At lunch yesterday, I had the pleasure of being involved in a scintillating conversation among “millennial” peers. Shockingly, we didn’t spend the better part of two hours adhering to our generational stereotype and discussing important issues like how to work “only the bare minimum number of hours required,” (apologies, but CDR Cunningham’s article is the gift that keeps on giving).
In 2014, the DoD Retention Survey gave us a valuable look at junior officer viewpoints, so I dusted off the data set. The following statistics jumped out:
“One of the most pointed and straightforward questions in the survey was whether or not Sailors aspire to have their boss’s job. 49.4% of Sailors overall report they do not want their bosses job, a significantly negative response when compared to the 38.8% who say they do. A plurality of enlisted Sailors (46.5%) desire their boss’s job, while a majority of officers indicate they do not want their boss’s job (52.6%).”
While having your boss’s job doesn’t necessarily equate with aspiring to command, when not even 50% of junior officers seek said job, it’s probably time to have a discussion on what that means.
But what the JOs in our lunchtime discourse yesterday really wanted to know is, does our generation aspire to command, because as CAPT Sean Heritage points out, we are told that we ought to; but the DoD retention survey indicated otherwise. This engendered a broader discussion about aspiration to command versus a desire to lead.
And as discussion of this important distinction and resulting question progressed, we enjoyed and were informed by it so much that we wished that we could put a broader group of our peers in a room in order to have this same conversation with viewpoints from across the fleet. So we put our millennial, tech-savvy heads together and figured out how we could do so.
The result was the following brief survey that we are circulating (unofficially and informally) to our peers regarding junior officer command aspirations (and yes we understand that the chosen survey domain name is ironically synonymous with a specific archetype of naval service.)
If you are an actively-serving junior officer, to take the survey, click here:
We will leave the survey available through Thursday and publish the results whether we have two entries or two thousand. It will be interesting to see what we find out.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 16 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 293: Russia and the Nuclear Shadow: 2015’s Revivals with Tom Nichols:
They never really went away, but for almost 20 years the world had a holiday from an old challenge and a new one; Russia and the prospect of nuclear war.
Some thought, and more hoped that with the end of the Cold War, a newer world order would emerge that would enable an era of stability and peace. In a way, it did – but only in spots and for short periods of time.
While for the last 15 years most of the attention was focused on the expansion of radical Islam, two not unrelated events began to wax. From the ashes of the Soviet Union, fed by a charismatic leader and a resource extraction economy, Russian began to reassert itself in a manner consistent with the last 500 years of its history, and in parallel – the boogyman of the second half of the 20th Century began to grow as well; the proliferation and possible use nuclear weapons.
To discuss this and more for the full hour will be Dr. Tom Nichols,
Tom is a professor at the Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, as well as a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York City and a Fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University. Previously he was a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. Before coming to the War College, he taught international relations and Russian affairs for many years at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. In Washington, he was personal staff for defense and security affairs in the United States Senate to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania.
He received his PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, and the Certificate of the Harriman Institute at Columbia.
He’s also a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion. He played in the 1994 Tournament of Champions, is listed in the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame. He played his final match in the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.
“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told Military.com. “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”
That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.
Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.
When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?
The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.
The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.
The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;
Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?
What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.
For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.
To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.
Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.
The millennial generation follows in the footsteps of some awesome predecessors, learning from the example—and the mistakes—of the “Greatest Generation,” Baby Boomers, Generation X, and others. As we set our sails for the horizon, millennials often wonder: what will our legacy be?
At a recent meeting of junior and senior officers on innovation, a discussion arose about funding innovative projects. All involved recognized the elephant in the room as one senior leader said, “Clearly, we can’t solve the acquisition problem.”
Being a big fan of marginalia, I wrote that quote down on the side of my pre-brief material. Underneath it, I hurriedly scribbled, “We all want reform. Show me the person who doesn’t? Do the work! Steel the wool!”
That statement—“We Can’t”—underscores the shared intra-generational frustration over our military’s “wicked problems.” The defense-industrial-congressional complex looms large as the source of these problems. This is widely recognized, and while a few brave souls have tried to slay the beast, the masses have been content to live within its shadow according to its rules.
But it does not have to be this way, and the millennial generation is already actively involved in tackling these seemingly insurmountable problems. Under Secretary of Defense Brad Carson’s “Force of the Future” initiative and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Bill Moran’s efforts aim to overhaul the antiquated, inefficient personnel systems throughout the DoD. Providing some revolutionary solutions—and volunteering to implement them—are members of the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF) and similar JO-heavy organizations. These are millennials not willing to take “we can’t” as the final answer.
Paraphrasing a line from the founding text of our nation, though, “prudence, indeed, will dictate,” that disruptive servicemembers must not break apart the seams of the sea services “for light and transient causes.” As CDR Harrison Schramm recently wrote in the August 2015 issue of Proceedings, this generation must “do [our] homework and understand why we are where we are, and how to move forward.”
If we are to have any sort of enduring legacy, the millennial generation must eliminate the “Can’t” from responses to those who ask “How?” or “Why?” This will require millennial leaders to find their way into every corner of the defense-industrial-congressional complex, and be willing to translate reforms into lasting institutional overhaul.
We must also consider that retention in the active duty Navy may not be the end-all-be-all. Our service requires committed individuals capable of critical thinking not just in uniform, but also in elected office (particularly the “Big 4” committees in Congress: The House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees) and in defense industry. When jobs for congressional districts, profit margins for defense industry, and programmatic victories for OPNAV N-codes trump naval strategy, agility, and innovation, we are on a perilous path. It is increasingly becoming unsustainable.
Our “Can-Do” generation will lead the way. By remaining actively connected through organizations such as the Naval Institute, DEF, CIMSEC, and others, we will ensure that the capricious winds of personnel placement do not silence the ideas and spirit of our generation’s thinkers, writers, and doers. We will not allow cynicism and disillusionment to erode our fighting spirit. We will tackle all problems—no matter how large or protracted—and we will solve them.
The Naval Institute will continue to be the forum where we bring these discussions—in real time—for perspective, refinement, and support. Now more than ever, we require a strong Institute with a robust online presence and a chorus of writers to diversify the debate.
As Winston Churchill once said, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
We are now entering that period of consequences. Our sea services must either move forward or, as Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote so many years ago, fall “into insane contempt.” The legacy of the Can-Do Generation will be the difference.
With the recent spate of media attention on the firing of LtCol Kate Germano and the separate physical standards that female Marines have been held to for years, I feel the need to clear up some misconceptions, particularly those that hold that female Marines prefer lower standards and that such standards in any way benefit the Marine Corps.
I have been a Marine for over 17 years. Prior to my commissioning, I was a midshipman for four years. During those 21+ years, I have never heard a single female Marine express satisfaction with any physical standard that was less than that required by the men she served with, nor have I heard a female Marine express a desire for separate and different training. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude among women has repeatedly held that lower, easier standards for women were stupid, made women seem weaker and less capable, and were in the end downright dangerous, and that integrated training is the only way to go.
Over the past month, stories about LtCol Kate Germano’s “agenda” have been circulated in the news (her agenda seems to be all about holding women to the same standards as the men, seeking gender-integrated training, and similar supposedly tough demands). While I cannot speak with authority about the specifics of an “abrasive” leadership style, I can certainly talk about her complaints regarding the separate—lower—standards applied to female Marines. In fact, I am beginning to feel like a broken record. And in conversations I have had over the past two weeks, it seems many women, both those currently serving and those who have left the military, feel the same way. See my past posts about the PFT and pullups for some past discussion.
So to make this perfectly clear, women by and large do not appreciate, deserve, or desire different physical standards to be a Marine, nor do they benefit from them. Female Marines do not clamor for lower standards, don’t seek simply to achieve the minimum of said lower standards, and rarely speak approvingly of such standards. Those of us serving today did not create the existing standards, and do not benefit from their existence. On the contrary, we repeatedly and vocally deplore the lower standards applied to women (70-second flexed arm hang? Red boxes on the O-Course?), and have described the implications of lower standards as restrictive, dangerous, and biased.
Lower, different physical standards for women are restrictive, because they teach women and men alike that women simply aren’t capable of tougher physical achievements. Higher standards may be tough to reach at first but they are reachable, and by holding expectations low we are just teaching that that’s all we can expect from women.
Lower, different standards are biased, because they separate Marines into two categories based on nothing but stereotypical beliefs that certainly don’t apply easily to any individual, male or female, who decides they want to become a Marine. Seriously, who wants to become a watered-down version of a Marine? We wanted to become Marines because of what Marines stand for. We didn’t want to become half-Marines, or Marines with an asterisk. We wanted the whole deal.
And above all, such standards are dangerous, because they call into question the abilities of female Marines based on externally-held beliefs about what those Marines are capable of. And really, the danger goes much deeper than that. I co-authored a Proceedings piece about that some time ago.
Why are separate standards for women there? Read First Class, by Sharon Disher, or Breaking Out, by Laura Brodie, to get an idea of how those standards were set and who really was asking for them (hint: it wasn’t the women trying to join the academies or VMI. It was the middle-aged men making the decisions and regulations.).
So to sum up: separate and unequal physical standards help no one and endanger everyone; most of us do not want or need separate standards; and the Marine Corps would be better with one standard for Marines based on the needs of the job. Stop blaming female Marines for being subject to lower physical standards, and start listening to them when they say they don’t want them. For crying out loud, we have been saying it long enough. That is all.
Please join us at 5 pm (EDT) on 9 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 292: The Force of the Future w/Acting Under SECDEF Brad R. Carson:
If people are your most important asset, as the hardware people look to a future of F-35s, SSBN(X), and the FORD Class CVN, what are the steps being taken to set of the personnel structure to address future requirements?
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Brad R. Carson, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Mr. Carson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on April 2, 2015. He currently serves as the 31st Under Secretary of the United States Army and Chief Management Officer of the Army.
He has previously served as General Counsel of the Department of the Army Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, member of the U.S. Congress representing the 2nd Congressional District of Oklahoma, academia, and a lawyer in private practice.
His military service includes a deployment in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM December 2008 until December 2009, as a United States Navy intelligence officer.
Mr. Carson holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Baylor University, Phi Beta Kappa. He received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Mr. Carson also holds a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma.
The Exit Interviews series provides an opportunity to capture and share the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. It focuses on individuals who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.
Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we ask a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirby Jones graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2009 and served as an intelligence officer, deploying to Korea and Afghanistan. She recently completed her military service and now resides in California with her husband (also a Marine Corps veteran) and their one-year old daughter.
Why did you join the Marine Corps?
I grew up in an atmosphere of patriotism and service to country and felt compelled to follow this legacy in some way. I was by no means a “military brat” as my Dad served as a Police Officer in the same area for over thirty years and my Mother and Step-Father were out of the military long before I was born, but the values and purpose that they instilled in me were well aligned with the military culture and philosophy. I came out of high school hungry for a challenge and something beyond the normal college experience. I wanted to make a difference and to stretch my limits seeking to learn about more about myself than about academics. The Naval Academy fit all of these desires and to the shock of many of my family and friends, I accepted my admittance.
Once at the Academy, I was still pursuing a challenge and the Marine Corps seemed like it would provide me the greatest challenge within my reach. The culture of bottom-up support centered around the rifleman on the ground appealed to me and the physicality of the endeavor intrigued me. It was another case of ‘how far can I push myself’. This branch seemed like the most pure and basic way to fulfill my duty to my country.
What was your favorite part of serving in the Marine Corps?
Without question, my favorite part of serving was the Marines. Some were good, some were bad, and most were a glorious blend of somewhere in between. Marines are a captivating assortment of young men and women with passion for their jobs, an unparalleled work ethic, and endless stories to tell. I am thankful to have encountered so many fascinating Marines and to have watched them and worked with them in all their glory.
The other highlight of my service was deployment. Actually being able perform the job that I was trained for day in and day out with minimal distractions and pure mission focus was extremely fulfilling. Each night I went to bed exhausted mentally and physically, but knowing that we did something that day that helped the guys out there in the line of fire. That feeling is powerful.
What did you find most frustrating?
I was continually frustrated by the prevailing hypocrisy and mixed messages coming from all sides and lower than expected levels of competency and character in leadership. Throughout The Basic School it was preached to me that I would be a leader and need to make quick, decisive, important decisions, but in the fleet it felt as if everything I did had to be run by several levels above me. Even as a Company Commander, I often felt powerless to make simple decisions for my Company knowing that they would just be overruled later. This impression filtered down to subordinates in being constantly told to trust your enlisted Marines, but yet scolded when you let them take charge and ceased to micromanage their efforts. I had exceptionally high expectations of leadership gleaned mainly from the awesome Marines that I encountered very early on in my career and the majority of leaders that I served under did not reach these high standards.
When and why did you decide to get out of the Marine Corps?
I went back and forth throughout my service of whether or not I would stay in, but about a year before I would be getting out is when I put my foot down and committed to the decision fully.
I have lots of answers when people ask me why I chose to leave the military because it is very hard to articulate an exact reason and easier to just throw out stock answers, but I will try to express my true feelings here. I am truly grateful to have served, but in the end it came down to the fact it was just not the place for me. The time away from my family was heart-breaking and not something I felt I could deal with in the long term. I was uncomfortable with the Marine Corps having the ability to make choices that would affect the lives of my husband and daughter. I had a lot of frustration with the leaders I was supposed to be mentored by and with my peers that I worked with, but I think this would probably occur anywhere to be honest. The final factor was that I looked at all the people above me and I realized I didn’t want any of their jobs. The further up I went, the less happy I was. It wasn’t fair to myself or other Marines for me to remain in an institution in which I had no desire to progress.
If you could change one thing about the Marine Corps, what would it be?
I don’t have all the grand answers, but I am going to cheat and list three simple things that came to me immediately.
- Let people fail more often, specifically officers. Give people a chance to try and fail and then be corrected. If they fail again, then take appropriate action. All the time I saw officers not have appropriate negative action taken against them because it may “ruin their career”. Here’s the thing- if they have done something that would warrant action which could ruin their career, then it’s likely that they shouldn’t have a career.
- Officer training/mentorship- TBS is great in theory and I honestly can’t say that I know all that much about how often the curriculum is changed or the process for deciding what gets taught, but I can say that TBS and MOS school taught me painfully little useful, applicable information for day to day life in the fleet. Obviously you are going to have to learn some lessons as you go along, that’s what makes you grow. However, for the extensive amount of time (more than a year) I spent in schooling I could have been given much more useful information and tools with which to go forward. I also firmly believe that as soon as you are promoted once it becomes part of your job description to mentor junior officers. I spent a large part of my service searching for mentors and finding distressingly few. Everyone is busy, but just a few minutes spent on mentorship makes a huge difference.
- Promotion system. The promotion system is flawed. Fitness Reports are in many cases NOT a true representation of a Marine’s actual competency and fortitude as a technician and a leader. I think they are better than they have been in the past from what I know of their history, but there is definite room for improvement in order to ensure the quality of those allowed to progress through the ranks.
What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with Marine Corps leaders?
Find the areas where you can make a difference, big or small, and throw yourself into that action. Not the “bloom where you are planted” cliché, but more “find what will actually grow within your area of influence and plant that and nurture it and share it and accomplish as much as you can”. You will get so bogged down with what you can’t do that you cease to try anything creative or different and become a part of the status quo. Instead, look around and notice what you can do and do that. Do a lot of it and throw your passion into it. Even if it is as small as making Marines pass their PFT because you rock at leading PT or rewriting SOPs for your platoon so that at least you can internally function flawlessly. Relish those actions and the resulting successes. Quite often, someone will notice and your little change can spread throughout your unit or even beyond.
What’s next for you?
I am in a unique and fortunate position of not having to make a solid decision quite yet, but I am able to explore some of my other passions. I am currently staying at home with my young daughter and training for several races and triathlons. I may try for another degree in Nutrition and attempt to work somewhere in the field of nutrition in hopes of educating people in all walks of life about how important it is to fuel your body properly. I would love to work with the military again in some manner- I still feel a passionate call to serve those who continue to serve.
For the better part of a quarter century we have become comfortable reigning over a domain we do not have title to. Many know and are preparing for it – but as we rack-n-stack priorities, mitigating this critical vulnerability often gets lost in the crunch.
We have comfortably placed a significant portion of our weaponeering, navigation and other essentials at the mercy of peacetime access to GPS, and entire CONOPS assuming the access, use, and utility of networks reliant on the electromagnetic commons.
The warnings about about this complacency show up on a regular basis, and we have another one via DefenseNews;
… the commander of US Army Europe says Ukrainian forces, who are fighting Russian-backed separatists, have much to teach their US trainers.
Ukrainian forces have grappled with formidable Russian electronic warfare capabilities that analysts say would prove withering even to the US ground forces.
“Our soldiers are doing the training with the Ukrainians and we’ve learned a lot from the Ukrainians,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. “A third of the [Ukrainian] soldiers have served in the … combat zone, and no Americans have been under Russian artillery or rocket fire, or significant Russian electronic warfare, jamming or collecting — and these Ukrainians have. It’s interesting to hear what they have learned.”
Hodges acknowledged that US troops are learning from Ukrainians about Russia’s jamming capability, its ranges, types and the ways it has been employed. He has previously described the quality and sophistication of Russian electronic warfare as “eye-watering.”
How is the Army doing on its rack-n-stack in keeping up with the evolving electronic threats?
… and it is developing a powerful arsenal of jamming systems, but these are not expected until 2023.
As we defined it awhile ago, that is over two worldwars from now. Hmmmm.
Maybe Ukraine will inform their priorities as they look at the challenge ashore with fresh eyes – and in a fashion – help us look again at the challenge at sea.
The following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) T. Holland McCabe and is published as submitted. This is the second of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.
In line with Vice Admiral Rowden’s model of distributed lethality for the surface navy, today’s changing maritime security environment will require a shift in the core focus of the composition of our fleet. Distributed lethality demands that “if it floats, it fights,” according to N96 Director Rear Admiral Peter Fanta. To adequately meet modern challenges, the Navy must invest in a more robust fleet composed of a larger number of small surface combatants (SSCs), in addition to the traditional capital ships. Over 50 years ago, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt first made the same argument in respect to the role of destroyers in the 1960’s Navy. In a 1962 Proceedings article, then-Captain Zumwalt argued for a mix of “complex” and “simplified” mainstream surface combatant designs. Later as Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Zumwalt continued to implement his vision of what has since been called the “high-low” mix of a variety of platforms intended to keep the Navy equally capable in the high-intensity environment of full-scale war, and in the low-intensity peacetime operations of maritime security and partnership building. For a variety of reasons, today’s surface navy remains composed mainly of the “complex” mainstream Zumwalt described as, “the exotic upper spectrum destroyers, which make the heart of every true destroyermen skip a beat.” In 2015, a variety of traditional and non-traditional threats faces the surface navy, and a more diverse surface fleet is needed to meet these challenges.
SSCs may not have the firepower or survivability of the fleet’s larger assets, but they provide a fiscally-responsible solution to a wide spectrum of modern threats and missions. Many day-to-day naval operations fall within the “simplified” spectrum of operations Zumwalt described, and increasingly the constant presence of forward-deployed naval forces is becoming more important to building and maintaining international partnerships. SSCs such as Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Patrol Coastal ships (PC), and inexpensive, low-tech platforms like Joint High Speed Vehicle (JHSV) and Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) are perfect candidates to be the primary assets in the Navy’s “simplified” mainstream. In times of peace they can provide a persistent, forward maritime presence without the large political footprint of traditional capital ships. In modern asymmetrical engagements they can operate in confined areas commanders may be unable to send larger platforms, or perform missions commanders may be reluctant to dedicate to a more expensive capital ship. Across the range of military operations, distributed lethality can only be administered by including SSCs in the high-low mix of distributed capability.
The message of distributed lethality – that the surface navy is once again on the offensive in a leading role – is a welcome message to a prospective division officer. That being said, the Navy’s acquisition budget will be severely constrained in coming years by programs like the Ford-class carrier, the carrier-based F-35C strike fighter, Flight III of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and the monumental Ohio-replacement. Debate and discussion has focused largely on how the Navy will overcome the budgetary challenges of these projects, all of which are high-end, high-cost assets. Relatively little discussion has focused on how the Navy will continue to meet the variety of low-end missions it faces day to day, the solution to which the author believes to be low-cost SSCs. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert recently acknowledged that the Navy is facing extreme budgetary constraints in the coming decades, and “repurposing and reusing existing capabilities” will be the way forward to keep the Navy capable of meeting operational demands.
