Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”
In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”
Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and
fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be
Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.
Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.
Greg Easterbrook’s recent column “Our Navy is Big Enough” in the New York Times demonstrates that one lecture at the Naval War College does not a naval expert make. Easterbrook advances two arguments. First that the Navy, at 275 ships, is large enough to meet all of the nation’s naval maritime security needs. Secondly he states that the Navy’s proposed budget proposed budget of $161 billion is far in excess of spending requirements. That he would correlate the size of the Navy’s budget with the size of the force deployed demonstrates his shallow awareness of matters maritime. In both the case of the size of the fleet and the size of the budget, it all comes down to math.
The size of the fleet is measured largely against two separate standards. The first is the size of the force necessary to fight and win the nation’s wars. This standard often looks first to the capabilities a potential challenger might field and then estimates the size of the US naval force required to ensure US victory. Such analysis attempts to present the capabilities required to operate in a lethal and effective manner. Cost and efficiency factor into these calculations but not in a large way. Decisive victory is the objective.
The American navy derives it’s lethality from the brutal and exquisite nature of its naval platforms. Aircraft carriers have occupied the central position in naval force planning for more 70 years. These 100,000 ton behemoths carry an air wing of over 70 tactical aircraft and can strike targets with precision hundreds of miles away. As threats to the carrier have mounted over time, they have been increasingly surrounded and protected by a fleet architecture of cruisers and destroyers, generally four, equipped with the latest state of the art radars and missile defense systems. They are also protected by two nuclear powered fast attack submarines that prowl the ocean in search of opposing submarines and enemy shipping.
The number of conflicts to be fought also factors in. The United States has two coasts so, for most of the 20th century and all of the 21st, the nation has maintained a fleet in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This lesson was well learned in World War II when the nation faced existential threats in both oceans. To fight and win the nation’s wars the Navy requires ships of sufficient capability and quantity to move to and from battle without interruption, factoring in projected combat and material casualties. Factoring our current carrier-based force structure and near peer competitors in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters has results in a requirement for 10 carriers, 20 cruisers, 20 destroyers and 20 fast attack submarines as well as 33 associated amphibious assault ships and 30 logistical support for a total of 163 ships to meet the bare minimum requirements to conduct combat operations. This number allows no room for extensive maintenance, reactor refuelings, combat repairs or prolonged training and readiness exercises.
However, as Mr. Easterbrook has pointed out, no one has been foolish enough to take on the United States in one theater, let alone two, since the end of World War II. Surely no one would think of doing so today, or would they?
The reason they haven’t represents the logic behind the second standard of measurement for the fleet: The number of ships required to maintain the peace. The presence of the United States Navy convinces rouge actors on a daily basis that today is not the day to start a conflict with the United States. If our Navy were to fall so low as to meet only the bare minimum requirements for combat operations it would invite our competitors to question whether the United States was ready and willing to defend its interests, just as the drawdown in US ground forces in Europe has encouraged Russian adventurism there today. Our maritime interests span the globe. Some interests are commercial, some are security based, and many are diplomatic. Today the United States services these interests by deploying Navy ships to key regions to demonstrate US resolve. These regions range from the north Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from the Black Sea to the South China Sea. Altogether there are 15 specific geographic regions that require frequent demonstrations of US interest. These operations assure friends and allies of continued US support as well as remind competitors of the breadth and depth of US power. Some of these regions require visits from our front line capital vessels, the carriers. Most require only frigates to show our flag and convey US resolve. This has been the manner in which Pax Americana has been maintained over the past 70 years.
To service the far flung regions, scattered as they are across the globe, requires a constant cycling of ships, generally one on station, one on its way home, one training to deploy and one in maintenance. Some of these requirements can be offset with forward based naval forces such as those that operate out of Japan, Singapore, and Spain, but in the end, when you crunch all the numbers through the force structure calculator, you arrive at a the naval force of 355 ships. It’s math, and a particular simple form of it at that. However, there is another calculation, much more arcane, that needs exploring, the math behind a Navy budget.
There is a logic to the argument that to build a bigger Navy you need a bigger budget. It seems self-evident, but is not necessarily true. When the Navy decides to build one aircraft carrier for $14 billion, it is tacitly making a decision not to build the 7 destroyers or 28 frigates those same dollars could have bought. If we hold spending constant, or live with the confines of the Budget Control Act, and yet choose to buy increasingly expensive and technologically exquisite ships, then we are making a decision to buy fewer ships in the long run. This equation largely explains the decreasing size of the American fleet over the past 20 years.
