manpower-servicesPeople and money.

One follows the other, and the later always defines the magnitude of the former.

BA, NMP, BSC; the whole alphabet soup emanating out of Millington is fed by one thing more than any other; money. Money is your primary indicator of priorities, main effort, and commander’s intent in manpower.

Manpower is a complicated mix of habit, tradition, agenda, bureaucratic inertia, wants, needs, and wishes. When not controlled with a disciplined hand, bureaucratic organizations can accumulate billets like a spaniel in a field of beggar weeds; with or without audits or manpower efficiency reviews.

Stress is always a good way to squeeze efficiency our of an organization and to force it to tell you what are its priorities – what it really values.

In an email Tuesday, COMNAVAIR, VADM Dunaway, USN, put our his D&G on the latest stress coming their way in the manpower arena – yep, the mother’s milk; money.

Looking ahead, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) budget reductions and the shift to modernization and sustainment will require us to smartly manage our workforce levels and skills mix.

Ahhh, that is the key; define “smartly.”

As new and critical tasking emerges, we must be prepared to move our workforce toward these efforts without adding additional people. In addition to agile staffing, we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.

Start of the core compentancy – the mission of our organization. That is where you start your prioritization. At almost the halfway point of his email, Dunaway points to one,

In the beginning of FY15, we assigned hiring goals to the competencies and commands. We have exceeded our targets due in part to aggressive hiring early in the year. Our Fleet Readiness Centers ramped up hiring to help reduce the F/A-18 maintenance backlog and will return to normal staffing levels within the next 2 years.

From there, rack and stack – and lead. If you really want your organization to,

… we must be vigilant about eliminating outdated, unnecessary and burdensome work that does not directly contribute to mission outcomes.

… start with you personal staff, your N1, and the first gaggle of SES and GS-15+ you can get your hands around. Take those BA/NMP and Full Time Equivalents and do your own personal baseline review. Get those billets recoded towards your core competency – I am sure VADM Moran will help from his end. If you don’t make someone in the nomenklatura squeal, then you didn’t do it right. Once that is done, work through your other N-Codes.

At the same time, don’t make those shops do more with less. Cut back on the background noise and the self-licking ice cream cones.

The easiest thing you can control are the manhours invested in non-core related competency conference attendence, awards processing, collateral duties, ad-hoc committees (I get those emails too from NAVAIR, but I’ll be nice and not quote them here), Political Kowtow of the Month observances – all those things that take untold hours of your employees’ time but do nothing even close to helping,

… reduce … maintenance backlog …

Most of these activities are just bureaucratic habits or the bad aftertaste from one of your predessor’s pet projects or sacrifices to Vaal.

If you want bold action by those in your organization, you don’t tell them to do it – you do it yourself first. By your example, they will lead. Give them benchmarks, hold them accountable.

The only way to secure our future is to improve our capacity to adapt, collaborate and focus on the most important work.

If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.

No.

You are the leader. You have outlined a problem, demand solutions. As such, there is no “If.” If this is serious, then, “If you have questions or ideas, I encourage you to talk with your leadership.”, is not – I may offer – a serious call to action. It is passive and without heft, depth, or meaning.

Bring me your questions or ideas, as we are making significant changes to our manpower document to optimize our workforce levels and skills mix.”

That might give you what you need.

Now, what will be interesting is in JUN16, what changes or draft changes will there be to NAVAIR’s manpower document?

Good stuff; good start. Good luck.

 


Away All Boats! This battle cry met American theater goers in a 1956 movie by the same name, an adaptation of a novel by Kenneth Dodson based on his experience aboard the USS Pierce (APA 50) in World War II. The film stars the crew of a fictional amphibious attack transport Belinda and features one of Clint Eastwood’s first unaccredited roles as a Navy Corpsman. But those who know something about military films remember it for its Technicolor realism and gritty depiction of amphibious warfare in the Pacific. The last few days on the USS San Antonio have felt like a modern reinterpretation of this classic.

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The flagship is brimming with Swedish, Finnish, British, and American Marines, their vehicles, boats, and support staff. Some of the Scandinavian forces sport beards worthy of Viking ancestors (one carries an axe as a guide on), the chow lines have been longer than usual, the cooks are working overtime, and all are in good spirits. Finally, today the order all had been waiting for was given, “AWAY ALL BOATS!”

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Today, the 700-strong multinational BALTOPS Amphibious Landing Force stormed the beach of the Ravlunda training range in Sweden, one of the largest amphibious exercises ever orchestrated in the Baltic region. Also participating were Soldiers from the 173rd Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. The landing force came from a NATO sea base, consisting of the big deck, HMS OCEAN (LPH 12), USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), and POLISH LSTs: LUBLIN (LST 821) and GNIEZO (LST 822). A variety of amphibious vehicles served as connectors to get the Marines ashore from the sea base including fast and maneuverable Combat Boats (CB 90s), Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) and numerous other amphibious assault craft.

fourfiveWhat we accomplished today on the Ravlunda range is a testament to NATO’s robust amphibious capability—or “amphibiousity.” Demonstrating this capability is just one of the many facets of BALTOPS, a training exercise that is testing NATO’s ability to conduct air defense, undersea warfare, mine countermeasures operations, and maritime interdiction operations, skills that NATO has been practicing ever since the first exercise took place forty-three years ago.

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What makes this BALTOPS different, though, is that it is being conducted under a NATO flag. I am joined here by my deputy Read Admiral Tim Lowe of the Royal Navy and Chief of Staff of Operations Rear Admiral Juan Garat of the Spanish Navy who have built an amazing team. My Lisbon-based staff of Striking and Support Forces NATO is aboard the command ship USS SAN ANTONIO, working diligently to ensure that we maximize training opportunities for the entire force.

sevenThe exercise is part of NATO’s broader goal to show its commitment to regional security. From the very beginning the numbers alone attest to this unwavering resolve. BALTOPS 2015 is larger than ever, a multi-national exercise conducted in a joint environment by 14 NATO and three partner nations throughout the Baltic Sea and Baltic region at large. We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime personnel.

eightWe are grateful that Sweden and Finland could join us in this exercise – because regional security is a collective effort and requires us to communicate, understand each other, and establish lasting relationships. These relationships are built on common values and interests.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Swedish Prince Carl Philip and his wife to be, Ms. Sofia Hellqvist on their wedding day. The Prince serves his country as a Major in the Amphibious Forces of Sweden. We hope that the newlywed couple will view today’s events in Ravlunda as a token of Alliance appreciation for Sweden’s partnership and a significant contribution to the peace and security of the Baltic Region.

moustachepricelessWhat I saw today was not a Technicolor movie. There were no actors. It was not art. It was life. What the cameras caught and what you see in pixels on Youtube is the force of ideals truly embodied in the young men and women who serve our individual nations and who are willing to protect and defend our values.


Please join us on Sunday, 14 June 2015 at 5pm (1700)(EDT) for Midrats Episode 284: 200th Anniversary of Waterloo with John Kuehn:

18 June will be the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought in present-day Belgium. Just in time, a regular guest to Midrats, John Kuehn, has his latest book out, Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns where he covers the operational level analysis of European warfare from 1792 to 1815, including the tactics, operations, and strategy of major conflicts of the time.

More than just a description of set piece battle, there is a discussion of naval warfare, maneuver warfare, compound warfare, and counterinsurgency.

We’ve got him for the full hour … we should be able to get to most of it.

Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.

His previous book was, A military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also find the show later at our iTunes page here.


“A good Navy is not a provocation of war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” -Theodore Roosevelt

On 8 June I reported in this media forum on the launch of 49 ships from the port of Gdynia, Poland for the largest BALTOPS exercise ever — BALTOPS 2015.

The reason we are assembled as the maritime arm of the NATO alliance for this exercise is to show unity of effort and purpose, and to strengthen the combined response capabilities of our NATO allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region.

We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces from 17 participating nations to include 700 Marines from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

During the first day of operations, we were over-flown by Russian Air Force and shadowed by three Russian Navy surface ships. This was not unexpected based on recent experience.

The Russian planes made a few passes and then a couple of Russian Corvettes came up on either side of the formation as we were conducting our exercises – nothing untoward, just showing interest and an acknowledgement that they know we are here.

As Navies have done for centuries, we have taken a dual track approach to maritime security. What do I mean by that?

While BALTOPS 2015 is demonstrating a sizeable and highly capable force at sea, we are pursuing other avenues to assure security in this and other maritime regions in Europe. As an example, we invited a Russian Navy delegation for the annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review, which took place yesterday at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Russian delegation was headed by Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev and the U.S. delegation by Rear Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Staff, U.S. 6th Fleet.

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

Discussions between the two delegations were frank and professional with the intent of alleviating any miscues, misunderstandings or miscalculations between our two naval and air forces wherever they might encounter one another.

Established in 1972, the bilateral INCSEA agreement between our two countries codified the mutual interest of both sides in promoting safety of navigation and safety of flight when operating on and over international waters and specified an annual meeting to review compliance with the articles of the agreement.

The last time our two navies met was in November 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

BALTOPS 2015 and the subsequent INCSEA review is a good example of naval forces and naval officers acting as an extension of diplomacy.

For me, as Commander of BALTOPS, I look forward to the positive outcome of the INCSEA discussions filtering down to the deck plate level of the Baltic Fleet. The true measure of success will be when ALL Navies operate ships, submarines and aircraft safely and professionally not just here in the Baltic Sea, but elsewhere around the world. Stay tuned…

 


Three months after the unveiling of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” or CS-21R, America’s sea services are busy as ever. While the document did not change much from its predecessor, it has elicited questions from junior officers and enlisted around the fleet, such as “how does it impact my immediate job?” and “we still get MIDRATS, right?”

CS-21R is a must-read for officers and enlisted of every rank and rate. It paints a compelling picture of naval operations in this century that can help answer some of the “Why are we here and what are we doing?” questions we frequently ponder.

Although it is a strategic document, CS-21R has implications for warfighters at the tactical level. The actions of individual sailors and aviators on ships, submarines, aircraft, and on the ground can have a marked effect on the efficacy of our naval strategy. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it does serve to highlight how those executing at the tactical level of warfare can help achieve more widespread success and competency across both our service and the joint force.

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1) Know your OPTASKs, OPORDs, PPRs, CCIRs, etc. Don’t rely on the roving Air Wing or Strike Group brief or the cockpit cheat sheet; actually read the documents, comprehend them, and help others do the same.

2) Understand the intelligence and “battlespace awareness” process. Most ships, squadrons, and other units have intelligence officers, but many are not using these individuals to their full potential. Remember that your Information Dominance Corps (IDC) officer hasn’t gone through flight training or your warfare-specific school but they have been trained to help improve your knowledge of the threats you may face or the people you may interact with. Help them understand what you do, and take the time to really understand what they do and need from you. What reports are they making with your information? How can you use your sensor to give them a better product and achieve mission success? They are as much a part of the kill chain or the OODA loop as you.

3) Never rest on your laurels. Constantly strive to consider how each platform and operator influences your sphere of operation. You should work for a symbiotic relationship as much as possible; for example, understanding the operation of radio equipment onboard a destroyer can help an F/A-18 pilot better communicate across the range of operations, throughout the battlespace. This is not an assignment that will be doled out to you by some prescient being; you must actively work to create your own synergy. Pick up the phone, send an E-mail, or walk to a space and take time to do thorough coordination.

4) No platform is an island. Do not do your job alone; you must work to include all other service, joint, and increasingly, multi-national operators in your processes and procedures. The time to “get on the same page” is before bullets and bombs start flying. Each squadron, department, and division should have applicable contacts in other units performing similar missions. For example, E-2C squadrons should proactively establish a dialogue with all elements of theater command and control, including AWACS, JSTARS, CAOC, CDC, and ASOC. This can either be “tasked” by a higher headquarters or voluntarily initiated by the unit itself; either way, make contact early, and keep it often.

5) Figure out how to do a Spartan mission. The Electromagnetic Spectrum is being legitimately contested by near-peer nations and non-state actors; this may have serious consequences as our military relies more and more on complex systems and trends towards technological complacency. Paper charts, communications brevity, and even lights and signals remain important media for mission accomplishment in extremis. Excellence in operating in information- and network-denied environments is crucial. This aptitude is not easily measured, but is essential to real unit readiness.

6) Take time to understand unit, service, theater, and national Command and Control (C2). More than bullets or bombs, information is the most critical commodity in today’s conflicts. How does that information flow? Where does it go? Who communicates? What is the dwell time of each communication? What is each communication supposed to sound like? Why does it behave this way? Taking time to understand “who’s who in the zoo” and establish good relationships can be the difference between success and failure in critical phases of combat.

7) Get innovative with mission planning. It is important to understand and respect the past actions of the threat, but always consider how the threat may evolve to catch you off guard when you least expect it. As General Stanley McChrystal advises in his book Team of Teams, “data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.” Be smarter than your enemy, not just more technologically advanced.

8) Leverage unmanned systems to maximize your lethality and effectiveness and to improve your survivability. Surveillance feeds from unmanned air and surface craft can also increase situational awareness, especially as platforms operate across domains (such as when a surface ship fires a Tomahawk missile at a land target, or a manned rotary wing aircraft is executing surface search against maritime targets).

9) The network is a means, not an end. Too many entities act with the belief that “the network will save us.” Use it for leverage, or to quicken your reaction time and increase situational awareness. But remember that you can’t fire a network at a ballistic missile or unidentified surface contact.

10) Ensure a thorough understanding among all theater players of your TTPs. NIFC-CA and other concepts increase the complexity of operations. Leverage capabilities and technology but keep the plan simple. This goes beyond immediate mission planning—ensure a level of understanding throughout all theater players on your TTPs and capabilities. If you are on the ground, and the only asset you can contact for air support does not understand what you are asking or speak your particular “language,” the time for teaching may be extracted at a price.

Tactical actions have strategic consequences.

Read. Think. Write. Debate. Then, Operate.


001-mineHistory in many ways is a kind companion. In times of relative quiet, she gives you subtle reminders of what is important. She will give you a subtle nudge with the knee with a nodding look with eyes towards something she wants you to pay attention to.

If you are a bit distracted or you find yourself in a noisy time, if that doesn’t work she may lean over and gently whisper in your ear with a poke to the ribs.

Though a gentle companion, she is not a pushover. She has her standards, and on occasion will be needy. She does not like to be ignored, patronized, or worse – left alone in a corner of the party as you drift off to pay attention to someone new and exciting who recently showed up.

No. The gentle companion’s personality starts to change at that point. You don’t want to get to that point and see how she reacts – no one will be happy, and by any measure you come off looking worse to all.

History is not there yet, but she is close. She has not resorted to stomping on toes or speaking loudly to deaf ears … she is still at the nudging and whispering stage.

The nudge:

After nearly 30-years of commissioned service, the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was decommissioned Friday.

The ship was named after Navy Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, who volunteered for a rescue mission to save Marines who had been surrounded by a superior Japanese force during World War II. He was killed during that rescue mission.

The USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an underwater Iranian mine in 1988, which blew a 15-foot hole in it.

The whisper:

One Ukrainian coast guard member was killed, five were injured and their commander remained unaccounted for Sunday after their cutter hit a mine planted in the bay of the strategic eastern port of Mariupol,

We should listen and respect her counsel. As we prepare to wander the party introducing ourselves to all the new and exciting arrivals, we should gather our companion’s hand in ours and invite her along.

She will be appreciative, and there is a good chance that all these new and exciting arrivals are not new to her. If she does not know them personally, she probably knows their family, line of work, and connections to others at the party.

She can save you time, trouble, and if nothing else, having such a steady partner by your side will make the evening a lot more pleasant, whatever may come.

Ignore her? No … don’t be that guy.

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On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

Today, June 8, a fleet of Allied and partner ships set sail from Gdynia, Poland, in one of the largest naval exercises the Baltic Sea and greater Atlantic Ocean area has seen in the 21st Century. In its forty-three year history, BALTOPS has been a means by which NATO and its partners have demonstrated an enduring commitment to regional stability and a Europe that is safe, secure, and prosperous.

In 1971, fewer than a dozen ships and only a handful of nations participated in the exercise. BALTOPS 2015 has 49 ships representing seventeen nations participating. I am often asked by European Allies what impact, if any, the rebalance to the Pacific will have on Europe? To put those numbers in perspective, last year, the Pacific Rim of the ocean exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise, also had 49 participating ships. What is happening right now in the Baltic Sea is NATO’s own version “RIMPAC.”

NATO’s integral role in the exercise is seen in BALTOPS from the top down. For the first time in recent memory, the exercise is led by a NATO headquarters. As Commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO, I am now embarked on USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), which is serving as the command ship for my STRIKFORNATO staff. The STRIKFORNATO staff has been mobilized from Lisbon and is operating from both here onboard SAN ANTONIO and HMS OCEAN, a testament for their expeditionary headquarters staff capabilities.

This, however, is not my first time to sail in these waters. As a Lieutenant onboard USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), I deployed to the Arctic Ocean in 1985. On our way home, we scheduled a port visit in Kiel, Germany. I was one of the primary OODs on the bridge for the long maneuvering watch through the Straits of Denmark, also known as the Kattegat, Skaggerak and Storr Belts. It was the best surface OOD training a JO could ever have with a completely different kind of traffic separation scheme, two superb chain-smoking Danish pilots, whose mantra was “speed equals safety,” as we maneuvered the boat through a multitude of ferries crisscrossing the channel at right angles to our track.

We made it safely into Kiel, but this was a different era and a different geo-political situation at the time. The Berlin Wall would not come down for four years and Germany was still divided. Many of the NATO Allies and partners participating in BALTOPS 2015 today were reluctant members of the Warsaw Pact in 1985. My how times have changed! Today’s BALTOPS includes 14 NATO Allies and three Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations aligned and unified for a common purpose—peace and security in the Baltic Region. The crowds of people that greeted our BALTOPS Fleet just days ago for the pre-sail in Gdynia, Poland were a clear sign that these relationships are solid and enduring.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

BALTOPS is just one of the many ways NATO and its partners demonstrate a continued commitment to the foundational principle of mutual defense. While the number and type of ships have changed, it is this consistent message over the last nearly half century that has guided the exercise. When we talk about reassurance we are not just talking about capabilities, but a commitment that has been consistent throughout the years.

BALTOPS represents an excellent example of a global network of navies, a concept based on participation, robust exercises, relationship building, communication, and interoperability. BALTOPS demonstrates how these global priorities are expressed in a regional context, each participant contributing to the success of the whole.

Today’s BALTOPS Photo-Ex captured an image of this unified effort for all to see. A picture is worth a thousand words…


Please join us on 7 June 15 at 5pm (EST) for Episode 283: The Foreign and Defense Policy Terrain :

As the world has set its own course as we have been planning other things, some believe that the 2016 election will be more focused on foreign policy and defense issues that any of the candidates thought would be the case at the end of last year.

What will be the above-the-fold topics? The baseline was set by the ’16 budget battle last year and the winding down and a post-mortem on the sequestration gambit of the last couple of years.

As proxies in the emerging discussion, to join the old bulls on the Hill, are there emerging new leaders on defense issues elected in the ’14 cycle?

Where do declared or expected candidates for President for both parties stand on policy and present operations?

To discuss this and more in the foreign policy and defense arena will be returning guest, Mackenzie Eaglen,

Mackenzie is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.

She has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


She has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. The show will also be available later on our iTunes page here.


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Ghost Fleet. P.W. Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 416 pp. $28.00.

An editorial in China’s Global Times reportedly said that if the U.S. position is that China must halt its reclamation activities in the South China Sea “then a U.S.-China war is inevitable.” Meanwhile the United States has signaled its willingness to move up the escalation ladder in defense of its position with Freedom of Navigation transits and P-8 flights. Elsewhere, Russia’s rulers seem bent on military adventurism along its borderlands. With such a real-life backdrop readers could be forgiven for fixating on the geopolitical backstory of Ghost Fleet, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s self-described new “novel of the next world war.” After all, the writer/academic/think-tanker/consultant duo chose to portray the three powers* as the plot’s antagonists – opening with a P-8 flight above a Chinese position.

Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.

Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.

Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.

This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.

 

 

*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.

 

 


3rd

Our Three COAs

June 2015

By

three-choices-blogIn his latest book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, policy Übermensch Ian Bremmer outlines three future courses of action for our nation through the middle of this century.

As outlined in TheTelegraphUK, and discussed on last Sunday’s Midrats, these COA should sound somewhat familiar to you;

1) keeping faith with the old “Indispensable” America that underwrites global stability 2) adopting a “moneyball” approach where the US pursues its narrow economic and security interests, or 3) an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Let’s look at these for a bit.

COA-1 represents what we think now was the post-WWII norm. In a fashion it was – and in many ways still “is” – but not in the global police context of the last 20 years. People forget that for most of the WWII era, we were in a global struggle against an expanding Communist empire – one whose high water mark was only 35 years ago. We could barely control our own frontier, much less ensure stability around the globe. From Africa to SE Asia to S. America – stability was not our FITREP bullet. “Indispensable” was the ideal – but in practice, not as clean and powerful as it sounds. America was never all that comfortable in its global policeman uniform others tried to put on her at the best of times. In the second decade of the 21st Century – there simply is no political will nor popular desire for such a role.

COA-2 has a very realist-retro vibe to it – almost a Steam Punk foreign policy. Mercantilist and a bit cold of heart, it also echoes of a policy not foreign in our nation’s history – and one that the Chinese are looking to benchmark as they rebuild their global trade routes and stretch their influence limbs. In some ways, it is the slightly more narcissistic version of the final COA.

COA-3. Let’s look at this again,

an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Could there be a more natural American policy?

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; …

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; …

—- George Washington, American Daily Advertiser September 19, 1796

If that works for George Washington, who wrong could it be?

Though he leaves it up to the reader to decide, Ian Bremmer also goes with COA-3.

If that is the path we go – either led by a politician or by the drift towards the center mass of the electorate – where I think it is – how does that effect the national security structures of our nation? If we become interested in security at home and the economic prosperity of the citizenry – how do you hedge against the chaos of a violent world? How much can you disconnect? What is our minimum level of national defense spending? Where is it best utilized?

Of the three COA – which ones have our allies chosen? Which have our potential challengers chosen?

Are those we consider allies really allies – or just those who are content to prosper in their home under a shield we built and paid for? Are those we consider challengers really our challengers in that they present a real and present threat to national survival?

Is COA-3 really something new, or just a regression to the mean?


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