Archive for the 'Navy' Category

Even though submarines entered mainstream use during World War I, they nevertheless were dangerous, and accidents were usually fatal. A series of mishaps on US submarines finally inspired one man to develop the tools that would help sailors escape from a sunken submarine. Charles Momsen was a pioneer in underwater rescue, and developed the rescue device that bears his name.

So, the U.S. Naval Institute holds a conference in San Diego just before the weekend and there’s so much interesting stuff that came up that CDR Salamander and I decided to hash it over on Midrats Episode 215 live at 5pm Eastern U.S.

Just click here to get to the live show (you may have to click again on a show page, but what are two clicks among friends?). Call in during the show with comments or thoughts or join us in the chat room if you think your voice is not yet ready for radio.

I think Cyber, Russia, Christine Fox’s comments, Coalition Warfare, budget constraints, the JSF, retention of our best talent, and the future of warfare will come up at some point. Plus more.

Join us live or listen later.

The recent 72nd anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor allows for a pause in our chronological narrative of naval history. Fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy sailors for heroism during that attack, and our object today is one of those medals.


I made my way to the USNI/AFCEA West 2014 Conference because the theme is an important one. Shaping the Maritime Strategy. And because I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be snowing in San Diego. Sure enough, the speakers and panel sessions have not disappointed. And, there is not a snowbank in sight.

This morning’s keynote event was a roundtable on Information Dominance. Moderated by Mr. David Wennergren, VP for Enterprise Technologies and Services at CACI, the panel consisted of RADM Paul Becker USN, Director of Intelligence J2 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RADM Robert Day USCG, Assistant Commandant for C4I for Coast Guard Cyber Command, Mr. Terry Halvorsen, DoN CIO, and BGen Kevin Nally USMC, Marine Corps CIO.

Each spoke eloquently of the need for protecting trusted information networks in an increasingly interconnected military, as well as the complexities of the dependence on trusted networks for myriad systems, capabilities, and decision support of command and control functions. Not surprisingly, the emphasis of most of the discussion was on countering the threats to our use of the electronic spectrum, which is to say “cyber” security. Each of the roundtable speakers were insightful in describing the problem of data overload, and how that overload actually stymied efforts to retrieve information. And each commented in turn that “information dominance” was not synonymous with “cyber”, which merely represented one aspect of the concept.

The discussion amongst the roundtable members did fall disappointingly short in two critical areas. The first was the focus on technical solutions for managing data and information. Connectivity and data transfer capability dominated what should have been a cultural discussion about information management. It is not the lack of sensors, or data feeds, nor connectivity shortfalls which have hampered our attempts to wring the maximum value from our information systems. We have become so enamored of the colossal capability to access raw data that we have become less than disciplined about what we NEED to know, when we need to know it, from whom we should expect it, what form that data needs to be in, and how it is to be analyzed into information useful for decision support for C2. Little of that was directly addressed, which was unfortunate, as such lack of acumen about our information and intelligence requirements will render any system to deliver those products far less effective than they should be.

By far, however, the biggest shortcoming of the roundtable discussion was the inability of any of the panel members to actually define the term “Information Dominance” in any meaningful way. I had submitted precisely that question for the roundtable via the electronic submission system in use at West this year, but someone asked it ahead of me. The attempts to define “Information Dominance” would have made a junior high English teacher cringe. We heard what information dominance is similar to, and what the supposed goals of information dominance were, but neither was in any way a real definition. (This is not a surprise. Two years ago, the Navy had an “Information Dominance” booth on the “gizmo floor”, staffed alternately by a Captain and two Commanders. I asked each, separately, over a couple days, to give me their definition of “information dominance”. None of theirs were remotely similar, nor any more adequate than what we heard today.)

The problem, of course, is the term itself. Information cannot be “dominated”, despite assertions to the contrary. An enemy with a very specific information requirement that he can fulfill reliably and in a timely manner can be said to have information “dominance” over our massive sensor and communications networks that commanders and staffs pore over in attempts to see through the fog of war. The dust cloud from the dirt bike as the teenager rides from Baghdadi to Hit to tell the insurgents of the Coalition convoy headed their way trumps our networked, data-driven ISR platform links that cannot help prevent the ambush that awaits us.

We have much work ahead of us to make most effective use of our incredibly robust data collection systems and information networks. The solution to the problems of analytical capacity resident in C2 nodes with which to turn raw data into useful information and intelligence will be far more human than digital. Commanders have to insist on a philosophy of “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what I need to know”. And then go about ensuring that those who collect, compile, and analyze data have a very good idea of what they need to know.

And we can start by retiring the troublesome and ill-suited term “Information Dominance”. As General van Riper is fond of saying, “Words MEAN things!”. They’re supposed to, anyway.

Cross-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid.

Coursera-booksIn our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Steve Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LT Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.

Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.

With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work. What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).

In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.


courseraCoursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.


iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas. Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website. In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.


While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.


edX_Logo_Col_RGB_FINALedX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.

Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.

Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service

Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.


While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.

If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.

This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

World War I spurred naval aviation development into high gear, and helped set in motion the development of the aircraft and the training of aviators that would go on to make the first trans-Atlantic crossing. In a tremendous logistical undertaking that in many way’s eclipsed that of the Great White Fleet, the US Navy set up an unbroken line of warships across the Atlantic Ocean. These ships held position in stormy seas with their spotlights illuminating the sky to help guide the Glenn Curtis-built flying boat NC-4 during its historic crossing.

While the Navy was building its new steel battleships, and airplanes were in their earliest stages of development, polar exploration, long a hallmark of the Navy, was in its heyday. Two of the Navy’s great polar explorers, Admirals Byrd and Perry continued to push north and south from the late 19th century through World War I and beyond. Today’s object, a bronze bust of Admiral Byrd, helps take us back to the days of the first explorers to reach the poles.

underwater-basket-weaving-degreeFirst, let’s not pretend that an ENS, JG, LT, or even RADM isn’t better or worse because of the degree they have. Secondly, let’s not pretend that the degree one earns determines who they are as a person–let’s not be education deterministic. Thirdly, there’s a nascent form of literacy emerging that combines both hard and soft sciences, and the Navy is largely ignoring it.

You walk through my door as a newly minted non-prior service ensign and I’m not going to care what school or what degree you earned from that school–you know nothing just like every other ensign in the Fleet. This isn’t a slight, this is a reality. All that is going to matter to me, to the LCPO, and to the rest of the guys in the division, is whether or not you’re a pleasure to serve with. There isn’t much more to belabor in this regard. As an officer with a STEM degree, you’re not going to be the one doing any of the labor that your education informed you how to do. You’re supervising at best, or drowning in administrative duties for the division that you know nothing about, because no one gets a college education in “Naval Administration.” What’s more, is that despite anything you learned from a college, you’re still going to have to get through your career field’s warfare pin qualifications before your superiors trust you to do the job. Your education only got you to OCS, or to your commissioning date, and the distinctions between where you chose to go to school are negligible to me, and non-existent to your most junior sailors.

Reading the words of officers in this ongoing degree debate strikes me as parochial and based in little more than confirmation bias. We all want to be emulated, we all want to champion the bits of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way. The path we’ve taken we know best, and so we can recommend it, as being so familiar to us. Neither side, neither the STEM-guys nor the liberal arts guys have much going for them to detract from the efficacy of the other guy’s degree. ‘With a liberal arts degree, one should be able to reason through the challenges inherent in emerging technologies.’ Or, ‘with a STEM degree, one understands the nuance, direction, and technical details of technologies, and the likelihood of its success.’ Those are both true statements. But, the reality is, that neither type of degree confers the wisdom required to actually make such a call unless years have been spent in the naval service learning exactly what the Navy is, how it works, and all it’s quirks–a degree confers no wisdom, just the greater ability to obtain wisdom, eventually. ‘Degree determinism’ is a red herring, a 23 year old is not yet complete as an individual nor as a sailor. Who they eventually grow to become is arguably more influenced by their naval experience than their undergrad experience (unless you’re an aviator, then you never grow up… heh.).

This isn’t an either-or debate. Quite frankly, it’s a false dichotomy, as indicated by the emergence of numerous multidisciplinary fields of study. A prime examples of which is Computational Social Science and Artificial Intelligence. Where the parameters of society and the mind, as defined by the soft sciences, are incorporated into programming and hardware design, that are rooted in hardware and software engineering. Advances in this field are indicative of the STEM-Liberal Arts dichotomy being false in an academic sense, but also demonstrate how the same dichotomy is false in terms of the Navy; where a junior officer has to manage people, and master their career field, and understand the nature of the technology which they will be responsible for.

Like the title of this blog states. No one asked me what I think, and as an enlisted guy, what I think doesn’t matter much. But, the multitude of voices jumping into the fray regarding this topic has kept it on my mind.

seacontrolemblemBryan McGrath joins Matt and Chris to discuss his ideas for the future of maritime security. From the focused threat of China to McGrath’s ideas on a unified sea service, this is one of our best podcasts yet. Enjoy Sea Control 20- McGrath on Maritime Strategy (download).

Remember, we are available on iTunes and Stitcher Stream Radio. Tell your friends, leave a comment, and do us the favor of a five-star rating.

As naval aviation was under development, so was another pivotal early 20th century invention, the radio. The Navy was a very early adopter of wireless communication, and the outbreak of World War I necessitated an alternative to the transatlantic telegraph. The massive radio complex at Greenbury Point across the river from the Naval Academy filled this need. The three towers remaining today help us discuss the birth of radio, and the incredibly rapid evolution of wireless communications in the Navy.

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2014 Information Domination Essay Contest