Presently we buy one supercarrier every five years, and two destroyers, two submarines and four frigates every year. These are the combatants that occupy much of the conversation regarding the size and capability of the Navy. If, however, we were to purchase only one destroyer per year and invest the $2 billion saved in the construction of four additional frigates, we could rapidly grow the size of the fleet in short order. The Secretary of the Navy has stated his opposition to trading one type of ship for another, and I would agree with that. However it is possible to trade one type of ships for several of another type. This would still allow us to field high-end war fighting capabilities in balance with the need to build a larger Navy. If we were to take a really radical path and recognize that super carriers are too large, too expensive and too vulnerable to serve in combat and cease building super carriers while investing a portion of the savings in the construction of nuclear guided missile submarines to provide the lost precision strike power projection capability previously generated by the carrier’s airwing, we could afford to grow the fleet and shrink the Navy’s budget simultaneously. This is math as well and should intrigue fiscal conservatives.
In the end we must recognize that the shrinkage of the American fleet over the past generation has begun to create a power vacuum that is inviting others to challenge the longest lasting maritime peace since man took to the water in boats. If we are to maintain peace as well as remain prepared for war, we will need to grow the fleet. That we can do so while remaining within the current budget caps presents a significant opportunity for policy makers and supporters of naval power. It’s math that every American, including Mr. Easterbrook, should be able to understand.
|Strategy is not for amateurs*|
Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy’s Proper Role in it:
The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?
What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.
Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.
He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.
Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.
*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions
While catching up on USNI posts from the past few months, the recurring themes of professionalism, education, and the need for more ideas and thoughts to move us forward jumped out from my monitor. It seemed appropriate to be reading about such topics upon emerging from the black hole of preparing for and—hallelujah—finally passing my PhD comprehensive exams. I failed my first attempt last September, so over the fall and winter I entered into full-blown hermit mode to pass it this second and last attempt. We are only allowed two attempts; failing twice kicks you out of the program, a somewhat common occurrence.
Given recent posts by Will Beasley and LT Misso and LTJG O’Keefe, this experience seems particularly relevant. My initial failure and subsequent furious hibernation would not be worth noting on a public site except for one thing: in my program, military members seem to struggle to pass the comprehensive exams while our civilian academic peers have not struggled to the same degree. Certainly civilian students fail at times, but their rate of failure is significantly lower than ours in my cohort. Anecdotally, servicemembers going through comparable PhD programs at separate institutions have experienced similar problems.
I was not surprised strictly by our failures; I was surprised by why we each failed. We didn’t fail due to comprehension or writing ability. Instead, uniformly, we each failed because we did not thoroughly own the literature. We did not question it at its depth and tear it apart to its roots. We did not question in it ways that existed outside of our comfort zones. Each of us fully absorbed the stuff and spit it back out along with some tepid critiques, but we fell far short of the standard expected along the way. Something about the way we learned and processed information in the services created a mindset that was fundamentally different from what was expected of us by our professors, kind of like “academics are from Mars, the military is from Venus.” While all students have to reset their way of thinking and start digging deeper inside their own brains to reach a different level, doing that as a 24-year-old right out of college is different than doing it as a 45-year-old post-command O6 who has been hard-wired to process information in a completely different manner.
One of my military peers at school thinks it’s not that we think differently, it’s that we have had to view the world as it is instead of how it is theorized to be, but I don’t buy that. Many of us began to study International Relations to understand more of the world as it is versus what we saw of it, and to that end this education has been quite a ride. Instead, I think we struggle because from day one in the military, we are expected to process large amounts of information and to live by that information. Seriously challenging convention is not something we regularly include in that process. Thinking critically, independently, and “outside the box” is given lip service (often only during PME studies), but at no point do I see it being actively, comprehensively encouraged through all aspects of our careers. The level of creativity currently desired is rarely hard to summon.
My worry is not that we are doomed to struggle to pass big exams, it’s what that signifies for how we as a force encourage thought, education, and analysis, and what this means for the future of the military. At no point in my career—ever—have I been expected to think, question, or analyze to the degree that I am now in school. When I checked into my first squadron, I was handed a stack of pubs. Over the next few months, I slept with those babies under my pillow at times, trying to absorb the information they contained into my puny brain. I wasn’t trying to learn it in order to improve upon it, challenge it, or turn it all on its head. I was trying to memorize it as quickly as possible so that I could advance in the squadron and do my job quickly and competently. I learned this mentality and applied it rigorously throughout the following years, which eventually brought me around to my comprehensive exam last fall, which I then failed. I failed the exam because my brain did not grasp where it truly needed to go.
That failure is a failure for so many of us, and I believe it indicates a failure for the military at large. Do we steer away from critical thought? Why, how, and at what point do we stop encouraging it? Is it unconscious? Automatic? And what can we do about it? Why did officers in my program struggle so uniformly? Is this because by the time we reach the ten-year mark or more, we have largely been trained to think and process info in similar ways? In the execution of our duties, do we soak in information as fast as we can, hit the pertinent parts with a highlighter, and move on? That’s what each of us did on the comprehensive exam: we took the key points, made bland yet reasonable arguments with them, and thought we had done well. Rereading my answers from this past exam, I saw no glaring problems at first. I had answered the questions on the surface. But those answers weren’t enough. I had to question the basic accepted standards of each theory, each hypothesis, and each assumption. I had to make a convincing argument that master theoreticians were wrong in ways I had never thought possible, and I was wholly unprepared to do so.
Training our brains to think in a new way is not impossible, but it’s tough when you’ve trained for years to think differently, sometimes under life-or-death stakes. Yet more than ever before, we need challenging thinkers and writers in the services at every level. The level of comprehension and analysis I needed to develop to pass my comp was far beyond anything I’ve attempted before, and nothing in the past two decades prepared me for it. However, it has been surprisingly fun and liberating, and it is making me better in other aspects of my life too. It’s changing the way I look at everything. I wish I’d started this program years earlier.
Given the complexities of our world, the need for stronger civil-military integration, and the budget realities we face, we need people who are not afraid to look at a problem upside down and see a new solution or a new path. Can we encourage and teach this in the military? PME schools can make a dent in developing how we think, but don’t approach the amount of “immersion” and reaction to established theory that the group in my program needed to summon.* Resident programs don’t reach enough people, non-resident programs aren’t intense enough to produce deep changes in the ways we think, and programs targeting senior officers and enlisted are too little too late. While we have existing programs to send servicemembers to higher education, I wish we did a much better job of encouraging younger Marines and Sailors to dig into the world from the start instead of waiting twenty years. We should encourage and want everyone to not just comprehend a problem, but to find its shortcomings, pick apart its vulnerabilities, and imagine other options. We don’t all need to graduate from Princeton and redefine counterinsurgency, but we should encourage creative thinking and new perspectives from the beginning. How? I haven’t figured that one out yet, but pushing critical thought via the written word is a start. I do wonder how the last 14 years would have looked with a more questioning, challenging military.
*It would be great to hear from anyone associated with a PME school here. Do you see similar problems among students? Different ones? Opposite experience?
In 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, British Defence expenditure accounted for 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64.9% of Total Government Expenditure (TGE).2 In 1914 at the beginning of World War I it accounted for 3.2% of GDP and 40.1% of TGE. In contrast, in 2014, after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with pirates operating on both the East and West Coasts of Africa attacking ocean trade, a greatly more pro-active Russia, on-going disputes and troubles affecting key allies in the Middle East and Far East, and territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar constantly recycling, British Defence Expenditure accounted for 2.1% of GDP and 4.4% of TGE. The difference of course reflects, the growth in other areas of government expenditure, i.e. National Health, and welfare, but also a change in the subject of the defence debate.
In the early 1800s the debate was whether to pursue a ‘Continental’ (Army to fight in Europe) or ‘Blue Water’ (Navy to blockade Napoleon and his allies in Europe, while transporting the Army around the world to acquire colonies, and other resources) strategy; these were ideas which divided the nation, and that caused much heated discussion – not only in parliament, but also across the great houses, coffee houses and ale houses of the whole country. In the early 1900s, the age of Dreadnought battleships, machine guns and high explosive, but alongside this often very technical discussions of specific weaponry, there was still the strategic debate going on – of whether to focus resources on Europe or to look to the rest of the world. On both occasions, the reality that was perceived, was that it was necessary to be able to do both, to a lesser or greater extent and this is reflected in the relative budgets allocated to the two services.
