This post was originally published on Defense Entrepreneurs Forum’s Whiteboard blog.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days.

Contestant: Josh Steinman, US Naval Officer

Software is increasingly becoming the defining mechanism by which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps achieve tactical, operational, and strategic decision dominance. Previously the Department of Defense had achieved this ability through industry.

As software takes on increasingly prominent roles in the Department of Defense, we will need to establish closer relations with the industry that builds it, much like the Department of Defense built long-standing ties to the industrial base during the pre-War, inter-War, and post-War periods of the early 20th century. These close links will ensure that the DOD retains the ability to rapidly integrate cutting edge digital technologies into our operations, as well as influence their development at all stages.

One high-impact, low cost way to advance this goal is to establish a small joint detachment of hand-picked DOD personnel to operate primarily in Silicon Valley that would act as an intellectual “long-range reconnaissance squad”.

This entity would consist of approximately 10 personnel nominated by a small group of senior officers and civilians (plus 1 support and 1 General or Flag Officer), stationed in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Their mission would be to help integrate the defense and software industries by achieving the following tasks:

a. Ensure continuity of action before, during, and after senior officer and civilian visits with entities in the non-Defense technology sector. Achieve this by acting as travel agent for senior officials before they depart (coordinating visits with local technology companies), local guide upon arrival, note-taker and action officer while engaged on the ground, and execution agent upon the senior’s departure.

b. Identify early-stage ventures with potential DOD applicability and connect them with appropriate resources to utilize their technology for DOD purposes. Interface with DOD and service-centric early-stage and midstage venture capital firms, and liaison with entities such as DARPA, IARPA, US Army REF, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and OSD RTTO.

c. Educate students, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists on DOD challenges and process with an eye towards changing attitudes towards the DOD. This would include conducting “presence missions” at regular events like SXSW, TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT, and even Burning Man.

My proposed first step is to send an exploratory detachment of 3-5 officers out to Silicon Valley for a one-month site survey mission that would result in a full proposal white-paper, to be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff within 90 days of their return. Costs for such a survey are on the order of $6,000 per person, for one month.


The USS Ingraham (FFG-61) just completed her final successful sea and anchor detail as she transited in from the Pacific Ocean, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, returning to her homeport in Everett, Washington. After being greeted with homecoming fanfare, she will prepare for a much less exciting event, her decommissioning ceremony. On November 12th, the flag will be lowered for the last time and in January she will be struck from the battleforce inventory.

The Ingraham is one of the very last Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates remaining in the fleet. These ships were known for their steadfast performance, executing critical missions around the globe. Much like Ingraham’s last deployment to the waters of Central America, these ships have been stalwarts in the U.S. anti-drug efforts. Many are now lamenting the loss of this versatile class of ship, declaring that missions will go unfulfilled once the class has completely decommissioned next year. Demands are growing louder for a ‘next generation surface combatant’ to replace the frigates, bringing more firepower, survivability and offensive capability than the current littoral combat ships have to offer.

Yet we must be careful not to be too nostalgic when reviewing the capabilities of the frigates and demanding a better armed new surface combatant to fill their void. Certainly, the Navy needs a next generation surface combatant to fill the gaps that the workhorse guided missile destroyers cannot cover alone – there is simply no debating that our destroyer fleet is over-stretched. But, when it comes to covering the missions being carried out by frigates, we have ships that can perform at the same or higher levels – we just need to work on incorporating them.

Though it’s been a while, I distinctly recall hours spent memorizing ‘Ships and Aircraft’ as part of the standard Naval Academy plebe professional knowledge requirements. Frigates were easy…there wasn’t a lot to memorize in terms of armament. Especially since the removal of the Mk13 ‘one-armed bandit’ missile launcher. The nickname we learned was ‘missile sponge,’ due to the lack of significant offensive and defensive weaponry. Even the Mk75 Oto Melara gun onboard could only be fired when the ship presented a stern aspect to the target due to firing cut-outs. The CRU/DES advocates would joke that frigates could only fire the sole remaining offensive weapon, a mere 3-inch gun, while running away. Aviators quipped that the only real weapon onboard was the embarked LAMPS helicopter.

