As WWII raged, supply convoys from the United States and Canada faced off with the German U-boat “wolfpacks” throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Although the Wolfpacks nearly crippled the allied war effort early in 1941 and 1942, eventually the Allies were able to turn the tide, culminating in the devastation inflicted inflicted on the German submarine squadrons in 1943. May 1943 became known to the Germans as “Black May.” Today’s object was captured from a German submarine by American sailors one year later in a daring boarding of a sinking u-boat.


Please join us on Sunday at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 222: USS PONCE (AFSB(I)-15) Lessons with CAPT Jon N. Rodgers, USN

As with most concepts and good ideas, you really don’t know what you need and how you need to do it until you put Sailors to task and head to sea.

The idea of an Afloat Forward Staging Base has, in a variety of forms, been a regular part of naval operations arguably for centuries under different names and with different equipment.

What about the 21st Century? More than just a story about the use and utility of the AFSB concept, the story of the USS PONCE is larger than that – it also has a lot to say about how one can quickly turn an old LPD around for a new mission, and how you can blend together the different but complementary cultures of the US Navy Sailors and the Military Sealift Command civilian mariners.

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Captain Jon N. Rodgers, USN, former Commanding Officer of the USS PONCE AFSB(I)-15.

Either join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here.


The development of wireless communication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quickly followed by the development of encrytpion for coded transmissions. The ability of the US to decipher these coded transmissions played an essential role in helping the US and her allies to victory in World War II. Today, we discuss an iconic World War II enryption tool, the German Enigma Machine.


seacontrolemblemFor the inaugural edition of Sea Control’s “East Atlantic” series, Alexander Clarke brings on Steve George, former engineer with the F-35 program and Royal Navy veteran to discuss the challenges and misconceptions of the F-35 program. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 28 (East Atlantic) -The F-35

Tune in next week for our interview with Erik Prince!


admiral-moffettIn trying to come to a better understanding of what the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell should be, I came across at old (from 1988! ) essay written by Stephen Rosen titled New Ways of War: Understanding Military Innovation (h/t Adam Elkus for the lead on it). Rosen’s essay details the full evolution of innovation, what innovation is as a process, and how ‘disruptive thinking’ is only the first step and is not innovation in and of itself. Innovation doesn’t truly take hold until the intellectual, technical, and political aspects of the new idea has matured. While the tempo of technological change can be breathtaking, institutional changes in the service still have a tempo that iterates at a generational pace. For Rosen, innovation is not complete until an innovation has been fully developed into doctrine and operational paradigm. In other words, only once the disruption from new ways of thinking has dissipated can the innovation process be considered complete.

The organizational struggle that leads to innovation often involves the creation of a new path to senior ranks so that a new officer learning and practicing the new way of war will not be hunted aside into a dead-end speciality that does not qualify him for flag rank.

Rosen frames military innovation in terms of there actually being three struggles: intellectual, political, and technological. He observes this in three case studies. However, in my remarks here, I shall only stick with one of the examples: development of carrier warfare by the USN.

Rosen pays special attention to how Rear Admiral Moffett performed his duties as the first Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Rosen accounts how at first, aviators objected to the notion of a battleship sailor being chosen to lead the newly minted BuAer. However, they would come to find that it was Moffett’s ability to wage the political struggle, and his ability to articulate the role of the carrier in warfare – in a manner that met the evolving nature of the intellectual struggle – that warranted his selection. As Rosen states

The intellectual redefinition of naval warfare from combat among battleships to the development of mobile air bases at sea would have been futile if the political struggle for power within the officer corps in the Navy had not been fought and won by Moffett and his allies.

Technology alone doesn’t cause innovation, nor does it usher in a new way of war, neither does a good idea make it very far if the champion of that idea can’t help foster institutional change. Rosen cites the efforts of Moffet and so many others as having taken 24 years from the general board first considering naval aviation in 1919 to fruition with the publication of PAC-10 in 1943. A truly generational effort, that saw not just the technology of naval aviation develop, but the aviation career field take its initial shape, and the political structure of the officer corps evolve and the wider community adjust accordingly.

Rosen had to chose for his case studies large and significant shifts that do not often occur in militaries. Where the Navy finds itself today doesn’t nearly parallel the example of the development of naval aviation. However, this is not to say that there are no lessons to be gleaned from it, especially in regards to the intellectual and political struggles within the Navy.

People, ideas, hardware… In that order! — Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret)

Boyd was more right than he realized. Not only is that the order of importance for military leaders, it’s also the order what is the hardest to improve, and once improved that is the order which has the greatest impact. As well, it is the evolution of all three aspects that are required for innovation in the military.


Please join us on 30 March 2014 at 5pm (1700) EDT for Midrats Episode 221: “Officer Retention with VADM Bill Moran and CDR Guy Snodgrass

This Sunday, join our guests Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy Snodgrass, USN, Prospective Executive Officer of Strike Fighter Squadron ONE NINE FIVE, in a discussion of the challenge of officer retention that is facing our Navy.

As over a decade of major combat operations ashore winds down, economic and budgetary stresses grow on defense spending, a strategic re-alignment combined with a generational change are coming together in a perfect storm of challenges to keep the intellectual and leadership capital our Navy needs to meet its nations challenges in the coming decade.

What are those challenges? What lessons can be drawn from past retention problems, and what is different this time? What steps can be made in the short term to address this, and what longer term policies may be put in place to mitigate the systemic problems that are being looked at.


Our guests will be with us for the full hour, and the foundation of our discussion will be CDR Snodgrass’s Navy officer retention study, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon: A Navy Officer Retention Study (as posted on the USNI Blog – original study here)

Also see VADM Moran’s USNI Blog post A Navy needs critical thinkers … those willing to share their ideas.

The show goes live at 5pm EDT you can listen then or pick it up later by clicking here.

Update: Fixed date of show issue – show is Sunday, 30 March 2014!


I’m sure my invitation to this got -um- lost in the mail, but if, like me, you find that you were unable to attend this 24-26 March 2014 U.S. Naval War College Symposium on “Maritime Security, Seapower, and Trade,” then I can recommend that you follow that link to learn about the symposium and then visit the working papers link for some interesting reading.

Some of the usual suspects were there, Claude Berube, B. J. Armstrong and Dr. Martin Murphy – but there are many others who names presently may not be known to you, but whose papers will both inform and raise new questions for you to ponder.

The symposium goal:

To make sense of the relationship among maritime security, seapower, and trade, the EMC Chair will convene a symposium that brings experts from industry, the policy community, and the sea services. Participants will reflect on the importance of classic maritime thought and how changes in the shipping industry, trade patterns, and non-state use of the oceans impact future naval operations. The implications are important for understanding the types of missions combatant commanders will execute and the types of equipment and training the Navy must provide to support these missions. Keynote speakers will address the diplomatic and operational considerations of maritime cooperation.

Sure would like a webcast of these things . . . but without that, go read and enjoy.


Halsey dining with the crew of USS New JerseyThis post is part of a series titled “Perspectives on Military Leadership” by CAPT David Tyler.

Leaders are people professionals…and must master the subject matter of their vocation.

Military mindsets tend to be overly mechanical and process oriented. While mastering the tools of war and upholding procedures are extremely important, they are not the currency of leadership. Man is more than a rational, solitary being. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of our species is its social nature. Humans have a strong desire to be esteemed within social networks. If leadership is the primary function of officers and non-commissioned officers, then leaders must comprehend the subject matter over which and through which they are to exercise their roles. That is, leaders must understand the psychological forces that cause individuals to act.

Components of effective leadership are two-fold; (1) mastering the position of a leader, and (2) managing the forces that move people. To help leaders exercise influence over a group, the Navy empowers certain positions with authorities. But these vested charges do not make one a leader. Leaders must earn their broader powers from their followers. As stated in the Declaration of Independence (itself a statement of terms between the led and their leaders), “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Before conceding any power “the led” must trust that their prospective leader will act in their best interest.

So back to the proposition that leadership is a contract between socially inclined creatures. The more “the led” trust their leader, the more power they will loan and thus the greater will be their equity and commitment to achieving group goals.

The virtue that exemplifies someone as trustworthy is integrity. Integrity is uprightness of character, the quality of truthfulness and honesty. It is the preeminent character of a leader because it the quality that individuals must believe is present before committing to followership. The relationship between leaders and followers is reflected in the ethos, moral nature, of the group.

Accordingly, leaders should focus a significant portion of their time and efforts toward nurturing trust-based personal relationships at all levels of the group. The goal and byproduct of building such a command relationship is confidence, respect, and loyalty. Leaders that take time to express a genuine interest in the aspirations, ideas, and problems of others reap the golden coin of leadership; trust.


seacontrolemblemProfessor Anthony Clark Arend joins us to discuss International law. We discuss some basic definitions, and their influence on international actors, using the lens of Crimea and the Chinese ADIZ. I also learn later that my mic input has been the crummy laptop mic all month, explaining all my audio quality frustrations. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 27- International Law, China, and Crimea


A month or so ago, I put up a post on my home blog about Sea Blindness, by which is meant the seeming inability of Americans to grasp that, while “the U.S. is not quite an island nation, it is a nation deeply dependent on the seas and the free flow of commerce across them.” During Midrats Episode 216 (at about 19:51), I asked our guest, Seth Cropsey, about “sea blindness” and whether the time had come for our senior naval leaders to tell the elected civilian leaders that the Navy has reached the point at which there are missions and areas we cannot perform or cover with the size Navy we currently have and are projected to have in the near term.

A couple of weeks ago, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert went before the House Armed Services Committee and did a little “Counter-Sea Blindness” work, both in his written testimony and in his spoken words.
First, from his prepared written testimony:

Chairman, as I testified before you in September 2013, I am troubled by the prospects of reverting to the BCA revised caps in FY2016. That would lead to a Navy that is just too small and lacking the advanced capabilities needed to execute the missions the nation expects of its Navy. We would be unable to execute at least 4 of the 10 primary missions that are laid out very clearly in the Defense Strategic Guidance and QDR.

Even more, according to Military.com, “CNO Tells Congress the US Needs 450-Ship Navy”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told lawmakers Wednesday that the Navy would need a 450-ship fleet in order to meet the global needs of combatant commanders.

“For us to meet what combatant commanders request, we need a Navy of 450 ships,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Officially, the Navy’s position is to achieve a 306-ship fleet by the end of the decade, service officials said. At the moment there are 289 ships in the Navy, according to service officials who said the number reflects a new method of counting ships.

As Claude Berube wrote somewhere, when the big headline news was the Army being cut to pre-WWII levels, the Navy had already been cut to pre-WWI levels. See here, where it shows the fleet in April 1917 had 342 ships.

Admiral Greenert and Secretary Mabus deserve praise for standing up on this issue.

However, that message needs to be spread further and faster – that the U.S. Navy – the flexible forward presence that this country depends on for freedom of the seas and protection of both vital sea lines of communication and helping its allies abroad- is becoming too small to carry out 40% of its primary missions. We are, even given the more generous counting system, about 170 ships short of what we need. It does little good to assert that today’s ships are much more capable than the ships of yesteryear – even a more capable ship can only be one place at a time and can only occupy so much sea space.

When you are short of ships you resort to other ways to maximize presence – longer deployments, crew-swapping, more rapid turn-arounds between deployments, deferred maintenance. All of which lead to burn outs of personnel and equipment.

This is not something sprung upon us overnight. In 2011, Mackenzie Eaglen and Brian McGrath wrote a excellent paper on Thinking About a Day Without Sea Power: Implications for U.S. Defense Policy and noted the effects of fleet size reduction:

Building the current level of American sea power has taken enormous resources and many decades, and the size of the fleet is not likely to be dramatically reduced in the near term. More likely, incremental cuts based on faulty premises and a lack of strategic direction will, over time, diminish American sea power as the country’s vision of itself becomes more modest and its sense of destiny and centrality is reduced. While ill-considered procurement reductions will slowly reduce the number of ships and aircraft in the Navy, financial decisions could also erode the Navy’s ability to deploy credible and relevant forces persistently, regardless of how many ships the Navy may have.
Today’s Navy is experiencing extreme levels of stress. While the fleet has shrunk by about 15 percent since 1998, the number of ships deployed overseas has remained constant at about 100. Each ship goes to sea longer and more often, resulting in problems such as the well-publicized shortfalls in surface ship condition. With no surge capacity left in the fleet, each new casualty ripples through the schedules of dozens of ships. With the end of supplemental funding, Navy maintenance funding will be cut by almost 20 percent this year. In this context, a relatively small additional reduction in maintenance funding could render a Navy with 250–280 ships capable of keeping only 50 to 60 ships at sea.

You can listen to Mackenzie and Bryan discuss this paper on Midrats Episode 74.

Those “faulty premises and a lack of strategic direction” are exactly the symptoms of “Sea Blindness” that have gotten us this tipping point of fleet size.

As stated above, it is good that the CNO and SecNav are speaking out on this issue- but that is not enough. More voices need to spread the word of the vital importance of sea power to this country and the facts of what the reduction of fleet size on this country.

The cure to “sea blindness” is sunlight – shining light on the situation. Those of us who believe in a strong Navy must spread the word of what the Navy does and why a larger fleet is vital to our national interests and defense.

“Help cure sea blindness” by writing and speaking at every legal opportunity about the danger of the reduced size of our fleet.

SecNav and CNO have made a start.

The follow-on is up to us.


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