Archive for the 'Proceedings' Category

This is the final 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.


 A Junior Officer and a Discovery.

The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation 

Years after serving as the Navy’s Inspector of Target Practice, as World War I raged, Rear Admiral William Sims was sent to England to command all U.S. Naval Forces based there. Promoted to Vice Admiral, he arrived as the U-boat Wolfpacks of the German Navy were decimating the supply lines across the Atlantic. The British Isles were on the verge of starvation. The Royal Navy had been completely ineffective against the German submarines as they massed their battleships to take on the German Imperial Navy’s High Seas Fleet.

When Admiral Sims arrived he was approached by a group of young Lieutenants who brought him an idea which the Royal Navy had refused to implement. These Lieutenants were the Commanding Officers of a new class of warship called a Destroyer, and they believed that working together they could convoy supplies across the Atlantic and take on the Wolfpacks, swarm against swarm. The Royal Navy’s Admiralty refused to adopt the new tactics. Sims requested more destroyers from the States, and told the Royal Navy that the US would help out if they tried the young JO’s ideas.

The convoy system showed results almost immediately. The convoys were so successful and so vital to the war effort that Sims – the very definition of a Battleship Admiral – cabled back to Washington and told the Department of the Navy to stop building Battleships and put all shipbuilding into Destroyers … all because he listened to a group of Junior Leaders with a good idea.

After the war was over, Sims took over as the President of The Naval War College. He made adjustments to the curriculum and he started running officers through war games. These war games included early work on a war plan that could be used for a conflict in the Pacific. The work that Sims started on the Pacific plan, which became War Plan Orange, suggested that the U.S. Navy should look into investing in a new kind of ship … the aircraft carrier. The Battleship Admiral, who championed Destroyers because of the tactical and operational innovation of junior leaders, turned to the birth of naval aviation because of the ideas of his subordinates at the War College. The Milwaukee Journal wrote that Sims “continued to be a thorn in the fat flesh of the naval hierarchy during his entire career.”

What can we learn from this story?

First, you have to know where your expertise lies. You have to study, and do the deep research needed to understand why things are the way they are. You have to understand that you don’t know everything, and like Sims working with his wardroom mates and his gunner’s mates, you have to work to identify challenges and problems. It’s important to admit that you don’t know everything. Once you admit it, start learning as much as you can. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote, “The study of history lies at foundation of all sound military conclusions and practices.” The key element in his principle is that we have to study and develop our expertise.

Find a way to talk about your idea. Take Sims’ warning to heart though and don’t be insubordinate, don’t write a letter to the President (it’s probably not going to get you anywhere today anyway). However, you need to engage both inside the system and outside the system. Inside the Navy and the Military you have NWDC concept development. You have SUBFOR’s TANG that we heard about from VADM Richardson earlier. And we have some of the resources that Dr. Fall from ONR described. You also have your chain of command. You can submit changes to TTP’s and manuals, NATOPS changes, or write white papers to submit up the chain. Outside of the lifelines there are also options. Write an article for USNI’s Proceedings or write up your idea for one of the online publications like USNI Blog, Small Wars Journal, Information Dissemination, or the Next War Blog at the Center for International Maritime Security. We can also engage with the community professional organizations like Naval Helicopter Association, Tailhook, or the Surface Navy Association.

Third, find something you believe in and demonstrate your own grit. You have to want to do this. This isn’t a fast or sure way to a fitrep or an eval bullet. This isn’t necessarily going to get you another ribbon for your chest candy. This is for the combat effectiveness of the Service. This is about professionalism. You have to be willing to spend 2 years writing 13 reports that everyone appears to be ignoring. You have to be willing to invest the time and energy and hard work needed to see your idea through. Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian, “Don’t expect to be thanked, by the way, the life of an oppositionist is supposed to be difficult.”

Finally, we all need to learn to listen. This is especially true as we become more senior. Today we may be the junior leaders, but that means tomorrow some of us will be the mid-grade leaders, and in the future some of us will be the senior leaders of the Navy. Sims is proof that when you remember it’s not about you but instead it’s about the idea and about the Service, you can continue to innovate as you are promoted. However, as a senior officer or senior enlisted it takes more listening and more encouraging of your subordinates, because they’re likely to have the next great idea…like convoys or aircraft carriers. Having senior leaders that listen, and who become the champions of the great ideas of their subordinates, is just as vital as having junior personnel with innovative ideas.

There’s a reason why the title of my last slide says “Lessons Observed.” These lessons are just ideas that I’ve pulled from this story. William Sims offers us all a great example to learn from. However, whether or not these observations actually become lessons learned … that’s up to you.

The author would like to thank VADM Daly, Bill Miller, and Mary Ripley from USNI for encouraging his involvement with the NWDC conference.

The lead ship of the magnificent Iowa-class battleships, the fastest and most advanced gun ships every to put to sea, has arrived at her new home, Berth 87 in San Pedro, opposite the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, itself newly renovated.

Iowa (BB-61) was saved from her Suisun Bay purgatory, and the cutting torch, and will be open for visitors on 7 July. The veteran of World War II and Korea was recommissioned in 1984, and suffered the tragic explosion in Turret 2 in 1989, which killed 47 sailors.

She now is the last of the four of her namesake class to be preserved, with New Jersey (BB-62) in Camden NJ, Wisconsin (BB-64 and Scott’s beloved Big Badger Boat!) in Norfolk, VA, and Missouri (BB-63) at Pearl Harbor, near Arizona (BB-39), forever in her watery depths at Berth F-7.

As a museum battleship, Iowa joins her sisters, and USS Massachusetts (BB-59) at Fall River MA, and USS Alabama (BB-60) in Mobile Bay, the two surviving South Dakotas, and the Grand Dame of US battlewagons, the venerable USS Texas (BB-35) at Galveston, TX. (Texas is the lone second-generation Dreadnought still extant, and saw service in both World Wars following her commissioning in 1914.)

Iowa began her journey from the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay in October 2011, to Richmond CA to repair and restore, scrape and paint, and replace rotted teak decks that are the inevitable result of twenty years’ time at the mercy of the elements. She also received the sprucing befitting a lady whom will be in the public eye. From there, she passed under the Golden Gate one last time late in May, and arrived off Los Angeles on Friday.

Many thanks to all those folks whose pictures I used in this post.


As Mr. Robert Evans points out, I am guilty of a most egregious omission. USS North Carolina (BB-55) is preserved beautifully in Wilmington NC. Shame on me for missing the “Showboat”. Especially since it was a favorite destination during my two tours at Lejeune!!!

On 6 June, I was invited to speak at Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leaders Innovation Symposium. NWDC put on a great event and a lot of good material was presented. You can visit the website and find the slides that went with the presentations, as well as a lot of great reading material like LT Ben Kohlmann’s article on Disruptive Thinkers from Small Wars Journal (Ben also presented) and LT Rob McFall’s call for tactical innovation here at USNI Blog (Rob also spoke immediately following my presentation).

The following is the first section of the remarks that I prepared to deliver to a standing room only crowd of 230+ Junior Officers and Junior Enlisted which gathered at NWDC’s headquarters in Norfolk, and the 200+ that joined us online via DCO. As I said, these are my prepared remarks, so if NWDC posts the video online you’ll surely find differences since I worked from notes rather than reading directly from the page as well as some mistakes. I’ve broken the material into three blog posts. This is the first section which tells about Lieutenant William Sowden Sims’ discovery of continuous aim fire and how he developed his discovery, a new gunnery technique which revolutionized naval warfare. The next post we’ll look at what he did after developing his idea in order to get the Navy to adopt it. Finally we’ll look at what Sims learned during his career about innovation and what we can observe from the history. 

Good afternoon everyone. I’d like to start this afternoon by thanking Admiral Kraft and the team here at NWDC for inviting me to be a part of today’s event. We’ve had a lot of interesting speakers this morning, full of experience and expertise in innovation. I’m not going to be one of them. I’m just here to tell you a story. I’m a Sailor just like you, maybe not as young as some of you anymore, but with the same desire to make my Service better and more effective. The only reason I’m up here is that I’ve done a little research and I’ve got a story to tell you about a Junior Leader who changed the USN from his stateroom on a ship while deployed in the Pacific.

This is a picture of Vice Admiral William Sowden Sims. William Sims wasn’t always a Vice Admiral though. In 1900 he was a Lieutenant, fresh off staff duty in Europe as an intelligence officer. He had orders to China Station to join the U.S. Navy’s newest and most powerful battleship, the USS KENTUCKY. He arrived aboard the battleship having studied the early Dreadnaught battleships of Europe and the gunnery practices of both potential allies and potential adversaries alike.

Sims checked onboard and discovered that the Navy’s “newest and most powerful” may have been new, but it certainly wasn’t powerful. There were a number of problems with the ship. The hull was armored under the waterline, but the sides and gun turrets were open and un-protected. The gundecks were so low to the waterline that when the ship was fully loaded and took heavy seas water would pour into the turrets. And there was no separation of the magazines and the weatherdecks and gundecks, so a hit from an enemy shell could directly access the magazines.

Sims was incensed. He set about recording the deficiencies. In a letter to a friend he wrote: “The Kentucky is not a battleship at all. She is the worst crime in naval construction ever perpetrated by the white race.” 

Sims was a man who had strong opinions. However, he was part of KENTUCKY’S crew, and he couldn’t really change the design of the ship while they were on China Station. So, as he earned his qualifications and began standing his bridge watches, he looked for a way to make the ship better through what today we call tactics, techniques, and procedures or TTP. It was while steaming through the South China Sea and along the coastal cities of China that he met a man from the British Royal Navy who would serve as an inspiration.

Percy Scott was a Captain in 1900, and the CO of the HMS TERRIBLE. Scott was a bit of a pariah, and part of the reason he was on China Station was because of a longstanding feud that he had with an Admiral who was on shore duty back in the home islands. China was as far away from England as they could send him. Scott had developed something that he called “continuous aim fire” and it was a TTP that would revolutionize naval warfare, but he couldn’t get anyone to catch on that it was important.

Gunnery hadn’t changed much since the days of USS Constitution battling it out with the British frigates in the War of 1812. The gun director would estimate the distance to the enemy ship, set the elevation of the gun, and then each time the ship rolled he tried to time the firing so that the shell would hit the enemy. The technique was the reason why most sea battles in the age of sail took place at very close range. This was neither a very accurate way to shoot, nor a very rapid way to engage the enemy.

Scott re-geared the elevation gear on his heavy guns and added new telescopic sights. The new gearing allowed the gun directors to move the gun continually as the ship rolled, and the new sights allowed them to keep the weapon aimed directly at the enemy ship. This meant that gun crews could fire as fast as they could reload.

Aboard KENTUCKY, LT Sims watched the TERRIBLE conduct gunnery practice and he realized this new technique would change naval warfare. A battleship using continuous aim fire could take on an entire squadron of enemy that wasn’t. Accuracy increased dramatically and the rate of fire could quadruple, which resulted in hit rates that increased over 1000% on some ships. Sims immediately sent a report back to the Bureau of Ordnance in Washington, D.C.

Sims befriended Scott, and learned exactly how the Brits were accomplishing their dramatic results. He set about modifying the gear on KENTUCKY and teaching his gunners the new techniques. Soon, KENTUCKY was performing nearly at the same level as TERRIBLE. Sims wrote another report, detailing KENTUCKY’s experience with continuous aim fire, outlining how to modify American guns, and laying out the procedures to be used. Sims waited. And he waited. And he waited. He heard nothing.

His reports arrived at the Bureau of Ordnance at the Washington Navy Yard. They were read, but the claims of the young Lieutenant out on China Station were outlandish and unbelievable. The reports were filed away in a basement file cabinet and were forgotten. The Bureau of Ordnance had developed the procedures that were in use throughout the Fleet and had designed the guns that were mounted on American Battleships. American hardware and American Sailors were the best in the world, they told themselves. Nobody even considered “what if” the reports were true…they simply couldn’t be. Silly Lieutenant.

NEXT: The Gritty Truth of Junior Leader Innovation

Over at OpFor, old comrade LTCOL P asks some thought-provoking questions as he links to an article by AOLDefense’s Sydney Freedberg. The article covers the happenings at UNIFIED QUEST, the United States Army’s Title 10 Wargame being held at The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.

Go there. Ponder his questions, and read the article. Well worth your time.

Damage to Port of Cherbourg

UNIFIED QUEST is usually a pretty illuminating event, a “futures game” which posits the incorporation of as-yet unfielded technology or force structure, and the effects of that technology or structure on tactics and doctrine. Occasional bits of self-delusion occur (tactical “offensive cyber” being launched at a Bn Commander’s say-so with a server dropped into a remote airfield comes to mind), but overall, the game is well conducted and has had (in my years of participation at least) a very sharp and aggressive “Red Team”. This year appears to be no different.

What stands out in the AOLDefense article, fairly leaps from the page, is this exchange:

“You needed ports, [the enemy] knew you needed ports,” he said. “They were ready for you.” While the US-led task force maneuvered elaborately by sea and air to deceive the enemy commanders where they would land, ultimately the coalition had no way to bring in the supplies its own forces needed, let alone humanitarian aid, without controlling a handful of major seaports. So the enemy commanders ignored the feints — their militiamen lacked the kind of mobile reserve force that would have been needed to try to counter them anyway — and simply dug in where they knew the US would eventually have to come to them.

“We had to go here; we’re very predictable,” sighed one US Army officer later in the briefing. The military has invested in the capability to bring forces ashore where there is no port — formally called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over The Shore — but the Army and Navy together only have enough such assets to move supplies for one reinforced Army brigade, while the Marines can land another brigade-plus. That’s only a fraction of the force required in this scenario. While the the resulting dependence on established infrastructure — seaports, airfields, bases in friendly countries — is often thought of as a purely logistical problem, in this kind of conflict it can have bloody tactical consequences.

We have spent a decade and a half (or more) talking about seizure of ports as the cheap and easy alternative to landing over a beach. Time and again, the refrain that port seizure was the far preferable alternative to coming ashore at the surf line was drummed into our ears. “Ports are smart, beaches are dumb” was how one senior Navy Officer explained it, somewhat condescendingly. Problem is, seizing a port which is surrounded by built-up area, under the noses of an enemy that knows you need it and knows it is, in fact, your critical vulnerability, never was going to be as easy as those port seizure advocates assumed it would be. (I did happen to notice none of them ever seemed to be infantrymen.)

Urban combat is never easy in the best of circumstances, but becomes especially challenging when you have a limited ability to transition forces from afloat to ashore without securing the very objective you are fighting for. Even an unsophisticated and largely immobile adversary can defend effectively if he knows where you are going and why. Cherbourg was destroyed by second-rate German garrison troops in June of 1944, even as US forces drove into the Cotentin Peninsula. The loss of that port affected the Allied drive across Europe into 1945.

One other point worth mentioning: The aforementioned JLOTS is not a system that can be used in an assault echelon. The loading of the ships and craft are not according to the Commander of the Landing Force’s (CLF) Landing Plan. JLOTS is a national asset which requires a secure beach over which to transit. The brigade coming ashore isn’t doing so in fighting trim. Very effective for bringing in follow-on assets, but not for forcing an entry.

So once again the value of landing combat-ready forces over a beach is highlighted. As is the paucity of current capacity to do so, which includes the near non-existent Naval Gunfire capability of the United States Navy.

Kudos to the Red Team at UNIFIED QUEST. Their job is to poke holes through the invalid assumptions in Blue Forces’ planning and execution, and they have done so here in a major way. Our assumptions regarding port seizures are at the top of this year’s list.

With a “Strategic Pivot” toward the Pacific, let’s hope those who read the Lessons Learned from UQ 12 are paying attention.



Every era has had something that service members came of age with. From the Dreadnaught era to the advent of submarines; the Sailors of the interwar period saw naval aviation come of age; Jets after the close of the second world war, guided missiles and nuclear propulsion.

For my generation, among the first of the 21st Century, we have seen the initial steps towards cyber capabilities and the mass adoption of unmanned systems. But, we’ve seen something more as well tangentially related to cyber: blogging and the online discourse writ large concerning the maritime services.

I am willing to say that at no other time has the discourse been as important for the maritime services as it is today. Certainly, it has never been more well appointed or contributed to. From those with an earnest interest in naval and maritime affairs, to deckplate Sailors and junior officers, to even the most senior admirals and generals. Their voices are present and count towards our understanding of ourselves, profession and the way forward for the Nation and Services.

For five years Information Dissemination has played a vital role in this discourse and enhanced discourse at USNI/USNI blog. To Raymond and the gang at Information Dissemination thanks for five years of great posts and for adding much appreciated voices to the dialog. Cheers!


The conversation on professional naval issues is alive and well. It happens in many forums and at many levels. From seamen on the mess decks to admirals in the Pentagon, wardrooms to Proceedings, the conversation is happening, but what are we talking about? My feeling is that the conversation is weighted entirely on the strategic level. Heated discussions occur on how many ships should be in the Navy? How many carriers should we have? Is China the next Russia? These are all important conversations that should continue but we are missing something important. Where are the conversations about how best to tactically incorporate new systems like the LCS and the predator drone? Where were the tactical lessons learned from Operation New Dawn? What is the best way to find and approach pirates off Somalia? In the last year there has been a call out to Junior Officers to join the professional discussion. However, the discussion that was happening was at the strategic level. Junior Officers have something to add in that arena as well, but the strategic level issues are not the ones that most JOs handle every day. As a Junior Officer we should be reading, writing, and studying to perfect our knowledge of the tactical employment of whatever platform we are on. That is what the JO discussion should focus on and we as a community are not fostering that discussion.

Naval Officers join the navy to lead sailors and be officers in the profession of maritime war. We did not join Maersk or MSC. Those sailors are excellent at their craft but that is not us. I joined to be a Surface Warfare Officer but I have to seek out the conversation that supports the warfare side of my community. In the CNOs “Sailing Directions” he says that we need “warfighting first, be ready to fight and win today, while building the ability to win tomorrow”. But could we do it if we were called on? We have the platforms but do we know how best to employ them in combat? Instead of talking tactics we have been preparing for the next certification or inspection. While the country has been heavily involved in two land wars, the navy has been largely at peace, and we have gotten complacent in our thoughts.

Twenty-six years ago, Captain Wayne Hughes wrote Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, which is still regarded as one of the preeminent works on Naval Tactics. In it he stated “Good tactics in wartime derive from good tactical study in peacetime” and then went on to state:

Articles on tactics should dominate the Naval Institute Proceedings, as they did in the period from 1900 to 1910. The hard core of the Naval War College curriculum should be naval operations, as it was in the 1930s. War games should stress not merely training and experience but the lessons learned from each game’s outcome, as in the 1920s and 1930s.

I don’t know that tactics need to dominate the entire naval discussion, as with most things in the Navy, it is important to have a “hi low mix”. The discussion also no longer has to be limited to Proceedings. USNI would like to have more discussion on tactics there, but so would the USNI blog, Information Dissemination, CIMSEC, Sailorbob, Small Wars Journal, Alidade and a host of other online forums. This is a huge topic and there is enough to go around for all.

In many of these forums innovation has been a buzzword recently. LT Benjamin Kohlman started a wonderful conversation about Disruptive Thinking and innovation on the Small Wars Journal Blog that has gone viral. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I agree with many of his points and I do believe that innovation at all levels is important; however, as Wayne Hughes would say, technical innovation without tactical innovation that will incorporate new technologies is useless in naval battle.

One thing that is hindering the open discussion of tactics is the concern that it will endanger classified information. Many believe that it is impossible to have a true discussion of tactics in an unclass forum. This is not true. Those that are in the conversation need to be very careful to know what is and what is not classified but there are plenty of important conversations that can be debated and learned from in an open forum. The use of historical examples, hypothetical environments, and general tactical principles all provide ways to have that open discussion without crossing the boundary into the classified realm.

The conversation on tactical innovation is especially important for the Junior Officers but it should not be limited to them. Senior officers and those that have gone before us have a wealth of knowledge on tactics. They have been there and know where the sinkholes are. Only by learning what has been done before can we keep from making the same mistakes over again. We have the forums. Once again it is time for us to read, think, speak and write about tactics.

I began writing this during the 11th hour of Joint Warfighter, feeling like I had something of an information hangover. Coffee was having no effect. Concepts and ideas were jumbled into an atemporal mess in my mind–it has been a long couple of conferences.

After the last session a woman walked past me and remarked that the panel was uninformative. I’ve now heard this sentiment twice in the last two days. In terms of this, I can agree that perhaps the actual information given by panelists might not be new, novel, or insightful. But, at best such a reality is decided on a case-by-case basis, since those in the audience have each been privy to different types, amounts, and quality of data. What was not profound to you, could have very well been profound to someone else. In short, the fact that you might not have found anything new in the discussion is irrelevant. But, it does point my thinking towards a new paradigm for conferences is needed.

There is little information that will be given to you in person that could not have been read elsewhere. The volume of data and information availed online is huge–you want to know about the Navy, you can learn most everything online. You can be given nuance from blogs and context from history. However, it is in person is where you learn about what people are thinking, and what they haven’t decided on. You see the person and all those subconscious things that denote what they’re really thinking.

That is the power of panels, that is why it is worth traveling so very far and spending so much: Experience. My Boss says that nothing supplants meeting someone in person, and he’s right. You can share emotion via the Internet, but you cannot truly experience emotion with someone, not even the subtle emotion felt when one is posed with a difficult question–as is often done in panels.

The division between audience and panel needs to be broken down. I struggle to articulate how to do this short of some hippie-esq ‘let’s-circle-our-chairs-and-hold-hands’ nonsense. But, the answer must be in there somewhere between the connectivity enabled by the Internet and being there in person.

AirSea Battle is in trouble. I don’t really know what it is, and even with engaging with the panel today, I still don’t think there is anyone out there who has the whole story. But. What truly troubles me, is that from the question I asked today.

I asked how AirSea Battle Strategy (anyone know what the word ‘battle’ is doing in a strategy?) would affect the tactical level. From what I remember of the answer, almost nothing will change except that there will be more jointness (termed ‘interoperability’ if I remember correctly) and tactical units will be smaller and enabled to mass quickly if a concentration of forces are needed.

Additionally, the design for AirSea is such that it will be layered over the tactical and operational COCOM level. This is where I really get lost–and I need your help to make sense of.

Wasn’t one of the greatest critiques of COIN that it wasn’t a true strategy, but rather a collection of tactics jumbled together and called strategy? If we are overlaying this strategy on top our existing operational and tactical paradigms, aren’t we doing the same thing COIN is accused of? What I understand of strategy is that it is the larger goals and combination of ends, ways and means towards reaching those goals. In attempting to draft a strategy that does not perturb current tactical paradigms, are we creating a strategy that changes nothing?

I really hope we aren’t, but I will need to be convinced we aren’t.

Another thing is that the crowd drawn to such Conferences are more industry than strategist. The questions routinely posed to the panels concerned acquisition more than they did anything else. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m not a contractor and so I am more I am more interested in strategy and tactics. What’s more is that because of the majority of the questions it is now hard for me to separate the future tools for implementing AirSea from the strategy itself.

Is AirSea a collection of new capabilities rather than a strategy in its own right?

While I was told that AirSea was not to have any major impact on the tactical level, there is one area in which I do see it having a major impact. AirSea seems to support the notion of acquiring 5+ generation fighters, new comms gear, and making everything stealth. The fielding of such gear will necessarily drive the need for new tactics, and operational models. From what I understand of the F-22, the logistics and maintenance requirement are quite different from having 15s, 16s and 18s downrange. In addition, if the services are to specialize further in niche but vital capabilities, interoperability is going to demand another round of relocating units CONUS for training purposes. If the Army has an Electronic Warfare requirement for a mission the Navy will have to fill that role. But, odds are that EW Squadron is in Northern Virginia, but the Combat Brigade is located in North Carolina or Georgia. For these two units to train together to be fully interoperable, they will need to train together almost constantly. I struggle to see how this will be cost effective, in the age of austerity with sequestration looming.

There is way too much that has gone unsaid regarding AirSea. I appreciate OPSEC needs as much as the next guy. But, AirSea is starting to be discussed widely across strategy and military focused blogs. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations are appearing together to present this strategy to the American People, and the message is thus far garbled. As we’re in the opening stages of the messaging campaign, I can appreciate that there is tweaking that will be done to it towards answering the myriad of questions we all have regarding AirSea. But, it will be a struggle. My sense is that many bloggers, strategists, and journalists are suspect of AirSea. After nearly ten years of coin being vigorously debated, any new strategy will have an uphill battle.


I saw a lot of GOFO’s over the course of Joint Warfighter. Just about as many as are at SHAPE. But, what is important is that I got to listen to them, at some length. General Allen, COMISAF, VTC’d in for an hour (and it was roughly 2100L AFG). Despite weather delays GEN Dempsey was present for an hour. I don’t know how much experience everyone has will trying to get on a GOFO’s schedule. But, average availability is around 15 minutes. An hour is an insane amount of time.

GENs Cartwright, Allen, and Dempsey all spoke without the use of PowerPoint or notes. They were able to navigate through multiple topics, ensuring that key messages were hit and came across as relaxed. They were all polished and impressive. GEN Cartwright had the luxury of no longer being in uniform and so his candor was particularly poignant.

General Cartwright

General Allen

General Dempsey


I asked a lot of questions, and the way I worded a lot of questions was not readily understood. I’m pretty sure I had to rephrase every question I asked. It sucks when you’ve got a minute or seven standing behind the mic, listening to the other questions being asked, answers that touch upon the one you’re about to ask, and you’re thinking of a myriad of permutations of how you could ask your question. It’s like roulette, you don’t know when the moderator is going to call on you, and where ever your mind is at when you’re asked is the question that comes out.

*Remember, identify your self and your affiliation.*

One question got me asked if I wanted to work on the Joint Staff, and the answer to that is still an emphatic yes (if you want to see how that went down, watch the video. I won’t elaborate further).


During one such evening, at the USNI Member Event, I turned a corner, and Mary stopped me and introduced me to John Nagl. Yes, that John Nagl. Amazing, right? I love the Naval Institute… For more than just this one instance.

In 2007 I attended my first conference. It was Joint Warfighter, and the day I attended ADM Stavridis gave the keynote at Lunch.

I became aware of the conference while I was underway, and emailed the Institute asking how I could pay for the lunches. I was told that the Institute saves a few tickets for Enlisted members, and that I needn’t worry about paying to attend the luncheon keynote. Because of this, I became aware of ADM Stavridis, and sought out everything I could find of his writing. Eventually I found him on facebook as well, and in 2010 this all came together in enabling me to come work for him at SHAPE. It is directly because of the Naval Institute that I am who I am today.


The last keynote of the Conference was from Google’s Chief Technology Advocate. He presented a number of fascinating things Google does as “hobbies”. Google is all about gathering real world information and organizing and availing that information through the internet. I consider this a noble and laudable goal. What’s more is that they are doing an exceptional job at all of it.

However, such a goal is fraught with challenges and disturbing implications. Arthur C. Clark has some very good words to this point

The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.

Google gets this, and they are actively engaged in finding the right answers to such dilemmas. They seek out expert advice from guys like GEN Colin Powell. They seek to understand the implications of the capabilities and technologies they develop–they seek to build wisdom as much as they compile information.

I think it is important for this conversation to take place, as well as for it to be transparent and done in public. If Google can develop technologies that have significant security implications, it does us no good to bury this fact, as it denies us the ability to develop the wisdom required to understand our new abilities. Further more, if Google can do it, then eventually anyone could do it, being quiet about it won’t prevent this from happening.


All Around It was an excellent conference, I was especially pleased to see so many of our Allies stationed at Allied Command Transformation in attendance. Seeing French, British, German, and Spanish uniforms in the crowd made me feel a little bit like I was back home at SHAPE. Going forward, I think it would be a good thing to try to engage with our Allies more in such conferences. With more focus on Asia being demanded, deepening engagement and ties with our European Allies in other ways is important. An easy, and smart way to do this is with conferences like Joint Warfighter. Plus, JCWC has a nice ring to it (Joint-Combined Warfighter Conference).

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.

Lots of traffic over at Salamander’s Place, and at POGO, regarding continued problems with the Littoral Combat Ship program. I have commented on this struggling and costly program several times, and will refrain from doing so here, with the exception of a paraphrase of a comment that Sid made at Sal’s:

The Littoral Combat Ship is not built to survive combat in the littorals.

LCS was constructed to house weapons “modules” that do not exist, and in fact, consist largely of the theoretical.

Speed was going to be the capability which allowed LCS to avoid trouble. And now that single capability is negated by the fragility of the design that was required to reach those speeds.

Summed up thus:


Someone, ANYONE, with a wide stripe on a sleeve tell us that he is wrong. And WHY he is wrong.




In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta left little doubt as to whether the People’s Republic of China was assisting North Korea with their ballistic missile program. From the Reuters article:

“I’m sure there’s been some help coming from China. I don’t know, you know, the exact extent of that,” Panetta told members of the House Armed Services Committee when asked whether China had been supporting North Korea’s missile program through “trade and technology exchanges.”

While understandably unable to delve into details due to “sensitivity”, Secretary Panetta gave voice to the deep suspicions many have had since the beginning of China’s rise twenty years ago. It should be clear for all to see that China gains advantage by having a belligerent and nuclear-capable North Korea as a major thorn in the side of the United States in precisely the region that is the future focus of US Defense strategy, the Western Pacific.

The People’s Republic of China has consistently thwarted the efforts of the US and her allies to bring the DPRK under control China refused to condemn North Korea for the sinking of the ROK frigate Cheonan, which killed 46 ROK sailors. Nor did China offer any meaningful criticism for the shelling of Yeongpyong Island, which resulted in the deaths of two ROK Marines, other than an admonition not to “escalate”. When taken with the Chinese watering-down of UNSC sanctions against North Korea, continued military assistance, collaboration with DPRK in cyber attack efforts, ambivalence toward DPRK weapons and technology proliferation into the Middle East, and a blind eye to provocative border and SOF incursions into South Korea, these actions are indicators of China’s tacit approval of North Korea’s actions and posture.

There have been many who have sounded the warning klaxon. The issue has been addressed here, and the December 2011 Proceedings “Now Hear This” article by Defense analyst Joseph Bosco.

While China’s role in keeping the North Korean regime in power—and in the WMD business—is indisputable, analysts have offered unconvincing explanations of Chinese motives. U.S. experts have assured us that China shares our nuclear concerns but fears instability on the Korean peninsula. They accept China’s argument that even threatening to cut economic aid would collapse Kim Jong Il’s regime and trigger a refugee flow into China. But it has been clear for 60 years that the sole cause of instability between the Koreas has been Pyongyang’s own bizarre and dangerous behavior, despite substantial aid and concessions from accommodating South Korean governments. Yet China stands by its ally.

Indeed. Despite the consistent platitudes from Chinese diplomats and military officials of their willingness to be of assistance in “managing” North Korea, the reality is that China has very successfully played power politics in developing and maintaining North Korea’s military capabilities and belligerent posture. Chinese assistance to North Korea in developing a ballistic missile capability to carry a nuclear warhead well beyond the Korean peninsula is not a shocking aberration, but another in a long and consistent series of actions that cannot point reasonably to any other conclusion. North Korea will try again with the missile launch. And with Chinese assistance, they will eventually succeed.

The assertions to the contrary grow equally foolish-sounding, and detached from reality. One, in a rebuttal to the Bosco article, was that “The prospect of a better outcome lies not in blaming China but in working imaginatively with China and others to transform North Korea under new leadership”. Don’t you believe it. China has proven for decades they are more than willing to live with their recalcitrant southern neighbors, and the only “transformation” that Chinese leadership is interested in is making North Korea a more potent threat to the United States and its Western Pacific allies.

As has been said before, the time has long since come to recognize at the highest military and civilian levels of leadership in the United States that China is very far from being a benevolent ally, and even farther from sharing any kind of common interests or vision of either Asia and the Pacific Rim, or any other geographic region where they perceive their interests to lie. And this includes China’s subsidizing of the brutal, aggressive, repressive regime in North Korea.


As if on cue, DPRK ratchets up the rhetoric. And this telling summation from MSNBC:

In Beijing, North Korea’s biggest ally, China’s top foreign policy official met Sunday with a North Korean delegation and expressed confidence in the country’s new young leader, Kim Jong Un.


Seems the nuclear DPRK is no longer a hypothetical, if US estimates are correct. Which magnifies every last occurrence of Red China’s assistance to the Hermit Kingdom.

While below some comments express abhorrence of the spectre of a nuclear exchange, it is highly useful to remember that the People’s Republic of China and by proxy, her ally North Korea, do not necessarily share that view. I would caution the use of the term “well-reasoned” when framing the Korean peninsula in terms of American values and viewpoints. Which brings the argument back to that of being strong and capable enough with our conventional and nuclear arsenal to deter both countries from precisely the bellicosity that one has repeatedly threatened and the other has excused and minimized.


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