But it didn’t matter. Though I opted for the CRU/DES world, plenty of classmates went to frigates, where they became exceptional ship-handlers and learned how to conduct critical maritime security missions by thwarting drug-runners off our coasts and in the waters to the south, learning from the Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) that often embarked. They pulled into ports around the globe with shallow draft requirements, to the envy of those of us on cruisers at the time. They operated with the nascent coastal navies of partners around the world and didn’t tower over their counter-parts in terms of size or weaponry, making for more successful engagements.

These roles can all be filled exceptionally well by our newest generation of ships – the littoral combat ships, and even innovative platforms like Austal’s Joint High Speed Vessel. While the LCS is not a perfect ship – far from it, but that’s been covered rather extensively in the press – it can easily fill the niche role recently occupied by frigates. The speed, versatility and shallow draft of LCS make it well suited to coastal patrol missions and working with partnership navies. The Joint High Speed Vessel is an even more innovative platform, and the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) has demonstrated its worth on its maiden deployment this year. The MSC-run ship has operated in three different Fleet AORs, conducting missions with numerous partner nations and US Navy assets, proving its exceptional capabilities.

Maritime security missions will continue to be a critical aspect of the Navy’s mission – just as they have for the past 239 years. Worth noting, however, is that most maritime security missions do not require high-end Aegis ships like the destroyers commonly filling the tasks today. It may be reassuring to have destroyers tasked to anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa (or, in the case of the Maersk Alabama incident, an entire Amphibious Readiness Group), but it isn’t necessary. Instead, platforms like the LCS and JHSV are well-suited to conduct low end missions like countering piracy, illicit trafficking and weapons proliferation and can do so at a much lower cost than sending a Strike Group or a couple of destroyers. The security situation we will face demands a robust, well-trained maritime security force. Our CRU/DES platforms should be reserved for missions requiring their exceptional weapons and radar systems. With the projected build of thirty-two LCS and ten JHSV, these ships are well-poised to perform vital maritime security roles that the frigates will no longer be around to fulfill. There is no dispute that maritime security is – and will continue to be – a core mission, but we already have the right ships to ensure success while being cost-efficient.

We must be careful not to embellish the past and demand that the frigates’ replacements have significant offensive and defensive capabilities. We need to be realistic when examining the missions needing to be fulfilled and let the void left by the frigates be filled by the newer, more innovative ships that are well-suited to the missions. The next generation surface combatant can be better utilized elsewhere.


Please join us at 5pm Sunday 2 Nov 14 (don’t forget to turn your clock back as we go off daylight saving time) for Midrats Episode 252: “Officers walking the line and knowing their place”:

Where do senior uniformed leaders draw the line between acknowledging the primacy of civilian leadership to make policy, and maintaining enough distance from the politics to retain their independence of the politics and the politicians?

Is there a point where someone can pass from being a “good soldier” to simply becoming a useful tool of ambitious politicians.

Our guest this Sunday to discuss this and more will be J.D. Gordon, CDR USN (Ret.) We will be using his latest article, “Obama’s top military advisers: ‘Useful idiots’ or good military officers?” as a starting off point before broadening the discussion.

J. D. Gordon was a career Navy public affairs officer with 20 years of active duty service, and is the former Defense Department spokesman for the Western Hemisphere in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, serving under both Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary Robert Gates from 2005 to 2009.

Gordon also served as the Vice President, Communications and Chief Foreign Policy and National Security Adviser to former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain’s 2012 campaign. During the 2010 Congressional campaign cycle, Gordon arranged speaking events for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Recently, Gordon has also been a Senior Fellow and Communications Adviser to numerous think tanks and foundations, including Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Center for a Secure Free Society, Americas Forum, Atlantic Bridge, Center for Security Policy, Let Freedom Ring and the Liberty and; Freedom Foundation.

Gordon, a columnist to Fox News and The Washington Times since 2010, has regularly appeared as a national security and foreign policy commentator in television and radio outlets in English and Spanish languages.

Please join us live or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from our iTunes link here.

Remember, that’s 5pm Sunday EST, after you’ve adjusted your clocks.


brain1We like to benchmark successful civilian enterprises, and we like to emphasize that the best training is a technical training. Are those things in conflict?

The STEM bias towards officer education is long documented, defended, and argued – but on balance the pro-STEM argument holds the high ground in our Navy. Good people can argue both sides, but it is clear that the Mahanian ideal of the intellectual training of an officer has been out of favor for a very long time.

Is this technical bias simply a habit born or archaic assumptions towards intellectual development as out of touch with the needs of the 21st Century as Mad Men is toward gender roles in the workplace? Are the greatest challenges in our wardrooms, staffs, and intellectual debates 85% technical in nature? Are the challenges our nation and our military are facing that threaten our national security best addressed by people who made it through thermodynamics and mumble DiffyQ in their sleep?

Why would some of the most successful technical civilian organizations value a liberal arts education? Those with an extreme pro-STEM bias (CNO, I’m blogg’n to you) should take some times to digest what Elizabeth Segran over at FastCompany recently wrote on the topic,

So how exactly do the humanities translate into positive results for tech companies? Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white. “In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there is not typically one right answer when you make decisions,” he says. “There are just different shades of how correct you might be,” he says.

Yi says his interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard taught him to see every issue from multiple perspectives: in college, he studied Asian literature in one class, then Asian politics or economics in the next. “It’s awfully similar to viewing our organization and our marketplace from different points of view, quickly shifting gears from sales to technology to marketing,” he says. “I need to synthesize these perspectives to decide where we need to go as a company.”

Danielle Sheer, a vice president at Carbonite, a cloud backup service, feels similarly. She studied existential philosophy at George Washington University, which sets her apart from her technically trained colleagues. She tells me that her academic background gives her an edge at a company where employees are trained to assume there is always a correct solution. “I don’t believe there is one answer for anything,” she tells me. “That makes me a very unusual member of the team. I always consider a plethora of different options and outcomes in every situation.”

Look again at what the critical thinking skills a well rounded education gave Yi and Sheer, and ask yourself – are these skills we value and need?

If so, why do we actively discourage them?


Yes, we are time shifting for this coming episode of Midrats to 6:30pm on Sunday, 26 October for a 90 minute adventure in national security and spin-off topics as we offer up Episode 251: DEF2014 wrapup and the budding question of veteran entitlement:

A special time and format this week with two different topics and guests.

Moving for just this week to a 6:30pm Eastern start time, our guest for the first 30-minutes will be Lieutenant Ben Kohlmann, USN – Founder of Disruptive Thinkers, F/A-18 pilot, member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Co-Founder Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. He will be on to give us an overview of DEF2014 that ends this weekend.

For the following hour our, guest will be Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC. He will be on to discuss some of the broader issues he raises in his article earlier this month, Unpacking The Veteran Entitlement Spectrum, and perhaps some more as well.

Skin is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot. He has deployed with and been an instructor in both platforms. He has also served as a military advisor to an Afghan Border Police battalion. He is currently Executive Officer at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, training Osprey pilots and aircrew for the Marine Corps and Air Force. He earned his batchelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s from Boston University. His writing has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, USNI Proceedings, Small Wars Journal, and Approach, among others (available at carlforsling.tumblr.com). Follow him on Twitter @carlforsling.

Join us live at 6:30pm or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later from iTunes here.


The phrase “no boots on the ground” has become a constant refrain when this country contemplates the use of military force. This phrase relies on the myth that air power alone can resolve a crisis. As a policy it sees boots only as people vulnerable to victimization by the enemy. However, the boots are actually grunts, people who dedicate their lives to defeating our enemies and are not afraid to get their hands dirty in the process. Militarily they increase the effectiveness of airstrikes and bring capabilities to the fight that aircraft do not possess.

Grunts possess not only boots but also optic, audio, and olfactory sensors. These sensors gather information which the grunt’s brain housing group develops into an awareness of the situation. While remote electronic sensors such as drones and satellites can be substituted to a degree, the grunt provides a more complete picture. This allows for quicker and more accurate target identification for aircraft.

Recent history shows the problems from a failure to deploy grunts. In Kosovo, NATO attacks were wasted on decoys, the Chinese Embassy was mistakenly bombed, all while civilians continued to suffer below. In Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein continued to launch SCUD missiles from mobile launchers in Western Iraq until Special Forces grunts were deployed. In Pakistan, mistaken attacks by drones on civilians undermine our efforts in the Global War on Terror.

Grunts also possess a unique capability that aircraft do not. While aircraft can influence events on the ground, grunts control them. Aircraft fly over the battlefield. After the initial shock subsides, the enemy adapts their tactics and becomes acclimatized to the bombing. (Despite years of strategic bombing by the U.S. and Britain, German production continued to increase throughout World War II.) In contrast, a grunt occupies the ground they stand on and the enemy must first push our grunts off the ground before they can act as they wish. Massacring civilians is not as easy when you must first defeat the grunts protecting them.

Like in Kosovo, after Desert Storm the U.S. attempted an air only approach to protect Iraqis who revolted against Saddam Hussein by imposing a no-fly zone over portions of Iraq. Those revolts were brutally suppressed. In the 1980’s, French air attacks stalemated Libyan advances into Chad but never defeated them. Finally, after a decade of fighting, the Chadian ground forces assimilated the surface-to-air and anti-tank guided missiles provided to them into their natural fighting style and decisively drove out the Libyans within a year.

By attacking with both air and ground forces you impose a dilemma on the enemy. If they concentrate to engage your ground forces, your air attacks become more effective. If they disperse their forces to minimize the effects of your air attacks, they become vulnerable to your ground forces. With boots on the ground supported by air attacks you inflict a defeat on your enemy, without them you can only hope he gives up.

Above all a no boots on the ground policy is a moral failure. Defeating an enemy requires convincing them that they cannot obtain victory. Accepting the risk of deploying ground troops demonstrates your resolve to seek victory. In contrast, attacking from the air and setting deadlines for withdraw indicates that you are more interested in reducing your risk and leaving as quick as possible. Showing this kind of weakness emboldens your enemy, not only by lifting their morale, but also because you tell them exactly what they have to do to win. The Greatest Generation did not ask for a no boots on the ground policy after seeing the pictures from the Tarawa beaches of the carnage of battle. They won World War II with a policy of “for the duration”. If we are committed to acting militarily, we should state clearly the goal we intend to accomplish, obtain Congress’s authorization for military action, and deploy the forces, including some form of ground component, necessary to accomplish our goal.


Please join us Sunday, 19 October 2014 at 5pm (EDT) as we once again explore the U.S. Navy and national security on live “radio” on Midrats Hits 250:

Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.

In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.

From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.

As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.

Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.

Join us live (and join in) or pick the show up later to by clicking here. Don’t forget that Midrats is back on iTunes, too, for later listening – which you can reach here.


seacontrol2Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 56 – Forgotten Naval Strategists

Considering leaving a comment and five-star rating on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remember to subscribe and recommend us to your friends!

Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.


For the moment, the U.S. military can still apply overwhelmingly decisive force – whether we’re talking lethal Special Operations teams or waves of bombers. At the same time, no one has our logistical reach for responding globally to natural disasters and other unforeseen catastrophes like Ebola.

We should build on these dual strengths. Indeed, the real shift that is needed in the defense budget and in national security debates isn’t about who or what we have, but about what we deploy our forces to do. Forget trying to re-make the military to fight violent extremists the way violent extremists want us to fight them. Instead, we should re-build foreign policy to fit our military capabilities and re-tilt the playing field to advantage us.

How about “don’t tread on me” married to “to each his own.” Just consider: if the U.S. got out of the business of telling other people how to live their lives – which is what respecting others’ sovereignty should mean – then the U.S. could demand of other governments the other quid pro quo sovereignty promises: namely, no one hailing from any other country should seek to cause us harm.

If foreign leaders were held accountable for the actions of their citizens, if they were made to understand that in exchange for the deference they receive as heads of state their duty is to guarantee security to their citizens and to us, they’d have to deliver better services. Otherwise, they risk an insurgency or worse. Meanwhile, let just one non-state actor harbored in another country attack the U.S. again, and here’s what violating our sovereignty would mean: that government would have to root out our attackers or we would be obliged to consider it complicit, too.

In other words, if people elsewhere prefer to live under a Caliphate or under a leader like Vladimir Putin, so be it. If they don’t want to, however, let them do the lion’s share of the fighting. Let them organize. Let them demonstrate that they are capable of uniting under a more viable alternative – one that can govern effectively, deliver services equitably, and will be a steward of regional peace. Then, ‘we the people’ can decide: is this an entity we want to support, in which case the U.S. Senate can ratify a treaty that makes clear to everyone what our support consists of.

No doubt this will strike some readers as too unrealistic and far-fetched. Clearly, we wouldn’t declare war on Russia over irredentism in its backyard. But, if not, why are we lending desultory support to Ukraine? Ditto for our positively schizophrenic treatment of Bashar al-Assad; we wanted him gone, encouraged the rebels, but refused to help them remove him, and now we need his help.

Imagine if we instead had a far clearer “don’t tread on me, or else” foreign policy. And say we had applied such a policy in the wake of 9/11. Mullah Omar either would have turned over Usama bin Laden or Mullah Omar would no longer be alive. Afghans would have chosen their own next leader in their own way. We wouldn’t still be in Afghanistan, still trying to cajole Afghans into a form of government and democracy that suits us.

One reason the U.S. should get out of the business of propping up regimes is that by doing so we prolong chaos and uncertainty. Cutting off the aid spigot is critical for two additional reasons. First, what too few Americans appreciate is the extent to which foreign aid projects don’t just corrupt, but corrupt absolutely. After all, why should a foreign government have to provide for its own citizens if we are willing to do so for them?

Second, our serial experimentation hasn’t really worked. The ‘developing world’ has been the developing world for decades. Have any of our taxpayer-funded aid projects really made a sufficiently significant dent?

Pilferable projects and cash feed the dysfunction we say we want to stop. Which isn’t to say that we should halt efforts to offer education or training. Those are unstealable. Nor should we stop delivering assistance in the immediate aftermath of unforeseeable natural disasters.

Indeed, there are numerous reasons why the United States should strive to remain the globe’s most robust First Responder. Not only is this what all good neighbors should do and what American citizens always seek to do anyway, but there is no surer way to show people elsewhere how well democracy and a free market economy can work, since without them we wouldn’t be able to deliver the mountains of assistance we do.

Assisting during the triage phase of an earthquake, tsunami, or pandemic is one thing. But prolonged assistance or a lengthy intervention is something altogether different. We Americans are unbelievably generous as a people. And we are great logisticians. But we don’t have what it takes to undo others’ chronic problems. Also, despite what many might think, we are too egalitarian and too impatient to successfully make people over in our image since that takes an imperial ruthlessness we don’t possess.

Our greatest strength? Directness – ideal for getting to the scene quickly to do immediate good, but also ideal for getting to the scene quickly to do immense damage. Reflect on our dual capabilities of relieving people from, or introducing people to, devastation, and we would save untold blood and treasure by re-calibrating our foreign policy to make the most prudent possible use of the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps we have.

At the same time, reinvigorating sovereignty would liberate others to make much more of themselves, too. It would force those heads of state in the path of ISIL, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, or you-name-the-armed-group to live up to their obligations to their citizens. They (too) would have to make far better use of the resources they already have – or succumb.

Consider what else Washington would gain if it took the military’s core strengths and made more (rather than less) of them. Members of the military would be able to concentrate on their comparative advantages, which come from being impatient, generous, capable, and direct. These are among the attributes that non-Americans used to admire in us – exactly the attributes that prolonged un-declared, fitful counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaigns squander.


Please join us on 5 Oct 14 at 5pm Eastern U.S. for Midrats Episode 248: “Anti-Access Area-Denial (A2AD) with Sam Tangredi”:

Power projection, sea control, access, denial, and the ability to impose your will on the enemy from the sea – or depending on your perspective – prevent them.

If the comparative advantage of American military power includes the use of the world’s oceans as a basing area from projecting power and national will, how can other nations design systems and tactics to trump that advantage? What are in place now, and what can we expect to see in the near future?

Our guest for the full hour will be Sam J. Tangredi, a defense strategist whose studies of future warfare prompted Defense Department officials to label him “the Navy’s futurist.” His thirty-year naval career included command at sea, service in key strategic planning positions in the Pentagon and overseas, earning a PhD in international relations, and research fellowships at two think tanks.

His over one hundred publications—which include four books–have won awards, including the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke Prize and the U.S. Navy League’s Alfred Thayer Mahan Award. He is currently the director of San Diego operations for the planning/consulting firm Strategic Insight.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from Midrats on iTunes
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