More than changing mentalities and repurposing existing assets, new platforms and force structures must be developed to keep capabilities distributed across the surface fleet to meet the full potential of the distributed lethality concept. SSCs must continue to have a prioritized place in the future ship building budget in order for the Navy to maintain its forward presence and alleviate the burden of low-intensity peacetime maritime security operations from high-end surface ships. LCS has fixed its importance with the recent re-designation of later hull numbers to an up-gunned Fast Frigate (FF) configuration, as well as its innovative mission modules. However innovation inevitably comes with the price of delays, cost overruns, and growing pains as design flaws are corrected. To this end, programs like JHSV, AFSB, and a renewed PC fleet using proven, current designs can produce excellent returns on the initial investment. SSCs represent the best intersection between capability and cost in the current maritime environment. In a quick comparison, the recent Proceedings article, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” highlighted that a fleet of PCs is roughly comparable in size to the crew of a current DDG, operates at a cheaper cost, and requires less port infrastructure to operate. If current geopolitical trends are anything to go by, the littorals represent the most-likely location of any future maritime conflict. Large carrier and expeditionary strike groups are still vital to the core capabilities of the Navy, but too often assets from these high-value units are relegated to tasking that could more efficiently carried out by smaller craft at a significantly reduced cost.
Platforms like JHSV and AFSB have avoided most of the costs of innovation by simply not being terribly innovative in the individual systems they utilize. What they do present is a cheap platform that can mount a variety of weapon systems and equipment. Everything from electromagnetic railguns, to mine warfare drones and aircraft, to small Marine detachments can be embarked aboard JHSV or AFSB. Additionally, a variety of platforms exist that could be acquired to augment or replace the existing PC fleet. Corvette-type vessels are a favorite among many navies around the world, and an excellent candidate to augment the PC fleet has already been developed and produced in the U.S. under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The Egyptian Navy Ambassador IV-class patrol craft was developed and produced in Mississippi by VT Halter Marine, and uses existing sensors and weapon systems to produce a powerful small combatant. Indeed, this article is not the first to advocate for the acquisition of the Ambassador-IV, or some other corvette-equivalent to augment the U.S. Navy’s littoral operations, but it is worth mentioning again. The Ambassador-IV possesses up to eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a large 76mm cannon, rolling airframe missiles, and a Phalanx close-in weapon system. While this vessel actually outguns the LCS while remaining smaller and cheaper, it is again not the perfect solution for the Navy’s low-intensity missions. Keeping distributed capability in mind, a mix of vessels can provide a wide, cheap baseline across a variety of missions that LCS’s modularity can augment depending on emerging threats. A future forward deployed task group composed of JHSVs carrying Marine raider units, AFSBs engaging in mine countermeasures, PCs conducting maritime security operations, and LCSs capable of supporting any one of these missions could be an incredibly capable force for a significantly reduced cost compared to a traditional carrier or expeditionary strike group.
Many senior Navy leaders recognize the importance of building partnerships and engaging regional powers to advance American interests. To this end, a number of current Navy operations are centered on conducting bilateral and multilateral training with foreign partners. The first rotational deployments of LCS to Singapore have already demonstrated the capability of SSCs to be highly effective tools of U.S. foreign policy, participating in a number of Combined Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises in 2013, with more planned in the coming year. Increasing the number of forward deployed LCS to four in Singapore and four in the Persian Gulf in the coming years will be a step in the right direction, but more platforms creates a more persistent presence. Despite modular mission packages, the planned flexibility of LCS seems like a much more remote reality. Each LCS hull remains limited to conducting a single mission at any given time, and must return to port to exchange modules. The nature of mission modules themselves makes them less than optimal as the sole solution to low-end operations, as each module requires dedicated manning and training that goes unused when the module is not deployed, and each crew must undergo work-up training to integrate a new mission module. 3-2-1 manning somewhat mitigates this drawback, but LCS’s flexibility is increasingly looking like a slower-adapting, strategic advantage capable of responding to theater-wide trends, rather than a fine-tuned tactical advantage. LCS can remain the premier, scalable asset for low-intensity operations, but other platforms like a new PC, JHSV, and AFSB have the potential to fill gaps in LCS’s mission coverage.
Forward-deployed minesweepers (MCM) and PCs have provided similar international engagement and maritime presence abroad in other parts of the world. For several years MCMs have been operating closely with foreign nations in the Persian Gulf and in the waters off East Asia. In the past months, several large mine countermeasures exercises concluded in Bahrain, Korea, and Japan. In Bahrain, the 2014 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise was the largest mine warfare exercise in the world and was hosted by U.S. Fifth Fleet. MCMs were in a leading role building partnerships for all of these exercises. In a recent Proceedings article, several officers who have served in the PC community highlighted the advantages of SSCs for building international trust and cooperation as “an unobtrusive and complementary member of the local civilian and maritime community.” Capital ships carrying large caliber guns and dozens of missiles, or fleets of amphibious assault vehicles and hundreds of marines, can be an intimidating presence the U.S. may not always want to project. The same article points to the vital maritime security operations the PC fleet is currently conducting among the oil fields and merchant traffic in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Southeast Asian archipelagoes and sea lanes present another environment ideal for SSC operations. Roughly 40% of world trade passes transits the Malacca Straits alone each year. Local navies are rapidly expanding, mainly with SSCs of their own, to police this lucrative trade and assert the bewildering number of competing maritime claims in the region. As China asserts greater power in the region, so too should the U.S. make its presence felt with more than four rotationally-deployed LCSs and several larger ships.
Lastly, and closer to the author’s concerns as one of the newest junior officers in the Navy, SSCs provide great leadership responsibilities on junior sailors who are pushed to step into roles generally above their pay-grades. Again, this point has been raised in Proceedings by other officers, but it is worth mentioning again. From enlisted sailors pushed to take on the responsibilities of non-traditional positions, such as standing officer of the deck, to junior officers placed in command, SSCs provide invaluable experience to upcoming generations of Naval leadership. Early Command has been one of the hallmarks of the surface navy – no other designator provides so much responsibility so early in an officer’s career – and this opportunity should be given to more officers who seek it.
As the Navy moves forward into an increasingly complex political and fiscal environment, the service as a whole should do well to remember 50-year-old advice from a former service chief. Admiral Zumwalt’s high-low mix of distributed capabilities must be considered to bring the new doctrine of distributed lethality to its fullest potential. While this article advocates for the place of SSCs in budgetary and strategic discussions, do not mistake that the author seeks to discount the “complex” portion of distributed capability at all, simply that they not be the sole focus. Both sides must exist in a balance for the Navy to operate effectively against the wide range of modern challenges.
 Sydney Freedberg, “’If It Floats, It Fights’: Navy Seeks ‘Distributed Lethality,’” Breaking Defense, 14 January 2015, accessed 13 April 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2015/01/if-it-floats-it-fights-navy-seeks-distributed-lethality/.
 CAPT Zumwalt, “A Course for Destroyers,” Proceedings 88 (November 1962).
 While not necessarily combatant vessels, for the purposes of brevity this article will generally combine all “low-end” assets like JHSV and AFSB with references to dedicated small combatants when referring to “SSCs.”
 VADM Rowden, RADM Gumataotao, RADM Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings 141 (January 2015).
 ADM Greenert, “Service Chiefs’ Update Panel,” 2015 Sea Air Space Exposition, National Harbor, MD, 13 April 2015.
 LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).
 Luke Tarbi, “US Navy Needs Fast Missile Craft – And LCS – in Persian Gulf,” Breaking Defense, 14 April 2014, accessed 16 April 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/us-navy-needs-fast-missile-craft-and-lcs-in-persian-gulf/.
 LT Hipple, LCDR Follet, and LCDR Davenport, “Nobody Asked Me, But … – PCs are Small Ships with a ‘Big Navy’ Wake,” Proceedings 141 (April 2015).
Please join us at 5pm (EDT), 2 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 291: Nashville, Omar, Nigeria and Kurdistan, Long War Hour w/ Bill Roggio
This summer, the terrain shifted in the long war that we thought we needed to bring back one of our regular guests, Bill Roggio, to discuss in detail for the full hour.
Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bill is also the President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.