Recently the defence debate in Britain has stopped the discussion of strategy, and equipment (baring Trident), instead it is an almost constant discussion of the % of GDP allocated to defence. Furthermore, this debate often revolves around the figure of 2%, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation minimum, and any difference from this figure is obsessed over – whether positive or negative. The reality though is this is an artificial debate, its focusing on spending as aim in itself, rather than spending in terms of what is procured, and as such obscures the debate which should be taking place. In actuality, for defence (as with all government spending), Britain needs to debate, and then decide what is needs to do, and what it would like to do; only when these things have been decided must the decision as to what needs to be paid for and how much should be paid be decided.
The first question is the most difficult, as it can depend upon perspective, after all it can be reduced to the just the territorial integrity of the nation; which at its base point, could be defended on an international level by the strategic deterrent, and some form of reserve army – to deal with possible internal disruption caused by extremists. That though is rather simple, and relies upon a nation resorting to nuclear weapons the moment they are threatened – a powder-keg situation, that could come to put the nation at more risk than protect it.
The situation becomes even more complex when factoring in the island Britain’s reliance upon imported food and energy,3 as well as its economic reliance upon global trade;4 defending these is more difficult and requires a wider range of military capabilities. It requires a global presence (if decisions are made by those who show up; interests can only be protected by those who are present) which can be provided simply by suitably equipped ships, but in certain regions may be judged to require a larger commitment, i.e. a port agreement, air base or even possibly a garrison. It could also require allies, which of course entails further capabilities and political agreements being necessary; as collective defence is only truly effective when all members of the collective contribute – there will be some members more capable than others, but it will only work if all members are able to live up to their commitments. Ultimately, the capabilities required for this are some form of presence, and some form of ‘reach’ – i.e. a capability such as that offered by aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces, a deployable force that is capable of providing assistance allies, reaction to events and an escalation in presence to deter potential aggression.
The second question, comes down to choice, what does Britain want to be able to do? Does it want to be able to conduct conflict stabilisation operations? In which case should the number of infantry battalions, and military police be maintained or even supplemented further by reservists? Does Britain want to be able to provide significant ground forces for allied operations? If so then should then cutting the number of main battle tanks would seem illogical. Does it want to be able to conduct interventions independently? In which case, the decision has to be made as to what level of opponent is anticipated, and from there what composition/quantity/quality of forces will subsequently be required. These are decisions which have to be made, not muddled, as once they are made then the personnel, the equipment, the training has to be made, undertaken and paid for.
The third and fourth questions are in many ways the most to address, as they put to one side the almost traditional belief that British governments have practiced since 1918 – that the best defence is a strong economy. They put aside this idea, because the decision makes defence not an issue of economy, but an issue of security and strategy. By asking these questions it is acknowledged that no matter how successful the bank is, if it doesn’t pay its taxes, and support a decent police force, it will get robbed. The final amount that needs to be paid may be less than 2% of GDP, it will probably be at least slightly more, but it won’t be being spent because of some artificial logic based on treaty – but will be being spent because of a proper, thorough, public debate that has decided what is necessary, what is needed and therefore what should be done. Unless Britain’s defence debate learns from its past, and returns to strategy, technology, in other words capability! Instead of the simplistic and false debate about % of GDP; the British Armed Forces, will never have a hope of being what they are needed to be, when they are needed.
Such a debate though is not only required by Britain, it also required by allies; in an age of austerity, where the cost of everything is debated it becomes more important than ever that the value is also understood. This can not be provided by a debate taking place in the abstract and focused on %, it can only be done by a thorough and open debate that goes into the detail, of interests, of capabilities and of technicalities.
Clarke, Alexander. 2014. “We have the centrepiece…but what about the rest of the board?” European Geostrategy. 4 July. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2014/07/centrepiecebut-rest-board/, and Clarke, Alexander. 2015. “What to do about the Disappearing Royal Navy….” U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 22 January. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://blog.usni.org/2015/01/22/what-to-do-about-the-disappearing-royal-navy ↩
Mitchell, B. R. 2011. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Chantrill, Christopher. 2015. ukpublicspending.co.uk. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/ ↩
Wright, Oliver. 2014. “Britain’s food self-sufficiency at risk from reliance on overseas imports of fruit and vegetables that could be produced at home.” The Independent. July 01. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-food-selfsufficiency-at-risk-from-reliance-on-overseas-imports-of-fruit-and-vegetables-that-could-be-produced-at-home-9574238.html ↩
Osborne, Alistair. 2011. “Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’.” The Telegraph. August 12. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8696607/Britains-reliance-on-sea-trade-set-to-soar.html, and Duncan, Hugo. 2013. “British exports to countries outside EU soar to record £80BILLION as economy reduces dependence on Europe.” Mail Online. August 9. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2388429/British-exports-countries-outside-EU-soar-record-80BILLION-economy-reduces-dependence-Europe.html ↩
In responding to a question posed at the recent USNI/AFCEA WEST 2015 Conference regarding ‘tell-all’ books that have been published MCPON Stevens answered, in his words, “with a thought”. His thought was that a chief petty officer is a humble, quiet, servant and he took some time to expand upon what that means. MCPON stated that “not quiet in the sense that when we talk, we don’t talk about ourselves, we talk about our people.” Just as MCPON was commenting with ‘a thought’ in response to the question posed, I comment here with a thought and how I came to that thought.
In being a deckplate leader one has to stop talking as much as they did as a junior sailor. In many if not most instances the junior sailor is the one that is doing the end-point task required of the mission. Whether that is sweeping the deck, performing maintenance, or standing watch they are the one who is on station doing the physical actions required–their duty. In performing their duty it is incumbent upon them to report the varying degrees of success they achieved to their leaders so that an accurate depiction of reality is understood, so that the next decisions can be made by leadership. Deckplate leadership is the first point of contact with reality, the first link in the chain of command to understand whether the P-way is clean, that all hands are present and accounted for, that the engines are being properly maintained and capable of performing missions.
As a junior sailor I was asked if I had accomplished the duties I was assigned, and I would relate the ‘why’ I had varying degrees of success. My chain of command always had questions for me, always had a reason for me to say more. As well, my personality is such that I want to say more than less, and to opine on things I had little experience to accurately speak towards. What resulted from this tacit training was that, as I had my first few instances of having service members serving in my charge, I wanted to talk more to them than I did to hear from them. This is not to say that there were no conversations that were had, or that I would constantly tell them they were wrong. Rather, it is that based on the experience I did have doing the tasks (usually mundane) assigned to them I would extrapolate from what they attempted to relate to me and assume I knew reality rather than probe for more information from them and make sure I understood what they were relating to me.
A leader has to be humble, not assume they can extrapolate answers from what their sailors say to them. When they talk to their sailors they have to know how to ask the right questions, they have to know how to lead their sailors to relating the correct details and information, leaders have to know how to teach their sailors to talk to leadership and inform leadership’s decision making process. All this starts with being a quiet, humble, servant-leader. You won’t hear what is being said to you if you’re not being quiet, without humility there is hubris, as the first link in the chain of command you are leading your sailors and serving the chain of command–you are a vital conduit through which decision makers base their decisions on.
Of course, there is an additional dimension beyond the direct performance of duty for a leader to understand. And again, humility in terms of “think more of others” means to me that I have to know my sailors: who that sailor is; what their abilities, strengths and weaknesses are; and the challenges each sailor faces in their personal life that can affect their ability to do their duty. This abstract dimension informs my decision making in terms of what duties are assigned to a sailor to most effectively accomplish the division’s mission. A sailor facing issues in their personal life will perform their duty differently than a sailor who does not have similar issues, a sailor who is not motivated performs less well than one who is–I have to know the ‘why’ behind it all.
A leader serves their sailors in that the Navy is ripe with tasks sailors cannot accomplish successfully on their own. Look no further than administrative paperwork and you’ll find that everything that a sailor might want to do with their career requires explaining/mentoring the details of what they’re interested in, informing them of what paperwork must be done, how to access the programs and databases required, double checking that all supporting documentation is being provided and that the paperwork in accurately filled-out, and certainly that the paperwork is forwarded up the chain of command and onto Naval Personnel Command, and that the sailor is kept informed of the progress of their paperwork. As a leader and especially a deckplate leader, one is leading that effort and serving their sailor by informing them of the process as it progresses.
There are a very few broad things (with a lot of details behind them) a leader must do to effectively lead. As we develop as leaders most of the lessons to learn are subtle, and to an extent we must unlearn what we were accustomed to as junior sailors. MCPON’s thoughts at WEST highlighted for me notions I was only starting to grasp at, but now have a deeper appreciation for. “People first” because leading people is the hard part, and leading them effectively ensures the mission is accomplished.
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.
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer