Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
For those who have seen the Great Carrier Debate between Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath, one thing was clear – both gentlemen had only scratched the surface of their thoughts on the topic.
At about the same time, the concept of “distributed lethality” had seeped its way in to the conversation. To examine both topics and to review the national security issues you should expect to see in 2015 will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath.
Bryan McGrath is the founding Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC (FBG), a niche consultancy specializing in naval and national security issues, including national and military strategy, strategic planning, executive communications, strategic communications and emerging technologies.
Prior to starting FBG, Bryan founded a national security consulting line of business for Delex Systems, where he directly supported a number of senior clients in the Navy and the Army. Additionally, he provided critical insight on Navy policy and acquisition preferences to commercial clients, including major defense contractors and small technology firms negotiating the “post-earmarks” era.
A retired Naval Officer, Bryan spent 21 years on active duty including a tour in command of USS BULKELEY (DDG 84), a guided-missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.
In his spare time, Bryan is a well-published commentator in the fields of national and maritime strategy, with policy papers published at major think tanks, and articles placed in nationally marketed periodicals. He is a frequent panelist at symposia that deal with naval issues and is frequently quoted by major press organizations.
Bryan earned a BA in History from the University of Virginia in 1987, and an MA in Political Science (Congressional Studies) from The Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the Naval War College.
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
On the heels of Misso and O’Keefe’s excellent piece calling for an increase to the already healthy pool of critical-but-constructive JO writing, “Stick Your Neck Out,” James Fallows at the Atlantic has published in an unfortunately different tack, “Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa,” showing the state of the military from a “I’m out” angry mic-drop perspective. Now, he has published a follow-up this morning, “A Reform the Military is Undertaking,” with some Junior Officer (JO) responses, but we all still need to have a chat.
Guys, I feel for the two officers’ sense of frustration – but this growing stream of solutionless exit-route bitterness is becoming too much a staple in corners of dialogue on the military. The vast forest is often missed for the particularly striking burning trees – and attention to the unofficial public debate seems to occur as an responsorial afterthought rather than the main thrust of our discussion. In some cases, you may even do a dis-service to a well-meaning JO whose writing may be shocking and a traffic generator, but fails to follow the advice of Brett Friedman on sound JO approaches to problem solving and writing.
If you find yourself with a fiery tome written by an O-2 or terminal O-3 who has been pounding away at their keyboard in well-meaning isolation – don’t do yourself and them the discredit by using it as a tool for pulling in clicks. Consider doing your and their credibility a favor, as a believer in the civil-military dialogue: put them in touch with someone you know in uniform, who you would trust to help that young JO add the tact and fact-checking necessary to make a truly incisive piece. Force them, before publishing, to grapple with the concrete realities that mold their institution and how they would see these realities shifted through implementable solutions. Remind them about the size of their institution with its indirect paths of change or glacial pace. You might suggest that, perhaps with time, their passion for change and continued service could see those or other changes come to pass. Hey, maybe just send them to one of us for a quick look-over?
Journalists, academics, enthusiasts… let’s have some real talk. If you want to write about the military, its culture, or the technical, tactical, operational, and strategic concerns of its members – you can always listen to the one’s who are still in, trying to understand, pursuing solutions, but are still sometimes frustrated (if that’s what you’re looking for). Some of you do listen, and you have our thanks – perhaps some of us have even bought you a beer as part of that civil-military dialogue. There exists whole constellations of critical-but-constructive JO’s and J(ish)O’s writing, with the occasional peppering of responses or even policy from GO/FO’s – all accessible to you every day:
- USNI Blog
- Center for International Maritime Security’s NEXTWAR Blog and meet-ups
- CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast
- War on the Rocks
- War on the Rocks Podcast
- The Bridge
- Small Wars Journal
- CDR Salamander
- John Q Public
- Duffel Blog (no, really – in parody is often truth)
- Athena Project
- The former “Greenie Board” (RIP)
- Defense Entrepreneurs Forum
- Task and Purpose
- BJ Armstrong’s 21st Century Mahan and 21st Century Sims (available on Amazon!)
- Twitter (sad, but true)
- From the Green Notebook
- The Military Leader
- Company Command and Platoon Leader Forum
- Information Dominance Corps Self Synchronization Facebook Page
- and many more
I have said this before, if we want to build a better civil-military understanding, I beg you start paying attention to the debate happening in the public writings of those servicemembers you want to understand. Though there is a place for appreciating the pure critics and exit-route mic-droppers; their views should not be the main drumbeat of our dialogue. To be fair, many of us who write regularly are a self-selected group – there still remains a vast space in which to encourage JOs to write. Those in the public space who avail themselves for those writings are doing a service, but the cherry picking and lack of guidance in the production of shocking JO posts does no service to your legitimacy among those you wish to discuss, and misinforms – or only partially informs – the public you are attempting to explain us to.
You want controversy, you want to see the battle of ideas, you want characters, you want stories… they’re all out there. The shooting stars may grab attention, but the constellations in the night sky are how we should navigate.
By Mark Tempest
Well inside an officer’s career arch, we saw the American Navy move from the Great White Fleet, The Spanish American War to the age of the Dreadnought. Our Army, from ad-hoc volunteer units to a professional army going head-to-head with the finest professional army on the planet.
How did our military and our Navy build up to WWI, and how did that experience inform the evolution of our national defense infrastructure?
Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. John T. Kuehn , the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer flying both land-based and carrier-based aircraft. He has taught a variety of subjects, including military history, at CGSC since 2000. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), 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 latest book, due out from Praeger just in time for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns.
“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”
-President John Adams
If John Adams were a junior officer in the Navy today, his admonition to his fellow officers might read something like this:
Let us [not] dare to read [lest my own beliefs be challenged], think [lest my perceived truths be shown as falsehoods] , speak [lest my commanding officer notice me], and write [lest my FITREP result in an MP].
As junior officers, we recognize this attitude in ourselves, our peers, and our superiors. Yet if today’s junior officer is to have any lasting legacy on the Navy or Marine Corps, it will be by recognizing and acting upon an essential truth:
The health of the service is more important than your career.
We need junior officers willing to stick their necks out and write. Our service and our country are dealing with serious challenges, many of which may have non-traditional solutions. This generation of junior officers will be judged for our courage to stand up and work to solve those problems. The nation can no longer afford our silence.
At the turn of the 20th century, a young naval gunnery officer couldn’t get anybody to listen to his revolutionary ideas on gunnery. Unwilling to be silenced, he stuck his neck out. In what he later termed “the rankest kind of insubordination,” he wrote a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt. This young officer, William Sims, would later use the pages of Proceedings to challenge his peers to be wary of the dangers of a lack of innovation or honest introspection, asking, “which of us will be quoted in the future as example of dangerous conservatism?”
In 1894, another author wrote scathingly about the lack of introspection in the British Empire’s naval culture. The parallels to today are striking: the world’s dominant maritime power for three generations, unchallenged in might but facing an increasingly complex and globalized world. Entitled “The Children of Nelson” and reprinted in the pages of Proceedings, the article lambasts British naval leadership, saying:
“The Admiralty … sternly refuses to permit junior officers to write or speak on questions of speculative strategy and other subjects which involve neither criticism of things that are, nor betrayal of official secrets. Junior officers are thus restrained in their usefulness and discouraged in their legitimate professional ambitions; and the impression has taken root amongst them that the man who endeavors to elbow his way out of the crowd, to bring forward a new theory, or to do any kind of serviceable work beyond the minimum which his position requires of him, is a fool for his pains… Thus discouraged on all hands, the British naval officer, with a few brilliant exceptions, resigns himself to living and moving in deep and well-worn grooves. He thinks little; he speculates less; he almost fails to realize, save in a dull and general way, that some day the storm of battle will again rage around him, and that he will be expected, by an unreasonable country, to repeat the triumphs of his ancestors.”
