By Mark Tempest
Who was “The Gun Doctor,” the officer over a century ago led the revolution in naval gunnery, the development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, and during WWI served as the senior US naval commander in Europe? More than the man instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system that helped keep the United Kingdom from starvation in the conflict, following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College he help to established the creative and innovative Navy that in the interwar period developed the operating concepts for the submarines and aircraft carriers that led the victory in World War II.
What are the lessons of a century ago taught by Admiral William S. Sims, USN that are critically important for the serving officer today?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this latest book, 21st Century Sims, will be returning guest, LCDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN.
Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong is a naval aviator who has served as a helicopter pilot flying amphibious search and rescue and special warfare missions and as the Officer-in-Charge of a Navy helicopter gunship detachment deployed for counter-piracy and counter-terror operations. He is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London.
Listening to the always superb Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Tuesday AM at the opening of West2015 should be on everyone’s short list of things you need to watch. As when he was the Under Secretary of the Navy, at such events he gives those in the audience a good outline of what he is working on, what concerns him, and what the priorities are for the administration and nation he serves.
How you look at the challenges he describes depends on the time-frame you are thinking about. Much of it covers the short term, to say 2016, and also to the medium term, up to 2020. Sure, there are some technology big pixel items that may mature that he discusses at 2020 and beyond, but much of what he shared was inside the 2020s.
He started out with a snapshot of the President’s defense budget proposals in the world of sequestration – a world he describes as one defined as lower budgets (than desired) with higher demands; a $534 baseline budget plus $51 OCO budget. that gets you a bit over a 7% increase above the present budget.
Yes, that is an increase, but as defined by a strategy driven budget, that he envisions, it isn’t enough to do what national security requirements need – especially if sequestration continues forward.
As he discussed what happened during 2014, one almost felt as if the Pentagon wished it could stand athwart history and yell, “STOP!” as they did their best to see what they wanted to do and how to get there.
There was much discussion of shifting money in a resource constrained environment on the fly – adjusting and rebuilding as they went along reacting to developing events. He reminded us that are still working under the March 2014 strategy even though since then, Work stated that they have three “surprises” that caused them in September to do a baseline review. The Big-3 surprises were; 1. Russian aggression in Ukraine; 2. Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria in conjunction with the military collapse of the Iraqi army; 3. Ebola.
In spite off all that, they decided that their strategy was not broken, and the outlines of the QDR remain intact.
The five priorities from the Pentagon and the administration remain; the pivot to the Pacific, stability in Europe, counter terrorism, strengthening partnerships with allied nations (nations, he notes, are from a capability and capacity point of view tapped out), & modernization of the force. That is the short term. A short term challenge where the Administration has sent to Congress a proposal $150 billion above sequestration and will challenge the other branch of government to respond accordingly in the direction they propose.
The near term crisis is getting rid of the pressure of sequestration, as that keeps us from growing the force. From the perspective of the Pentagon, anything below will cause problems and will make things unmanageable. Can something be either unmanageable or unsustainable? Perhaps … we’ll get to that.
Moving to the medium term, they are already working on POM-17, trying to find the right balance where we have to accept a defined shortage of ISR & missile defense, while keepin a viable forward presence to deter possible enemies and support our allies. While all that is going on – somehow we have to find a way to structure things so we have a chance to reset our military to win one conflict while denying success to an enemy in a second.
Sound hard? It is … and there is no clear and simple answer … for the short term.
Trying to get to the medium term is not going to be easy either. At the end of past wars – and we have been at war for 13-years – there has always been a planned 2-3 yr reset to replace worn out equipment, relieve personnel stress, and retrain for all services to be ready to respond and be ready for full spectrum conflict.
It isn’t easy to do this reset because of our present OPTEMPO. The world won’t wait.
Events are coming up from the Islamic State and elsewhere that are causing us to try to do a reset on the run. As a result, though our deployed forces are full up, our surge force is not in good shape and cannot start to fully do the reset they need. What he described falls in perfectly with an action back home we call, “shooting up the horse” or in more familiar terms, a readiness death spiral.
Work believes that given what they see now and using the post Vietnam War reset as a rough baseline, it will take to 2020 for all services but the USAF, who will need to get to 2023, to reset to get back to full spectrum readiness.
