The tension created by prolonged naval build-ups during the first part of the 20th century finally ignited into all-out naval conflict in the Pacific in 1941. The Japanese struck first at Pearl Harbor, with their carrier-based aircraft heavily damaging the anchored US battleships of the Pacific Fleet, and thus bringing the aircraft carrier to the front lines of the conflict.

Please join us at 5pm (Eastern U.S. Daylight Savings time), Sunday March 9, 2014, for Episode 218: Abolishing of the USAF, with Robert M. Farley :

In concept, execution, and ability to effectively provide its part of the national defense infrastructure, has a separate Air Force served this nation well, and does it make sense to keep it a separate service?

Our guest this week makes the case that the experiment in a

separate US Air Force is over, and it has failed. Though we need airpower, we don’t need a separate service to provide it.

With us for the full hour will be Professor Robert M. Farley, PhD, author of the book being released 11 March, Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force.

Rob teaches defense and security courses at the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky. He blogs at InformationDissemination and LawyersGunsAndMoney.

Join us live or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Aviation | 1 Comment

DEF[x] Annapolis

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum held their first locally organized event this past Saturday, called DEF[x] Annapolis (think TEDx vs TED). Organized by midshipmen at the Naval Academy, the goal was to bring together a group of people from around the region interested in furthering the discussion of innovation and disruption within the military.

This was the second DEF event, the inaugural conference having been held this past October in Chicago. Their format tries to emulate some of the lessons of TED, such as restricting speakers to a 20-30 minute window (including Q&A time) and bringing in people with a variety of experiences and perspectives. I was not at DEF in Chicago, so this was my first exposure to the DEF group.

There were a few major themes running throughout the speakers’ talks: how private industry can help the military innovate, that the military is resistant to change and innovation, and how military service can prepare you (or not) to be an entrepreneur. Most of the speakers were currently serving, or had at some point served, in the military and were in various stages of starting their own venture. They shared great lessons from their experiences both as military officers and as entrepreneurs. I’m not going to go into detail about what they said, because that’s not the focus of this post, and because (once the videos are online I’ll update this post with a link) you can hear them in their own words.

What struck me as largely absent from the conversation, and I’m not the only one who noticed this, was discussion about how to foster innovation from within the military – not just from the outside in via startups. Being a software developer and someone who appreciates the value of an outside disruptor to force change in an industry, I wasn’t terribly bothered by this absence. I noticed a lack of this type of discussion simply due to the nature of the event. BJ Armstrong rightfully raised the question though, both on Twitter and out loud during a session.

It’s a valid concern, and it got me thinking: why is there such a conspicuous lack of discussion, and (from where I’m sitting) a general lack of interest, about spurring innovation from the inside? Does it have to do with the type of person to whom this kind of thinking and iterating appeals? Is it a symptom of a culture of “shut up, do as you’re told, and don’t make waves” that persists inside the military? Perhaps it’s a combination of those factors?

I’m a lowly BM3, and a reservist at that, so my exposure to this type of thinking is far more limited than the members who are pushing this discussion further into the sunlight. My sense is that while the problem is probably a combination of the above factors, the scales tip further in the direction of a change-resistant culture. Perhaps more specifically, it’s the perception of the military at large being innovation-averse. The DEF[x] speakers are a perfect example: they saw something they felt was fundamentally wrong within the military, and they set out to correct it – by setting up their own company, not by working inside the system to push for change. Some of them may have been driven primarily by business opportunity, which is perfectly acceptable, but the sense I get is that most of them were genuinely interested in solving a problem for the betterment of the service.

My takeaway from DEF[x] was not that the answer to fixing the military’s problems lies in startups. What I took was that the biggest problem for innovation lies not with a lack of smart people with good ideas, but a lack of opportunity for those people to execute on those ideas. Innovation is alive and well in the minds of those who see a better way forward, but we need to encourage them to voice those thoughts and experiment. CRIC is a great idea, but it needs to go from one small group to a service-wide program that reaches down to the smallest unit level. Give the smart, creative thinkers the tools they need to improve the service they love, starting with a willingness to listen.

Many factors combined to end the 300 year reign of the battleship, and most of them occurred during and just after World War I, from the development of aviation, to the Washington Naval Conference, and eventually the destruction of much of the US surface fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today we take a closer look at how the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the pre-eminent ship in the US Navy.

Joseph Conrad

Adam Gopnik was recently on CNN with Fareed Zakaria discussing the place of the humanities in our world. It was a conversation that continues the recent debate aboutr the U.S. education system and the role of STEM. It also is a mirror to the discussion of officer education and training in the U.S. Navy, albeit somewhat inverted. While the discussion of U.S. education at large is one of too few science, technology, engineering, and math students and practitioners, in the Navy we face an officer corps where STEM educated officers are by far the majority, and according to policy will only become more dominant. But Gopnik said something that caught my attention: “We need the humanities … because we are human.”

The statement reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a Captain in the Pentagon. Following the relief of yet another Commanding Officer, for a leadership mistake that seemed obvious to us, the Captain asked how come, after 238 years of naval history, we haven’t figured this out? We all know what good leadership is, we all know not to be a toxic leader, and doesn’t it all seem so simple? It’s reminiscent of a letter Admiral Hyman Rickover wrote to the editor of Proceedings in 1981. For Rickover, the engineer’s mind could not fathom why people didn’t simply follow the procedure, put the inputs into the equation and get the guaranteed result. There was no need, he wrote, for Proceedings to ever publish another article on leadership. Good leadership was a settled matter.

The reason, of course, is that we’re talking about human beings, complete with all of our frailties, failings, and free will. One of the great truisms of military leadership is that our people are our greatest strength, or our most valuable asset. It’s repeated time and time again. Today Chief of Naval Operations Greenert tells us that “Our power comes from our folks, the attributes and their skill which they bring.” A century ago Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote that having a good Navy “consists not so much in the building of ships and guns as it does in the possession of trained men.” Is it true? I certainly think so. But if people matter, we’re not talking simply about end-strength numbers or rack space in berthing. We’re talking about humans. And because we’re talking about leading, working with, partnering with, and eventually even fighting other humans…we need the humanities.

Cultural understanding, emotional intelligence and empathy are fundamental parts of good leadership, and also a part of modern naval concepts like international partnerships. They come from experience. It is my great hope, however, that I will never have to experience all of the trials and challenges my fellow sailors face in life in order to help them. What a tragic life that could be. Instead, I’d rather read my share of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or O’Brian, which might help me learn a thing or two about emotion and about the way people face different challenges in their lives, even at sea. Reading the biographies of great leaders, the histories of battles both large and small, and the classics of strategy, helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than have to learn only from my own multitude of mistakes.

Many of you right now are thinking, sure but will it give me practical answers? No. Will it help me on my next tactics quiz or NATOPS closed book test? No. And that’s not the point. Empathy is not about perfect answers; it’s about finding a place to begin understanding each other and finding a way to connect. Without that connection, leadership is purely a matter of positional authority. Of course, only barking out orders is one of the worst ways to be a leader. The goal is leadership where, as one of Lord Admiral Nelson’s officers once said, “we all wish to do what he likes, without any kind of orders.” And if you remember that the enemy gets a vote, then the human mind will also play a role in how they formulate that decision.

Admiral Harvey was simply wrong when he told CDR Salamander and Eagle One on Midrats that “this is not a business for poets.” (Actually, his friend ADM James Stavridis, counters the idea directly since he studied English literature instead of engineering as a Midshipman.) It is true that we do need practical answers sometimes though. When running a nuclear plant, the Admiral is of course right that we need technical experts who can give the definite answer. But technical knowledge and execution are only a part of my job as an officer. (And, incidentally, something that Nuclear Power School has taught lots of historians and English majors.) If half of my job is working with other humans, why should I only study science and machines? Shouldn’t we have balanced officers, able to integrate the human and the technical? In order to have that, we must educate in a balanced way as well.

In the critical scene in Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad’s classic novel of the maritime world in the late 19th century, the Second Engineer of the tramp steamer Patna comes up to the bridge from below, long after dark as they head across the Gulf of Aden. The novel’s anti-hero Jim repeatedly checks the clock, as the final minutes of his bridge watch tick down (a moment we all know and identify with). The Engineer and the Captain, who had just come to the bridge in his pajamas, begin to argue about the role that Engineers should play at sea. Without them the ship wouldn’t even move, and they could pretty much take care of all the responsibilities aboard ship, exclaims the engineer. The Captain argues back about the importance of seamanship and command, both men likely having had a nip from the bottle. Jim, paying attention to the amusing give and take, feels the ship give a shudder. Patna struck something in the water. The officers, distracted by their argument and the sudden fear that Patna will sink, abandon ship.

I can’t help feel like the scene tells us something about the debate over officer education. We need both. We need engineers to provide technical expertise and their particular way of approaching problems and we also need a balance of line officers who have studied humans and human interaction, who have studied the humanities. We need diversity. But maybe most importantly, we need both of them to stop arguing with each other and stop maneuvering for position. Stop making official policies that benefit their tribe and take us further out of balance. Stop thinking that only they and their type is what our navy and our nation need.

It’s time to drive the ship. The issue is on the table, but instead of tribal preservation we must figure out how to bring balance back to the Navy, to educate officers and integrate the technical specialist’s skills with the strategic thinking and leadership lessons of the humanities and social sciences. Instead of piecemeal decisions and salami slicing policy, we need a holistic vision. It is time for an official and comprehensive look at the kind of naval officer we need in the 21st century, and how our system develops those officers. If we neglect our professional responsibilities the tragic victims may not be our service, but instead the passengers we abandon: the American people. It’s time to stop arguing at the back of the bridge and start looking outside. It’s time to focus on our profession. We’re headed toward a collision.

Over the coming decade, the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships will be fully operational, and as we examine their designs and technological innovation, today’s episode takes us back in time to visit the newest ships of the 1750s and 1890s, some of them littoral in nature. We also head into the restoration and modeling shop of the Naval Academy museum for an up-close look at the efforts to preserve and expand the Naval Academy’s precious collection of model ships, and thus document our naval heritage.

From the 1890s until World War II, the Navy witnessed tremendous technological development. Wooden ships ceased to exist. The airplane was invented and became mainstream, and submarines entered broad use world-wide. During this same period and with the same rapidity, the Navy (and the rest of the world’s navies like Japan) adopted wireless communication, completely changing the way navies fought battles and coordinated movements. Wireless technology directly impacted the course of all future conflicts, particularly WWII, with interceptions of German and Japanese communications leading to key Allied victories. To this day, wireless communication technology continues to develop and change at incredible speed.


The Media Circus

February 2014


The Marine Corps Times and the Commandant of the Marine Corps have been in the news together recently, and not in a good way. After hearing sketchy details at work about integrity issues, whistleblowers, and biased reporting, and seeing the associated headlines, I finally spent time doing some catch-up reading to figure out what was actually happening. As a result I am now completely confused, and given the questionable coverage, bizarre headlines, and the “he said-she said” nature of it all, I’m probably not alone.

The news cycle started with the reporting surrounding the video that surfaced in 2012 of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. The incident and subsequent official investigation garnered attention, and the news cycle continued with stories about unlawful command influence and who did or did not make specific statements to others about the investigation. This winter, media coverage veered off into the bizarre with allegations that the removal of the Marine Corps Times from the front shelves of PXs around the world was a purposeful act directed at the paper by a vengeful Commandant’s Office. The reporting of the incidents in question is, of course, mainly performed by the Marine Corps Times and published by the same; as far as professional publications go, Foreign Affairs it isn’t. I don’t know that stating that “the Commandant’s Office punted all questions” is a shining example of unbiased, objective reporting. To be honest, I haven’t heard too much grumbling from fellow Marines over the stories; those I spoke to seemed as unaware as I was about the details of the stories in question. It seemed like the kind of background noise and drama that Marines avoid.

But the articles, however biased they may be, are disturbing for their existence if nothing else. Why are we reading about the diverging statements of top Marine generals? Why does it seem like the Commandant’s office has a message problem? Is the Marine Corps Times stirring the pot in order to report on legitimate problems? Or is the paper, in the words of the Commandant’s office, hoping to undermine good order and discipline by broadcasting stories that question the integrity of a sitting Commandant and cast doubt upon his abilities?

(One article in particular left me thinking that I had forgotten how to read the English language. A Marine Corps Times reporter interviewed four Public Affairs Officers, but I really can’t tell if any of the questions were answered in the process. Give it a try here and let me know what you figure out.)

In wading through the mess, one point jumped out: the Marine Corps is creating an OPT to help decide what should be placed near the front of Marine Corps exchanges. We are going to have “focus groups,” “discussions,” and “an ongoing process” in order to conduct a “holistic,” “comprehensive review.” (All this from the same article).

What is going on here? Have we completely lost our way? We are at war and the Marine Corps is in a spitting contest with a JV paper over where that paper is placed in the PX? We’re cutting funding by the pantload, trying to refocus a force after over a decade of conflict, and are spending money and energy creating an OPT to figure out what should go near the front of the PX? This entire exercise seems way beneath the dignity of the Commandant’s office. Figuring out the PX layout and products should be number 800 on his priority list. What am I missing?

The message we are sending to our Marines with this mess is not pretty. It resembles the ugliness and distractions of politics. It reminds me of what my kids do when they are trying to keep me from discovering the indelible marker drawings on the wall or the candy they hid under their pillows. I am honestly not sure where the blame lies for this situation, but I hope for our own sake we recover quickly and move on to the 799 items that are more worthy of our attention as a service.

seacontrolemblemCAPT Rodgers, former CO of the USS PONCE Afloat Forward Staging Base, discusses how his ad-hoc crew of Sailors and civilian mariners plucked a 40 year old ship from decommissioning’s doorstep and turned it into the most in-demand platform in the Arabian Gulf.


Sea Control is available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio. Remember to tell your friends! We think Sea Control is a fine product. Anyone who says otherwise is going to steal all your banking information and email passwords because information


All images from CAPT Rodgers’ unclassified post-deployment presentation on USS PONCE.Slide26



Editor’s Note: The real question is who the jerk is who threw the chairs all around before they left.

Slide14 Slide9 Slide12 Slide18

Commander Robert Peary made eight polar excursions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On each one of these, he was accompanied by Matthew Henson. However, whereas Perry received wide-spread acclaim, Henson spent most of his life in relative anonymity because he was African-American. Nevertheless, Henson’s contributions to polar exploration were tremendous, and he is now remembered as one of the great American polar explorers.

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