One hundred years later, the US Navy seems to have institutionalized and incentivized intellectual conformity in both strategy and policy through a culture that discourages professional intellectual dissent in favor of promotability. Navy Captain Jay Avella said it best in 1997 when he wrote, again in Proceedings, that the problem, “is about the culture change that seems to be pervading the sea service—a change that says, ‘don’t rock the boat, it will cost you your career.’”
The US Navy is in a perplexing situation: we pay lip service to buzzwords such as “innovation” and “transformation,” but will only act if ideas don’t upset entrenched interests or institutional inertia. Nevertheless, junior officers today are the scions of generations of transformative men and women who came before us—those like Mahan, Sims, and countless others. These officers never accepted the status quo just because “it’s the way we’ve always done things.”
As organizations such as naval aviation’s Tailhook Association prepare to name 2015 the “Year of the Junior Officer,” it is important for the thousands of junior officers in the Navy and Marine Corps to engage in some serious introspection. What will be our enduring mark on our service?
From a rank and file perspective, junior officers can drive change in their divisions and departments, and if lucky with supportive commanding officers, within their ships, submarines and squadrons. But what ultimately set Sims apart from many junior officers who have driven innovation on the deckplates was that he wrote about it. Had Sims not put pen to paper, unrelentingly, institutional change might never have happened. Today, we must pick up our tablets and laptops, just as those before picked up their pens and typewriters, and write, regardless of the pressures on our careers.
There is a disturbing trend among some that equates intellectual dissent with outright insubordination and disrespect. One recent Proceedings article went so far as to suggest that today’s millennial generation is derelict in their adherence to time-honored naval customs and courtesies, simply for asking “Why?” This belief blithely ignores examples like William Sims, that show us one of the most time-honored naval traditions is that of innovation driven by the junior officer ranks challenging the status quo.
Again, this sentiment is not new; one need only consult Alfred Thayer Mahan’s FITREPs to appreciate its longevity. CDR Rich LeBron, Commanding Officer of the USS Benfold, put it this way: “In this vertically stratified setting, the boss can find isolation behind the closed door of authority and good ideas can be transmuted, crushed, or simply dismissed on their way to the top as spirits and morale are driven into the ground.” Today’s navy, facing a staggering array of complex geopolitical, fiscal and technical challenges, cannot afford to keep thinking that all the answers reside with senior leadership.
Yet we cannot wholly blame a cessation of intellectual development on this entrenched culture; fault lies within the junior officer corps as well. Writing is hard, and quite often, after a long day aboard ship or in a cockpit, the last thing we wish to embark on is a quest to articulate on paper a problem and solution that we would simply prefer to move past. It forces us to defend our ideas, to take a stand, and perhaps even to be wrong. But it is a duty that lies squarely on our shoulders, and we must rise to the occasion.
At the junior officer level, we have a responsibility not just to put complaints to paper, but to constructively identify issues or highlight positives, defend our views and promulgate solutions. This improves our professional knowledge, and enables senior leadership to take their pens to paper to engage in dialogue where we can actually leverage and learn from their experience. Simultaneously, it is particularly important for naval leadership to closely examine the quality and content of their own writing, because we as junior officers look to them to provide for both context and inspiration.
Some junior officers are already making positive contributions to our great naval debates. Through projects such as the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF), Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), and CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), junior officers write, share ideas, and set the tone on issues from future ship design and innovative apps to geopolitics and strategy. Yet more is required — we must fight to forge a culture of writing without trepidation, establishing a groundswell of professional discussion in our service.
Furthermore, we do not simply need more people writing – we need more people writing about the issues that matter. Somewhere along the line, much of naval writing, even in the pages of Proceedings, has devolved to a bland party line. Writing must incorporate substance.
Importantly, we should not solely focus on writing the “next big article,” but also on inscribing in record the grassroots innovation and effective procedures observed and implemented in our divisions and squadrons. We have nearly ceased discussion of the important, often mundane issues and ideas of daily naval life: strategy, operations, tactics, and procedures. Glancing through the pages of Proceedings and similar journals, a majority of material comes from senior officers who have long since moved beyond the realities of division level maintenance and deckplate challenges. Junior officers should remember our roots and reclaim proclivity in this arena, promulgating instructive tips for our brethren and observations on daily naval operations. In the same Proceedings issue as “The Children of Nelson,” there was also an article on the relationship between barometric pressures and ocean currents, a discussion of rustless coatings, and articles on naval reform. By recording these conversations in printed word, junior officers were able to share solutions from around the fleet.
Ultimately, the Navy must be led by the constant ingenuity and engagement of its junior officers and driven by the strategic thought and innovative perseverance of its seniors. Therefore, officers of all levels must write substantive pieces of all types: the mundane but useful, the transformative, the well-founded, the controversial pieces, and we must write without fear for our careers. The currency of institutional change available to the junior officer today, just as with William Sims and Alfred Mahan, is in writing. And so, regardless of the barriers we face, write we must.
Much has been written about the institutionalized pressure on junior officers to “get on board, or get out.” This is manifested in discussions, both in print and in individual counseling sessions, about the narrow, cookie-cutter paths to commanding officer; junior officers that deviate even slightly from “the pipeline” risk abandonment.
Many factors play into the issues of junior officer retention, and for some, the pressures to leave the service are strong. Not surprisingly, few officers want to remain in a service where “ducks pick ducks.” Success in our service often seems to be determined by how well an officer’s career mirrors the prescribed path, while intellectual curiosity gets one a pat on the head or maybe even an adverse FITREP.
Yet these challenges to us as individuals are not insurmountable. It doesn’t matter what we face: we need officers willing to stick their necks out. So what if it’s frowned upon to challenge entrenched ideas that can be improved? So what if your career may be shortened? Most of us joined to sacrifice to serve our country. Perhaps some of us may need to sacrifice our perfect FITREP for the greater good.
The kind of change needed cannot be driven from outside the service. Paradoxically, though we may feel that getting out is best for our individual careers, it is harmful to the service overall. The future of the Navy and Marine Corps will be driven by the strength of the positive insurgency forming in the junior ranks today. We must dare to think, write, and speak–and also to stay in the service, despite the financial and psychological benefits of the private sector. We must join our thoughts and words with the courage required to forge the type of leadership our Navy and Marine Corps deserve.
To be sure, there is a time and a place for opinions and disagreement. Respect must continue to be the rule of the day: respect for rank, experience, and naval culture. Junior officers must continue to master their craft, get qualified, and above all, care for their Sailors and Marines.
Likewise, our generation cannot solve these problems simply by shifting our verbal complaints to paper. We must write with substance, bring forward ideas–even contentious ones–and help each other through the writing process. How and when junior officers write is also important; even William Sims acknowledged the inappropriateness of his letter to the President. Thankfully, the commander-in-chief was able to see past Sims’ youthful follies and identify the intellectual substance present behind his actions.
But these requirements should not preclude junior officers from actively engaging in discussions on the tactics, operations, and strategies they will be called upon to execute, on the culture of the institution that we love, in support of the country that we serve. We should not wait to attend the War College or Postgraduate School to consider who we are, what we are doing, where we are going, and why. We should not allow discouraging leadership and administrative burdens to choke our Navy and muddle our Marine Corps.
Many of our brothers and sisters in arms today and in decades past have paid the ultimate price for protecting our freedoms. They sacrificed their lives in defense of this nation. We can only hope to match their dedication by being willing to put our careers on the line, to “stick our necks out,” to make the service and this country better.
It is an often quaffed line, ‘British Defence Spending is the 5th largest in the world’ – inferring therefore that everything must be fine. The trouble is this the amount spent is not the issue; as % of GDP Britain ranks joint 7th with Turkey, and this is all before the current strength of the pound in relation to over currencies is factored in, or the costs of wages in Britain compared to those of other nations. Nor does it account for the success or failure of projects, for projects cancelled or reduced after billions of £s have been spent because a new government or minister changes their mind. In reality though none of this matters, as the reason for defence spending is not position on lists, but for a nation to be able to protect itself and its interests as best it can when necessary. In recent years, the service most visible in carrying out these task has been the British Army, but even its visibility hasn’t be a sure security.
In 1994 the British Army had 42 line battalions, by 2014 it had 25 regular and 14 reserve battalions – after five reviews decided that more could be done with less; Front Line First (1994), the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, Delivering Security in a Changing World (2003), and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. During this time the British Army was not sitting idle, it was deployed on many operations by various governments – including fighting two Gulf wars, the second of which, like the war in Afghanistan fought at nearly the same time, resulting in long-term commitments in those theatres, as well as these of course there was a eighteen year commitment to the Balkans. Yet still those four reviews have seen a cut to the regular army by 40% over ten years. The army though has at least been granted a reserve, which is being emphasised, the RN doesn’t even have that, and its escort strength has shrunk by 51%.
The RN in 1994 had 39 escort vessels, frigates and destroyers, in service. These are the vessels which provide Task Forces with their anti-submarine capabilities, many of the air defence layers, the naval gunfire support for ground forces, and perhaps more importantly; much of the global presence and maritime security capability that Britain’s place in the world is secured by. This meant that in 1994, at any time, the RN would be able to guarantee at least 13 vessels to meet its commitments (based on the standard of 1 deployed, 1 returning/going to deployment and 1 in either training/maintenance). Whilst there was no ready ‘slack in the system’, the RN was still far more able to absorb emergencies, accidents, and the sheer random events of international relations. In 2014 the RN has 19 escorts, it has no reserve ships – it hasn’t since 1967, there are ships in extended readiness but these are regular vessels which are being kept at reduced operational status to save money. Now there has been talk that even the current strength, that can guarantee just 6 ships to meet commitments (which include at least 9 ongoing escort level missions, a number which of course doesn’t include things like HMS Daring being sent to the Philippines in November 2013), might be cut with the next generation of frigates, the Type 26 class. Successive governments have been building a navy for peace, but forgetting the RN’s own, well proven, motto “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, which in English translates to “If you wish for peace, prepare for war”.
So what is the reason for this? Well, ships are expensive, and for a nation which has seemingly lived by the motto “economy & treasury first” since before the First World War, they can make easy targets to cost/cut minded governments. This is due their high individual unit cost – something which actually increases by fewer being built, due to research costs largely staying the same and economies of scale not being achieved. The trouble for Britain, is that there have been cuts sold to government and public alike on the ideas of a more peaceful future, and collective security. The latter of course is an insurance scheme which only works if a country can pay into it, as well as draw out – and money alone just isn’t enough. The more peaceful future, hasn’t emerged, threats that were presumed to have been put to bed, have awoken, and threats which were never foreseen are now front and centre of strategic reality. So this is the problem, but in the climate of deficit reduction, short term at least there will be no radical reversal.
This is bad though because Britain is the definition of a nation with Global Interests – i.e. it’s economically, politically and culturally, linked to a huge port of the rest of the world; partially as a legacy of Empire and Commonwealth, but also the way we have to forge, and interact with it to this day, the global economic system. This means that Britain, like nations with similar levels of interests, in order to secure those interests, has to maintain both Global Presence and Global Reach.
Presence matters, because international events, like voting elections, if you don’t turn up you don’t count. Presence can also have big advantages in building local relationships, and increasing understanding/information available on a region. It’s often easiest to accomplish from ships, as they don’t tie a nation to another like bases do, they allow you to visit as many of the states in the region that have ports, they are self-contained, often carry extensive sensor equipment that enables them to gather information and can also be used to drop off ‘gift packages’ for embassies. The ships used for this role, are often of course escorts.
