Archive for the 'Tactics' Category
After the Cold War, many in the defense community explored new ways to leverage the rapid expansion of information technology beyond traditional command, control and communications functions. Naval innovators were at the forefront of this effort. Most notably Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski proliferated the concepts of Net Centric Warfare and Admiral William Owens partnered with Harvard professor Joseph Nye to pen an influential Foreign Affairs piece on America’s information edge. Owens and Nye argued that the US military advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control, and precision guided munitions enabled “a general ability to use deadly violence with greater speed, range and precision.” In other words, information would provide a significant advantage in conventional military operations.
At the same time, CDR Randall Bowdish focused his intellectual work on expanding the use of psychological operations in the information age. Bowdish clearly took a different approach in his research and notes, “By combining Clausewitz’s and Sun Tzu’s ideologies, we can discern a goal for information age psychological operations (PSYOP) -to compel the enemy to do our will without fighting. This goal is particularly relevant today in view of an increasing American intolerance for casualties. Information-age PSYOP, more than any other military instrument, may provide us with an increased capability to pursue our national interests without bloodshed.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said last year: “We need to move from ‘luxury car’ platforms — with their built-in capabilities — toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” There is one platform that can fulfill this requirement: the San Antonio-class landing platform dock (LPD).
Much has been written about the maintenance problems on USS San Antonio (LPD 17), and, as commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two, I lived the issues daily in getting the ship fully operational. However, in January 2009, as I stood up Combined Task Force 151 to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, USS San Antonio was designated as my first flagship, and I learned firsthand the remarkable capability of this unique platform. Further proof the ship has fully turned the corner: In 2012, it was awarded the Navy’s Battle Effectiveness award.
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
The vast majority of naval theory and strategy has focused on fleet engagements during times of war, rather than the smaller engagements and expeditionary operations that, more often than not, occur in times of relative peace. Counter-piracy operations have long been one of the irregular missions conducted by naval forces that didn’t fit the traditional mold. The writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan is a common foundation for many naval thinkers, and they remember his strategic focus on blue water and fleet engagements. In his book Naval Strategy ATM lamented “police duties” and emphasized that these operations detract from the central principle of concentration of military power.
However, ATM’s dislike of anything that would distract from the concentration of effort for naval formations did not automatically mean that he disliked expeditionary operations or naval irregular warfare. He believed that counter-piracy missions, in particular, were a valid function of naval forces. In writing about Nelson’s operations in the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, ATM agreed in theory with the Admiral’s desire to attack the Corsairs of Algiers and end the Barbary menace. In Nelson’s own words, “My Blood boils that I can not chastise these pirates,” and Mahan identified with the sentiment. In practice, however, he supported Lord Nelson’s decision not to attack because it would split his force, and detract from his primary mission, which was the destruction of the French Fleet.
It wasn’t that attacking piracy was an invalid naval mission, as some who claim to be part of a Mahanian tradition maintain; it was that Nelson’s Fleet had a higher purpose that required concentration. Without that higher purpose, an attack on the Barbary Corsairs would have been an important and distinctly naval mission. In his biography of Admiral Pellew, ATM championed the 1816 attack on Algiers which did finally end the Barbary menace once and for all, an operation that would today be described as a multinational force conducting power projection against an asymmetric menace.
ATM also wrote about the American 1820’s counter-piracy campaign in the West Indies which was led by Commodore David Porter. In his brief discussion of the subject in his biography of Admiral Farragut, he approved of Porter’s decision to leave the heavy frigates and traditional naval warships behind in favor of Sloops-of-War, armed schooners, and gun barges. What he termed the Mosquito Squadron, fulfilled his thoughts on concentration, as the ships worked together to attack the pirates both offshore and in the shallows of Cuba. It also illustrated the point that he would made in his debates with William Sims over the need for a balanced fleet rather than a myopic focus on battleships.
In ATM’s eyes the effectiveness of the squadron fulfilled the important naval mission of providing for “the security of commerce.” Ultimately, because they could not take or occupy territory, ATM realized the influence that navies could exert on an enemy was based in the ability to impact economics. First and foremost the battlefleet had to be ready for fleet engagements to drive the enemy’s naval forces from the sea, to fight the decisive battle in blue water. However, naval forces also needed to be ready to conduct irregular missions, like counter-piracy, because ultimately Mahan believed that “Navies exist for the protection of commerce.”
Join us at Midrats on BlogTalkRadio, Sunday, May 19, 2013 for Episode 176: “Fallujah Awakens” with Bill Ardolino:
How did the US Marine Corps and local tribal leaders turn the corner in Fallujah? Who were the people on the ground, Iraqi and American, who were the catalyst for the change that brought about a sea change in the tactical, operational, and strategic direction in Iraq?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss that and more will be author Bill Ardolino. We will use as a base of our discussion his new book, Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda.
Bill is the associate editor of The Long War Journal. He was embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi Police in Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and Baghdad in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and later with U.S. and Afghan forces in Kabul, Helmand and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. His reports, columns, and photographs have received wide media exposure and have been cited in a number of academic publications. He lives in Washington, DC.
Join us live at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) or listen later by clicking here.
The demands of the warfighter are like cheese processed through the lactose intolerant digestive tract that is military supply; though digestion is a vital process, it can be unspeakably painful and smell of rotten eggs. End-users already plagued by rapidly decreasing manning and time are now interrupted by long backorder lead times, artificial constraints on off-the-shelf solutions, and funding. Personnel are known to skip the supply system altogether, purchasing parts or equipment out of pocket when an inspection is on the line. This both hides the problem and takes from the pockets our sailors. The military has forgotten that supply exists for the utility the operator, not the ease of the audited. For the military supply system to regain the trust and capabilities necessary to serve the end-user, reforms to the way supplies are selected, commercial purchases are managed, and funding requested are necessary.
The first major problem is the Coordinated Shipboard Allowance List (COSAL). COSAL is a process by which the navy’s supply system determines what supplies it should stock on the shelves; items are ordered through the in-house supply system and the hits in the system raise the priority to stock. Unfortunately, COSAL is reactive rather than predictive and cannot meet the needs of either the new aches of an aging fleet or the growing pains of new ships. As ships grow long-in-the-tooth, parts and equipment once reliable require replacement or repair. New ships find casualties in systems meant to last several years. Equipment lists also change, leading to fleet-wide demands for devices only in limited, if any, supply. The non-COSAL items are suddenly in great demand but nowhere to be found. Critical casualties have month+ long wait-times for repairs as parts are back-ordered from little COSAL support. Commands attempt to fill their time-sensitive need by open purchasing these items from the external market, which are not COSAL tracked. This leads to either supply forcing the workcenter to order through supply and end-users waiting potentially months for critical backordered items, or the open purchase being accomplished and COSAL staying unchanged. Although difficult, the supply system should be more flexible to open-purchasing stock item equivalents due to time constraints while integrating open purchase equivalence tracking into the COSAL process. This bypasses the faults of COSAL’s reactionary nature while still updating the supply system with the changing demands.
The limitations on open purchasing (buying commercial off-the-shelf) create artificial shortages of material easily available on the street. Namely, when items are not under General Services Administration (GSA) contract, single vendor purchases or purchases for a single purpose cannot exceed $3,000, no matter how the critical need or short the deadline. This further exacerbates the problems from an unsupportive COSAL; if requirements exceed purchase limitations, requests are sent through a lengthy contracting process which wastes more time than money saved. The contracting requirement ignores the fact that from the work-center supervisor to the supply officer, everyone now has the ability to search the internet for companies and can compare quotes. Purchasers need not be encouraged to spend less money, since they have the natural deisre to stretch their budget as far as possible. Contracting opportunities also become more scarce as the end of the fiscal year approaches, since money “dedicated” to a contracting purchase is lost if the clock turns over and no resolution is found. This means money lost to the command and vital equipment left unpurchased. For deployed/deployable units, this can be unacceptable. The supply system exists to fulfill the operational needs of the training/deployed demand-side, not to streamline the risk-averse audit demands of the supply side. If not raising the price-ceilings of non-GSA purchases for operational commands, the rule against split purchasing by spreading single-type purchases across multiple vendors should be removed. Breaking out a single purchase amongst several vendors alleviates the risk that large purchases are being made to single vendors due to kick-backs. This would call for more diligence on the part of Supply Officers, but that is why they exist.
Finally, the recent Presidential Debates have shown the military’s poor ability to communicate the message that funding is becoming an increasingly critical issue force-wide. To many, the defense budget is so large that cuts are academic, savings no doubt hiding throughout the labyrinthine bureaucracy. However, for those of us who had no money to buy everything from tools to toilet paper for a month, it’s a more practical problem. Long before sequestration, Secretary Gates started the DoD on the path of making pre-emptive cuts before outside entities made those choices for the DoD. However, the military has made a poor show of communicating that these cuts have become excessive and are now cutting into the muscle of the force. Obeying the directive to cut funding does not require quietly accepting these cuts; now the Commander and Chief believes the military not even in need of a cut freeze, let alone a funding increase. With Hydra of manning, material, and training issues constantly growing new heads, the strategic communicators must come out in force to correct this misconception. While administrative savings can be found, our capabilities are paying the price for the budgetary experiment. Military leadership should, in part, involve advocacy; obedience requires the resources to execute the mission.
The supply system is a painful process, but with rather humble reforms, that pain can be both lessened and taken off the shoulders of whom the system exists to serve. With a reformed COSAL tracking open purchases, a loosened open-purchase limit that puts the stress on the supplier rather than operator, and better strategic communications about funding, we can apply a bit of lactaid to an otherwise painful process.
Cold steel isn’t worth a damn unless you have men to command it.
– Representative Fred Britten, House Naval Affairs Committee, 1928
The warrior spirit of its members constitutes the most important characteristic of any fighting force. Superior equipment is wasted unless manned by individuals that are properly trained to use the tools of their trade and are enlivened by a warfighting spirit. An effective force requires resources, yet millennia of human conflict teach us that platforms and weapons are no more than enablers through which warriors exercise their expertise and exert their resolve. Hence any changes in the warrior spirit will have a magnified impact on the force’s overall effectiveness.
Napoleon emphasizes the importance of a warrior spirit in one of his maxims: “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” A fighting spirit exists beyond the realm of warfare as a science. It resides in the realm of warfare as art; where intangible human passions affect outcomes. As CAPT (Ret) Wayne Hughes brings to our attention in a section called “Men Matter Most” of his book Fleet Tactics,our profession of arms must possess a warrior mentality, because “beneath the veneer of reason lie passion and mortal danger.”
In 1944 Fleet Admiral King issued an Instruction that underscored the importance of the human dimension in warfighting:
“As wars are fought by men the human element is a basic factor in naval warfare… It is the human element in warfare which may, if understood by the commander, prove to be the only way of converting an impossibility into a successful reality… A force of inferior material potency may, due to the moral resources of its men, prove superior in naval strength.”
The unforgiving conditions of maritime combat require a unique breed of warrior. This is due to the fact that at sea once a platform is detected there are few places to hide; and because, as opposed to land operations, members of platforms at sea are physically bound together. An important benefit of a common warfighting spirit is that it forges inseparable bonds and unifies members into “Band of Brothers.”
Yet even as arms and tactics change fundamental warrior characteristics are timeless. The collective spirit of Sailors and Marines give us a tremendous advantage over adversaries. The tenets that enable an effective fighting spirit in the Navy are summarized in the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These values are more than lofty ideas, designed to guide Sailors and Fleets to persevere in tough and confusing times. As our nation strives to organize, man, train and equip a superior naval force to meet the challenges of enhanced threats in a globally connected era, let us not underestimate or neglect the most important ingredient of the capability equation. To project seapower we must cultivate and extol the virtues of a warfighting spirit. History indicates effective sea warriors consistently exhibit the following traits: leadership, discipline, technical competence, creativity, and initiative.
- Leadership. Effective leadership is an essential ingredient of warfighting. Leadership is earned not bestowed. Leaders foster cohesion to achieve a common objective. Leaders provide clear direction and ensure subordinates understand the mission. They mentor juniors and uphold standards. With leadership comes authority, responsibility, and accountability. Authority refers to who is in charge of a task; responsibility refers to the fulfillment of a task; and accountability refers to who bears the burden for the conduct and results of a task.
- Discipline. To thrive in a melee at sea requires stouthearted individuals. The best warfighters possess tenacity and a stubborn determination to persevere against hardships and long odds to achieve objectives. This requires mental toughness and physical strength. Discipline enables the unification of individuals to achieve a common goal. Environs of the sea compel warriors to work together to survive and win.
- Technical Competence. Complex equipment and systems must be safely operated and well maintained. The maritime environment is hostile. Machines are constantly battered with salts, pollution, marine life, pounding waves and winds. Preventive maintenance extends the life of equipment and prevents failures. Every position in the Navy has basic skills and tasks that must be mastered to be effective in combat.
- Creativity. The American spirit of ingenuity is a significant advantage our Navy has over other navies. Tactical creativity does not emerge in combat unless it is nurtured and rewarded in peacetime. Pragmatic innovation from the deckplates has been and must remain a trademark. Viewed as a formidable weapon, the enterprising nature of American Sailors must be exploited to the fullest extent possible.
- Initiative. In war leaders are charged with exploiting initiative to advance the plan. This could be as complex as recognizing that a potential adversary’s actions indicate an attack or it could be as simple as a deck officer notifying his captain that he maneuvered to avoid a collision. Victory at sea depends on initiative, tempered by calculated risks and sound judgment. In the fog of war decisions must be made quickly with incomplete information. With lives at risk this requires a clear understanding of commander’s intent and tremendous self-confidence.
Despite the fact that the Navy Special Warfare community is very different from other maritime forces, the SEAL ethos statement does a superb job of describing at an individual level, the warrior spirit.
“In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with an uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man… We train for war and fight to win… I will not fail.”
Armed with formidable weapon systems, competent combat forces of the Navy and Marine Corps are the nucleus of American seapower. As our maritime forces prepare for a future shaped by dramatically smaller budgets, we must reinvigorate a warfighting spirit into the professional development of our men and women. Again from Fleet Admiral King’s instruction, “By training, discipline and consideration of the men’s welfare, the commander obtains fighting strength – a strength so great that it will take its toll against an opposing force superior in numbers or equipment.” The Sailors and Marines we entrust to operate today’s Fleet are highly knowledgeable and motivated. To maximize the warfighting effectiveness of our forces into the future we must cultivate within each individual a warrior spirit.
We hear a lot about the Battle Force when talking about US Navy force structure and the documents that guide how we deploy and employ our Fleets. As a reader of Mahan, the language brings me back to a phrase he repeatedly uses in his writing, “The Battle-fleet.” See, in Mahan’s day the U.S. Navy started out as a 5th rate power (or worse) and didn’t even have a single fleet that could stand up to a foreign navy when massed together. Over the years he wrote, culminating about the time he passed away in the prelude to World War I, the USN slowly built its battle-fleet to be a peer of almost any navy on the seven seas. Over the next century the USN continued to build and develop itself into the superpower it is today, with several fleets positioned globally.
Much of what we hear about the Battle Force today harkens back to Mahan’s writing on how to use the battle-fleet. The focus is decisive combat against the enemy’s naval forces followed by or concurrent with the projection of power ashore. The focus is on the high-end and kinetic operations which should be the focus of the battle-fleet and, by analogy in today’s language, the modern Battle Force.
But the comparison to today’s Navy starts to come apart as you read about the types of ship’s Mahan thought were appropriate for a navy. While most of us are taught about his belief in the battle-fleet, and its role in pursuing and winning decisive battles that would establish American command of the sea, we’re rarely reminded that in his view a Navy didn’t stop there. Yes, he believed the battle-fleet had to win the decisive battle but there are many other tasks of naval forces. In his essay “Considerations Governing the Disposition of Navies” he wrote that a properly constructed navy needed to be balanced and have three main parts. First was, yes, the battle-fleet. Second was independent cruisers. Third was small combatants and craft to operate in close to an enemy’s shoreline. It wasn’t all one battle-fleet, but a balanced naval force designed for more than just blue water battle.
Each of these different groups of naval vessels had a role to play in major combat operations, but also a matching role to play in peacetime operations. In war the battle-fleet remained offshore, far enough away from the enemy’s coastline that it wouldn’t fall victim to costal defenses (what today we call A2AD threats). There the battle-fleet awaited the enemy’s fleet, maneuvering for positions of advantage for the coming decisive battle. The independent cruisers would range between the battle-fleet and the enemy’s coast, looking to pick off scouts and small squadrons or ranging further afield to strike at the enemy’s merchant shipping and impose an economic cost. Finally, the smaller littoral ships ranged in close, tested and engaged the enemy’s coastal defenses, and scouted for the enemy’s fleet to determine when or where it would sortie to engage in the decisive battle.
Today’s Battle Force has platforms which fill all of those rolls in the vision of the 21st century naval conflict. In Mahan’s day it was an all surface affair, with ships of varying sizes and armaments filling the roles. (He wrote that submarines and torpedo craft, which were experimental platforms for turn of the century navies, were likely to gain success and capability and become part of the mix, but it hadn’t happened before his death). Today, many of the roles are still filled by surface combatants, but submarines and aircraft have taken over significant parts of the equation. They have assumed many, if not all, of the roles and missions traditionally taken by the independent cruisers and the small combatants in the littorals, and with much success in kinetic operations. The name Battle Force, rather than battle-fleet, is certainly accurate.
The problem with today’s Battle Force is that by replacing the cruisers, scouts, and small combatants with submarines and aircraft it loses the capabilities those vessels brought to the peacetime missions. For centuries navies, unlike armies and more recently unlike air forces, have had dual responsibilities not just to fight and win the nation’s wars at sea but to serve in peacetime to protect the nation’s interests, deter challengers, and serve as a diplomatic arm of the military in building partnerships and friendships across the globe. From our nation’s earliest days the dual uses of naval forces were on our leaders minds. Former Naval Academy and Naval War College professor Dr. Craig Symonds wrote in his book Navalists and Antinavalists:
All of President James Monroe’s surviving papers on the navy or on naval policy reflect a concern that it efficiently perform two distinct services: first, that it be adequate to cope with the daily problems of a maritime nation – smuggling, piracy, and combating the slave trade; and, second, that it provide the United States with a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.
What today we refer to as maritime security operations and partnership building isn’t a new-fangled 21st century idea. In fact, it’s a mission which goes back to the very founding of our service, shared with navies throughout history.
Today’s Battle Force is a battle-fleet on steroids, one that has absorbed the rest of the naval force. It is surely powerful and brings us more than “a comfortable degree of readiness in case war should be forced upon the nation.” For fighting and winning a major war it has no equal on the seven seas. However, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because major war may become more likely if there are no ships to conduct the first distinct service President Monroe enumerated.
While the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower says all the right things, the Battle Force isn’t built for that strategy. It is only built for one half of our navy’s job. It has mobility and the flexibility to engage multiple targets, but more and more often it lacks true adaptability to do more than just put warheads on foreheads, or threaten it. As the Battle Force shores up its control of the Navy the ability to adapt to smaller contingencies, work in contested waters that are not yet in kinetic conflict, or engage non-state actors and build partnerships becomes harder and harder. Yet these are all the things needed to help avert war, and so actual war at sea becomes more likely, and the Battle Force continues to become stronger.
Naval thinkers from Mahan to Corbett to Zumwalt to Hughes have discussed the importance of having a balanced fleet. High/low mix, Streetfighter, or Influence Squadrons are just other ways to talk about a balanced fleet which is capable of the “regular” major combat operations and fleet engagements as well as the “irregular” maritime security operations and partnership/diplomatic development. Mahan wrote that his own thinking and writing provided a solid foundation to move on to the writing of Sir Julian Corbett, the British navalist who told us that “in no case can we exercise control by battleships alone.” Today’s networked Battle Force is impressive and powerful. As Mahan wrote, it is the starting point for a properly constructed naval force. But the question is…does a powerful battle-fleet alone provide the Navy we need to face the turbulent seas of the 21st century?
Much has been written of late about “Creating Cyber Warriors” within the Navy’s Officer Corps. In fact, three prominent and well-respected members of the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps published a very well articulated article by that very title in the October 2012 edition of Proceedings. It is evident that the days of feeling compelled to advocate for such expertise within our wardroom are behind us. We have gotten passed the WHY and are in the throes of debating the WHAT and HOW. In essence, we know WHY we need cyber expertise and we know WHAT cyber expertise we need. What we don’t seem to have agreement on is WHO should deliver such expertise and HOW do we get there.
As a proud member of both the Cryptologic Community and the Information Dominance Corps, I feel confident stating the responsibility for cultivating such expertise lies squarely on our own shoulders. The Information Dominance Corps, and more specifically the Cryptologic and Information Professional Communities, have a shared responsibility to “Deliver Geeks to the Fleet.” That’s right, I said “Geeks” and not “Cyber Warriors.” We don’t need, and despite the language many are using, the Navy doesn’t truly want “Cyber Warriors.” We need and want “Cyber Geeks.” Rather than lobby for Unrestricted Line status, which seems to be the center of gravity for some, we should focus entirely on delivering operational expertise regardless of our officer community designation.
For far too long, many people in the Restricted Line Communities have looked at the Unrestricted Line Communities as the cool kids in school. Some consider them the “in-crowd” and want to sit at their lunch table. Some think wearing another community’s warfare device validates us as naval officers and is the path to acceptance, opportunity, and truly fitting in. We feel an obligation to speak their language, understand the inner workings of their culture, and act more and more like them. Some have grown so weary of being different or considered weird that many would say we’ve lost our identity. Though establishment of the Information Dominance Corps has revitalized our identity, created a unity of effort amongst us in the information mission areas, and further established information as a legitimate warfare area, many continue to advocate that we are lesser because of our Restricted Line status. We seem to think we want and need to be Unrestricted Line Officers ourselves. Why? Sure, we would like to have direct accessions so that we can deliberately grow and select the specialized expertise necessary to deliver cyber effects to the Fleet. Yes, we would like a seat at the power table monopolized by Unrestricted Line Officers. And yes, we would appreciate the opportunity to have more of our own enjoy the levels of influence VADM Mike Rogers currently does as Commander, Fleet Cyber Command and Commander, U.S. TENTH Fleet.
But there is another path; a path that celebrates, strengthens, and capitalizes on our uniqueness.
In the private sector, companies are continually racing to the middle so they can appeal to the masses. It’s a race to the bottom that comes from a focus on cutting costs as a means of gaining market share. There are, however, some obvious exceptions, my favorite of which is Apple. Steve Jobs was not overly interested in addressing customers’ perceived desires. Instead, he anticipated the needs of the marketplace, showed the world what was possible before anyone else even dreamt it, and grew a demand signal that did not previously exist. He was not interested in appealing to the masses and he surely wasn’t focused on the acceptance of others in his industry. He was focused on creating unique value (i.e. meaningful entrepreneurship over hollow innovation), putting “a dent in the universe,” and delivering a product about which he was personally proud. We know how this approach evolved. The market moved toward Apple; the music, movie, phone, and computing industries were forever changed; and the technological bar was raised with each product delivered under his leadership. Rather than lobby for a seat at the table where other leaders were sitting, he sat alone and watched others pick up their trays to sit with him. Even those who chose not to sit with him were looking over at his table with envy, doing their best to incrementally build on the revolutionary advances only he was able to realize.
Rather than seek legitimacy by advocating to be part of Team Unrestricted Line, we ought to focus on delivering so much value that we are considered a vital part of each and every team because of our uniqueness. I am reminded of a book by Seth Godin titled “We Are All Weird.” In it he refers to “masses” as the undifferentiated, “normal” as the defining characteristics of the masses, and “weird” as those who have chosen not to blindly conform to the way things have always been done. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the Unrestricted Line Officers as the masses, those considering themselves “warfighters” as the normal, and the Information Dominance Corps as the weird. I say the last with a sense of hope. I hope that we care enough to maintain our weirdness and that we don’t give in to the peer pressure that could drive us to lobby for a seat at what others perceive to be “The Cool Table.” By choosing to be weird and committing more than ever to embrace our geekiness, the table perceived to be cool will be the one at which the four Information Dominance Communities currently sit. It won’t happen by accident, but it will happen, provided we want it to happen. Not because we want to be perceived as “cool,” but because we are so good at what we do, and we deliver so much unique value to the Navy and Nation, that no warfighting team is considered complete without its own personal “Cyber Geek.”
I sincerely respect the opinions voiced in the article to which I referred earlier in this post. However, I think we are better than we give ourselves credit for. Let’s not conform, let’s create. Let’s not generalize, let’s specialize. Let’s not be normal, let’s be weird. Let’s choose to be Geeks.
CDR Sean Heritage is an Information Warfare Officer who is currently transitioning from Command of NIOC Pensacola to Staff Officer at U.S. Cyber Command. He regularly posts to his leadership-focused blog, Connecting the Dots.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part four: The People (or, attention is demanded, content is king, and it’s hard to smell roses).
Three people, at the very least, is required to manage a robust and content diverse social media profile. This requirement is temporality based, with one person focusing on new content, one for posting content and being the person behind the profile(s), and another for gathering and monitoring metrics derived from the effort.
The biggest driver behind this requirement is the amount of attention demanded in participating in social media. Many simply stop at posting content on social media. Where as doing so only counts (at most) for ~30% of what can/should be done on social media. For instance, the last two years have seen a major push by news organizations (namely newspapers) to make their content more social. Dependent upon the sentiment of the news stories or other variables (e.g., is there anything in the story that was incorrect, is there supplemental information that could be provided to audiences that didn’t otherwise fit into the news story, is there any sentiment worth underscoring) there can be a major benefit to engaging audiences discussing news of your organization. Such an effort can consume significant amounts of time, which in turn precludes the ability of a single person to additionally create content unique to the organization, or to run metrics which accurately capture and demonstrate what resulted from the effort.
An additional thing worth mentioning is regarding participation in social media. I only wish to touch on it briefly (Though, itself deserves a thousand words). The person actually participating in social media is a spokesperson on par with, and every bit important as a media spokesperson. The skill sets for each differ significantly, each demanding in their own ways. Increasingly a social media spokesperson is becoming as important as the traditional media spokesperson.
If roughly 30% of one’s time is consumed by sharing ‘new’ or original content (more on original content later), and roughly 30% is consumed by participating in commenting on news; the remaning 30-ish percent is spent engaging with audiences at the organization’s social media profiles. The effort spread across these three areas, is beyond any notion of ‘branding’. Instead this time is spent establishing the organization’s culture for the audience (I will expand upon this notion in greater detail in a later post).
Lastly, the social media spokesperson is not be a nine-to-five job. It really should be treated 24/7, especially if your organization spans across time zones and cultures. With a worldwide audience, part of your audience is awake and talking about things while you sleep. This is not to say that the spokesperson can’t sleep, or can’t take a break. Rather, this is to say that a shift in mindset as to what it means to be ‘at work’ is necessary. Just as those who use social media for personal reason post casually through-out the day and night, regardless if it is the weekend or not; so too must the spokesperson, only with more earnest goals and objectives for their effort. An additional remedy is to look at who the audience is, and with enough time and though, understanding the rhythm at which the conversation flows.
In consideration of the demands outlined above, another person must be dedicated to original content creation. It is very easy to be a content aggregator online (also known as sharing on facebook, or retweeting on twitter). To a certain extent it is necessary to share content relevant to, but not created by, your organization (George Takei has earned himself over 3 million followers by aggregating content created by others). However, sharing and retweeting of content not created by an organization cannot fully define what the organization is. Thus, original content is necessary, and should be produced in quantities that adequately compliments the shares and retweets.
Doing this is a fulltime job that can quickly demand a number of disparate skills. Graphics, videos, stories, and memes (of all varieties) are labor intensive and time sensitive. But, it is original content that anchors any message on social media to a desired course. Without original content an organization’s message is dependent on the whims of others that cannot be fully controlled, leaving an organization’s narrative ill defined.
Having a blend of shared and original content, and having participated in the discourse, an organization still needs to know what resulted from the effort. To adequately measure the effort a third person, not apart of creation or engagement, is necessary. The amount of data generated on social media is massive and available in near real-time. Pure numbers are easy–if you want to measure how many ‘likes’ you got in a given amount of time, it’s no problem to look at the graphs provided by facebook, or any third party service. But, as I said in my previous post, the true power of social media is ‘in between the lines’.
Of all the types of analysis there is for social media one continually defies any attempts to automate: sentiment analysis, especially when the discourse spans multiple languages. Sentiment analysis is vital since a profile can increase in popularity for bad reasons as easily as it can for good. If your organization wishes to be a strong advocate for something, the number of likes, shares, or retweets will not inform you if you have been successful in its advocation. Think of it this way: When do you personally talk about something with your friends, or with strangers? When you really like something, or when you really don’t? Across society it probably cuts close to 50/50 between those who tend to talk about a topic in a negatively and those who tend towards positive context. Thus any volume metric (numbers of things) does not give the full picture–deeper analysis is demanded. ‘Semantic based analysis’ (Not sure if that is a real term or not. But, it makes sense to term it as such, in my mind at least) is the only way to get a true sense of an organization’s accomplishments on social media.
Such semantic based analysis must include content outside pure social media (i.e. other mediums), and delve into news sources (including newspapers, televised news, magazines), blogs, and conceivably anywhere the organization might be discussed. Observing the effects in other mediums is vital, because such semantic analysis does not meet the criteria for Godel’s Completeness theorem, but does for his second Incompleteness Theorem–multiple cultures, multiple languages, spread across multiple (if not all) time zones add so many semantic variables that logical deduction, derived from number of likes, shares and the rest, is not possible. To verify the consistency, validness, and soundness of an organization’s use of social media the effects in mediums other than social media is demanded.
To be honest, even in my professional use of social media, I have not been able to follow the above guidelines exactly. But, from what I have been able to do as a part of a social media team, I have come to understand the necessity of all I said above. With social media being as new as it is, with new capabilities to measure an organization’s effects nearly every day, there is always more to be done. What constantly amazes me is how we as a species are able to do things of our own device and yet hardly understand what we’re doing at all–fascinating and troubling all at the same time.
Again, we’re well past a thousand words. So, I will leave this post where it is. More to come later next week. I think some of the comments got lost in the migration to Discus. Apologies for that, I promise I am reading the comments and will participate in them.