Archive for the 'From our Archive' Category
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
When I joined the Editorial Board of Proceedings two years ago, I conducted a brief survey of the magazines articles from 1875-1919. The primary purpose was to determine what ranks were more likely to write for and be published in Proceedings. The post and results can be found here.
One of the common concerns I’ve heard as Chairman of the Editorial Board is that Proceedings “only publishes articles by Admirals and Generals, especially the CNO.” I admit that I didn’t know how to answer until recently. Proceedings receives submissions from most ranks and civilians and while articles published by flag and general officers are sometimes cited by other media, I wanted to know so that I could give an informed answer to people who asked. Therefore I conducted a new brief survey of articles from Proceedings beginning with the February 2011 issue and concluding with the January 2013 issue. I tallied the articles based on the rank of the author. In the case of multiple authors, each author was included in the tabulation. Articles by regular columnists like Norman Polmar, Norman Friedman, Eric Wertheim, Tom Cutler, and Senior Chief Jim Murphy were not included in the tabulation.
To answer the question at hand, in a two-year period only 1.8 percent of published articles were the product of a service chief – including two by the Chief of Naval Operations, one by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and one by the Commandant of the Coast Guard. In fact Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants (with 2.8 percent) and Lieutenants junior grade and 1st Lieutenants (with 2.3 percent) published more than the service chiefs. Of published articles by military personnel, Navy Captains and Marine Colonels were the most prolific with 11.9 percent. Of all articles published in the past two years, the category “Other” (comprised primarily of OSD/DoN civilians) and “Faculty/Think Tanks” – those whose primary job is to think and write – dominated the pages of Proceedings with 16.5 percent and 16.1 percent respectively.
The Editorial Board reads every article provided to it by the Proceedings editorial staff. We evaluated each of those articles based primarily on how well the author has developed and supported a particular concept. We debate the merits of each article and not necessarily who submitted them, although we do look more closely at articles generated by enlisted and junior officers to see what the next generation offers.
Therefore, if you want to be part of the same forum for debate that led young officers like Lieutenant Ernest King to write, if you have a new idea or perspective, if you think you can make the case for that perspective, then I encourage you to write and submit to Proceedings. Your idea might challenge or support conventional wisdom. It might be something that no one has thought of – or has taken the time to pen. It might be an idea on how the sea services improve processes, support people, or modify platforms. Don’t be satisfied with what “might be.” Write. Engage. Be part of the debate. Start the debate.
“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”
“There is, at all events, no perplexity exceeding that with which men of former times haven’t dealt successfully.”
- CAPT Alfred Thayer Mahan
Back in 2003 Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, Barry Watts and Bob Work (now the Under Secretary of the Navy) coined the term “A2AD,” for the growing Anti-Access, Area Denial threat posed by the proliferation of long range missiles systems, precision munitions, and satellite technology that will make operations in the littorals more challenging for 21st century naval forces. They were right when they wrote that ignoring the threat “appears to be a huge gamble and one that neither prudence nor history could recommend with much confidence.” The challenge of A2AD spreads from the shores of the Arabian Gulf to the South China Sea and beyond with players like Iran, China, and North Korea continuing to develop and spread the capabilities and technologies like the C-802 anti-ship missile and FAC’s like the Chinese Houbei that has come to symbolize part of the threat.
While it is cast as a threat based on rapidly modernizing, high technology weapons the A2AD threat is actually nothing new in the annals of naval history. Despite the description of certain technologies, like the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, as “game changing” and “revolutionary” there are still basic principles of naval strategy and tactics that apply to these weapons. At the turn of the last century the United States and the naval powers of the world faced a similar challenge. Modern technology was advancing weapons systems and making it harder for naval forces to get close to the enemy’s shores. The eminent naval strategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan (ATM) wrote on the subject, and offered some thoughts that may be worth considering as the world once again faces A2AD challenges.
In 1911 ATM published the lectures he originally gave at the United States Naval War College in the decade leading up to the start of the 20th century as the book Naval Strategy: Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land. In it he discussed the A2AD threat which developed after he gave his original lectures. “It seems appropriate here to mention, if only incidentally, certain changes in the weapons with which war is waged,” he wrote, continuing “the progress of the submarine, the immensely increased range of the automobile torpedo, and the invention of wireless telegraphy,” were significant changes to the technology of naval warfare. According to ATM the introduction of these new weapons would have an important impact on the development of naval tactics, however, “these consequences will not change the principles of strategy,” which apply to naval warfare.
In his essay “Considerations Governing the Disposition of Navies,” published in May of 1902, ATM also discussed torpedo boats and “the added range of coast guns, which keeps scouts at a much greater distance than formerly, and the impossibility now of detecting intentions which once might be inferred from the conditions of masts and sails.” However, ATM’s continued discussion reminds us that the technologies which make A2AD a challenge are not exclusive of one side in the fight. He says that “on the other hand the sphere of effectiveness has been immensely increased for the scout by the power to move at will, and latterly by the wireless telegraph.” Today there are differences of distances, stand-off ranges, and communications and ISR, but these are the same issues faced over a century ago.
ATM made some suggestions on the tactical and operational level to approach the A2AD threats of his day. He suggested that by taking advantage of high speed and large numbers, “it should be possible to sweep the surroundings of any port so thoroughly as to make the chance of undetected escape very small, while the transmission of the essential facts – the enemy’s force and the direction taken – is even more certain than detection.” Today ATM might call for numerous and inexpensive unmanned systems to work the near shore and scout deep inside the enemy’s coastal WEZ.
Despite the fact many strategy and history students are taught ATM only cared about big guns and battleships, in his concept of the modern fleet which would face the early 20th century A2AD threat ATM wrote “the vessels nearest in are individually so small that the loss of one by torpedo is militarily immaterial; moreover, the chances will by no means all be with the torpedo boat.” After calling for small combatants which can take the fight in close in search of the torpedo boats, while assuming some individual risk, ATM suggested that a group of cruisers sail further out from the enemy’s A2AD threat range. The cruisers are able to sprint to the support of the smaller ships if needed but also able to discover other enemy concentrations, or fall back to support the main battle fleet. ATM pointed out that the main battle fleet has great freedom to maneuver. He said the main force of the fleet can be hundreds of miles away, connected to the scouts, small combatants, and cruisers by wireless and “in a different position every night, [it] is as safe from torpedo attack as ingenuity can place it.” The point is as valid today as it was at the dawn of the last century. The ocean is a large expanse and in order for the enemy to attack, he has to be able to find you. Even satellite surveillance and broad area ISR can only cover a portion of the maritime domain.
ATM believed there was nothing about the early 20th century A2AD threat that fundamentally changed the way naval strategy was developed, or how naval wars were led. There would be changes to tactics, and the requisite adjustments to operational planning that those changes required. He also made the point that a properly balanced Navy, with small combatants, cruisers, and the main battle fleet was required for success in any naval conflict. However, at its heart countering A2AD is more about applying the intellectual rigor to overcome the time, distance, speed differences than it is about fundamental changes to naval strategy; as ATM wrote “war is a business of positions.” In the end, naval commanders must also remember it takes two to have a fight, and the idea is to ensure the enemy is dealing with as many, or more challenges, than you are. You threaten him too and as ATM wrote, “These probabilities, known to the enemy, affect his actions just as one’s own risks move one’s self.”
Disappointment. That is a very good word to use. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey applied it recently. It seems the General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the senior Officer in our Armed Forces, is “disappointed” that former service members have strongly expressed opinions regarding the conduct of Administration officials, including the President.
“If someone uses the uniform, whatever uniform, for partisan politics, I am disappointed because I think it does erode that bond of trust we have with the American people,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said in an interview with Fox News while flying back from a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. “Is it useful? No, it’s not useful. It’s not useful to me.”
He further commented:
“People don’t want us to be another special interest group.”
Those are curious words coming from General Dempsey. For several reasons. The events of the last three-plus years, including the words and actions of senior Officers in the Armed Forces, have put paid to the idea of a non-political military. The incessant pushing of “diversity” and identity politics, the immediate and unconditional collapsing to the desires of special interest groups, public proclamations of personally-held beliefs as directive moral standards, all have eroded the concept of detached and apolitical military leadership.
- The massacre at Fort Hood, perpetrated by a known radical Muslim jihadist whom the US Army managed to promote to field grade (for fear of not doing so?) who shouted “Allahu Akbar!” time and again as he murdered 13 and wounded 45, was followed immediately by the statement from Army Chief of Staff Casey that it would be tragic if “diversity was a casualty” of the murders.
- Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen offering his unsolicited personal views, and then declaring anyone in disagreement to lack “integrity”. Followed by his severe criticism for LtGen Mixon for encouraging Soldiers to express their own opinions, albeit privately, to their elected officials, which is their right to do. Further assertion was that anyone who disagreed with the policy should “vote with their feet” and leave the service.
- General Stanley McChrystal’s revelation as to which political candidate he voted for in 2008, among comments that led to his relief, went largely uncriticized, though the impropriety of such a remark was serious enough to elicit comment, and likely would have, had his political choice been otherwise.
- The recent active push for women in the infantry, as Marine Captain Kate Petronio so accurately observed, not because of any remote belief that such a policy will increase war fighting capability, but is instead “being pushed by several groups, one of which is a small committee of civilians appointed by the Secretary of Defense called the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS)”. Political special interests, nothing more, to which the senior leadership has largely answered “three bags full”.
- The recent appearance of uniformed military personnel at Gay Pride parades was authorized and encouraged by the Office of Secretary of Defense, with the preposterous (that is to say, knowingly untrue) assertions that the Gay Pride parade was not a political event, and the exception would somehow be “one time only”. DASD Bardorf’s statements are an out-and-out fabrication and in direct violation of the DoD Directive on the wearing of the uniform (1334.1).
Now, we have General Martin Dempsey expressing his “disappointment” with a group of Veterans who have served their country honorably and with distinction, exercising their First Amendment rights through expressing views of political opposition.
Perhaps General Dempsey can show us the legal precedent which limits the First Amendment rights of Veterans once they have left the Armed Forces to expressing only those views and opinions and those occasions that General Dempsey finds “useful”.
While he is at it, he can provide the citation in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or ANY Federal statute in US Code, that prohibits Veterans from entering and participating in the political process.
The exercising of the rights safeguarded by our Constitution should NEVER, EVER be a cause for criticism from an active duty service member, let alone the senior Officer in our Armed Forces, who has done so in his official capacity, in that very uniform he calls so strongly to be “apolitical”.
That Constitution is the very document and safeguard which Veterans have all sworn their lives to support and defend. General Dempsey’s “disappointment” is nothing compared with the disappointment and disgust of many thousands who read his egregiously misguided comments. He is also sworn to support and defend that Constitution, not to help load it into the shredder, starting with the Bill of Rights.
No, the Armed Forces should not be a special interest group. But neither should they be willing toys of those special interest groups. There is little chance that they will be the former, but abundant evidence that they have become the latter. Senior Officers have been quite complicit in that. You want to look somewhere to end the “politics in uniform”, General Dempsey? Put your own house in order, and keep your mouth shut regarding Veterans exercising their First Amendment rights.
It is your job. Get it done. Or get gone.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a change of office ceremony for the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the “Sail Loft” of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, D.C. It was a gala event, that paid tribute to the incredible work ethic, energy and achievements of RDML Denny Moynihan during his four and a half-years on the job. RDML Moynihan was relieved by RDML John Kirby, another super-charged officer who is highly regarded in the Navy and the Navy Public Affairs community for his support of Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and most recently, as the military spokesman for Secretary Leon Panetta in OSD Public Affairs.
By nature of his position as CHINFO, which supports the Office of the Secretary of the Navy and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, RDML Kirby will have a direct impact on the Navy and Navy programs and people every day. He has myriad responsibilities that he will want to prioritize, but in many cases, the 24 hour news cycle will modulate and modify his priorities as current events involving U.S. Naval Forces unfold around the globe. As CHINFO, he will be one of the most important architects of the Navy’s Strategic Communications strategy.
Accordingly, he may want to examine our current “brand.” In enterprise terms, Strategic Communicators employ the marketing strategy of “branding” to focus on the objectives achievable with the goods and services that the company can offer its clientele. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of a “brand” is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Sounds very business-like doesn’t it? But, let’s agree that the Navy has achieved some incredible efficiencies by adapting industry best practices to streamline support to the warfighter-Lean Six Sigma for example. So it follows that we might embrace “branding” as a method of unifying our strategic message to a target audience.
Since I joined the Service, we’ve adopted many different brands, even before the term and the enterprise approach became popular. Do you recall:
“It’s Not Just a Job… It’s an Adventure!”
“Let the Journey Begin!”
“Navy, Accelerate Your Life!”
And our current brand. “Navy. A Global Force for Good!”
Defining the target audience is part of the discovery process in adopting a brand. Those in the Human Resources aspect of what we do tell me that the target audience is the quality young men and women that we recruit annually to join our Service. We want the best and brightest from the pool of eligible young Americans. With an all-volunteer force, opportunities to learn new skills and be assured of job security, although necessary, are not enough – you need an appealing tagline! Human Resource specialists tell me that our current brand sells well with the Millennial Generation. Those joining our ranks today want job skills and a career, but they also want to make a difference-to be a part of a global team that has a raison d’etre- i.e. to make the world a better place. Recruiting, however, is normally tied to the economy and right now, our recruiting and retention statistics are pretty good. That could all change in a heartbeat with a major change in our economy, so it makes sense to keep a regular drumbeat on the theme of recruiting. Our brand is intended to attract and retain the very best, our challenge is to identify the Navy as a choice worth considering in the minds of those choosing and the minds of those providing advice and counsel.
I wonder however, if new recruits are the only audience? Shouldn’t our brand also appeal to the American taxpayers and their direct representatives on Capitol Hill? To the teachers, counselors, parents and coaches—those figures America’s youth look to when trying to figure out their personal way ahead? The point is that the “brand” has to appeal to a broad audience, with different levels of experience and different perspectives. The challenge is to reach and appeal to this wide audience with a clear and concise message of who we are.
In the marketplace, brands appeal to consumers and stifle the competition. Consumers of our brand are the American people, who want a safe and secure environment with conflicts resolved far from our shores. Our competition in the market of national security could be a peer competitor, a downright enemy of the state, or worst case – apathy and the belief that national security is someone else’s job. So, how will our brand keep us moving forward and deter our adversaries? This is an important question, if in fact you subscribe to the theory that our brand has multiple target audiences. Could we or should we change our brand to send a different message or a message to a different audience. I don’t have a good answer to these questions, so I thought we might benefit from the wisdom of the crowd–hence the reason for this blogging effort?
The CNO has given us three simple tenets and only six words on which to base our day-to-day fulfillment of our duties: Warfighting First! Operate Forward! Be Ready! Does our brand convey these three tenets? Do we need more than one brand for more than one audience? Do we need a brand at all?
I always liked the poster of the Aircraft Carrier that you see in many Navy Facilities-”90,000 tons of diplomacy.” A picture is often worth a thousand words, but that picture combined with that caption conveys many things about our Navy and our great country. It champions our industrial base and the United States’ ability to construct and operate not one but eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It illustrates our ability to operate from our sovereign territory—the flight deck of the carrier—anytime and anyplace where our national interests may be threatened or where a helping hand may be needed. It epitomizes our ability to take the fight to the enemy far away from our shores. Finally, it sends the message that when diplomacy or deterrence fails, standby! American resolve and wherewithal will be there, ready to act if called upon. Perhaps we should adopt a brand that does all that?
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Those of you who may have read the addresses which Admiral Knight delivered to various classes that were received and graduated during his term as president of the college, must have been struck not only by his complete grasp of the subject of the higher education of officers, and by his profound philosophical reflections, but also by his remarkable eloquence and by his peculiar and, for a naval officer, unusual ability in expressing his thoughts in clear, forcible and elegant phrase.
I know of no officer who is his equal in this respect, and this necessarily places his successor at a disadvantage. I shall therefore make no attempt to charm your ears by polished periods or demand your attention to abstract reflection, but shall confine my remarks principally to a plain recital of certain experiences in peace and in war, designed to illustrate by concrete examples some of the practical advantages of the application of War College principles and methods in general service. Whether or not these experiences will interest you will depend upon the value you may place upon them.
But in the first place let me state that it is with sincere regret that I have to apologize to the members of the graduating class, and also to the members of the staff, because of my many unavoidable absences from the college and the time-consuming occupations which have prevented my enjoying the more intimate association with them which I earnestly desired, and fully anticipated when I resumed my duties as president one year ago.
But, though I have not been able to take as active a part in the work of the college as I desired, and as I hope to take hereafter. I beg to assure the class that my interest in their studies has been none the less earnest, and that I thoroughly appreciate the spirit with which they have entered into their work and the assistance they have thereby rendered the college in its primary mission, which is the development of principles, and training in the application of these principles to practical situations.
The class now about to be graduated is not only the largest but, in some respects, the most distinguished that has ever taken the course at the college, certainly so in respect of the average rank and experience of its members; and they therefore have it the more in their power to promote the welfare of this institution, and consequently the welfare of the navy as a whole, by the influence which it will be their privilege and their duty to exert when they return to general service.
This service will include many of the navy’s most important activities. Some of these will be in positions of command involving various degrees of responsibility for the success of the organizations and the personnel committed to your charge. It has been the object of the college not only to develop and define the principles of naval warfare, but to indicate the methods by which these principles may be applied with the maximum success. I have considered you, and would have you consider yourselves, hardheaded practical men who have been engaged for a year, not in purely academic speculations upon the theory of warfare, but in working out the best methods of increasing the fighting value of the navy as a whole. I am sure that you understand and believe that the teachings of the college are eminently practical, and that the service would be greatly benefited if all of our officers could take the course. As this is manifestly impracticable, it follows that if the whole commissioned personnel of the navy is ever to acquire a working knowledge of the principles and practice of naval warfare, it must be through the effort and influence of the college graduates exerted upon the personnel under their command.
It would, of course, be desirable if more or less systematic instruction and training could be given whenever circumstances permit, as is the case with the considerable personnel now immobilized in the Philadelphia navy yard. These conditions are, however, temporary and wholly exceptional, and it is recognized that such a War College extension would not be practicable in the active fleet to anything like the same degree.
The sad news has just broken of the death of iconic character actor Ernest Borgnine. Known to anyone in the Baby-Boomer generation who did not live in a cave as the skipper of PT-73, Commander Quinton McHale of McHale’s Navy, Borgnine was in actuality a Navy Veteran who enlisted in 1935 and served throughout World War II.
Borgnine, a native of Connecticut, got his first big break in film as the self-consciously homely Marty in the film by the same name, which earned him an Oscar. He was also the villainous and brutal jailer Sergeant of the Guard Fatso Judson in From Here to Eternity, who beats Frank Sinatra’s character Maggio to death. Borgnine starred in, or appeared in, a great many other movies, including The Wild Bunch, with Bill Holden, The Dirty Dozen, and Bad Day at Black Rock.
He will be best known, however, as the screwball Commander McHale, whose crew of Ensign Parker, and Gruber, and Virg, and Tinker, and Happy, and the unlikely Japanese “prisoner” Fuji, was always trying to get over on Captain Wally “Lead Bottom” Binghamton (the late Joe Flynn) and his toady LT Carpenter.
Somewhere up there, you can hear Lead Bottom standing at the Pearly Gates, asking impatiently; “What, what, what, McHale? What, what, what?”
Ernest Borgnine was 95.
This is the second installment in my series of posts on William Sims and what his discovery and development of continuous aim fire a century ago can tell us about junior leaders and innovation. They are part of the remarks that I delivered at NWDC’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium.
PREVIOUS: A Junior Officer and a Discovery.
Recently Jonah Lehrer, a writer for Wired and other magazines, wrote a book about the developing field of science that studies creativity and innovation titled Imagine: How Creativity Works. In his book, Lehrer tells us that researchers have “discovered that the ability to stick with it – the technical name for this trait is grit – is one of the most important predictors of success.” Whether talking about Bob Dylan taking years to get a song just right in order for it to become a classic, or J.K. Rowling sending her kids book about a wizard school to 12 publishers before it was accepted and we all got to read Harry Potter, that tenacity, never-give-up, never-say-die attitude is necessary for true creative or innovative success.
Lieutenant William Sims had plenty of grit. Even though he had heard nothing from Washington he continued to write reports to the Bureau, updating his findings, refining the techniques, and suggesting new tactics that could be developed. He still heard no response. Sims knew what was happening…he knew that the Bureau was ignoring him because he was simply a Lieutenant, and one that was deployed at that. He wasn’t even an expert on the Bureau’s staff. Sims wrote to a friend and fellow officer:
“With every fibre of my being I loathe indirection and shiftiness, and where it occurs in high place, and is used to save face at the expense of the vital interests of our great service (in which silly people place such a child-like trust), I want that man’s blood and I will have it no matter what it costs me personally.”
While Sims respected those who were senior to him, rank alone didn’t seem to impress him. Navy Staffs that stood on bureaucracy and focused on building bullets for their own fitness reports over the combat effectiveness of operating forces were his enemy. He apparently felt pretty strongly about it.
I’d say that Sims certainly had true grit in this case. He continued writing reports. However, his language became more dramatic as he pointed out the risks involved in ignoring the TTP’s he was developing. Besides sending his reports to the Bureau he began to send them to battleship Captains across the Fleet, on his own initiative. He got his Commanding Officer to endorse the reports, and the Admiral who headed the Asiatic Squadron on China Station. They had seen TERRIBLE and KENTUCKY in action and couldn’t deny the success.
As word spread in the Fleet the Bureau realized that they needed to do something. Captains were writing messages back to headquarters and asking questions. They developed a test to prove that continuous-aim-fire didn’t work. After the test, they wrote a report that said Sims’ claims were a mathematical impossibility. However, they conducted the test without making the modifications Sims suggested to the guns, and they completed the test on land…for a gunnery practice designed for a rolling ship. The Bureau of Ordnance submitted their report that continuous-aim-fire was impossible. Belief in Sims’ claims evaporated overnight.
Sims had submitted 13 reports in all, over the span of two years, each one continually improving his method and technique. When he heard that the Bureau of Ordnance had completed a test and proved that what he claimed was impossible, he finally had enough. He knew that if the United States Navy went up against a force that was using continuous aim fire it would be decimated. Destruction of the fleet would open up the U.S. coast to invasion, as the Brits had done in the War of 1812 (a war that was roughly as distant to him as World War I is to us). He believed that the nation’s security depended on his success.
Lieutenant William Sims did something that he later characterized as “the rankest kind of insubordination.” He wrote a letter to the President.
President Roosevelt had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. He was a navalist in the truest sense of the word. He was the author of the seminal work “The Naval War of 1812” and friends with Alfred Thayer Mahan. He would become the inventor and deployer of The Great White Fleet. As Presidents sometimes did a century ago, he actually read the letter that the young Lieutenant on China Station sent him, and he was shocked. If Sims was right and continuous-aim-fire worked, then he was also right that it was an issue of the highest importance.
Roosevelt had ordered a gunnery exercise in order to demonstrate the existing state of naval skill. The results were worse than anyone predicted. Five ships from the Atlantic Fleet each fired for five minutes at a former light-ship, at a range of about a mile. After 25 minutes of firing, two shells had gone through the light-ship’s sails and none had struck the ship itself. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to bring Sims back from China Station, saying: “Give him entire charge of target practice for eighteen months; do exactly as he says. If he does not accomplish anything in that time, cut off his head and try someone else.”
Lieutenant Sims returned to the United States and assumed the responsibilities of the U.S. Navy’s “Inspector of Target Practice.” He held the position for six and a half years. He was given a small staff of two junior Lieutenants and was tasked with revolutionizing naval gunnery. Three Lieutenants, change the world…no sweat.