Global Reach is the ability to fight, whereas Presence is usually a single vessel ‘wandering around’, reach is about aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, the ability to wage war or conduct other major operations far away from home. If the presence ships are the equivalent of the bobby on the beat, these are the riot police, water cannon and aerial support. They of course though depend upon escorts as well, a concentration of them in fact, to provide the inner and middle layers of defence, to provide naval gunfire support. The roles which provide the back bone of a Task Forces capabilities. All of this is what is being undermined by the cuts, the reduction of 12 Type 45 Destroyers, to 9, then 8 and eventually 6 might have seemed only small cuts at the time but they have had long term ripples. If 8 had been built, then the RN would have been able to guarantee 7 ships to meet commitments, if 12 then it would have been 8 – still not enough to fulfil all the ongoing escort level missions, but it would have been a good start. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, and now there is a situation which must be addressed.
The solution to this situation therefore comes from pursuing a core and offset strategy – much as the Army has done with its new reserves. Somehow the money must be found to at least maintain the future frigate numbers, only this can keep the core strong enough to hopefully provide for what needs to be done, when it needs to be done – as well as the basis for expansion should economies provide. An offset must be sort to make this more viable, to allow for the necessary concentration of force to enable adaptation to events. An increase in smaller, cheaper, patrol and presence assets such as Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), so that these craft can take on a great part of the maritime security and presence missions – freeing the escorts to concentrate on war fighting, and higher risk missions.
In addition to this, the most must be made of assets available, even if the F35 suffers no more delays, the HMS Queen Elizabeth will not receive fixed wing aircraft for years. It may therefore be sensible to enquire about the procurement of Sea Avenger UAVs (an advanced version of the Reaper drones, which can make use of the same infrastructure as that aircraft) in order to provide an interim fixed wing carrier capability (if they are suitable to Short-Take Off & Landing/Ramp carrier operations), that can in time provide a suitable partner to the F35s, while in the meantime giving the fleet a long range strike and intelligence asset to enable it to maximise capability.
Finally, and possibly the hardest change to make, for a nation which prides itself on always having its forces equipped with the best, in 2020, instead of being sold to other navies or scrapped, some of the Type 23 Frigates (a class in which some units have served over thirty years) must be kept for reserve. This would have been the sensible course of action with the last four Type 22 frigates, but they are now gone forever. Of the 13 Type 23 vessels, 6-8 would need to be kept. This force would provide the RN with what it has so needed for nearly fifty years, slack – the ability to mobilise more strength when numbers are required. In time, or perhaps even before 2020, over vessels, patrol ships, and mine warfare vessels must also be put in reserve. This reserve will not be rusting hulks, tied to the quays, they will need small caretaker crews of regulars, and the reserve personnel which will be called upon in times of need to man them, shall have to be given regular opportunities to practice. Infrastructure wise this would not be a difficult thing to facilitate – the difficulties will be psychological, national, government and service, perspectives will need to adapt.
This work began with the British Army, and it will finish with it, the British Army is an army which has always been tempered by the fires of conflicts – in recent years, with ongoing commitments and falling strength it has been forced to rely upon, and prove, the necessity and viability of reserves. This has not been accomplished without trepidation, in fact it is still an ongoing transition – but ultimately it is what will be. If this is to be the new reality for the Army though, why can’t it also be the reality for the RN? Why can’t the RN also draw more than just piecemeal strength and succour from its reserves? Why can’t the RN Reserves have their own ships, as the Reserve Army has its own battalions, to rally around?
It is always a good time to back up and review where we are with the LCS. Now that we have doubled down on both hulls with their transmogrification in to a FF, it is especially important to see if we are reinforcing success or reinforcing failure.
Before we do that, let’s look at what was done with the last class of sub-DD/DDG sized ships. Let us look back at what previous generations brought to the fleet prior to the computer systems and superior technology of today.
Let’s keep it focused on one area in particular; just the timeline, milestones, and performance. For our benchmark, let’s look at the FFG-7 class, the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY (OHP), a run of 51 ships, compared to where we are with LCS, a planned run of 52 ships (32 LCS and 20 FF).
OHP Hull-1 was commissioned in 1977.
LCS Hull-1 was commissioned in 2008.
Roll the clock forward roughly six years.
OHP by year six, through the end of 1983: 37 ships commissioned, 34 for the USN, 3 for the RAN.
LCS by year six, through the end of 2014: 4 ships commissioned.
We should note as well the operational history of the OHPs by 1983. FMC in all mission areas, full deployments with all Fleets. By the end of 2014, LCS is little more than creeping through further developmental testing … yet, we are committed to seeing the class through to whatever end it will have.
Why the optimism that this is the ship we want to send our Sailors to war in? Let’s jump to page 195 of the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation 2014 Annual Report.
Further commentary on my part is not necessary. Some very cold, quiet, and self-reflective moments are needed by all to ponder why we are still here going there. For those responsible for this decision, perhaps ask yourself this; is there really anything wrong with others who measure your decisions and to still find them wanting?
What is there to gain by critics in to continuing to beat the undead?
Perhaps, if nothing else, to keep reminding future leaders that when it is their turn, that they can do better. Other generations have, so can theirs.
Below are just a few of the, ahem, highlights. There are many more.
The 2014 operational testing identified shortcomings in air defense, reliability, and endurance, and significant vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. When equipped with the Increment 2 SUW Mission Package, LCS 3 was able to defeat a small number of Fast Inshore Attack Craft under the particular conditions specified by the Navy’s reduced incremental requirement and after extensive crew training and tailoring of the tactics described in Navy doctrine; however, testing conducted to date has not been sufficient to demonstrate LCS capabilities in more stressing scenarios consistent with existing threats.
The core combat capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe remain largely untested.
The MCM Mission Package has not yet demonstrated sufficient performance to achieve the Navy’s minimal Increment 1 requirements.
… end-to-end mine clearance operations have been limited by low operator proficiency, software immaturity, system integration problems, and poor Remote Minehunting System (RMS)/RMMV reliability.
… the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) did not meet the Navy’s requirement for mine neutralization success. Failures of the host MH-60 aircraft’s systems and its associated Airborne MCM kit severely limited AMNS availability.
LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because its design requirements accept the risk that the ship must be abandoned under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants.
While both seaframe variants are fast and highly maneuverable, they are lightly armed and possess no significant offensive capability without the planned SUW Increment 4 Mission Package or Increment 2 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Mission Package.
… (LCS-3) Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots).
The ship’s Mk 110 57 mm gun system performed reliably during operational testing, and the ship was able to demonstrate the core capability for self-defense against a small boat in two valid trials. The Navy attempted to collect additional data from swarm presentations, but the data were invalid. The 57 mm gun failed to achieve a mission kill during one swarm presentation, and the target killed by the 57 mm gun during a second swarm presentation had previously been engaged by 30 mm guns.
…The LCS 3 anchoring system could not securely anchor the ship in an area with a bottom composed of sand and shells. Despite repeated efforts, the ship was unable to set the anchor. It appears that the anchor and chain are too light and there are too many friction points along the anchor chain’s internal path from the chain locker to the hawse pipe to allow the anchor and chain to pay out smoothly.
DOT&E still has no data to assess the core mission capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe.
LCS reliability problems also forced the ship to remain in port for repairs instead of conducting at-sea RMS testing as planned. … the Navy had not yet demonstrated that it could sustain operations of more than one 14-hour RMMV sortie per week (i.e., 10 to 12 hours of RMS minehunting per week). Unless greater minehunting operating tempo is achieved, the Navy will not meet its interim area clearance rate requirements.
So much personal and professional capital has been invested in this ship – and in this timeframe, what utility does this have for the Fleet commander? Even more importantly, what are we putting our Sailors in and deploying forward?
Yes, it is always a good time to look at LCS/FF and ask, “What hath we wrought?”
Recently, when one hears of disease and Africa, if you only listened to the media, then what would come to mind would be Ebola.
That is not the real challenge in Africa. There is a disease that not only kills, it impedes economic growth, interferes with good governance, and as a result is just another catalyst to conflict there and in South Asia.
To give a better understanding of the ongoing impact of malaria and the fight against it, our guest will be Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, USN (Ret.)
Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer was appointed in June 2006 to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The PMI strategy is targeted to achieve Africa-wide impact by halving the burden of malaria in 70 percent of at-risk populations in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 450 million people, thereby removing malaria as a major public health problem and promoting economic growth and development throughout the region.
PMI is a collaborative U.S. Government effort, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the Department of State, the White House, and others. As coordinator, Rear Admiral Ziemer reports to the USAID administrator and has direct authority over both PMI and USAID malaria programs.
Join us live at 5pm on the 11th (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page here. The iTunes page may require you to open the show inventory in iTunes itself.
“Why is the Naval Academy Museum hosting a debate on the future of aircraft carriers?”
It’s a question I was asked earlier this week about the debate between Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath at USNA’s historic Mahan Auditorium. So let’s break down that question and answer it.
First, why is the Museum hosting this? Part of the Naval Academy Museum’s mission is to educate Midshipmen and the general public on the history of the Navy. While this debate is about the future of aircraft carriers, both debaters and the moderator are extremely well versed in the utility of carriers for much of the past century. In addition, the event was promulgated with additional information about the historical debate on aircraft carriers from the pages of Naval Institute Proceedings since 1922. In conjunction with the debate, the museum also has a special exhibit during January on the history of aircraft carriers. We’ve also produced through LTjg Christopher O’Keefe, the History of the Navy in 100 Objects which includes many videos on aircraft carriers. Our mission also includes demonstrating to the public the contributions of Academy graduates. It would be difficult to imagine today’s utility of aircraft carriers without the contributions of graduates such as Admirals Halsey, Mitscher, and others during World War II or nuclear propulsion guided by Admiral Rickover. This debate is open to the public.
Second, why a debate format? That’s simple. We are very fortunate at the Naval Academy to host a number of informed and recognized guest speakers and lecturers. The Museum, for examples, has a regular lecture series throughout the academic year. Although it may have happened in my ten years teaching at the Academy, I don’t recall a debate about a national security issue. It’s a great format to get to issues a single presenter might not. And, historically, there’s a real periodic tradition of debating naval issues among officers and civilians at least as far back as the Naval Lyceum and Naval Magazine in the 1830s. Both Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath are well-versed in our naval history, articulate, and serious informed navalists whose voices are important in our greater concepts about national security. I, for one, look forward to learning from each side.
Third, why is the Museum involved in a debate on the future? That’s simple. We’re a teaching museum. Ideas about the future, whether they’re about operations, platforms, or strategies, simply don’t occur out of a vacuum. As they say, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. At the museum we’re trying to bridge the gap between our naval heritage and the future. For example, we try to integrate our artifacts in applied history projects with the midshipmen such as with the recently-acquired Mount Suribachi field glasses. In addition, our moderator is Captain CC Felker, USN, Chair of the History Department at the Naval Academy. He’s the author of “Testing American Sea Power” and holds a doctorate in history.
Finally, I owe mention to our partnership with the United States Naval Institute on this event. For those interested and unable to attend, the United States Naval Institute is livestreaming the event. The Museum and the Institute have a long history going back to when Preble Hall was built in 1939 and housed both the Museum and USNI. USNI left the building in 1999 for Beach Hall at Hospital Point but we have an excellent working relationship. We rely heavily on their photographic archives for some of our exhibits and they take photos of some of our collection for their book catalogues and Naval History Magazine.
Members of the Naval Institute will be familiar with the phrase for “To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write.” Now it’s time to debate. We hope you’ll listen and join in on the discussion in the pages of Proceedings, elsewhere, or on Twitter (#CarrierDebate).
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC