Archive for the 'Navy' Category
Please join us on 12 July 2015 at 5pm (EDT, U.S.) for Midrats Episode 288: “The Between the Ears Challenge”:
Are the growing feelings of crisis, confusion and strategic drift in the national security arena not so much the result of external challenges, but the result of poor thinking and intellectual habits on our part?
Using his article in The National Interest, “The Real Problem with the American Military” as a starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Dakota Wood, Senior Research Fellow on Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.
Dakota L. Wood, LtCol USMC (Ret.), Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.
Dakota served two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following retirement, Mr. Wood served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Most recently, Mr. Wood served as the Strategist for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command.
Mr. Wood holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy; a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College.
Recent articles such as this one by James Holmes (also covered by Sal) and this Proceedings article by ENS Daniel Stefanus have leveled some very specific criticisms against the industrial architecture which supports our Navy. Holmes writes of the past generations of Sailors:
[They] were expected to make themselves as self-sufficient as possible... Big ships outfitted with machine shops, welding facilities, and the like could help out in a pinch, fashioning spares not stocked on board.
Meanwhile, Stefanus points out other erosion in self-sufficiency in his criticism in the use of contractors to fix things:
If a cruiser’s SPQ-9B radar suddenly goes down in the middle of an engagement, there is no time to fly out a contractor. Only the ship’s crew can salvage the situation… An overreliance on contractors only diminishes this capability.
How did we arrive here? It has its roots in what we do want our Sailors to look like and be capable of–and we have wanted them to act more as operators and less as technicians. This is apparent when we look at trends in submarine enlisted rates. For us, interior communications electricians, radiomen, and quartermasters have all been folded into the same rating: electronics technician. We no longer sub-specialize Sailors in radio division into operating/maintaining either our radio equipment or our electronic warfare stuff–they do both now. We haven’t generalized these ratings because we have less complicated gear onboard or because they had skills we didn’t want anymore. As Stefanus and Holmes pointed out, we’ve simply ceded these skills to shore support. Once we transform a workforce into operators vice technicians, it makes sense to drop the onboard machine and welding shops. Who would use them? When manning decisions no longer focus around staffing a maintenance/repair crew, it becomes about filling out the watchbill. That’s how you get to the 40-person crew Holmes points out.
While Stefanus discussed the business side of the decision to outsource repair and maintenance, I think there’s a deeper logic to it that’s linked to our understanding of naval warfare: we can find technical solutions to human problems. If we can make it more technical, we should make it more technical.
The classic example is the implementation of radar onboard ships post-WWII. As more and more ships got radar, we expected to drive down collision rates. But what actually happened? Overall, collision rates did not fall and collision rates involving ships with at least one radar may have actually grown over time until recently! Largely what happened was that ships didn’t reduce speed as they used to–they had radar and could “see” things they never could “see” before. People found new ways to hit things with “radar-assisted collisions.”
I’m not saying radar is worthless or success in naval warfare doesn’t rely on using new technologies more effectively than your opponent. I am saying that innovations don’t neatly employ themselves and people may interact with a new toolset in ways we could never predict. As we add layers of complexity onto our systems, how much more capable are we really? Do submarines with the latest and greatest tracking systems using widescreen HD computer screens provide a demonstratively greater return than earlier generations which entailed hand plotting? Our assumption is yes, and we have committed ourselves in ways described by Stefanus and Holmes.
I wonder what the data would prove though?
Alternative title: The News of the Neo-Isolationist Superpower Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
If as Americans we have trouble figuring out from “Lead-From-Behind” to Stryker road rallies, Aegis Ashore, and Abrams to the Baltics what direction we are going concerning international involvement, imagine the confusion we are creating in the halls of our competitors.
Nice PSYOPS plan – intentional or not.
No one can deny that in many areas we have signaled a withdraw under fire in the last six years or so. From the premature exit from Iraq, to the great decoupling in Afghanistan, that gets the headlines. From the Maghreb to the Levant, we also had experienced the strange experiment of “Lead-From-Behind” a concept as disconnected as its results.
There was also the long goodbye from Europe that began with the end of the Cold War, and until the Russians started playing in their near abroad, was drip-by-remaining-drip continuing apace.
2015 put that in the dustbin of history.
In the last year, we have returned to Iraq and Europe. Indeed, we have expanded in critical areas in some subtle but important ways, especially for the maritime services. These recent moves tie in closely with larger programmatic decisions we need to make now.
I want to pick two specific examples of where we are starting to move back in to the world and how these moves should shape our debate. They are subtle, and in many ways echo some of the broader concepts outlined by Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons.” Low footprint, modest cost, high flexibility, high return – scalable impact.
Let’s start with the Pacific Pivot first.
Darwin, Australia; never will be a hard-fill set of orders. Show the flag, build partnerships, and presence in a primary SLOC that, to no surprise, has the most critical choke point in China’s maritime silk road within … err … range;
“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued. “But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a warfighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”
Ideally, in the future PACOM would have two ARGs deployed throughout the theater instead of today’s one-ARG presence. But Dunford said the Marines have to handle today’s problems with today’s resources, so the Marines are looking into a variety of non-amphibious platforms that could carry Marines around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.
OK, there is your Pacific Pivot, but what is going on in Europe?
U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.
In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.
The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.
SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a rotational contingent of approximately 800 Marines, sailors and support elements sourced from a variety of Marine Corps units to include II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Its organic assets include 12 MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four KC-130J Hercules aerial refueling tankers, one UC-35, a logistics and sustainment element, and a reinforced company of infantry Marines.
How do we hedge expanding a footprint while capabilities shrink? Start by thinking.
Our traditional amphibious ship shortfall is well known, but with the budgetary pressures and need to recapitalize our SSBN force through the Terrible 20s, there simply is not enough money to have it all. Knowing that – what can we do?
There are other areas we can look for capability relief, and the last month has seen good ideas addressing both.
First, though few in number, our partner nations have usable ships;
Where some nations are game to contribute at sea, but they may not be game to go ashore (like the Canadians and British at Iwo Jima) – so why not use what they have available?
Among the concepts the Marines are trying out now is putting U.S. Marine Corps units onto NATO allies’ ships. Allies including Spain and Italy already host SPMAGTF units on the ground, and “the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is designed to cover gaps in available U.S. amphibious ships by leveraging our European allies’ ships, just as we leverage our allies’ land bases,” U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh told USNI News.
“Ideally, we would partner with our Navy brethren to provide a year-round, day and night crisis response force. However, with more requirements world-wide than available U.S. Navy amphibious ships, the Marine Corps has had to adopt a land-based deployment model from allied countries such as Spain, Italy, and Romania,” he said. Having these units land-based, however, means they are limited to operating in a hub-and-spoke model and deploying only as far as their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J tanker combination will take them.
Operating from a ship not only offers a mobile home base, but “basing at sea offers allies and international partners a visible deterrent when a warship – be it American, British, Italian, Spanish, or French – with U.S. Marines embarked aboard is sitting off the coast. In any language, such a sight means it is best to not cause trouble here,” Ulsh added.
Marines will first head to sea on an Italian ship this fall, followed by a British amphib and eventually French, Spanish and Dutch ships, the Marine Corps Times reported.
Also, not just JHSV, but other USNS are there for the pondering. What kind of USNS might be useful?
We can look back;
MSC’s two aviation logistics ships — S.S. Wright and S.S. Curtiss. Six hundred-and-two feet long, displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded, the twin loggies each boasts a large helicopter landing pad, multiple cranes and a full-length cargo hold opening onto ramps on its sides and stern. With a crew of just 41, each of the vessels can accommodate more than 360 passengers.
While less tough than dedicated amphibs and totally lacking defensive weaponry, under the right circumstances the aviation logistics ships could embark potentially hundreds of Marines and their vehicles plus thousands of tons of supplies. Joining other specialized ships, the loggies could help send the Leathernecks ashore to invade an enemy, defend an ally or help out following a natural disaster.
… and now;
The Navy accepted delivery of the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller(MLP-3/AFSB-1), two weeks ago, and though the ship was built to support mine countermeasures efforts, the Marines have been eyeing the new platform for operations in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Currently, the closest presence the Marines have to the Gulf is a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) operating out of Spain.
“The combatant commander from AFRICOM and the combatant commander from EUCOM have already written a letter to the secretary of defense outlining their requirement for an alternative platform” to support theater security cooperation, embassy evacuations, counter-piracy missions and more, Dunford said. “They recognize that while a Special Purpose MAGTF provides a great capability, and while the V-22 does mitigate” the great distance between Spain and southern parts of Africa, having Marines on American ships allows more freedom to operate as needed and to sustain the force from the sea without becoming dependent on partners.
That is just what the Navy-Marine Corp team is doing. Our sister services are busy too.
So much for our inevitable retreat. What next? Well, step one might be to reactivate Maritime Prepositioning Squadron One we decommissioned in 2012.
World changes; change with it.
This past week, Navy leaders called for sailors, civilians, and researchers to commit themselves to emphasizing and adopting robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve warfighting challenges. In a memo to service chiefs, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called for the DON to consider “how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.”
Why do commercially developed AI and robotics offer such promise to the sea service? Are these advances decades away? And how can sailors in the fleet help drive the change Secretary Mabus is calling for? Let’s examine these questions further.
The Virtuous Technological Cycle: Faster and Cheaper Computing
Pop culture is familiar with the concept of Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits. Simply put, this maxim states that computing power has tended to double every 18 months for the last several decades. This leads to steady advances processing power and resulting technical advances.
But Moore’s Law is not the end of the story. As speed and computing power have increased, the cost of these capabilities has decreased rapidly. Consider the cost required to execute a gigaflop, a standard measure of computing power. In 1984, it cost $42,780,000 in hardware to complete this task. By the year 2000, this figure had dropped to $1,300. Today, it costs less than eight cents in hardware to complete this task.
These factors create a virtuous cycle. More advances in power lead to more applications where a technology might be adapted. More applications lead to more demand, which in turn lead to larger numbers of chips being manufactured. More investments in manufacturing lead to more investment in research and therefore quicker development. The cycle feeds on itself.
As computing power becomes faster and cheaper, it allows scientists to harness machines to complete new and more challenging tasks. Artificial intelligence programs can sift through massive repositories of data to learn patterns they can then recognize. Software can be programmed to observe situations and “learn,” just as a human does from experience.
Consider the Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks, or BRETT, under development at UC Berkley. BRETT is programmed to utilize “deep learning” techniques to observe a problem, orient itself, and solve the issue. While it takes several hours to solve a simple task, with increases in computing power, its speed will grow. Just as a child’s simple brain grows into an elegant masterpiece, so too will such machine learning technology develop rapidly as computing power continues to race forward.
Adopting Rapid Technological Solutions: How to Outfit a Truck
In an article in Proceedings in 2012, CNO Jonathan Greenert wrote about budgetary and acquisitions challenges. Due to lengthy development of new platforms, Adm. Greenert suggested that rather than buying “luxury cars” with numerous built in features, the Navy ought to buy “trucks” that can carry modular payloads. Such open architecture systems can easily and rapidly adopt new sensors, weapons, and technology at relatively low cost.
This flexibility combined with rapidly advancing computing technologies makes the near future very bright. While DoD has been and remains at the forefront of research and development, there are many commercial entities building robots and AI products that have dual military uses. Tools like autonomous robots, facial recognition databases, and speech recognition and translation software have all been developed in the civilian sector and offer great promise in military applications. The speed of commercial innovation is regulated by market forces and Moore’s Law. The speed of our acquisitions system is regulated by a bloated process developed by legislators and implemented by managers with a vested interest in its perpetuation. Which system do you think is faster?
By adopting commercial technology in open architecture systems, the pace of adopting new capabilities can accelerate. Enhancements to ensure information assurance and security will be required. Acquisitions processes will have to be respected as well. But this will minimize costs as well as cut down on the multi-year interval between requirements for a weapons system being frozen, and initial operating capability milestones. Open architecture systems in the aviation, submarine, and surface forces that will enable these capabilities to quickly “plug and play,” with upgrades coming in months rather than years. This will bring new capabilities to match the pace of technological advances as closely as possible.
Imagining the (Not so Distant) Future
How realistic, though, is the introduction of machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence into military service? Certainly, the Navy has adopted systems like the X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System. But are these other technologies more pipedream than reality? Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
While writing, I imagined flying a mission in the near future in my most recent fleet aircraft, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Such a jet would have an AI system that could analyze the ocean environment, predict the actions of a threat submarine, and recommend to its operators where to search. Acoustic operators using SSQ-125 multistatic sensors would be assisted by an AI system that used machine learning techniques to analyze reflections from underwater targets and provide its judgment whether the return was a submarine or a shipwreck. The aircraft would be equipped with an autonomous communications intelligence (COMINT) recording and translating system. This system would automatically record, translate, and transcribe chatter it received.
Sound like science fiction? If it does, the reader may be surprised to know that all these technologies either already exist in various forms, or are very close to reaching fruition. For over a decade, the MH-60R helicopter has boasted an advanced decision aid called the Acoustic Mission Planner (AMP). By analyzing the ocean, AMP can provide a crew with recommendations on where to employ sensors and search. Updated in real time, its algorithm provides a changing search plan as the hunt unfolds. Similar tools for fixed wing aircraft are being developed.
To detect quiet diesel submarines, the navy has turned to high-powered active sonars. These systems, in theory, are subject to high false alarm rates, and require operators to decipher the returns. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing machine learning software that observes how humans classify returns, and then mimics that behavior. Such “human mimetic” behavior can augment the performance of a less-experienced human operator or speed up classification by a seasoned aviator.
While automatic translation seems to be the realm of Star Trek, such technologies are becoming increasingly common, to the point where they are freely available through services such as Google Translate. Earlier this year, DARPA announced that speech identification and translation software could be available to intelligence analysts and combat troops as early as 2017. Such automated tech could remove the need to carry a linguist onboard, while providing the P-8 a new intelligence gathering capability with no additional manning.
Challenging the Warfighter
Adopting robots and AI systems will not just require warfighters and support personnel to consider how new technology can be employed. It will also require that we consider our relationship with these tools. Far from fearing this technology as a threat to us, or our eventual replacement, we should acknowledge that our role will shift and embrace that reality.
While machines increasingly take on monotonous or computationally intense tasks, we will take on the role of supervisor and analyst. For example, airline pilots frequently discuss their role as one of a “systems manager,” allowing the autopilot to conduct much of the physical task of flying while they observe system performance and make decisions regarding malfunctions, weather, and optimizing their route.
Joining the Conversation
New technologies and warfighting challenges will require solutions from all corners of the fleet. The Navy’s Office of Strategy and Innovation has recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as the Innovation Hatch. In the next month, leaders are challenging sailors fleet-wide to offer their ideas and thoughts on how advances in AI can solve problems they see every day on the deckplates.
The Naval Warfare Development Center has also recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as Navy Brightwork to harvest ideas from the fleet. Brightwork is more focused on warfighting applications and as such has both NIPRnet and SIPRnet portals.
It’s an exciting time both in the Navy as well as society at large as we watch technology grow and change around us. Tools that were rare just years ago are ubiquitous and cheap today. As advances in computing race forward, let us hope that sailors adopt the technology around us to seize the intellectual high ground and win the conflicts of tomorrow.
As a Junior Officer, it was very enjoyable to drive for an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) – with the sole exception, that is, of trying to make sense of the Radian Rule. I have strong memories of my attempts to internalize the relationship between the bearings and ranges. There always seemed to be one, but I never quite made it to a coherent understanding until much later in sea duty years. As an XO and CO recently, I finally had a more mature understanding of this important ship driving principle as well as numerous opportunities to train and coach Midshipmen and Junior Officers during UNREP events. In this article, I’d like to share a few approaches that take advantage of a more nuanced understanding of this well-known guidance.
The Radian Rule Equation and Its Uses
The rule of thumb that’s encoded in every table of Radian Rule values is laid out below. There are several ways to capitalize on this understanding as the team is either preparing for or executing an UNREP approach. I’ll start with a couple of the more common ones and then introduce three favored approaches to the problem. As a baseline assumption, the goal distance I’ll use for alongside separation is 180 ft. I think you’ll see soon, however, that they work equally well for any alongside separation distance.
Technique #1: Make a List
From a new Conning Officer’s point of view, this was a fairly common approach to the problem of understanding and using the Radian Rule. Many Junior Officers arrived for both the brief and the evolution with a list of bearings and ranges that would indicate the ship was on track for the desired separation. Such a list might look like this:
This technique works well if the team is able to verify bearing to the oiler at each of the yardage milestones on the list, since a single data point is seldom as valuable as a series of consecutive observations. This method is less useful if the range for a given observation isn’t one of the milestones, or if the team misses a milestone.
Technique #2: Use a Radian Rule Table to Determine Separation Distance
This technique is by far the most common, and involves a third party (typically a Quartermaster) looking up each bearing and range combination in a table similar to the excerpt shown below. While it ensures that each data point is useful in determining the overall trend of the ship’s relative motion with respect to the oiler, this method – in my opinion – doesn’t help substantially to develop the Conning Officer’s understanding of that motion. Stated differently, the difference between a good and a great Conning Officer is the ability to add his/her own evaluation of a situation to the input they get from the rest of the bridge team. I believe there are more effective ways (discussed further below) to build this capability in our Junior Officers.
A Note on Advanced Techniques
Techniques #3 – #5 have one prominent feature in common – they all depend on mental math. While this may present a challenge, there are several advantages to these methods. First, mental math promotes independent judgment by the Conning Officer and/or coach for each observation throughout the approach evolution. Second, the mental math in these methods requires that the Conning Officer and/or coach build a mental model of the relative motion and internalize the relationships among bearing, range, and lateral separation. Third, from the Conning Officer’s point of view, these techniques offer a different way to learn the evolution and may appeal more intuitively to certain Officers. Finally, from the coach’s point of view, these techniques offer yet another mental tool for dispassionately evaluating the sight picture and ensuring the bridge team is appropriately focused on providing good inputs to the Conning Officer.
With these points in mind, I’ll introduce three non-traditional techniques. Each of these relies on the Conning Officer’s and coach’s ability to mentally exploit various forms of the baseline Radian Rule equation.
Technique #3: “The Rule of 3600”
This technique works well in concert with either Approach #1 or #2 above. Since the separation distance for which we’re aiming is a constant (180 ft in this case), the right side of the equation becomes a constant:
Simplifying the Radian Rule equation, then, we get the following:
For any combination of bearing and range, we can multiply them and compare them to 3600. If the product is less than 3600, the ship is approaching the oiler at something less than 180 ft of separation. If the product is greater than 3600, the ship will approach the oiler wide of 180 ft separation. A few examples below illustrate this principle.
While it’s an imperfect measure, this technique allows the Conning Officer to corroborate his or her visual judgment with a quick check of the math, and then to combine those judgments with either of the first two approaches to refine the solution. This technique is very flexible with respect to desired separation distance, as well. If the goal is 200 ft, for instance, then the constant becomes 4000. Finally, this technique provides a good gateway to the next two approaches.
Technique #4: “Where Should You Be Right Now”
With range as an input, the Conning Officer works out the bearing he or she expects to see and then compares that prediction to reality (measured bearing separation). Direction and magnitude of any required course corrections follow relatively easily. The baseline equation, solved for bearing, follows.
This technique is a modification of technique #1, and it has two principal benefits. First, it helps the Conning Officer avoid the persistent need to divert attention from the approach to consult a list of bearings and ranges. Second, it helps to build the Conning Officer’s and/or coach’s comfort with mental math.
Technique #5: “Predict the Separation”
This technique is a modification of technique #3 and an extension of technique #4, using a different arrangement of the equation to anticipate the estimated separation for each bearing and range combination. Solving the Radian Rule equation for separation, the expression becomes:
Once the Conning Officer is adept at the mental math of multiplying the bearing and range, the only remaining step is to divide by 20. The simplest way to do this is to remove a zero and divide by two. A sample is shown below.
This is a mental math version of Approach #2. While this is more difficult than any of the four previous techniques, the principal benefit to this approach is that it gives the Conning Officer and/or coach convenient tools to mentally evaluate the geometry they are seeing on the bow. For the Conning Officer, the nuanced context available from each observation constructively builds the spatial judgment and physical intuition we call Seaman’s Eye. This technique allows the Conning Officer to take maximum advantage of sometimes-scarce evolutions and reinforces a more subtle understanding of the relative motion between ships that sometimes eludes the most seasoned veterans. I found it to be tougher than the other techniques to teach and use, at least at first, but it was infinitely more rewarding when the Conning Officer understood it and was able to use it.
It takes time and effort to learn how to safely conn the ship alongside. Proven techniques that have propelled ships alongside safely for decades are available to those who will take the time to learn and use them, and they can be improved with a small investment in systematic thinking about the geometry built into the evolution. Techniques #3 – #5 suggest ways to exploit the mathematical relationships inherent to the Radian Rule that offer two significant benefits. First, they build confidence in coaches by encouraging a more intuitive understanding of the relative motion throughout the UNREP approach. Second, they help build Seaman’s Eye in our Junior Officers by sharing those insights with the fertile minds of the Officers who drive the ship most frequently, and who are most apt to exploit them effectively.
As reported by the Washington Post on June 4th – “Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December, US officials said Thursday, and the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.”
What is OPM? The organization that collects, collates and manages all the security clearance information for US personnel. That includes biographical details about the people in the US government who hold security clearances.
This is the single biggest US security breach since at least the Cold War, although I am personally struggling to think of anything directed against the US that approaches this scale. You can change access codes, passwords and encryption standards in a compromised computer system fairly easily but once the names and biographical details of everyone who holds a clearance are stolen by a rival nation for nefarious purposes … that’s a whole different ballgame.
The identity of the Watchers at NSA, CIA and the Pentagon are now likely known to the Chinese military. Some of these individuals will be the target of Chinese surveillance operations ranging from spear phishing emails to physical shadowing. In war time they may actually become targets for kinetic operations. American spies used to be able
to watch the Iranians, Chinese and Russians secure in the knowledge that they could observe without putting themselves at risk of detection. That era – the era of the American Panopticon – is over.
Update June 25th, 2015: Its possible that the number of affected could be as high as 18 million.
In 2013, an article explored the gulf between creativity and innovation within the U.S. Navy’s ranks. It defined creativity as “investing in our future” and innovation as “finding a new way to solve an identified problem.” Innovation takes place in the Fleet every day. When Sailors are given the room to think outside-the-box in order to solve problems encountered on the deck-plates, it positively flourishes. Now back at sea, I am pleased to see that “Sailorized Innovations” abound. A few months ago, we were faced with a problem exasperated by the cringe-worthy phrase, “This is how we have always done it.”
The ship was moving from the naval station to a civilian shipyard. The assigned berthing barge – where Sailors live and work during an industrial period – was to be placed astern, vice outboard, of the ship. This configuration would require a brow – a “gangplank” for non-Sailors – be run from the pier directly to the barge. To transit between the ship and the barge, a Sailor would have to use the pier. Thus, the ship would need to stand-up extra force protection watch standers to guard the barge. These new posts would add four-thousand man hours to the crew’s watch-standing load during its stay in the shipyard.
The goal was to negate the extra watch-standing requirements. While the command was told that every ship had used the configuration in question and managed to survive, the solution seemed quite obvious and easy to accomplish. If a brow could be rigged from the already-protected ship directly to the barge, the need to guard the barge would be erased. The answer seemed simple, but getting to “yes” was another story.
In the Navy, “the box” is frequently defined by Standard Operating Procedures – usually well-established, sometimes stained in blood, and all-too-often acting as blinders to the here-and-now. These can turn into the sworn-enemy of innovation. As Clayton Christensen suggests in his book of the same name, breaking down these confines and pushing the solution to the identified problem outside-the-box, or looking beyond today, is truly the Innovator’s Dilemma. How does one come up with a new way to solve a problem – innovate – if they are told that they “cannot get there from here?”
Successful innovation requires a questioning attitude. It requires positivity. It requires a clear goal and buy-in. And finally, it requires tenacity.
It is far easier to say “no” than it is to embrace, or even experiment with, change. This is especially true of people who do not have a vested interest in solving the identified problem; ironically, usually the same people who have the power to institute change. When you encounter a problem and are told to make-due, ask questions. Do not be bowled-over. Do not be bullied. A questioning attitude not only improves quality-of-life, but it has the potential to save a life. If presented with the cop-out, “This is how we have always done it,” ask “Why can’t we do it this way?” A questioning attitude will require others to engage in the problem and ultimately defend their position amidst your scrutiny.
Negativity is an anti-body to innovation. The concepts are mutually exclusive. The successful innovator must be positive. They must look for solutions, not problems. They must take set-backs in stride and always keep the good that can be done by their innovative spirit at the forefront of their mind. Maintaining a positive, forward-leaning attitude also has a measurable impact on relationships and networking. The keepers of the purse and the makers of the rules will always choose to work with the positive person over their negative counterpart. The innovator’s team will move mountains for a positive leader.
Possibly the roughest patch in the pursuit of innovation is that place where it intersects with creativity. Creativity involves coming up with a new idea – investing in our future – and normally does not address an identified problem. Creativity may also add more work for the end-user, hence the moniker, The Good Idea Fairy, used so frequently throughout the military. The Fairy comes out of nowhere, taps his wand, creates a new requirement where none was needed, and flies away as the troops struggle to implement his “gift.” Whereas creativity often occurs in a vacuum, successful innovation takes place in the moment and requires a clear goal. What are we trying to solve? This goal ensures that we focus our efforts and maximize the efficiency found in the eventual solution. For the innovator’s efforts to gain any traction, they must have buy-in – both from subordinates, who have the know-how, and from superiors, who provide top-cover and latitude, keeping the innovation-incubator safe from intrusion and exerting influence over outside entities.
Most importantly, the successful innovator must be tenacious. Few people are inclined to expend extra effort on another person’s behalf. When one attempts to solve an identified problem through innovation, they will more-than-likely be met with a resounding “no!” It is easy to give that answer – it requires half a breath and no brain power. The successful innovator – endeavoring to solve a problem – will hear that answer over and over again. Every new approach to the solution will result in more reasons why “it cannot be done.” Innovation is impossible if the innovator does not have the stomach for “no” and gives up in the face of adversity. This is where a questioning attitude, positivity, clear goals and buy-in really count, because with those tools in the innovator’s kit, the tenacious flame will remain eternal.
Meaningful innovation is rarely sexy. Though it was not flashy, the ship’s innovative solution – running a brow between the ship and the barge – was a non-starter with the shipyard. The ship was told that this configuration was not the way it was done. Though a seemingly benign situation, the ship’s leadership had their ideas cast aside. Yet, the commanding officer not only supported the plan developed by his innovators, he in fact directed it, knowing that it would be a major win for the crew and most importantly, would ensure their safety and that of their ship. Through willpower, tenacity, and a drop of common-sense, the ship was able to win the day. A brow was rigged from the ship directly to the barge and one team of watch standers was utilized. This configuration endured for 3 months and ultimately proved popular with both Sailors and the shipyard. It was a shining – if not a somewhat mundane – example of successful innovation.
So who cares? A brow was placed in a new spot instead of the usual spot. Big deal. The reason this matters is that our lower echelon units – in this case, our warships – are suffering under the crushing bureaucracy of higher headquarters and civilian support entities. As one colleague phrased it recently, every single waking moment at work seems as if there are a thousand flaming marbles raining from the overhead – ceiling – and letting one hit the deck will bring about the end of the world. All too often we are faced with minor challenges while our hands are tied behind our backs, our ankles are cuffed, our mouths are taped shut, and someone continually pokes us in the eyes. We must not settle for that. We must seek out the small victories. Our units, our equipment, and our people – not to mention the missions we exist to carry out – are far too important to live by the lowest common denominator. Diving in and having the moral fortitude to respectfully push-back and find innovative solutions to every-day problems, produces an exponential return on an investment of sweat-equity. Things are tough these days and throwing up our arms in exasperation is the easy answer; it is not, however, the right answer.
In this case, it was a “misplaced brow” that overcame one of the million “face-palm” situations we are presented with on a nearly-daily basis. This configuration did not save lives and it did not win a battle. It did make a positive impact, though, and as leaders, that should always be the goal. Be respectfully stubborn, innovate as if you are trying to find your way out of a scene in Inception, and keep the fire in your belly burning as you stare down Goliath with steely-eyed determination. Our service and our nation will be put to the test again soon enough. Missiles will fly, explosions will roar, and victory will rely on leaders at all levels who can think for themselves when the lights are out and chaos is everywhere. Train like you fight – do not wait for lives to be on the line – innovate today.
The nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN), with its embarked carrier air wing(CVW), is the only maritime force capable of executing the full range of military operations necessary to protect our national interests.
From deterrence, to humanitarian assistance, to large-scale combat operations,Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) stand ready to answer the call in all phases of conflict. Navies across the globe aspire to extend their influence by building aircraft carriers and developing deployment models that mirror what the United States has been doing for more than eighty years. Our innovative leadership in this arena must continue to grow as the need for a modern aircraft carrier remains critically important to the continued freedom of navigation on the high seas.
Geopolitics and global threats require that we maintain a maneuverable and visibly persuasive force across the globe that can accomplish a number of missions, over sea and land. The carrier is the only answer to this requirement and the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) will soon be underway fulfilling this critical need.
The Ford is not a notional, larger than life project that may never see the light of day. Ford is alive and pier-side in Newport News. Ninety percent of the actual ship is structurally complete, and multiple cutting edge systems are coming online each month. She is nearly ready to go to sea and a community of sailors, shipbuilders, engineers, and citizens cannot wait to take her to the front lines.
Return on Investment
Despite the significant costs of developing the world’s newest aircraft carrier, the investment is absolutely critical to our national security over much of the next century. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the U.S. to operate without a “permission slip” for host nation basing. Ships like Ford will generate the full range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries with minimal notice or diplomatic coordination. It is understandable that the cost of operating 100,000 tons of fast, highly-lethal combat power should come with a high price tag, but we’ve been committed to rigorous oversight and management of cost and delivery deadlines. Looking at cost in a vacuum without considering how unmatched warfighting power is extracted from each of those dollars would be shortsighted. Overall, the Ford class brings improved warfighting capability, quality-of-life improvements, and reduced total ownership costs. Together, these efforts will reduce manning by approximately 700 billets, reduce periodic maintenance, improve operational availability and capability, and reduce total ownership costs through its 50-year life by $4 billion for each ship over its Nimitz class counterpart. With the exception of the hull, virtually everything has been redesigned; it is the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years. The ship’s design includes sophisticated new technologies that deliver capability now and will continue to grow with the incorporation of future weapons systems. A new nuclear propulsion and electric plant on the Ford class will generate almost three times the electrical power over the Nimitz class, leading to higher aircraft sortie rates and excess power to incorporate future technologies, such as the employment of directed energy weapons. From the Advanced Arresting Gear to engineering efficiencies, the Ford class is cutting-edge.
Ford Class delivers enduring, unmatched air power
The Ford and Nimitz class will remain relevant despite technological advances among our adversaries that make access to the battlespace more challenging. While Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threats are increasing in complexity, our Navy is evolving to address these challenges and outpace the threats. It is important to look more broadly at how the CSG as a whole is equipped to deal with these complex threat environments. With an integrated network of aircraft, sensors, and weapons, the CSG remains a viable and credible threat to any adversary, where it matters, when it matters.
Additionally, the air wing itself will grow and adapt around the carrier to keep pace with technological advances and future capabilities. We’ve seen this before with the former USS Enterprise. The air wing aboard the Enterprise in 1962 was nearly unrecognizable from the modern composition of aircraft when she decommissioned in 2012. Nevertheless, that mighty ship was still able to execute missions and outmatch threats over a 51- year period. When you leverage the capabilities of the F-35C, our fifth generation fighter, with the capabilities of our F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60R/S Seahawks, you have what you need to fight and win against adversary threats in the near and long term. Future systems like the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program will only add to CSG lethality while diminishing vulnerabilities. Unlike other classes of ships, the aircraft carrier does not need to be retired when its primary weapons system becomes obsolete – the ship will continue to operate and dominate in any environment as its air wing and company surface combatants evolve.
History has proven time and time again that when the United States’ national security or national interest is at risk, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will steam ahead and be the first to answer the call. There is no greater proof of the tangible effects of the modern carrier on global events than events that have occurred this past year. After the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) expanded through the Middle East, our deployed CSG surged forward to protect citizens and interests throughout the region. Carrier Strike Group Two and the USS George H.W. Bush deployed into the Arabian Gulf to blunt ISIL’s advance with air strikes and numerous related maritime-based effects. CSG 2 formed the only armed response option for the nation for 54 days. The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group and Carrier Strike Group One followed, flying 12,300 sorties, including 2,383 combat missions. Now, the USS Theodore Roosevelt stands watch with Carrier Strike Group Twelve, an indispensable tool at the Combatant Commander’s disposal to fight a brutal enemy.
Beyond air power alone, the integrated nature of the sensors and weapon systems within the entire CSG is invaluable to Combatant Commanders and decision makers in Washington, D.C. Cruisers, destroyers, maritime patrol and reconnaissance force aircraft, and national sensors integrate with the CVN and CVW to broaden the reach of our most capable assets. Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is a game-changing concept that will greatly enhance Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) missions. NIFC-CA relies on a family of sensors rather than a single system. Inputs from air and surface assets create a common operational picture among platforms and incorporate integrated fires (from air and surface platforms) to counter and neutralize missile threats. This revolutionary capability is already integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group.
There is no doubt that our aircraft carriers remain relevant in this time of geopolitical tension due to their flexibility, adaptability and lethality. While conflicts no longer span entire oceans, there are real and dangerous adversaries that seek to derail peace and inflict harm. The investments we make now in the Ford class carrier will ensure we continue to confront these threats. Whether it is combatting terrorists, assisting humanitarian assistance efforts after a natural disaster, or deterring future conflict, the nuclear powered carrier will continue to be the centerpiece of our Nation’s initial and lasting response across the globe.
This post originally appeared at the NavyLive Blog, and is cross–posted here with permission.
Innovation is the buzzword of the day in naval circles. On the heels of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation,” even Senator John McCain is calling out for innovation in the armed forces. The latter recently signaled the alarm bell in Wired magazine, paraphrasing a famous campaign line by stating, “the Pentagon confronts an emerging innovation gap.”
These leaders often cite the example of Silicon Valley, the mecca of small start-up companies and modern American entrepreneurism. The thinking goes that, if only our services could exude more “disruptive thinking,” or acquire systems faster, or flatten organizational structures—then we will achieve success.
Yet the US Navy is not a small start-up. And while many of our Sailors and Marines have great ideas that will impact technology and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) across the range of military operations, there is an insidious creep arising amid the growing “innovation gap:” central planning.
Successful innovation in the Navy has no program office, no resource sponsor. Yet as Congress and leaders begin to demand or expect it, we are in danger of morphing the ingenuity of individuals into “capital-I Innovation.” One can imagine a fate not too dissimilar to that of acquisition versus Acquisition.
Since his speech at the Sea Air Space conference in April, SECNAV has been regularly posting memoranda on his Navy.mil website. Each document contains background information on a particular area—robotics, for example—and then a list of “shall” accomplish requirements for the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, all to be completed by a specified date.
Make no mistake: this is an important advancement for our Navy. Introducing an element of outside-the-box thinking from on high is part of what our service needs.
But “shall” actions with a defined deadline miss the point of innovation. In fact, the concept of innovation itself stands at odds with the increasingly managerial, assembly-line service we live in. True innovation has no timeline; good ideas and products are tied to neither the Fleet Readiness Training Plan (FRTP) nor the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS). Few people, if any, whether they were in Silicon Valley or their parents’ garage, ever woke up and said, “By tomorrow, I am going to come up with a revolutionary idea.”
Instead of attempting to mandate innovation with deadlines and taskers, Senator McCain and Secretary Mabus should be leading discussions in three important areas:
First, how does the Navy deal with questions? SECNAV is already talking about this, but it is important to have a larger discussion on the topic. Failure to attain qualifications and expertise in rate or platform can still be unacceptable, but what about the few who show up to quarters with ideas on how to make their small corner of the Navy better, more efficient? What about the folks who constructively ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” We should expect excellence in systems and tactics, while also having the capacity to challenge our people to suggest and implement improvements in those systems and tactics. Connecting like-minded service members and making more centers for experimentation available are part of the solution, but so is leadership—from the LPO and Department Head level and beyond— that looks at its “quirky” sailors less as nuisances and more as potential assets.
Second, how does the Navy deal with failure? Operational Risk Management, or ORM, is championed around the Fleet and seems to be a mainstay in everything from work center training to holiday safety briefs. But what do we do with officers or enlisted sailors who have the right intentions and either attempt to push their platforms too far or have a momentary lapse in judgment? Our current zero-defect mentality belies our naval history: Admiral Nimitz, one of our most storied heroes of WWII, ran his first ship aground as a young lieutenant. He was allowed to continue his service, and a court-martial declared that “he is a good officer and will probably take more care in the future.” Have our platforms become so expensive, and has our fear of public relations become so pervasive, that we would fire today’s sailors in a similar predicament? What does that say about the leadership we are actually cultivating? Not all failure is catastrophic or should be treated as such.
Third, what do we do with innovative service members? Can a tinker-sailor-leader-innovator become a commanding officer of a ship, submarine, or aviation squadron if she accepts shore tour orders to a billet in ONR or the Pentagon? What if she delivers benefits to Navy platforms or TTPs while she is in this “non-production billet?” This will speak more to interested sailors—and to coaxing a groundswell of innovation—than dictates from above.
Senator McCain is right in his op-ed: our services need acquisition reform. This is a large part of the solution towards adapting to the pace of technological change.
But the greatest advancement that the Senator or Secretary Mabus could make is to view the current innovation movement not as a program of record or urgent operational need (UON), but rather as a core operating concept. We want a service that is more lethal, agile, and responsive without shelling over outrageous sums to defense contractors. Sailors and civilians, whether they are in the Fleet or in the Pentagon, are capable of outstanding innovation to that end. They need the inspiration to try, make mistakes, and carry on without fear for their jobs or their fitness reports.
This requires no act of Congress and should not be passed down through memoranda. Rather, it is a discussion to have and a change in thinking required both in the halls of the Capitol Building and throughout the Fleet. We must move from a service dictated by metrics and managers to a team inspired by leaders. This is the paradigm shift required for our Navy to move forward in this century.
People and money.
One follows the other, and the later always defines the magnitude of the former.
BA, NMP, BSC; the whole alphabet soup emanating out of Millington is fed by one thing more than any other; money. Money is your primary indicator of priorities, main effort, and commander’s intent in manpower.
Manpower is a complicated mix of habit, tradition, agenda, bureaucratic inertia, wants, needs, and wishes. When not controlled with a disciplined hand, bureaucratic organizations can accumulate billets like a spaniel in a field of beggar weeds; with or without audits or manpower efficiency reviews.
Stress is always a good way to squeeze efficiency our of an organization and to force it to tell you what are its priorities – what it really values.
In an email Tuesday, COMNAVAIR, VADM Dunaway, USN, put our his D&G on the latest stress coming their way in the manpower arena – yep, the mother’s milk; money.
Looking ahead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) budget reductions and the shift to modernization and sustainment will require us to smartly manage our workforce levels and skills mix.
Ahhh, that is the key; define “smartly.”
As new and critical tasking emerges, we must be prepared to move our workforce toward these efforts without adding additional people. In addition to agile staffing, we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
Start of the core compentancy – the mission of our organization. That is where you start your prioritization. At almost the halfway point of his email, Dunaway points to one,
In the beginning of FY15, we assigned hiring goals to the competencies and commands. We have exceeded our targets due in part to aggressive hiring early in the year. Our Fleet Readiness Centers ramped up hiring to help reduce the F/A-18 maintenance backlog and will return to normal staffing levels within the next 2 years.
From there, rack and stack – and lead. If you really want your organization to,
… we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.
… start with you personal staff, your N1, and the first gaggle of SES and GS-15+ you can get your hands around. Take those BA/NMP and Full Time Equivalents and do your own personal baseline review. Get those billets recoded towards your core competency – I am sure VADM Moran will help from his end. If you don’t make someone in the nomenklatura squeal, then you didn’t do it right. Once that is done, work through your other N-Codes.
At the same time, don’t make those shops do more with less. Cut back on the background noise and the self-licking ice cream cones.
The easiest thing you can control are the manhours invested in non-core related competency conference attendence, awards processing, collateral duties, ad-hoc committees (I get those emails too from NAVAIR, but I’ll be nice and not quote them here), Political Kowtow of the Month observances – all those things that take untold hours of your employees’ time but do nothing even close to helping,
… reduce … maintenance backlog …
Most of these activities are just bureaucratic habits or the bad aftertaste from one of your predessor’s pet projects or sacrifices to Vaal.
If you want bold action by those in your organization, you don’t tell them to do it – you do it yourself first. By your example, they will lead. Give them benchmarks, hold them accountable.
The only way to secure our future is to improve our capacity to adapt, collaborate and focus on the most important work.
If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.
You are the leader. You have outlined a problem, demand solutions. As such, there is no “If.” If this is serious, then, “If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.”, is not – I may offer – a serious call to action. It is passive and without heft, depth, or meaning.
“Bring me your questions or ideas, as we are making significant changes to our manpower document to optimize our workforce levels and skills mix.”
That might give you what you need.
Now, what will be interesting is in JUN16, what changes or draft changes will there be to NAVAIR’s manpower document?
Good stuff; good start. Good luck.