A lot of positive things will have to flip our way to make that unfold as outlined. Not impossible to get everything set right for 2020, the end of the next President’s first administration, but not simple.
The argument can be made that the struggle in the short and medium term up to 2020 is actually the easy problem. The real challenge, and one where it is difficult to see how you fix it, comes once you start the third decade of this century. That is where one should start to try to propose a way forward now, we are only five years away.
This is the point where those who have been following my writing for the last half decade know where we are going; The Terrible 20s – and there was nothing in Work’s opening that addressed how our Navy is going to deal with this challenge that is only now creeping in to the general conscienceless. All the points the Deputy SECDEF brought up are true and important and rightfully the things he needs to focus on – they are the crocodiles closest to his canoe, but the real fiscal challenge and budget squeeze are coming – he knows this – but that crocodile is out of sight right now.
It is no secret that a mix of factors are going to make the 2020s a decade of incredible challenge for the US military in general, and the Navy in particular. You can follow the link above for details on The Terrible 20s, but there are two major causes in descending order of importance; SSBN recapitalization and the expected roosting of the debt interest chickens.
Over the entire Trident era, spending on ballistic-missile submarine construction consumed 14 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. However, it is the beginning of that period, 1974–78, that seems particularly relevant as we look at the Ohio replacement program in the coming decades. Average shipbuilding budgets in that period were over 50 percent higher than average shipbuilding budgets over the 1968–73 period. The Ohio class represented about a quarter of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, receiving a substantial fraction of those higher budgets.
Yet the Navy paid a price from other parts of its budget to buy those additional ships and submarines. Its average topline budget remained flat. Compared to 1968–73, it was only 1 percent higher over the 1974–78 period. To pay for new ships, including Ohio -class ballistic-missile submarines, the Navy sacrificed force structure. Its Fleet fell by over 40 percent, while both Navy and Marine Corps end-strength declined by 20 percent. The Vietnam War had come to an end, so it is perhaps not surprising to see those declines, but clearly in this early period of the Trident era the Navy was not receiving more money overall, although money was found within its budget to pay for new ships, including SSBNs.
Read the full article to understand how the Navy reacted to these previous periods, but the underlying fiscal facts remain; that money will need to come from somewhere, or we will simply have to do Strategic Deterrence on the cheap.
If you are waiting for a magic bag of money to show up next decade, there is something that will manifest itself that our nation has not faced, as a percentage of GDP, since the end of WWII. This time, we are not a nation with a big demobilization freeing up assets. We are not a nation untouched, astride a world in ashes. We do not have a clear path to growth in a wide open nation with economic potential of a new age. This time it is very different.
Let’s shift to Josh Zumbrun over at The Wall Street Journal and his article, The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending;
Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates. Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.
By 2021, the government will be spending more on interest than on all national defense. according to White House forecasts. And one year later, interest costs will exceed nondefense discretionary spending–essentially every other domestic and international government program funded annually through congressional appropriations. (The largest part of the budget is, and will remain, the mandatory spending programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Mandatory spending is over $2 trillion and is set to double to $4 trillion by 2025.)
We have a zero option for SSBN if we wanted (not recommended) – but what we don’t have a zero option on is the servicing the national debt.
How do you manage these converging train wrecks? If we think that the pressures of sequester are almost unmanageable, then what is the plan for both of these challenges? Don’t forget, the Baby Boom generation that generated all that taxable income post-WWII will all be at retirement age by the 2020s – note the voting pressure that will come with it.
I am confident of the next couple of POM periods, but … soon.
“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”
– Admiral Mike Mullen, USN (Ret)
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
A few years ago I visited one of the Navy’s new Virginia-class submarines, and something about it really struck me: There was no periscope. At least not the kind we’re used to seeing, where you have to hunch over, wrap your arms around the controls and rotate in a circle to see the surface in 360 degrees.
What it had instead was a photonics mast – a cluster of high-definition cameras and other sensors that streamed data to an array of LCD screens, giving the captain and crew a much clearer and more complete view of the world above than the traditional periscope could possibly produce.
Think about that. They built a better periscope not by thinking about what form it should take, but rather by concentrating on what it should do. They took something every submarine needs – the ability to know what’s happening overhead – and applied advanced imaging technology to develop a new way to do it.
It’s an example of what can happen when our military and industry approach engineering as a series of problems to solve, rather than a checklist of things to build. And that’s the kind of thinking that will keep us ahead in an era when defense budgets are tight, demand is high and threats are multiplying and evolving around the globe.
Last month, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced a task force to develop an innovation agenda for the Navy and Marine Corps. They’re working to attract and retain creative thinkers, to see that the Navy is making the best strategic use of the enormous amount of data it produces, and to ensure new technologies get to the fleet quickly and without obstruction.
The Navy’s commitment to innovation is encouraging, particularly at a time when directed-energy technologies – tools we’ve only dreamed about using in the field – are finally getting ready to break out of the R&D lab.
Lasers, which we’ve been talking about for decades, are at a tipping point. We no longer have to think of them strictly in terms of guidance tools for weapons systems. We’re now testing them as weapons in their own right – weapons with a cheap and nearly inexhaustible supply of ammunition. Raytheon is developing a Humvee-mounted laser for the U.S. Marine Corps and has already demonstrated a separate laser weapon that shot down four unmanned aerial vehicles.
Railguns, another one of those weapons of the future, are also on their way. The Navy announced last year that it will install and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun on a joint high-speed vessel sometime in fiscal year 2016. Its round will move so fast that it will not require a high-explosive payload.
Then there’s cyber warfare. I see a lot of emphasis on offense – shutting down the enemy’s systems, doing battle without inflicting permanent damage. I’m more focused on defense – protecting our systems against exactly those same kinds of devastating attacks.
There’s a common thread running through this technology and the Navy’s effort to develop more: It all breaks from traditional wisdom and frees us to achieve the stuff of science fiction.
Innovation is exciting. It gives us periscopes that don’t look like periscopes. It lets us harness the power of things we can’t even see to do things we never imagined. When we work in terms of what we want to accomplish, rather than prescribe what we think we need, only then do we begin to embrace the art of the possible.
Several days ago, Tyrell Mayfield asked me, and a number of other lawyers to comment on “The Military #Profession: Lawyers, Ethics and the Profession of Arms,” in response to several questions posed by Dr. Pauline Shanks Kaurin regarding whether the military is a profession. I reviewed the post and basically agreed with the writer’s position but did take exception to his assessment that “the law is easy” and Mayfield graciously invited me to respond.1 I argued I’m not in a position to respond since I’m a civilian with no military service but a number of my military “followers” pointed out the flaws in my reasoning and requested that I share a civilian view, so if you don’t like what’s below, blame those guys.
Dr. Shanks Kaurin posed three questions: (1) Is the military a profession, (2) What does that mean for you, (3) What are the ethical responsibilities of military members, if any? She then invites comment on one or all three. In a sense, the Good Dr.—as any effective professor is apt to do — has deployed an intellectual minefield for the unsuspecting responder because, as naval historian Ronald Spector puts it, “social scientist are far from agreement about the precise definition of ‘profession’ and ‘professionalization’ or even about the utility and meaningfulness of such concepts for social research.”2
In other words, whether the military is a profession depends on definitions that remain moving targets. An overly-inclusive definition would classify a street gang with rudimentary training and a code of conduct as professional while a strict definition produces essays like Jill Sargent Russell’s “Why You’re Not #Professionals,” where, as others have pointed out, if applied to other professions (like my own) renders a lawyer that specializes in employment discrimination unprofessional because he wouldn’t know how to provide effective estate planning, no matter how successful his record in the courtroom. I hope to chart a middle course that focuses more on process, since I believe it illustrates that professionalism depends more on recognition than definition.
Having witnessed an abundance of ground- pounders submit pieces, I will focus my attention on the Navy. I do this for several reasons. First, I have more experience studying the Navy but more importantly, I believe the Navy’s officer corps gained professional recognition in the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century by solving many of the same problems that threaten American sea power today, through thoughtful debate and the creation of the Naval War College, which allowed the Navy’s officers to research and refine their ideas. Many in the Navy have forgotten these lessons and are surrendering their professional reputations because they no longer take professional theory and education seriously, which has stifled strategic thinking and debate within the officer corps.
The Golden Age of Professionalization
Most professions came of age in the United States between 1880–1890. During these years most occupations, from public health to teaching, laid the foundation for their modern forms, which, according to Herbert Wilensky, is a five-stage process:
The first stage is marked by the emergence of an occupational group engaged in full-time work on a particular set of problems. The second stage is characterized by the establishment of training and selection procedures for the specific occupational group, while the third stage sees the development of a professional association. The fourth is marked by a determined and often arduous fight for public and legal recognition, and the final stage sees the adoption of a formal code of ethics.3
In the 1880s no professional group had advanced through all five phases but scientific discoveries in the medical field and standardized education in law and medicine, controlled admission to institutions of higher learning and the founding of the American Bar Association in the field of law had doctors and lawyers well on their way to professional recognition. Much of the same could be said for the Navy’s officer corps in 1880 since the US Naval Academy, founded in 1845, with its entrance exam and standardized curriculum, provided a formal system of selection and training. However the Navy still lacked a “specialized, theoretical body of knowledge” befitting a true profession, military or civilian.4 However, several interrelated-problems appeared during the age of professionalization and merged into a perfect storm, which threatened the naval officer corps’ acceptance as a professional organization, if not the Navy’s very existence.
Sailing in Shoal Waters
Most of these difficulties stemmed from the vast technological changes that occurred during the period. Vessels long subservient to the wind and built from wood that fired a broad-sides of smooth-bore cannon were replaced with fleets of self-propelled ships driven by steam-powered screws at 20 knots in any direction. Advances in heavy armor hoped to protect these vessels from exploding shells fired through rifled barrels but offered little security from the steadily-advancing self-propelled torpedoes, which rendered the largest of ships vulnerable to anything that could get a torpedo in the water. In response to these technological developments, engineering officers argued for greater influence within the Navy and naval education placed a heavier emphasis on engineering courses at the expense of the humanities. Line officers pushed back and spawned a civil war within the officer corps that set back integration for years.5
Traditional American values and an ignorance of “what navies do” also set up hurdles. The descendants of minutemen and privateers were suspicious of a professional officer corps leading permanent standing armies and navies. Americans were citizen soldiers who defended liberty in time of emergency and returned home after the threat had passed. They desired no Napoleons or Nelsons and held permanent soldiers and sailors in low regard.6 Furthermore, while a maritime nation from birth, the United States preferred to free-ride on the Pax Britannica and allowed the Royal Navy to protect its seaborne-commerce, now carried almost exclusively in foreign bottoms, thanks to a highly-effective commerce raiding campaign waged by the Confederate Navy that drove American-flagged merchant shipping from the sea.
Congressional legislation reflected these values. After the Civil War, Capital Hill starved the Navy of funding. It sold off vessels or allowed them to rot, permitted American goods to sail under foreign flags and maintained a promotion system, built entirely on seniority, that ensured the officer corps would remain small to curb the Navy’s political influence. As long as an officer remained alive, he would eventually be promoted to admiral, barring commission of a felony. However, a lieutenant could not be promoted until an officer of superior rank vacated a spot, either through promotion, retirement or death. Young recruits swelled during the Civil War and promotion was swift in the War’s early years, but for “mids” graduating after Appomattox, this linear system created a lieutenant logjam. With fewer and fewer ships to sail, officers remained lieutenants into their fifties. Lack of promotions and the raise in pay that came with them, forced officers into the idleness of routine and with a booming private sector calling, many retired in droves.7
The Rise of the Young Turks
However, the “Young Turks,” a group of exceptionally bright, public-relations-minded young officers that included Washington Irving Chambers, Bradley A. Fiske and William S. Sims; Stephen B. Luce; and his newly-founded Naval War College, successfully navigated the Navy through its perfect storm and won the Navy professional recognition through sheer force of will and the power of the written word.
It began early. In 1873 fifteen officers of a variety of ranks met in the physics and chemistry building at the Naval Academy. The men discussed a variety of topics including naval history, strategy, policy and technological modernization.Eventually they labelled themselves the United States Naval Institute (USNI) and began to publish a collection of essays on their ideas in a journal that would later become known as Proceedings.8
With the seeds of a professional association planted, the Young Turks utilized the pages of Proceedings and a number of other publications to end the promotion stalemate, ease tensions between engineer and line officers and teach the United States about the value of naval power by debating their ideas publicly. After several unsuccessful attempts to overturn the promotion system by direct lobbying to Congress and filing suit in court, the Turks turned to the pen and targeted their writings on three groups: critical naval industries, such as shipbuilders, steel manufacturers and weapons producers; the business leaders and lobbyists of the merchant marine; and the American public. They argued global naval power would be critical to the protection of American commerce and strategic influence as global business expanded.9 As one Turk insisted: “Prosperity on land is the handmaiden of power at sea, and whose is the ocean, his also are the lands around and about it.”10
Gaining the Weather Gauge at Newport
As the Turks scribbled away, Luce, over stiff opposition, founded the Naval War College in 1884 and convinced Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of his former executive officers, to become professor of naval warfare. Luce and Mahan had long advocated the study of comparative history to teach strategy and tactics, subjects which basically did not exist in naval education at the time, but was a teaching methodology used to perfection by the German general staff. As Mahan later complained “a vague feeling of contempt for the past, supposed to be obsolete, combines with natural indolence to blind men even to those permanent strategic lessons which lie close to the surface of naval history.”11 Though British historian John Knox Laughton may have been the first naval historian to argue for a comparative historical approach to teach naval strategy, Luce and Mahan were the first to put it to use at an institution devoted solely to its practice.
The first class entered Newport in 1885 and Mahan arrived the next year, lecturing primarily on the strategic lessons taught by the Royal Navy during age of sail. In 1890, Mahan published his lectures asThe Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 with Little Brown and Company. The book aided the Turks’ public relations campaign tremendously, many having written similar arguments that had gone unread because their publishers failed to reach the mainstream audience of Little Brown and Co.
As Americans and their congressional representatives learned the critical relationship between maritime commerce and a modern navy with over-seas bases to protect the sea lanes, these “principles” alerted them to the critical need for naval power and Secretaries of the Navy, who incorporated these sea-power arguments into their congressional testimony, found securing funds much easier. With larger and modern ships sliding down the ways, more billets opened up for engineer and line officers, who eventually declared an uneasy truce for influence. This growing need for officers, along with reforms to the promotion system that placed greater emphasis on merit, ended the promotion logjam.
However, the Naval War College and the education it provided did more to professionalize the Navy than any other development. According to Spector, it transformed “the naval officer [into] a practitioner of a purely naval art” and created a place for officers to refine the arguments that convinced the American people of the Navy’s necessity. Luce’s College introduced the naval officer to strategy and created a place where ideas could be debated and put to the test through war gaming, which came of age during the 1890s and William S. Sims emphasized during his eventual tenure as president. The Young Turks were drawn to its halls because it provided the only place that allowed them to research and discuss the many problems facing their profession. As the school matured, the research it produced aided reforms in naval administration, technological innovation and strategic planning but more importantly it, “ensured that strategy and tactics would occupy a central place in the American officer’s professional outlook so that American line officers avoided the obsession with what Winston Churchill called ‘instrumentalities.’”12 After World War II, Chester Nimitz claimed “the classes were so thorough [during the inter-war period] that after the start of WWII nothing in the Pacific was strange or unexpected” due to the strategic planning produced at Newport.13
However, the importance of Newport and the other War Colleges that sprang up in its wake collapsed after World War II, as did professional military education on the whole. According military historian Williamson Murray, post-war officers viewed assignments to Newport as an opportunity to play golf rather than engage in serious research on strategic problems. As a result, academics at civilian institutions filled the void. Stansfield Turner implemented serious reforms to the Naval War College in the 1970s but these reforms had little impact on the service as the Navy refused to send many of its best officers to study there and, according to Murray, still does.14
Due to Hyman Rickover’s influence on naval education in the Cold War and the technical expertise required for modern seafaring, the Navy frowns on the study of history, especially among its NROTC graduates, which, as Luce and Mahan proved, forms the very foundation upon which a strategic education is built. The Navy also discourages its officers from obtaining advanced degrees, especially doctorates, from civilian institutions, which, for the few that still teach military history and specialize in strategic studies, are far more effective educators at this point because their programs last longer and are far more demanding. Murray offers a dire assessment of military education: “It . . . largely remains an arena that the services merely tolerate; for the most part, it neither challenges the students nor employs first-class intellectuals from within or outside of the military.”15 These developments may have been in former-State-Department-official John Tkacik’s mind when he recently claimed the Navy has no professional maritime strategists.
For this civilian, the above changes, articles like Matthew Cavanaugh’s assessment of military professionalism, hearsay claims from officers inside the Pentagon that the military “needs to stop talking about old dead guys,” and accusations like Tkacik’s, lead me to conclude the Navy’s professionalism may be on the wane. While I’m sure this view is not shared by my reality-television-enthralled civilian brethren, the Navy consistently ranks as the least-important service in public opinion polls, which suggests the same problems facing Luce, Mahan and their Young Turks, like a shrinking fleet, a broken promotion and retention system, and an American public that does not understand sea power, have returned.
A New Generation Seizes the Helm?
Yet all may not be lost. Luce designed the Naval War College as an institution of personal study where strategic problems could be researched and debated. The students took few classes. The faculty expected officers to produce work independently and lectures formed a small part of their education, typical of modern-day graduate work. With today’s modern communications and the availability of professional reading lists, one does not have to be located at Newport to engage in the study of strategy.
Roger Misso and Chris O’Keefe’s recent piece on USNI Blog is an excellent challenge to today’s junior officers to engage in professional debate and may indicate that a new generation of Young Turks is on the rise to tackle the many strategic problems facing American sea power. As others have pointed out, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), The Bridge, War Council, and more formal publications like Proceedings and Naval War College Review combined with social media provide excellent forums to share arguments and debate ideas. Let us hope that a new generation of officers heeds the call of Misso and O’Keefe because while Luce and Mahan receive the most credit, they could not have saved the US Navy without their Young Turks, many of whom disagreed with them vehemently on technical issues but defended their positions in the pages of Proceedings unafraid. While today’s junior officers may fear criticism, ostracization, or even dismissal, they must remember the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a long-time supporter of Newport and civilian navalist:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
To preserve the naval profession and American sea power, the civilians of the United States need their Young Turks in the arena.
The writer’s conclusion that “the law is easy” downplays any attorney engaged in criminal law, especially public defenders and organizations like The Innocence Project that are engaged in seeking release of the wrongly-convicted facing the death penalty. For an excellent review of the difficulties facing attorneys engaged in establishing national security policy, see Jack Goldsmith, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009). ↩
Ronald Spector, Professors of War: The Naval War College and the Development of the Naval Profession (Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2005) p. 3. ↩
As cited in ibid., n.11 p. 152 ↩
Ibid., pp. 3–4. ↩
Peter Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (Annapolis, MD: 1972) pp 277–86 ↩
Spector, Professors of War, pp..3–4 ↩
Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy, pp 277–86. ↩
Benjamin F. Armstrong, ed., 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013) p. 79 ↩
Karsten, The Naval Aristocracy, pp. 286–317. ↩
As quoted in ibid., p. 308. ↩
Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783, New York: Little Brown and Co. 1890 ↩
Spector, Professors of War, pp. 11, 149–50 ↩
As quoted in Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919–1941(Newport, RI: The Naval War College Press 1980) p. 119. ↩
Williamson Murray, “Professionalism and Professional Military Education in the Twenty-first Century,” in Suzanne C. Nielsen and Don M. Snider, eds., American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), pp 141–42. ↩
Ibid., p. 143. ↩
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based out of Djibouti is playing the long game with the nations of east Africa, our allies, governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned parties to not only help build a better future for the nations in that corner of the continent, but to ensure the security of the American homeland.
Our guest to discuss their role and more will be Major General Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., United States Army – Commander CJTF-HOA.
Due to scheduling issues, the interview with MG Grigsby was recorded earlier.
Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
For those who have seen the Great Carrier Debate between Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath, one thing was clear – both gentlemen had only scratched the surface of their thoughts on the topic.
At about the same time, the concept of “distributed lethality” had seeped its way in to the conversation. To examine both topics and to review the national security issues you should expect to see in 2015 will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath.
Bryan McGrath is the founding Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC (FBG), a niche consultancy specializing in naval and national security issues, including national and military strategy, strategic planning, executive communications, strategic communications and emerging technologies.
Prior to starting FBG, Bryan founded a national security consulting line of business for Delex Systems, where he directly supported a number of senior clients in the Navy and the Army. Additionally, he provided critical insight on Navy policy and acquisition preferences to commercial clients, including major defense contractors and small technology firms negotiating the “post-earmarks” era.
A retired Naval Officer, Bryan spent 21 years on active duty including a tour in command of USS BULKELEY (DDG 84), a guided-missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.
In his spare time, Bryan is a well-published commentator in the fields of national and maritime strategy, with policy papers published at major think tanks, and articles placed in nationally marketed periodicals. He is a frequent panelist at symposia that deal with naval issues and is frequently quoted by major press organizations.
Bryan earned a BA in History from the University of Virginia in 1987, and an MA in Political Science (Congressional Studies) from The Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the Naval War College.
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
On the heels of Misso and O’Keefe’s excellent piece calling for an increase to the already healthy pool of critical-but-constructive JO writing, “Stick Your Neck Out,” James Fallows at the Atlantic has published in an unfortunately different tack, “Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa,” showing the state of the military from a “I’m out” angry mic-drop perspective. Now, he has published a follow-up this morning, “A Reform the Military is Undertaking,” with some Junior Officer (JO) responses, but we all still need to have a chat.
Guys, I feel for the two officers’ sense of frustration – but this growing stream of solutionless exit-route bitterness is becoming too much a staple in corners of dialogue on the military. The vast forest is often missed for the particularly striking burning trees – and attention to the unofficial public debate seems to occur as an responsorial afterthought rather than the main thrust of our discussion. In some cases, you may even do a dis-service to a well-meaning JO whose writing may be shocking and a traffic generator, but fails to follow the advice of Brett Friedman on sound JO approaches to problem solving and writing.
If you find yourself with a fiery tome written by an O-2 or terminal O-3 who has been pounding away at their keyboard in well-meaning isolation – don’t do yourself and them the discredit by using it as a tool for pulling in clicks. Consider doing your and their credibility a favor, as a believer in the civil-military dialogue: put them in touch with someone you know in uniform, who you would trust to help that young JO add the tact and fact-checking necessary to make a truly incisive piece. Force them, before publishing, to grapple with the concrete realities that mold their institution and how they would see these realities shifted through implementable solutions. Remind them about the size of their institution with its indirect paths of change or glacial pace. You might suggest that, perhaps with time, their passion for change and continued service could see those or other changes come to pass. Hey, maybe just send them to one of us for a quick look-over?
Journalists, academics, enthusiasts… let’s have some real talk. If you want to write about the military, its culture, or the technical, tactical, operational, and strategic concerns of its members – you can always listen to the one’s who are still in, trying to understand, pursuing solutions, but are still sometimes frustrated (if that’s what you’re looking for). Some of you do listen, and you have our thanks – perhaps some of us have even bought you a beer as part of that civil-military dialogue. There exists whole constellations of critical-but-constructive JO’s and J(ish)O’s writing, with the occasional peppering of responses or even policy from GO/FO’s – all accessible to you every day:
- USNI Blog
- Center for International Maritime Security’s NEXTWAR Blog and meet-ups
- CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast
- War on the Rocks
- War on the Rocks Podcast
- The Bridge
- Small Wars Journal
- CDR Salamander
- John Q Public
- Duffel Blog (no, really – in parody is often truth)
- Athena Project
- The former “Greenie Board” (RIP)
- Defense Entrepreneurs Forum
- Task and Purpose
- BJ Armstrong’s 21st Century Mahan and 21st Century Sims (available on Amazon!)
- Twitter (sad, but true)
- From the Green Notebook
- The Military Leader
- Company Command and Platoon Leader Forum
- Information Dominance Corps Self Synchronization Facebook Page
- and many more
I have said this before, if we want to build a better civil-military understanding, I beg you start paying attention to the debate happening in the public writings of those servicemembers you want to understand. Though there is a place for appreciating the pure critics and exit-route mic-droppers; their views should not be the main drumbeat of our dialogue. To be fair, many of us who write regularly are a self-selected group – there still remains a vast space in which to encourage JOs to write. Those in the public space who avail themselves for those writings are doing a service, but the cherry picking and lack of guidance in the production of shocking JO posts does no service to your legitimacy among those you wish to discuss, and misinforms – or only partially informs – the public you are attempting to explain us to.
You want controversy, you want to see the battle of ideas, you want characters, you want stories… they’re all out there. The shooting stars may grab attention, but the constellations in the night sky are how we should navigate.
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “