, they have been increasingly surrounded and protected by a fleet architecture of cruisers and destroyers, generally four, equipped with the latest state of the art radars and missile defense systems. They are also protected by two nuclear powered fast attack submarines that prowl the ocean in search of opposing submarines and enemy shipping.

The number of conflicts to be fought also factors in. The United States has two coasts so, for most of the 20th century and all of the 21st, the nation has maintained a fleet in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This lesson was well learned in World War II when the nation faced existential threats in both oceans. To fight and win the nation’s wars the Navy requires ships of sufficient capability and quantity to move to and from battle without interruption, factoring in projected combat and material casualties. Factoring our current carrier-based force structure and near peer competitors in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters has results in a requirement for 10 carriers, 20 cruisers, 20 destroyers and 20 fast attack submarines as well as 33 associated amphibious assault ships and 30 logistical support for a total of 163 ships to meet the bare minimum requirements to conduct combat operations. This number allows no room for extensive maintenance, reactor refuelings, combat repairs or prolonged training and readiness exercises.

However, as Mr. Easterbrook has pointed out, no one has been foolish enough to take on the United States in one theater, let alone two, since the end of World War II. Surely no one would think of doing so today, or would they?

The reason they haven’t represents the logic behind the second standard of measurement for the fleet: The number of ships required to maintain the peace. The presence of the United States Navy convinces rouge actors on a daily basis that today is not the day to start a conflict with the United States. If our Navy were to fall so low as to meet only the bare minimum requirements for combat operations it would invite our competitors to question whether the United States was ready and willing to defend its interests, just as the drawdown in US ground forces in Europe has encouraged Russian adventurism there today. Our maritime interests span the globe. Some interests are commercial, some are security based, and many are diplomatic. Today the United States services these interests by deploying Navy ships to key regions to demonstrate US resolve. These regions range from the north Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from the Black Sea to the South China Sea. Altogether there are 15 specific geographic regions that require frequent demonstrations of US interest. These operations assure friends and allies of continued US support as well as remind competitors of the breadth and depth of US power. Some of these regions require visits from our front line capital vessels, the carriers. Most require only frigates to show our flag and convey US resolve. This has been the manner in which Pax Americana has been maintained over the past 70 years.

To service the far flung regions, scattered as they are across the globe, requires a constant cycling of ships, generally one on station, one on its way home, one training to deploy and one in maintenance. Some of these requirements can be offset with forward based naval forces such as those that operate out of Japan, Singapore, and Spain, but in the end, when you crunch all the numbers through the force structure calculator, you arrive at a the naval force of 355 ships. It’s math, and a particular simple form of it at that. However, there is another calculation, much more arcane, that needs exploring, the math behind a Navy budget.

There is a logic to the argument that to build a bigger Navy you need a bigger budget. It seems self-evident, but is not necessarily true. When the Navy decides to build one aircraft carrier for $14 billion, it is tacitly making a decision not to build the 7 destroyers or 28 frigates those same dollars could have bought. If we hold spending constant, or live with the confines of the Budget Control Act, and yet choose to buy increasingly expensive and technologically exquisite ships, then we are making a decision to buy fewer ships in the long run. This equation largely explains the decreasing size of the American fleet over the past 20 years.

Presently we buy one supercarrier every five years, and two destroyers, two submarines and four frigates every year. These are the combatants that occupy much of the conversation regarding the size and capability of the Navy. If, however, we were to purchase only one destroyer per year and invest the $2 billion saved in the construction of four additional frigates, we could rapidly grow the size of the fleet in short order. The Secretary of the Navy has stated his opposition to trading one type of ship for another, and I would agree with that. However it is possible to trade one type of ships for several of another type. This would still allow us to field high-end war fighting capabilities in balance with the need to build a larger Navy. If we were to take a really radical path and recognize that super carriers are too large, too expensive and too vulnerable to serve in combat and cease building super carriers while investing a portion of the savings in the construction of nuclear guided missile submarines to provide the lost precision strike power projection capability previously generated by the carrier’s airwing, we could afford to grow the fleet and shrink the Navy’s budget simultaneously. This is math as well and should intrigue fiscal conservatives.

In the end we must recognize that the shrinkage of the American fleet over the past generation has begun to create a power vacuum that is inviting others to challenge the longest lasting maritime peace since man took to the water in boats. If we are to maintain peace as well as remain prepared for war, we will need to grow the fleet. That we can do so while remaining within the current budget caps presents a significant opportunity for policy makers and supporters of naval power. It’s math that every American, including Mr. Easterbrook, should be able to understand.



Strategy is not for amateurs*

Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy’s Proper Role in it:

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.

Please join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page here.

*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions



In responding to a question posed at the recent USNI/AFCEA WEST 2015 Conference regarding ‘tell-all’ books that have been published MCPON Stevens answered, in his words, “with a thought”. His thought was that a chief petty officer is a humble, quiet, servant and he took some time to expand upon what that means. MCPON stated that “not quiet in the sense that when we talk, we don’t talk about ourselves, we talk about our people.” Just as MCPON was commenting with ‘a thought’ in response to the question posed, I comment here with a thought and how I came to that thought.

In being a deckplate leader one has to stop talking as much as they did as a junior sailor. In many if not most instances the junior sailor is the one that is doing the end-point task required of the mission. Whether that is sweeping the deck, performing maintenance, or standing watch they are the one who is on station doing the physical actions required–their duty. In performing their duty it is incumbent upon them to report the varying degrees of success they achieved to their leaders so that an accurate depiction of reality is understood, so that the next decisions can be made by leadership. Deckplate leadership is the first point of contact with reality, the first link in the chain of command to understand whether the P-way is clean, that all hands are present and accounted for, that the engines are being properly maintained and capable of performing missions.

As a junior sailor I was asked if I had accomplished the duties I was assigned, and I would relate the ‘why’ I had varying degrees of success. My chain of command always had questions for me, always had a reason for me to say more. As well, my personality is such that I want to say more than less, and to opine on things I had little experience to accurately speak towards. What resulted from this tacit training was that, as I had my first few instances of having service members serving in my charge, I wanted to talk more to them than I did to hear from them. This is not to say that there were no conversations that were had, or that I would constantly tell them they were wrong. Rather, it is that based on the experience I did have doing the tasks (usually mundane) assigned to them I would extrapolate from what they attempted to relate to me and assume I knew reality rather than probe for more information from them and make sure I understood what they were relating to me.

A leader has to be humble, not assume they can extrapolate answers from what their sailors say to them. When they talk to their sailors they have to know how to ask the right questions, they have to know how to lead their sailors to relating the correct details and information, leaders have to know how to teach their sailors to talk to leadership and inform leadership’s decision making process. All this starts with being a quiet, humble, servant-leader. You won’t hear what is being said to you if you’re not being quiet, without humility there is hubris, as the first link in the chain of command you are leading your sailors and serving the chain of command–you are a vital conduit through which decision makers base their decisions on.

Of course, there is an additional dimension beyond the direct performance of duty for a leader to understand. And again, humility in terms of “think more of others” means to me that I have to know my sailors: who that sailor is; what their abilities, strengths and weaknesses are; and the challenges each sailor faces in their personal life that can affect their ability to do their duty. This abstract dimension informs my decision making in terms of what duties are assigned to a sailor to most effectively accomplish the division’s mission. A sailor facing issues in their personal life will perform their duty differently than a sailor who does not have similar issues, a sailor who is not motivated performs less well than one who is–I have to know the ‘why’ behind it all.

A leader serves their sailors in that the Navy is ripe with tasks sailors cannot accomplish successfully on their own. Look no further than administrative paperwork and you’ll find that everything that a sailor might want to do with their career requires explaining/mentoring the details of what they’re interested in, informing them of what paperwork must be done, how to access the programs and databases required, double checking that all supporting documentation is being provided and that the paperwork in accurately filled-out, and certainly that the paperwork is forwarded up the chain of command and onto Naval Personnel Command, and that the sailor is kept informed of the progress of their paperwork. As a leader and especially a deckplate leader, one is leading that effort and serving their sailor by informing them of the process as it progresses.

There are a very few broad things (with a lot of details behind them) a leader must do to effectively lead. As we develop as leaders most of the lessons to learn are subtle, and to an extent we must unlearn what we were accustomed to as junior sailors. MCPON’s thoughts at WEST highlighted for me notions I was only starting to grasp at, but now have a deeper appreciation for. “People first” because leading people is the hard part, and leading them effectively ensures the mission is accomplished.



Please join us live on 22 Feb 15 at 5pm EST for Midrats Episode 268: 21st Century Sims:

Who was “The Gun Doctor,” the officer over a century ago led the revolution in naval gunnery, the development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, and during WWI served as the senior US naval commander in Europe? More than the man instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system that helped keep the United Kingdom from starvation in the conflict, following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College he help to established the creative and innovative Navy that in the interwar period developed the operating concepts for the submarines and aircraft carriers that led the victory in World War II.

What are the lessons of a century ago taught by Admiral William S. Sims, USN that are critically important for the serving officer today?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this latest book, 21st Century Sims, will be returning guest, LCDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN.

Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong is a naval aviator who has served as a helicopter pilot flying amphibious search and rescue and special warfare missions and as the Officer-in-Charge of a Navy helicopter gunship detachment deployed for counter-piracy and counter-terror operations. He is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or by going to our iTunes pages here.



Listening to the always superb Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Tuesday AM at the opening of West2015 should be on everyone’s short list of things you need to watch. As when he was the Under Secretary of the Navy, at such events he gives those in the audience a good outline of what he is working on, what concerns him, and what the priorities are for the administration and nation he serves.

How you look at the challenges he describes depends on the time-frame you are thinking about. Much of it covers the short term, to say 2016, and also to the medium term, up to 2020. Sure, there are some technology big pixel items that may mature that he discusses at 2020 and beyond, but much of what he shared was inside the 2020s.

He started out with a snapshot of the President’s defense budget proposals in the world of sequestration – a world he describes as one defined as lower budgets (than desired) with higher demands; a $534 baseline budget plus $51 OCO budget. that gets you a bit over a 7% increase above the present budget.

Yes, that is an increase, but as defined by a strategy driven budget, that he envisions, it isn’t enough to do what national security requirements need – especially if sequestration continues forward.

As he discussed what happened during 2014, one almost felt as if the Pentagon wished it could stand athwart history and yell, “STOP!” as they did their best to see what they wanted to do and how to get there.

There was much discussion of shifting money in a resource constrained environment on the fly – adjusting and rebuilding as they went along reacting to developing events. He reminded us that are still working under the March 2014 strategy even though since then, Work stated that they have three “surprises” that caused them in September to do a baseline review. The Big-3 surprises were; 1. Russian aggression in Ukraine; 2. Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria in conjunction with the military collapse of the Iraqi army; 3. Ebola.

In spite off all that, they decided that their strategy was not broken, and the outlines of the QDR remain intact.

The five priorities from the Pentagon and the administration remain; the pivot to the Pacific, stability in Europe, counter terrorism, strengthening partnerships with allied nations (nations, he notes, are from a capability and capacity point of view tapped out), & modernization of the force. That is the short term. A short term challenge where the Administration has sent to Congress a proposal $150 billion above sequestration and will challenge the other branch of government to respond accordingly in the direction they propose.

The near term crisis is getting rid of the pressure of sequestration, as that keeps us from growing the force. From the perspective of the Pentagon, anything below will cause problems and will make things unmanageable. Can something be either unmanageable or unsustainable? Perhaps … we’ll get to that.

Moving to the medium term, they are already working on POM-17, trying to find the right balance where we have to accept a defined shortage of ISR & missile defense, while keepin a viable forward presence to deter possible enemies and support our allies. While all that is going on – somehow we have to find a way to structure things so we have a chance to reset our military to win one conflict while denying success to an enemy in a second.

Sound hard? It is … and there is no clear and simple answer … for the short term.

Trying to get to the medium term is not going to be easy either. At the end of past wars – and we have been at war for 13-years – there has always been a planned 2-3 yr reset to replace worn out equipment, relieve personnel stress, and retrain for all services to be ready to respond and be ready for full spectrum conflict.

It isn’t easy to do this reset because of our present OPTEMPO. The world won’t wait.

Events are coming up from the Islamic State and elsewhere that are causing us to try to do a reset on the run. As a result, though our deployed forces are full up, our surge force is not in good shape and cannot start to fully do the reset they need. What he described falls in perfectly with an action back home we call, “shooting up the horse” or in more familiar terms, a readiness death spiral.

Work believes that given what they see now and using the post Vietnam War reset as a rough baseline, it will take to 2020 for all services but the USAF, who will need to get to 2023, to reset to get back to full spectrum readiness.

A lot of positive things will have to flip our way to make that unfold as outlined. Not impossible to get everything set right for 2020, the end of the next President’s first administration, but not simple.

The argument can be made that the struggle in the short and medium term up to 2020 is actually the easy problem. The real challenge, and one where it is difficult to see how you fix it, comes once you start the third decade of this century. That is where one should start to try to propose a way forward now, we are only five years away.

This is the point where those who have been following my writing for the last half decade know where we are going; The Terrible 20s – and there was nothing in Work’s opening that addressed how our Navy is going to deal with this challenge that is only now creeping in to the general conscienceless. All the points the Deputy SECDEF brought up are true and important and rightfully the things he needs to focus on – they are the crocodiles closest to his canoe, but the real fiscal challenge and budget squeeze are coming – he knows this – but that crocodile is out of sight right now.

It is no secret that a mix of factors are going to make the 2020s a decade of incredible challenge for the US military in general, and the Navy in particular. You can follow the link above for details on The Terrible 20s, but there are two major causes in descending order of importance; SSBN recapitalization and the expected roosting of the debt interest chickens.

In the latest edition of USNI‘s Proceedings, Eric Labs’s article, Finding Funding for a New Boomer has a graph that tells the story well of what is coming up. We’ve been down the SSBN road before.
BoomerGraph

Over the entire Trident era, spending on ballistic-missile submarine construction consumed 14 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. However, it is the beginning of that period, 1974–78, that seems particularly relevant as we look at the Ohio replacement program in the coming decades. Average shipbuilding budgets in that period were over 50 percent higher than average shipbuilding budgets over the 1968–73 period. The Ohio class represented about a quarter of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, receiving a substantial fraction of those higher budgets.

Yet the Navy paid a price from other parts of its budget to buy those additional ships and submarines. Its average topline budget remained flat. Compared to 1968–73, it was only 1 percent higher over the 1974–78 period. To pay for new ships, including Ohio -class ballistic-missile submarines, the Navy sacrificed force structure. Its Fleet fell by over 40 percent, while both Navy and Marine Corps end-strength declined by 20 percent. The Vietnam War had come to an end, so it is perhaps not surprising to see those declines, but clearly in this early period of the Trident era the Navy was not receiving more money overall, although money was found within its budget to pay for new ships, including SSBNs.

Read the full article to understand how the Navy reacted to these previous periods, but the underlying fiscal facts remain; that money will need to come from somewhere, or we will simply have to do Strategic Deterrence on the cheap.

If you are waiting for a magic bag of money to show up next decade, there is something that will manifest itself that our nation has not faced, as a percentage of GDP, since the end of WWII. This time, we are not a nation with a big demobilization freeing up assets. We are not a nation untouched, astride a world in ashes. We do not have a clear path to growth in a wide open nation with economic potential of a new age. This time it is very different.

Let’s shift to Josh Zumbrun over at The Wall Street Journal and his article, The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending;

Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates. Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.

By 2021, the government will be spending more on interest than on all national defense. according to White House forecasts. And one year later, interest costs will exceed nondefense discretionary spending–essentially every other domestic and international government program funded annually through congressional appropriations. (The largest part of the budget is, and will remain, the mandatory spending programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Mandatory spending is over $2 trillion and is set to double to $4 trillion by 2025.)

Here’s the graph for you visual types.
BN-GT738_ristid_G_20150203110744This begs the question; if we have a challenge now to meet our national security requirements, then what are we going to do in The Terrible 20s?

We have a zero option for SSBN if we wanted (not recommended) – but what we don’t have a zero option on is the servicing the national debt.

How do you manage these converging train wrecks? If we think that the pressures of sequester are almost unmanageable, then what is the plan for both of these challenges? Don’t forget, the Baby Boom generation that generated all that taxable income post-WWII will all be at retirement age by the 2020s – note the voting pressure that will come with it.

I am confident of the next couple of POM periods, but … soon.

“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, USN (Ret)



A few years ago I visited one of the Navy’s new Virginia-class submarines, and something about it really struck me: There was no periscope. At least not the kind we’re used to seeing, where you have to hunch over, wrap your arms around the controls and rotate in a circle to see the surface in 360 degrees.

What it had instead was a photonics mast – a cluster of high-definition cameras and other sensors that streamed data to an array of LCD screens, giving the captain and crew a much clearer and more complete view of the world above than the traditional periscope could possibly produce.

Think about that. They built a better periscope not by thinking about what form it should take, but rather by concentrating on what it should do. They took something every submarine needs – the ability to know what’s happening overhead – and applied advanced imaging technology to develop a new way to do it.

It’s an example of what can happen when our military and industry approach engineering as a series of problems to solve, rather than a checklist of things to build. And that’s the kind of thinking that will keep us ahead in an era when defense budgets are tight, demand is high and threats are multiplying and evolving around the globe.

Last month, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced a task force to develop an innovation agenda for the Navy and Marine Corps. They’re working to attract and retain creative thinkers, to see that the Navy is making the best strategic use of the enormous amount of data it produces, and to ensure new technologies get to the fleet quickly and without obstruction.

The Navy’s commitment to innovation is encouraging, particularly at a time when directed-energy technologies – tools we’ve only dreamed about using in the field – are finally getting ready to break out of the R&D lab.

Lasers, which we’ve been talking about for decades, are at a tipping point. We no longer have to think of them strictly in terms of guidance tools for weapons systems. We’re now testing them as weapons in their own right – weapons with a cheap and nearly inexhaustible supply of ammunition. Raytheon is developing a Humvee-mounted laser for the U.S. Marine Corps and has already demonstrated a separate laser weapon that shot down four unmanned aerial vehicles.
Railguns, another one of those weapons of the future, are also on their way. The Navy announced last year that it will install and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun on a joint high-speed vessel sometime in fiscal year 2016. Its round will move so fast that it will not require a high-explosive payload.

Then there’s cyber warfare. I see a lot of emphasis on offense – shutting down the enemy’s systems, doing battle without inflicting permanent damage. I’m more focused on defense – protecting our systems against exactly those same kinds of devastating attacks.

There’s a common thread running through this technology and the Navy’s effort to develop more: It all breaks from traditional wisdom and frees us to achieve the stuff of science fiction.

Innovation is exciting. It gives us periscopes that don’t look like periscopes. It lets us harness the power of things we can’t even see to do things we never imagined. When we work in terms of what we want to accomplish, rather than prescribe what we think we need, only then do we begin to embrace the art of the possible.



Several days ago, Tyrell Mayfield asked me, and a number of other lawyers to comment on “The Military #Profession: Lawyers, Ethics and the Profession of Arms,” in response to several questions posed by Dr. Pauline Shanks Kaurin regarding whether the military is a profession. I reviewed the post and basically agreed with the writer’s position but did take exception to his assessment that “the law is easy” and Mayfield graciously invited me to respond.1 I argued I’m not in a position to respond since I’m a civilian with no military service but a number of my military “followers” pointed out the flaws in my reasoning and requested that I share a civilian view, so if you don’t like what’s below, blame those guys.

Dr. Shanks Kaurin posed three questions: (1) Is the military a profession, (2) What does that mean for you, (3) What are the ethical responsibilities of military members, if any? She then invites comment on one or all three. In a sense, the Good Dr.—as any effective professor is apt to do — has deployed an intellectual minefield for the unsuspecting responder because, as naval historian Ronald Spector puts it, “social scientist are far from agreement about the precise definition of ‘profession’ and ‘professionalization’ or even about the utility and meaningfulness of such concepts for social research.”2

In other words, whether the military is a profession depends on definitions that remain moving targets. An overly-inclusive definition would classify a street gang with rudimentary training and a code of conduct as professional while a strict definition produces essays like Jill Sargent Russell’s “Why You’re Not #Professionals,” where, as others have pointed out, if applied to other professions (like my own) renders a lawyer that specializes in employment discrimination unprofessional because he wouldn’t know how to provide effective estate planning, no matter how successful his record in the courtroom. I hope to chart a middle course that focuses more on process, since I believe it illustrates that professionalism depends more on recognition than definition.

Having witnessed an abundance of ground- pounders submit pieces, I will focus my attention on the Navy. I do this for several reasons. First, I have more experience studying the Navy but more importantly, I believe the Navy’s officer corps gained professional recognition in the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century by solving many of the same problems that threaten American sea power today, through thoughtful debate and the creation of the Naval War College, which allowed the Navy’s officers to research and refine their ideas. Many in the Navy have forgotten these lessons and are surrendering their professional reputations because they no longer take professional theory and education seriously, which has stifled strategic thinking and debate within the officer corps.

The Golden Age of Professionalization

Most professions came of age in the United States between 1880–1890. During these years most occupations, from public health to teaching, laid the foundation for their modern forms, which, according to Herbert Wilensky, is a five-stage process:

The first stage is marked by the emergence of an occupational group engaged in full-time work on a particular set of problems. The second stage is characterized by the establishment of training and selection procedures for the specific occupational group, while the third stage sees the development of a professional association. The fourth is marked by a determined and often arduous fight for public and legal recognition, and the final stage sees the adoption of a formal code of ethics.3

In the 1880s no professional group had advanced through all five phases but scientific discoveries in the medical field and standardized education in law and medicine, controlled admission to institutions of higher learning and the founding of the American Bar Association in the field of law had doctors and lawyers well on their way to professional recognition. Much of the same could be said for the Navy’s officer corps in 1880 since the US Naval Academy, founded in 1845, with its entrance exam and standardized curriculum, provided a formal system of selection and training. However the Navy still lacked a “specialized, theoretical body of knowledge” befitting a true profession, military or civilian.4 However, several interrelated-problems appeared during the age of professionalization and merged into a perfect storm, which threatened the naval officer corps’ acceptance as a professional organization, if not the Navy’s very existence.

Sailing in Shoal Waters

Most of these difficulties stemmed from the vast technological changes that occurred during the period. Vessels long subservient to the wind and built from wood that fired a broad-sides of smooth-bore cannon were replaced with fleets of self-propelled ships driven by steam-powered screws at 20 knots in any direction. Advances in heavy armor hoped to protect these vessels from exploding shells fired through rifled barrels but offered little security from the steadily-advancing self-propelled torpedoes, which rendered the largest of ships vulnerable to anything that could get a torpedo in the water. In response to these technological developments, engineering officers argued for greater influence within the Navy and naval education placed a heavier emphasis on engineering courses at the expense of the humanities. Line officers pushed back and spawned a civil war within the officer corps that set back integration for years.5

Traditional American values and an ignorance of “what navies do” also set up hurdles. The descendants of minutemen and privateers were suspicious of a professional officer corps leading permanent standing armies and navies. Americans were citizen soldiers who defended liberty in time of emergency and returned home after the threat had passed. They desired no Napoleons or Nelsons and held permanent soldiers and sailors in low regard.6 Furthermore, while a maritime nation from birth, the United States preferred to free-ride on the Pax Britannica and allowed the Royal Navy to protect its seaborne-commerce, now carried almost exclusively in foreign bottoms, thanks to a highly-effective commerce raiding campaign waged by the Confederate Navy that drove American-flagged merchant shipping from the sea.

Congressional legislation reflected these values. After the Civil War, Capital Hill starved the Navy of funding. It sold off vessels or allowed them to rot, permitted American goods to sail under foreign flags and maintained a promotion system, built entirely on seniority, that ensured the officer corps would remain small to curb the Navy’s political influence. As long as an officer remained alive, he would eventually be promoted to admiral, barring commission of a felony. However, a lieutenant could not be promoted until an officer of superior rank vacated a spot, either through promotion, retirement or death. Young recruits swelled during the Civil War and promotion was swift in the War’s early years, but for “mids” graduating after Appomattox, this linear system created a lieutenant logjam. With fewer and fewer ships to sail, officers remained lieutenants into their fifties. Lack of promotions and the raise in pay that came with them, forced officers into the idleness of routine and with a booming private sector calling, many retired in droves.7

The Rise of the Young Turks

However, the “Young Turks,” a group of exceptionally bright, public-relations-minded young officers that included Washington Irving Chambers, Bradley A. Fiske and William S. Sims; Stephen B. Luce; and his newly-founded Naval War College, successfully navigated the Navy through its perfect storm and won the Navy professional recognition through sheer force of will and the power of the written word.

It began early. In 1873 fifteen officers of a variety of ranks met in the physics and chemistry building at the Naval Academy. The men discussed a variety of topics including naval history, strategy, policy and technological modernization.Eventually they labelled themselves the United States Naval Institute (USNI) and began to publish a collection of essays on their ideas in a journal that would later become known as Proceedings.8

With the seeds of a professional association planted, the Young Turks utilized the pages of Proceedings and a number of other publications to end the promotion stalemate, ease tensions between engineer and line officers and teach the United States about the value of naval power by debating their ideas publicly. After several unsuccessful attempts to overturn the promotion system by direct lobbying to Congress and filing suit in court, the Turks turned to the pen and targeted their writings on three groups: critical naval industries, such as shipbuilders, steel manufacturers and weapons producers; the business leaders and lobbyists of the merchant marine; and the American public. They argued global naval power would be critical to the protection of American commerce and strategic influence as global business expanded.9 As one Turk insisted: “Prosperity on land is the handmaiden of power at sea, and whose is the ocean, his also are the lands around and about it.”10

Gaining the Weather Gauge at Newport

As the Turks scribbled away, Luce, over stiff opposition, founded the Naval War College in 1884 and convinced Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of his former executive officers, to become professor of naval warfare. Luce and Mahan had long advocated the study of comparative history to teach strategy and tactics, subjects which basically did not exist in naval education at the time, but was a teaching methodology used to perfection by the German general staff. As Mahan later complained “a vague feeling of contempt for the past, supposed to be obsolete, combines with natural indolence to blind men even to those permanent strategic lessons which lie close to the surface of naval history.”11 Though British historian John Knox Laughton may have been the first naval historian to argue for a comparative historical approach to teach naval strategy, Luce and Mahan were the first to put it to use at an institution devoted solely to its practice.

The first class entered Newport in 1885 and Mahan arrived the next year, lecturing primarily on the strategic lessons taught by the Royal Navy during age of sail. In 1890, Mahan published his lectures asThe Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 with Little Brown and Company. The book aided the Turks’ public relations campaign tremendously, many having written similar arguments that had gone unread because their publishers failed to reach the mainstream audience of Little Brown and Co.

As Americans and their congressional representatives learned the critical relationship between maritime commerce and a modern navy with over-seas bases to protect the sea lanes, these “principles” alerted them to the critical need for naval power and Secretaries of the Navy, who incorporated these sea-power arguments into their congressional testimony, found securing funds much easier. With larger and modern ships sliding down the ways, more billets opened up for engineer and line officers, who eventually declared an uneasy truce for influence. This growing need for officers, along with reforms to the promotion system that placed greater emphasis on merit, ended the promotion logjam.

However, the Naval War College and the education it provided did more to professionalize the Navy than any other development. According to Spector, it transformed “the naval officer [into] a practitioner of a purely naval art” and created a place for officers to refine the arguments that convinced the American people of the Navy’s necessity. Luce’s College introduced the naval officer to strategy and created a place where ideas could be debated and put to the test through war gaming, which came of age during the 1890s and William S. Sims emphasized during his eventual tenure as president. The Young Turks were drawn to its halls because it provided the only place that allowed them to research and discuss the many problems facing their profession. As the school matured, the research it produced aided reforms in naval administration, technological innovation and strategic planning but more importantly it, “ensured that strategy and tactics would occupy a central place in the American officer’s professional outlook so that American line officers avoided the obsession with what Winston Churchill called ‘instrumentalities.’”12 After World War II, Chester Nimitz claimed “the classes were so thorough [during the inter-war period] that after the start of WWII nothing in the Pacific was strange or unexpected” due to the strategic planning produced at Newport.13

Running Aground

However, the importance of Newport and the other War Colleges that sprang up in its wake collapsed after World War II, as did professional military education on the whole. According military historian Williamson Murray, post-war officers viewed assignments to Newport as an opportunity to play golf rather than engage in serious research on strategic problems. As a result, academics at civilian institutions filled the void. Stansfield Turner implemented serious reforms to the Naval War College in the 1970s but these reforms had little impact on the service as the Navy refused to send many of its best officers to study there and, according to Murray, still does.14

Due to Hyman Rickover’s influence on naval education in the Cold War and the technical expertise required for modern seafaring, the Navy frowns on the study of history, especially among its NROTC graduates, which, as Luce and Mahan proved, forms the very foundation upon which a strategic education is built. The Navy also discourages its officers from obtaining advanced degrees, especially doctorates, from civilian institutions, which, for the few that still teach military history and specialize in strategic studies, are far more effective educators at this point because their programs last longer and are far more demanding. Murray offers a dire assessment of military education: “It . . . largely remains an arena that the services merely tolerate; for the most part, it neither challenges the students nor employs first-class intellectuals from within or outside of the military.”15 These developments may have been in former-State-Department-official John Tkacik’s mind when he recently claimed the Navy has no professional maritime strategists.

For this civilian, the above changes, articles like Matthew Cavanaugh’s assessment of military professionalism, hearsay claims from officers inside the Pentagon that the military “needs to stop talking about old dead guys,” and accusations like Tkacik’s, lead me to conclude the Navy’s professionalism may be on the wane. While I’m sure this view is not shared by my reality-television-enthralled civilian brethren, the Navy consistently ranks as the least-important service in public opinion polls, which suggests the same problems facing Luce, Mahan and their Young Turks, like a shrinking fleet, a broken promotion and retention system, and an American public that does not understand sea power, have returned.

A New Generation Seizes the Helm?

Yet all may not be lost. Luce designed the Naval War College as an institution of personal study where strategic problems could be researched and debated. The students took few classes. The faculty expected officers to produce work independently and lectures formed a small part of their education, typical of modern-day graduate work. With today’s modern communications and the availability of professional reading lists, one does not have to be located at Newport to engage in the study of strategy.

Roger Misso and Chris O’Keefe’s recent piece on USNI Blog is an excellent challenge to today’s junior officers to engage in professional debate and may indicate that a new generation of Young Turks is on the rise to tackle the many strategic problems facing American sea power. As others have pointed out, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), The Bridge, War Council, and more formal publications like Proceedings and Naval War College Review combined with social media provide excellent forums to share arguments and debate ideas. Let us hope that a new generation of officers heeds the call of Misso and O’Keefe because while Luce and Mahan receive the most credit, they could not have saved the US Navy without their Young Turks, many of whom disagreed with them vehemently on technical issues but defended their positions in the pages of Proceedings unafraid. While today’s junior officers may fear criticism, ostracization, or even dismissal, they must remember the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a long-time supporter of Newport and civilian navalist:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

To preserve the naval profession and American sea power, the civilians of the United States need their Young Turks in the arena.


  1. The writer’s conclusion that “the law is easy” downplays any attorney engaged in criminal law, especially public defenders and organizations like The Innocence Project that are engaged in seeking release of the wrongly-convicted facing the death penalty. For an excellent review of the difficulties facing attorneys engaged in establishing national security policy, see Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009). 

  2. Ronald Spector, Professors of War: The Naval War College and the Development of the Naval Profession (Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2005) p. 3. 

  3. As cited in ibid., n.11 p. 152 

  4. Ibid., pp. 3–4. 

  5. Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (Annapolis, MD: 1972) pp 277–86 

  6. Spector, Professors of War, pp..3–4 

  7. Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy, pp 277–86. 

  8. Benjamin F. Armstrong, ed., 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013) p. 79 

  9. Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy, pp. 286–317. 

  10. As quoted in ibid., p. 308. 

  11. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783, New York: Little Brown and Co. 1890 

  12. Spector, Professors of War, pp. 11, 149–50 

  13. As quoted in Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919–1941(Newport, RI: The Naval War College Press 1980) p. 119. 

  14. Williamson Murray, “Professionalism and Professional Military Education in the Twenty-first Century,” in Suzanne C. Nielsen and Don M. Snider, eds., American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), pp 141–42. 

  15. Ibid., p. 143. 



For those who have seen the Great Carrier Debate between Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath, one thing was clear – both gentlemen had only scratched the surface of their thoughts on the topic.

At about the same time, the concept of “distributed lethality” had seeped its way in to the conversation. To examine both topics and to review the national security issues you should expect to see in 2015 will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath.

Bryan McGrath is the founding Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC (FBG), a niche consultancy specializing in naval and national security issues, including national and military strategy, strategic planning, executive communications, strategic communications and emerging technologies.

Prior to starting FBG, Bryan founded a national security consulting line of business for Delex Systems, where he directly supported a number of senior clients in the Navy and the Army. Additionally, he provided critical insight on Navy policy and acquisition preferences to commercial clients, including major defense contractors and small technology firms negotiating the “post-earmarks” era.

A retired Naval Officer, Bryan spent 21 years on active duty including a tour in command of USS BULKELEY (DDG 84), a guided-missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.

In his spare time, Bryan is a well-published commentator in the fields of national and maritime strategy, with policy papers published at major think tanks, and articles placed in nationally marketed periodicals. He is a frequent panelist at symposia that deal with naval issues and is frequently quoted by major press organizations.

Bryan earned a BA in History from the University of Virginia in 1987, and an MA in Political Science (Congressional Studies) from The Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the Naval War College.

You can watch the carrier debate here. But you can only listen to Midrats by clicking here for the live show or the archive. You can also pick the show up later from our iTunes page here.



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