Archive for the 'Proceedings' Category
With the recent spate of media attention on the firing of LtCol Kate Germano and the separate physical standards that female Marines have been held to for years, I feel the need to clear up some misconceptions, particularly those that hold that female Marines prefer lower standards and that such standards in any way benefit the Marine Corps.
I have been a Marine for over 17 years. Prior to my commissioning, I was a midshipman for four years. During those 21+ years, I have never heard a single female Marine express satisfaction with any physical standard that was less than that required by the men she served with, nor have I heard a female Marine express a desire for separate and different training. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude among women has repeatedly held that lower, easier standards for women were stupid, made women seem weaker and less capable, and were in the end downright dangerous, and that integrated training is the only way to go.
Over the past month, stories about LtCol Kate Germano’s “agenda” have been circulated in the news (her agenda seems to be all about holding women to the same standards as the men, seeking gender-integrated training, and similar supposedly tough demands). While I cannot speak with authority about the specifics of an “abrasive” leadership style, I can certainly talk about her complaints regarding the separate—lower—standards applied to female Marines. In fact, I am beginning to feel like a broken record. And in conversations I have had over the past two weeks, it seems many women, both those currently serving and those who have left the military, feel the same way. See my past posts about the PFT and pullups for some past discussion.
So to make this perfectly clear, women by and large do not appreciate, deserve, or desire different physical standards to be a Marine, nor do they benefit from them. Female Marines do not clamor for lower standards, don’t seek simply to achieve the minimum of said lower standards, and rarely speak approvingly of such standards. Those of us serving today did not create the existing standards, and do not benefit from their existence. On the contrary, we repeatedly and vocally deplore the lower standards applied to women (70-second flexed arm hang? Red boxes on the O-Course?), and have described the implications of lower standards as restrictive, dangerous, and biased.
Lower, different physical standards for women are restrictive, because they teach women and men alike that women simply aren’t capable of tougher physical achievements. Higher standards may be tough to reach at first but they are reachable, and by holding expectations low we are just teaching that that’s all we can expect from women.
Lower, different standards are biased, because they separate Marines into two categories based on nothing but stereotypical beliefs that certainly don’t apply easily to any individual, male or female, who decides they want to become a Marine. Seriously, who wants to become a watered-down version of a Marine? We wanted to become Marines because of what Marines stand for. We didn’t want to become half-Marines, or Marines with an asterisk. We wanted the whole deal.
And above all, such standards are dangerous, because they call into question the abilities of female Marines based on externally-held beliefs about what those Marines are capable of. And really, the danger goes much deeper than that. I co-authored a Proceedings piece about that some time ago.
Why are separate standards for women there? Read First Class, by Sharon Disher, or Breaking Out, by Laura Brodie, to get an idea of how those standards were set and who really was asking for them (hint: it wasn’t the women trying to join the academies or VMI. It was the middle-aged men making the decisions and regulations.).
So to sum up: separate and unequal physical standards help no one and endanger everyone; most of us do not want or need separate standards; and the Marine Corps would be better with one standard for Marines based on the needs of the job. Stop blaming female Marines for being subject to lower physical standards, and start listening to them when they say they don’t want them. For crying out loud, we have been saying it long enough. That is all.
Even while stepping gingerly past the usual swamps of interservice rivalry, for most of those who have had to work with “them,” it is very clear that there is a large difference in culture between the US Air Force and the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Very different – and in important ways not good.
One of the areas of difference is in their culture’s tolerance of dissent.
While not as open as a spoken-word poetry slam, when compared to the other services, the maritime services are rather open minded and resilient to off-message discussion.
Perhaps we can trace it back to the traditions Admirals Mahan and Sims built on, improved – and eloquently brought to the front from the Revolt of the Admirals to VADM Tom Connolly. It is hard to say, but any time spent in the joint environment you can see the difference.
The events in the last few months have brought out two great examples that would be difficult to see happening in such an open way in the maritime services.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, is accused of telling officers that they are prohibited from discussing with Congress efforts to retire the A-10 attack jet, which many lawmakers would like to keep in service.
“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post reportedly said, according to a post by blogger Tony Carr on his John Q. Public website. “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it.”
Well, Post got fired for his efforts.
More recently, we had this from retired USAF General Roger Brady;
But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.
The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force’s myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.
Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.
A valid perspective, perhaps for a retired Soviet Air Force General – but perhaps a little off for one from a representative republic of a free people.
Though that attitude does exist in many places in our Navy towards any off-talking points discussion – it is usually done in quiet way among safe ears. Not in our Air Force though, no. It seems to be comfortable to come out in clear view of all.
That difference in culture can be found in glaring relief in the broader marketplace of ideas. It has long been a staple from the beginnings of new media over a decade ago that the USAF seemed to have a light footprint and not too full of boat rockers. That is getting better.
It is no mistake that Tony Carr’s blog “John Q. Public” has been at the front of both of these events and others on the USAF side of the house – he is one of the few contrary voices out there from that side of the Pentagon – and he is getting good traction as result. He is serving a very underserved market … and the quality of his goods is feeding the demand even more.
As I have seen in comments as of late – I wish this insight was originally mine – there may be something to consider about one potential source of the USAF vs. USN/USMC culture difference. The USAF does not have its version of the US Naval Institute and Proceedings.
Let’s look at the mission of USNI again;
To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.
I think that is something the USAF could dearly use.
As imperfect as it is in execution and perhaps even support – this is something we should all step back now and then and ponder the 2nd and 3rd order effects that the Institute has on our larger culture, and the health of its collective professional intellect.
Do we have our Posts and Bradys? Sure … but they don’t feel supported by a general culture or empowered by their sense of intellectual entitlement to come out in the open and say it.
Looking at the pushback this year – maybe the USAF is headed our way in this respect. Good.
It isn’t just good – the USAF deserves better than this “shut up and color” type of leadership. Those leading the USAF at the highest levels were mid-grade officers in DESERT STORM. In that conflict, one of their leaders was General Charles Horner, USAF (Ret.).
Like many of his generation of military officers, his views were formed by what he saw in the Vietnam War. He and his peers knew what they didn’t want to be when it was their turn.
In Eric Schlosser book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, the author gives a snapshot of where the USAF leadership was in 1991 from Horner’s view, looking back to the General Officers leading the USAF in Vietnam;
I didn’t hate them because they were dumb, I didn’t hate them because they had spilled our blood for nothing, I hated them because of their arrogance… because they had convinced themselves that they actually knew what they were doing and that we were too minor to understand the “Big Picture.” I hated my own generals, because they covered up their own gutless inability to stand up to the political masters in Washington … (I would) never again be a part of something so insane and foolish.
Has the center mass of USAF drifted this far away again? Again in an arrogance not willing to consider the views of their company and field grade officers?
Culture is never a fixed thing, but there can be parts of a culture that can be a damping rod to provide constancy through change. Thinking about our sister service’s battle with the free exchange of ideas and open discourse, at least for me, gives me a greater appreciation of our Institute and its mission.
Along those lines … take a break from reading and hit the keyboard. Someone’s tree needs shaking, and USNI is always looking for writers.
The Institute is pleased to have the guidance of a select panel of Navy Officers who believe this destination can continue to host the most important lines of thought concerning naval policy and the nation’s defense. LTJG Chris O’Keefe and a network of junior naval officers have agreed to assemble content for the USNI Blog, focusing specifically on key issues that they describe below in their inaugural post.
They are not strangers to the forum, and already have an impressive resume of posts and articles. They continue a fine tradition of important discussions on the USNI Blog led by a strong network of key Navy figures including guest bloggers from the naval blogging community, who were responsible for guiding the USNI Blog to three consecutive years of being named “Best Navy Blog” sponsored by Military.com and USAA. Our founding guest bloggers will continue to contribute as they desire.
Mary D. Ripley | Director of Digital Content
Bill Miller | Publisher
Since 2008, the Naval Institute’s blog has served as a key forum for thinkers and naval leaders to collaborate, argue, think, and write. The blog, with its essentially unlimited audience and condensed production timeline, helps ensure the Institute continues to play a vital role in shaping the dialogues that will shape the Navy of the 21st century and beyond. It is important therefore to periodically step back and ensure that the blog’s content sufficiently captures the critical discussions taking place throughout the Fleet. A small group of junior naval thinkers is working to facilitate this, and we would like you to join our ranks through thinking and writing.
Looking forward, we’ve identified conversations in the naval sphere that we believe are not getting enough attention, and that are ripe for dynamic debate. The four identified areas are:
-The navy and cyber
-Future war fighting
-Revitalizing practical professional notes
One of the flagship platforms for naval discourse is Proceedings. However, the capacity of the magazine is finite, and there are many discussions that simply may not meet the threshold for publication in a particular issue. The blog team is coordinating with the Proceedings editorial staff to develop a framework for two-way content flow between the magazine and the blog. A rising tide raises all ships, and just because an article doesn’t find the right home in the magazine does not mean that it is not a valid discussion piece meriting dissemination. Therefore, beginning shortly, authors who submit to Proceedings whose articles are not accepted for publication will be invited to submit to the blog team for editorial assistance and publication. At the same time, blog authors whose pieces are well received will be invited to contribute a larger, more comprehensive piece to Proceedings Magazine. Our essay contest winners will also begin to have entries published on the blog, and we will eventually sponsor online-only essay contests. Combined with other events, we hope broaden naval discussion by encouraging more people to write, speak out, and be heard.
The online blogging forum presents unique technological affordances compared to traditional mediums. In thinking about the implications of the blog’s digital existence, we were forced to reflect on how the digital has altered the form and practice of naval discourse more broadly. By extension, we were prompted to contemplate how the digital space has fundamentally altered naval disciplines. Therefore, as our first effort, we will be launching a conversation starting May 3rd about the Navy and cyber, and how this discussion should be framed and shaped.
Why May 3rd? On that date in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue began a 6 game re-match with chess champion Garry Kasparov. Although Kasparov won this match, an apparent bug in Deep Blue caused it to make a move that puzzled Kasparov. American statistician Nate Silver believes that “Kasparov had concluded that the counterintuitive play must be a sign of superior intelligence. He had never considered that it was simply a bug.” His confidence shaken, Kasparov would go on to lose the series, marking the first time under tournament conditions a computer had defeated a reigning world chess champion.
Deep Blue’s name is particularly appropriate for conversation about the Navy’s cyber domain, and this comes on the heels of the launch of the concept of all-domain access within the new maritime strategy. We already have a few articles ready in rough draft form, and have been in conversations with leaders at all levels in the naval cyber realm. We invite you to submit an article between 800 and 1000 words that would help shape the conversation on how we integrate the navy and the cyber domain.
In the next week we will announcing our revised blog submission policies and instructions on how to submit posts for publication. Whether you are a member of the nation’s Naval service, or an armchair admiral, the groundswell of naval thought is palpable, and we hope you will put pen to paper or open your laptop to join it.
Chris O’Keefe is an active duty naval officer who spends much of his spare time working to foster professional naval discourse by helping and encouraging current and future thinkers and writers.
Listening to the always superb Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Tuesday AM at the opening of West2015 should be on everyone’s short list of things you need to watch. As when he was the Under Secretary of the Navy, at such events he gives those in the audience a good outline of what he is working on, what concerns him, and what the priorities are for the administration and nation he serves.
How you look at the challenges he describes depends on the time-frame you are thinking about. Much of it covers the short term, to say 2016, and also to the medium term, up to 2020. Sure, there are some technology big pixel items that may mature that he discusses at 2020 and beyond, but much of what he shared was inside the 2020s.
He started out with a snapshot of the President’s defense budget proposals in the world of sequestration – a world he describes as one defined as lower budgets (than desired) with higher demands; a $534 baseline budget plus $51 OCO budget. that gets you a bit over a 7% increase above the present budget.
Yes, that is an increase, but as defined by a strategy driven budget, that he envisions, it isn’t enough to do what national security requirements need – especially if sequestration continues forward.
As he discussed what happened during 2014, one almost felt as if the Pentagon wished it could stand athwart history and yell, “STOP!” as they did their best to see what they wanted to do and how to get there.
There was much discussion of shifting money in a resource constrained environment on the fly – adjusting and rebuilding as they went along reacting to developing events. He reminded us that are still working under the March 2014 strategy even though since then, Work stated that they have three “surprises” that caused them in September to do a baseline review. The Big-3 surprises were; 1. Russian aggression in Ukraine; 2. Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria in conjunction with the military collapse of the Iraqi army; 3. Ebola.
In spite off all that, they decided that their strategy was not broken, and the outlines of the QDR remain intact.
The five priorities from the Pentagon and the administration remain; the pivot to the Pacific, stability in Europe, counter terrorism, strengthening partnerships with allied nations (nations, he notes, are from a capability and capacity point of view tapped out), & modernization of the force. That is the short term. A short term challenge where the Administration has sent to Congress a proposal $150 billion above sequestration and will challenge the other branch of government to respond accordingly in the direction they propose.
The near term crisis is getting rid of the pressure of sequestration, as that keeps us from growing the force. From the perspective of the Pentagon, anything below will cause problems and will make things unmanageable. Can something be either unmanageable or unsustainable? Perhaps … we’ll get to that.
Moving to the medium term, they are already working on POM-17, trying to find the right balance where we have to accept a defined shortage of ISR & missile defense, while keepin a viable forward presence to deter possible enemies and support our allies. While all that is going on – somehow we have to find a way to structure things so we have a chance to reset our military to win one conflict while denying success to an enemy in a second.
Sound hard? It is … and there is no clear and simple answer … for the short term.
Trying to get to the medium term is not going to be easy either. At the end of past wars – and we have been at war for 13-years – there has always been a planned 2-3 yr reset to replace worn out equipment, relieve personnel stress, and retrain for all services to be ready to respond and be ready for full spectrum conflict.
It isn’t easy to do this reset because of our present OPTEMPO. The world won’t wait.
Events are coming up from the Islamic State and elsewhere that are causing us to try to do a reset on the run. As a result, though our deployed forces are full up, our surge force is not in good shape and cannot start to fully do the reset they need. What he described falls in perfectly with an action back home we call, “shooting up the horse” or in more familiar terms, a readiness death spiral.
Work believes that given what they see now and using the post Vietnam War reset as a rough baseline, it will take to 2020 for all services but the USAF, who will need to get to 2023, to reset to get back to full spectrum readiness.
A lot of positive things will have to flip our way to make that unfold as outlined. Not impossible to get everything set right for 2020, the end of the next President’s first administration, but not simple.
The argument can be made that the struggle in the short and medium term up to 2020 is actually the easy problem. The real challenge, and one where it is difficult to see how you fix it, comes once you start the third decade of this century. That is where one should start to try to propose a way forward now, we are only five years away.
This is the point where those who have been following my writing for the last half decade know where we are going; The Terrible 20s – and there was nothing in Work’s opening that addressed how our Navy is going to deal with this challenge that is only now creeping in to the general conscienceless. All the points the Deputy SECDEF brought up are true and important and rightfully the things he needs to focus on – they are the crocodiles closest to his canoe, but the real fiscal challenge and budget squeeze are coming – he knows this – but that crocodile is out of sight right now.
It is no secret that a mix of factors are going to make the 2020s a decade of incredible challenge for the US military in general, and the Navy in particular. You can follow the link above for details on The Terrible 20s, but there are two major causes in descending order of importance; SSBN recapitalization and the expected roosting of the debt interest chickens.
Over the entire Trident era, spending on ballistic-missile submarine construction consumed 14 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. However, it is the beginning of that period, 1974–78, that seems particularly relevant as we look at the Ohio replacement program in the coming decades. Average shipbuilding budgets in that period were over 50 percent higher than average shipbuilding budgets over the 1968–73 period. The Ohio class represented about a quarter of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, receiving a substantial fraction of those higher budgets.
Yet the Navy paid a price from other parts of its budget to buy those additional ships and submarines. Its average topline budget remained flat. Compared to 1968–73, it was only 1 percent higher over the 1974–78 period. To pay for new ships, including Ohio -class ballistic-missile submarines, the Navy sacrificed force structure. Its Fleet fell by over 40 percent, while both Navy and Marine Corps end-strength declined by 20 percent. The Vietnam War had come to an end, so it is perhaps not surprising to see those declines, but clearly in this early period of the Trident era the Navy was not receiving more money overall, although money was found within its budget to pay for new ships, including SSBNs.
Read the full article to understand how the Navy reacted to these previous periods, but the underlying fiscal facts remain; that money will need to come from somewhere, or we will simply have to do Strategic Deterrence on the cheap.
If you are waiting for a magic bag of money to show up next decade, there is something that will manifest itself that our nation has not faced, as a percentage of GDP, since the end of WWII. This time, we are not a nation with a big demobilization freeing up assets. We are not a nation untouched, astride a world in ashes. We do not have a clear path to growth in a wide open nation with economic potential of a new age. This time it is very different.
Let’s shift to Josh Zumbrun over at The Wall Street Journal and his article, The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending;
Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates. Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.
By 2021, the government will be spending more on interest than on all national defense. according to White House forecasts. And one year later, interest costs will exceed nondefense discretionary spending–essentially every other domestic and international government program funded annually through congressional appropriations. (The largest part of the budget is, and will remain, the mandatory spending programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Mandatory spending is over $2 trillion and is set to double to $4 trillion by 2025.)
We have a zero option for SSBN if we wanted (not recommended) – but what we don’t have a zero option on is the servicing the national debt.
How do you manage these converging train wrecks? If we think that the pressures of sequester are almost unmanageable, then what is the plan for both of these challenges? Don’t forget, the Baby Boom generation that generated all that taxable income post-WWII will all be at retirement age by the 2020s – note the voting pressure that will come with it.
I am confident of the next couple of POM periods, but … soon.
“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”
– Admiral Mike Mullen, USN (Ret)
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”
-President John Adams
If John Adams were a junior officer in the Navy today, his admonition to his fellow officers might read something like this:
Let us [not] dare to read [lest my own beliefs be challenged], think [lest my perceived truths be shown as falsehoods] , speak [lest my commanding officer notice me], and write [lest my FITREP result in an MP].
As junior officers, we recognize this attitude in ourselves, our peers, and our superiors. Yet if today’s junior officer is to have any lasting legacy on the Navy or Marine Corps, it will be by recognizing and acting upon an essential truth:
The health of the service is more important than your career.
We need junior officers willing to stick their necks out and write. Our service and our country are dealing with serious challenges, many of which may have non-traditional solutions. This generation of junior officers will be judged for our courage to stand up and work to solve those problems. The nation can no longer afford our silence.
At the turn of the 20th century, a young naval gunnery officer couldn’t get anybody to listen to his revolutionary ideas on gunnery. Unwilling to be silenced, he stuck his neck out. In what he later termed “the rankest kind of insubordination,” he wrote a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt. This young officer, William Sims, would later use the pages of Proceedings to challenge his peers to be wary of the dangers of a lack of innovation or honest introspection, asking, “which of us will be quoted in the future as example of dangerous conservatism?”
In 1894, another author wrote scathingly about the lack of introspection in the British Empire’s naval culture. The parallels to today are striking: the world’s dominant maritime power for three generations, unchallenged in might but facing an increasingly complex and globalized world. Entitled “The Children of Nelson” and reprinted in the pages of Proceedings, the article lambasts British naval leadership, saying:
“The Admiralty … sternly refuses to permit junior officers to write or speak on questions of speculative strategy and other subjects which involve neither criticism of things that are, nor betrayal of official secrets. Junior officers are thus restrained in their usefulness and discouraged in their legitimate professional ambitions; and the impression has taken root amongst them that the man who endeavors to elbow his way out of the crowd, to bring forward a new theory, or to do any kind of serviceable work beyond the minimum which his position requires of him, is a fool for his pains… Thus discouraged on all hands, the British naval officer, with a few brilliant exceptions, resigns himself to living and moving in deep and well-worn grooves. He thinks little; he speculates less; he almost fails to realize, save in a dull and general way, that some day the storm of battle will again rage around him, and that he will be expected, by an unreasonable country, to repeat the triumphs of his ancestors.”
One hundred years later, the US Navy seems to have institutionalized and incentivized intellectual conformity in both strategy and policy through a culture that discourages professional intellectual dissent in favor of promotability. Navy Captain Jay Avella said it best in 1997 when he wrote, again in Proceedings, that the problem, “is about the culture change that seems to be pervading the sea service—a change that says, ‘don’t rock the boat, it will cost you your career.’”
The US Navy is in a perplexing situation: we pay lip service to buzzwords such as “innovation” and “transformation,” but will only act if ideas don’t upset entrenched interests or institutional inertia. Nevertheless, junior officers today are the scions of generations of transformative men and women who came before us—those like Mahan, Sims, and countless others. These officers never accepted the status quo just because “it’s the way we’ve always done things.”
As organizations such as naval aviation’s Tailhook Association prepare to name 2015 the “Year of the Junior Officer,” it is important for the thousands of junior officers in the Navy and Marine Corps to engage in some serious introspection. What will be our enduring mark on our service?
From a rank and file perspective, junior officers can drive change in their divisions and departments, and if lucky with supportive commanding officers, within their ships, submarines and squadrons. But what ultimately set Sims apart from many junior officers who have driven innovation on the deckplates was that he wrote about it. Had Sims not put pen to paper, unrelentingly, institutional change might never have happened. Today, we must pick up our tablets and laptops, just as those before picked up their pens and typewriters, and write, regardless of the pressures on our careers.
There is a disturbing trend among some that equates intellectual dissent with outright insubordination and disrespect. One recent Proceedings article went so far as to suggest that today’s millennial generation is derelict in their adherence to time-honored naval customs and courtesies, simply for asking “Why?” This belief blithely ignores examples like William Sims, that show us one of the most time-honored naval traditions is that of innovation driven by the junior officer ranks challenging the status quo.
Again, this sentiment is not new; one need only consult Alfred Thayer Mahan’s FITREPs to appreciate its longevity. CDR Rich LeBron, Commanding Officer of the USS Benfold, put it this way: “In this vertically stratified setting, the boss can find isolation behind the closed door of authority and good ideas can be transmuted, crushed, or simply dismissed on their way to the top as spirits and morale are driven into the ground.” Today’s navy, facing a staggering array of complex geopolitical, fiscal and technical challenges, cannot afford to keep thinking that all the answers reside with senior leadership.
Yet we cannot wholly blame a cessation of intellectual development on this entrenched culture; fault lies within the junior officer corps as well. Writing is hard, and quite often, after a long day aboard ship or in a cockpit, the last thing we wish to embark on is a quest to articulate on paper a problem and solution that we would simply prefer to move past. It forces us to defend our ideas, to take a stand, and perhaps even to be wrong. But it is a duty that lies squarely on our shoulders, and we must rise to the occasion.
At the junior officer level, we have a responsibility not just to put complaints to paper, but to constructively identify issues or highlight positives, defend our views and promulgate solutions. This improves our professional knowledge, and enables senior leadership to take their pens to paper to engage in dialogue where we can actually leverage and learn from their experience. Simultaneously, it is particularly important for naval leadership to closely examine the quality and content of their own writing, because we as junior officers look to them to provide for both context and inspiration.
Some junior officers are already making positive contributions to our great naval debates. Through projects such as the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF), Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), and CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), junior officers write, share ideas, and set the tone on issues from future ship design and innovative apps to geopolitics and strategy. Yet more is required — we must fight to forge a culture of writing without trepidation, establishing a groundswell of professional discussion in our service.
Furthermore, we do not simply need more people writing – we need more people writing about the issues that matter. Somewhere along the line, much of naval writing, even in the pages of Proceedings, has devolved to a bland party line. Writing must incorporate substance.
Importantly, we should not solely focus on writing the “next big article,” but also on inscribing in record the grassroots innovation and effective procedures observed and implemented in our divisions and squadrons. We have nearly ceased discussion of the important, often mundane issues and ideas of daily naval life: strategy, operations, tactics, and procedures. Glancing through the pages of Proceedings and similar journals, a majority of material comes from senior officers who have long since moved beyond the realities of division level maintenance and deckplate challenges. Junior officers should remember our roots and reclaim proclivity in this arena, promulgating instructive tips for our brethren and observations on daily naval operations. In the same Proceedings issue as “The Children of Nelson,” there was also an article on the relationship between barometric pressures and ocean currents, a discussion of rustless coatings, and articles on naval reform. By recording these conversations in printed word, junior officers were able to share solutions from around the fleet.
Ultimately, the Navy must be led by the constant ingenuity and engagement of its junior officers and driven by the strategic thought and innovative perseverance of its seniors. Therefore, officers of all levels must write substantive pieces of all types: the mundane but useful, the transformative, the well-founded, the controversial pieces, and we must write without fear for our careers. The currency of institutional change available to the junior officer today, just as with William Sims and Alfred Mahan, is in writing. And so, regardless of the barriers we face, write we must.
Much has been written about the institutionalized pressure on junior officers to “get on board, or get out.” This is manifested in discussions, both in print and in individual counseling sessions, about the narrow, cookie-cutter paths to commanding officer; junior officers that deviate even slightly from “the pipeline” risk abandonment.
Many factors play into the issues of junior officer retention, and for some, the pressures to leave the service are strong. Not surprisingly, few officers want to remain in a service where “ducks pick ducks.” Success in our service often seems to be determined by how well an officer’s career mirrors the prescribed path, while intellectual curiosity gets one a pat on the head or maybe even an adverse FITREP.
Yet these challenges to us as individuals are not insurmountable. It doesn’t matter what we face: we need officers willing to stick their necks out. So what if it’s frowned upon to challenge entrenched ideas that can be improved? So what if your career may be shortened? Most of us joined to sacrifice to serve our country. Perhaps some of us may need to sacrifice our perfect FITREP for the greater good.
The kind of change needed cannot be driven from outside the service. Paradoxically, though we may feel that getting out is best for our individual careers, it is harmful to the service overall. The future of the Navy and Marine Corps will be driven by the strength of the positive insurgency forming in the junior ranks today. We must dare to think, write, and speak–and also to stay in the service, despite the financial and psychological benefits of the private sector. We must join our thoughts and words with the courage required to forge the type of leadership our Navy and Marine Corps deserve.
To be sure, there is a time and a place for opinions and disagreement. Respect must continue to be the rule of the day: respect for rank, experience, and naval culture. Junior officers must continue to master their craft, get qualified, and above all, care for their Sailors and Marines.
Likewise, our generation cannot solve these problems simply by shifting our verbal complaints to paper. We must write with substance, bring forward ideas–even contentious ones–and help each other through the writing process. How and when junior officers write is also important; even William Sims acknowledged the inappropriateness of his letter to the President. Thankfully, the commander-in-chief was able to see past Sims’ youthful follies and identify the intellectual substance present behind his actions.
But these requirements should not preclude junior officers from actively engaging in discussions on the tactics, operations, and strategies they will be called upon to execute, on the culture of the institution that we love, in support of the country that we serve. We should not wait to attend the War College or Postgraduate School to consider who we are, what we are doing, where we are going, and why. We should not allow discouraging leadership and administrative burdens to choke our Navy and muddle our Marine Corps.
Many of our brothers and sisters in arms today and in decades past have paid the ultimate price for protecting our freedoms. They sacrificed their lives in defense of this nation. We can only hope to match their dedication by being willing to put our careers on the line, to “stick our necks out,” to make the service and this country better.
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
Since its publication in April’s Proceedings, I’ve been pleased that “It’s Time for a ‘Sea Control Frigate’” has helped start a discussion about a new small surface combatant (SSC) on message boards, the blogosphere, and social networking platforms. The article describes how a modified version of the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter with improved survivability features and combat systems could offer a terrific supplement to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). With the attention the article received, various readers had questions concerning some ideas brought up, so I’ve taken the time to address them.
Analyzing Cost and Production
Many asked how the projected cost for the ship could cost $800 million with the last national security cutter price costing $735 million. Surely the upgrades mentioned in the article are greater than $65 million. They are indeed. However, what was probably missed is that the $735 million order for the last NSC was for a single ship – economies of scale can drastically reduce the cost per unit due to various efficiencies gained. For example, when the Coast Guard ordered several at a time, pre-NSC #5, the cost was substantially less. My math: the 2006 per unit cost for an NSCs (in a bulk order) was $584 million – when we account for inflation, it goes up to a current value of $650 million, or $85 million less than the last single contract. (The Coast Guard had to order the later ships one by one because it wasn’t written into the budget at the time –and it was uncertain if the 7th and 8th NSCs would even be funded). Thus, a procurement cost of $684 million, which is used in the article and various other official reports, is an average between all the ships. Most likely a base hull would be even less than this, as the price doesn’t include the initial hull design costs (this was incorporated into the NSC program), there are increased economies of scale, and various items included in the NSC price are not be needed on a navy frigate (eg: the complex stern boat launching apparatus). While I estimated $800 million by adding the cost of a VLS, an upgraded 76mm gun, a new radar, and various survivability upgrades, in accordance with navy and congressional reports, a fixed price will likely creep closer to the $900 million mark due to inflation over the next few years and other add-ons the Navy incorporates (this would happen with all of navy shipbuilding though).
Ship Force Numbers and Value Metrics
The latest LCS estimates are at $550 million per ship including mission modules vs. $800 million for a sea control frigate. Assuming we have the same budget to work with, and we’re deciding between a basic LCS only, we’ll either have to choose between 20 LCSs, or 13-14 frigates. This led many to question if it’s worth having a lesser amount of warships for the same price. First of all, for the most part, comparing these numbers are like apples and oranges – who cares about the amount of a certain ship if they can’t do the missions that we need them to do, especially cost efficiently? However, as much of a red herring the argument is, politically, it’s still hard to rationalize, especially since many elected officials find it easier to talk about our ship count in terms of our budget, vice a thoughtful debate on capabilities and requirements. In contrast, one good metric to take into consideration is the average number of ships at sea on missions per day. 20 LCSs on a 3 crews-2 ships-1 deployed plan, averages 20 total days a quarter of underway time on assignments, or 4.5 ships per day. 14 stateside frigates on a traditional deployment cycle average 32 days a quarter out to sea on assignments, or 4.9 ships per day. This means that despite a lesser amount of ships, the sea control frigate still has more underway time doing planned missions than the LCSs. I calculated this data from the class average of underway hours per quarter, and verified this by known historic and planned deployment operational schedules for frigates/destroyers and littoral combat ships.
At first, this may seem contradictory to statements made by officials like Rear Admiral Rowden, who recently claimed that 26 forward deployed LCSs equate to 120 CONUS-based single-crewed ships. This kind of statement is misleading. The Admiral is correct for certain missions and events like foreign nation cooperation and training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), vessels in distress or under pirate attack, counter-narcotics operations, and little-to-no notice popup missions like special ops support. For example, let’s take an earthquake in a Southeast Asian country. The LCS is perfectly fitted to get underway immediately from Singapore, speed to the location, and provide necessary humanitarian assistance, all within hours. However the same can’t be said about the majority of tasking and deployments that have requirements already defined by combatant commanders relating to sea control, like naval escort, focused operations, and deep-water anti-submarine warfare. These missions all require more consecutive days-at-sea, which helps explain the reason why, by design, the LCS averages less mission days per ship than frigates and destroyers.
That’s not to say the 3-2-1 cycle isn’t the right method with the LCS. On paper, minus the sea swap trap, it’s actually a smart plan that saves money and optimizes the ships very well. It’s also necessary to have a flexible warship forward deployed for the reasons stated above, but only for quick back and forth missions in the littoral environment, not sustained blue-water deployments. If we do end up purchasing LCS variants, most of these ships will regrettably end up getting pulled from the presence and shaping missions they were designed for to support these missions.
Determining Feasible Designs
Earlier this month, a request for information (RFI) came out that asked the shipbuilding industry on input for a follow-on to the LCS from mature designs, which led many readers to ask what’s actually on the table. The context of the RFI may seem like it’s targeting a number of different ships and shipbuilders, but it’s in fact just a formality required in the consideration process for any future acquisitions; there are actually only a few possibilities here. The foreign contender with the best shot, if any, is Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate because of its past relationship working with NAVSEA and Lockheed Martin. Although any proper frigate is preferred over the LCS because it’s better optimized for operating in blue water environments, I’m partial to the sea control frigate because of its large flight deck and hangar spaces, which gives it the flexibility to support drones and manned helicopters together, something that will likely become the norm within the next 30 years. However, the truth is because of the timeliness of the request and decision making process, together with the red tape that a foreign design has to go through (which was touched on in the original article), it’s probably too late in the process already to even consider a foreign design, regardless or not if it meets what the Navy’s looking for. This is unfortunate; we’ve essentially locked ourselves in a box by not starting this process earlier (or coming up with an organic solution for that matter).
There are several different variants of the LCS that are likely to be considered alternatives– most concepts have been pitched publically in some manner, mostly to international navies under the banners of “International LCS” and “Surface Combat Ship”. These variants could include similar features to a sea control frigate, such as a Mk 41 VLS supporting ESSM and ASROC, a CEAFAR or SPY-1F radar and fire control system, other survivability features, and for the LCS-1 class, an upgraded 76mm gun. However, there are still some problems with this: unlike the NSC hull which was built with reserved spaces that can accommodate a VLS and other systems without hull modifications, a variant of the LCS would likely require design changes more substantial than any NSC-derivative. One industry news source remarked that an international LCS design pitched to Israel that incorporated some of the above mentioned weapons features had an estimated cost of over $700 million (this was in 2008, so it would likely be even more today). Another claimed a rough order-of-magnitude cost would be $800 million, equivalent to a sea control frigate. However, the price pitched to the Navy by Lockheed or Austal might not even matter – with the trends of the LCS shipbuilding program, it’s possible that whatever price is proposed will balloon up even further. This is probably not a risk the navy would want to already take for a program already under heavy scrutiny for its ever-rising costs, especially with a fixed-price option on the table for a sea control frigate. Secondly, it’s likely that no design changes will be able to offer an improved endurance and range; therefore, even with upgrades in weapons and survivability, it would still be ill-suited for blue water missions. Moreover, the manning structure and contractor reliance wasn’t made to accommodate long lasting blue-water missions either, which means even some small casualties that are normally fixed by a DDG/FFG ship’s force could and throw off an entire mission; something probably not ideal for optimizing the readiness kill chain.
This leads us back into re-examining the numbers. With the same budget, an up-armed LCS design with a higher unit cost reduces the number of LCSs that are produced. For example, an improved LCS costing $650 million each (which by all estimates are very optimistic) buys only 17 ships, three less than planned. As the LCS cost continues to increase, the ship price per unit gap continues to close, until its relatively the same price.