Sims re-circulated his reports to the Fleet and instituted annual practice requirements for gunnery. He didn’t make his method of continuous aim fire mandatory, he simply sent out the reports for gunnery officers to read. He established a yearly fleet wide gunnery competition. Every ship in the Navy would compete, and could use any system or technique that they wanted. They were all welcome to start with continuous aim fire. The winning ship would be identified to the Navy and the country, and the winning gunnery officer was responsible for writing a report on his TTPs. Each year, the gunnery officers across the Fleet would pour over that report, and the reports that came before, and make constant refinements and adjustments to gunnery TTP’s. They sent out their own reports out and wrote articles for the Naval Institute’s place for disruptive thinking, the journal Proceedings.The winning ship each year received a pennant that they could fly on their yardarm, a pennant with an E on it for gunnery excellence. This was the birth of “The Battle E.”
Sims was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and he and his assistants Lieutenants Ridley McLean and Powers Symington were in constant demand to visit the ships of the Fleet. Here you can see an invitation to “The Gun Doctor” and his assistant’s “Ping” and “Pong” to visit the wardroom of the USS Missouri for a “silent dinner,” which was like a Dining-In, with rules like Vegas: what happened at a silent dinner stayed at a silent dinner.Toward the end of Sims’ years leading the gunnery revolution, one gunner on the winning ship made fifteen hits in one minute at a target 75 by 25 feet at the same range as the test ordered by President Roosevelt years before; half of the hits were in a bull’s eye 50 inches square.
The US Navy rapidly overtook the Royal Navy as the greatest gunners in the world…and it wasn’t until the US adopted continuous-aim-fire that the Brits realized that their own Gritty revolutionary Percy Scott had been onto something all that time, and they followed the American TTPs that had been developed from watching Scott. Even Admiral Newton Mason, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, admitted “The renaissance in gunnery which came about chiefly through the instrumentality of Commander Sims, has … led to great improvements in ordnance.” In the Fleet Lieutenant Commander Sims became known as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”
NEXT: Expertise, Voice, Grit, and Listening…A Look At The Possible.
The May 2012 Proceedings reached me while I was on some active duty facilitating some war games at NDU. It is my second-favorite Proceedings issue of the year. It is the Naval Review issue. Contained therein is every Navy Flag Officer currently serving. Three hundred thirty one in total, according to USNI.
There has been discussion aplenty here and elsewhere regarding the absurdity and wastefulness of having 1.17 Admirals for EACH SHIP in the United States Navy. While the profligate growth of stars in the Navy’s senior ranks may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it is unconscionable in the current environment of extreme fiscal constraint, especially as the Sea Service is hemorrhaging highly qualified E-6 Sailors one hitch short of retirement eligibility. It is well past time to cull the Flag herd. And here’s one way forward (Hint: Simply shouting “you CAN’T!” and “we NEED!” does not constitute a counter-argument).
Among Rear Admirals, and Rear Admirals, Lower Half, there are 62 positions that are Deputy, Vice, or Assistant positions. Fill each with a Captain, breveted temporarily one or two ranks while serving in those billets. A successful tour in one of those positions would be a career enhancer for a Captain, increasing chances for permanent promotion.
Among Vice Admirals, there are ten positions that are Deputy or Assistant positions. Reduce those positions to two star rank. Reduce the billet of VCNO from four stars to three. Ditto Fleet Forces Command. Next time NDU is a Navy fill, do so with a Rear Admiral instead of a Vice Admiral. The Naval War College gets a Rear Admiral, Lower Half.
And have a long look at the Joint Billets that swell the Navy’s senior officer structure. Pursuant to meaningfully re-evaluating Goldwater-Nichols, which is now in its 27th year.
Implement this concept, and you have at least a 20% reduction of Navy Flag Officers. Between 65 and 70, depending on which path one takes regarding force structure tied up in Joint assignments. It’s a start. The path we are on gives this nation a Navy of 200 ships and 400 Admirals before the end of the next decade. That ain’t no way to run a railroad. Or win a war at sea.
Yes, I will have a similar look at the Marine Corps in the near future.
- March 9 Midrats Episode 218: Abolishing of the USAF, with Robert M. Farley
- DEF[x] Annapolis: Encourage the Innovators
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #48: Models of HMS St. George (1701) and USS Missouri (1944)
- Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patna’s Bridge…
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #47: British Dockyard Models