Yes, we are time shifting for this coming episode of Midrats to 6:30pm on Sunday, 26 October for a 90 minute adventure in national security and spin-off topics as we offer up Episode 251: DEF2014 wrapup and the budding question of veteran entitlement:
A special time and format this week with two different topics and guests.
Moving for just this week to a 6:30pm Eastern start time, our guest for the first 30-minutes will be Lieutenant Ben Kohlmann, USN – Founder of Disruptive Thinkers, F/A-18 pilot, member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Co-Founder Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. He will be on to give us an overview of DEF2014 that ends this weekend.
For the following hour our, guest will be Major Carl “Skin” Forsling, USMC. He will be on to discuss some of the broader issues he raises in his article earlier this month, Unpacking The Veteran Entitlement Spectrum, and perhaps some more as well.
Skin is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot. He has deployed with and been an instructor in both platforms. He has also served as a military advisor to an Afghan Border Police battalion. He is currently Executive Officer at Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, training Osprey pilots and aircrew for the Marine Corps and Air Force. He earned his batchelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s from Boston University. His writing has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, USNI Proceedings, Small Wars Journal, and Approach, among others (available at carlforsling.tumblr.com). Follow him on Twitter @carlforsling.
The phrase “no boots on the ground” has become a constant refrain when this country contemplates the use of military force. This phrase relies on the myth that air power alone can resolve a crisis. As a policy it sees boots only as people vulnerable to victimization by the enemy. However, the boots are actually grunts, people who dedicate their lives to defeating our enemies and are not afraid to get their hands dirty in the process. Militarily they increase the effectiveness of airstrikes and bring capabilities to the fight that aircraft do not possess.
Grunts possess not only boots but also optic, audio, and olfactory sensors. These sensors gather information which the grunt’s brain housing group develops into an awareness of the situation. While remote electronic sensors such as drones and satellites can be substituted to a degree, the grunt provides a more complete picture. This allows for quicker and more accurate target identification for aircraft.
Recent history shows the problems from a failure to deploy grunts. In Kosovo, NATO attacks were wasted on decoys, the Chinese Embassy was mistakenly bombed, all while civilians continued to suffer below. In Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein continued to launch SCUD missiles from mobile launchers in Western Iraq until Special Forces grunts were deployed. In Pakistan, mistaken attacks by drones on civilians undermine our efforts in the Global War on Terror.
Grunts also possess a unique capability that aircraft do not. While aircraft can influence events on the ground, grunts control them. Aircraft fly over the battlefield. After the initial shock subsides, the enemy adapts their tactics and becomes acclimatized to the bombing. (Despite years of strategic bombing by the U.S. and Britain, German production continued to increase throughout World War II.) In contrast, a grunt occupies the ground they stand on and the enemy must first push our grunts off the ground before they can act as they wish. Massacring civilians is not as easy when you must first defeat the grunts protecting them.
Like in Kosovo, after Desert Storm the U.S. attempted an air only approach to protect Iraqis who revolted against Saddam Hussein by imposing a no-fly zone over portions of Iraq. Those revolts were brutally suppressed. In the 1980’s, French air attacks stalemated Libyan advances into Chad but never defeated them. Finally, after a decade of fighting, the Chadian ground forces assimilated the surface-to-air and anti-tank guided missiles provided to them into their natural fighting style and decisively drove out the Libyans within a year.
By attacking with both air and ground forces you impose a dilemma on the enemy. If they concentrate to engage your ground forces, your air attacks become more effective. If they disperse their forces to minimize the effects of your air attacks, they become vulnerable to your ground forces. With boots on the ground supported by air attacks you inflict a defeat on your enemy, without them you can only hope he gives up.
Above all a no boots on the ground policy is a moral failure. Defeating an enemy requires convincing them that they cannot obtain victory. Accepting the risk of deploying ground troops demonstrates your resolve to seek victory. In contrast, attacking from the air and setting deadlines for withdraw indicates that you are more interested in reducing your risk and leaving as quick as possible. Showing this kind of weakness emboldens your enemy, not only by lifting their morale, but also because you tell them exactly what they have to do to win. The Greatest Generation did not ask for a no boots on the ground policy after seeing the pictures from the Tarawa beaches of the carnage of battle. They won World War II with a policy of “for the duration”. If we are committed to acting militarily, we should state clearly the goal we intend to accomplish, obtain Congress’s authorization for military action, and deploy the forces, including some form of ground component, necessary to accomplish our goal.
By Mark Tempest
Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.
In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.
From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.
As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.
Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.
Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.
Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.
For the moment, the U.S. military can still apply overwhelmingly decisive force – whether we’re talking lethal Special Operations teams or waves of bombers. At the same time, no one has our logistical reach for responding globally to natural disasters and other unforeseen catastrophes like Ebola.
We should build on these dual strengths. Indeed, the real shift that is needed in the defense budget and in national security debates isn’t about who or what we have, but about what we deploy our forces to do. Forget trying to re-make the military to fight violent extremists the way violent extremists want us to fight them. Instead, we should re-build foreign policy to fit our military capabilities and re-tilt the playing field to advantage us.
How about “don’t tread on me” married to “to each his own.” Just consider: if the U.S. got out of the business of telling other people how to live their lives – which is what respecting others’ sovereignty should mean – then the U.S. could demand of other governments the other quid pro quo sovereignty promises: namely, no one hailing from any other country should seek to cause us harm.
If foreign leaders were held accountable for the actions of their citizens, if they were made to understand that in exchange for the deference they receive as heads of state their duty is to guarantee security to their citizens and to us, they’d have to deliver better services. Otherwise, they risk an insurgency or worse. Meanwhile, let just one non-state actor harbored in another country attack the U.S. again, and here’s what violating our sovereignty would mean: that government would have to root out our attackers or we would be obliged to consider it complicit, too.
In other words, if people elsewhere prefer to live under a Caliphate or under a leader like Vladimir Putin, so be it. If they don’t want to, however, let them do the lion’s share of the fighting. Let them organize. Let them demonstrate that they are capable of uniting under a more viable alternative – one that can govern effectively, deliver services equitably, and will be a steward of regional peace. Then, ‘we the people’ can decide: is this an entity we want to support, in which case the U.S. Senate can ratify a treaty that makes clear to everyone what our support consists of.
No doubt this will strike some readers as too unrealistic and far-fetched. Clearly, we wouldn’t declare war on Russia over irredentism in its backyard. But, if not, why are we lending desultory support to Ukraine? Ditto for our positively schizophrenic treatment of Bashar al-Assad; we wanted him gone, encouraged the rebels, but refused to help them remove him, and now we need his help.
Imagine if we instead had a far clearer “don’t tread on me, or else” foreign policy. And say we had applied such a policy in the wake of 9/11. Mullah Omar either would have turned over Usama bin Laden or Mullah Omar would no longer be alive. Afghans would have chosen their own next leader in their own way. We wouldn’t still be in Afghanistan, still trying to cajole Afghans into a form of government and democracy that suits us.
One reason the U.S. should get out of the business of propping up regimes is that by doing so we prolong chaos and uncertainty. Cutting off the aid spigot is critical for two additional reasons. First, what too few Americans appreciate is the extent to which foreign aid projects don’t just corrupt, but corrupt absolutely. After all, why should a foreign government have to provide for its own citizens if we are willing to do so for them?
Second, our serial experimentation hasn’t really worked. The ‘developing world’ has been the developing world for decades. Have any of our taxpayer-funded aid projects really made a sufficiently significant dent?
Pilferable projects and cash feed the dysfunction we say we want to stop. Which isn’t to say that we should halt efforts to offer education or training. Those are unstealable. Nor should we stop delivering assistance in the immediate aftermath of unforeseeable natural disasters.
Indeed, there are numerous reasons why the United States should strive to remain the globe’s most robust First Responder. Not only is this what all good neighbors should do and what American citizens always seek to do anyway, but there is no surer way to show people elsewhere how well democracy and a free market economy can work, since without them we wouldn’t be able to deliver the mountains of assistance we do.
Assisting during the triage phase of an earthquake, tsunami, or pandemic is one thing. But prolonged assistance or a lengthy intervention is something altogether different. We Americans are unbelievably generous as a people. And we are great logisticians. But we don’t have what it takes to undo others’ chronic problems. Also, despite what many might think, we are too egalitarian and too impatient to successfully make people over in our image since that takes an imperial ruthlessness we don’t possess.
Our greatest strength? Directness – ideal for getting to the scene quickly to do immediate good, but also ideal for getting to the scene quickly to do immense damage. Reflect on our dual capabilities of relieving people from, or introducing people to, devastation, and we would save untold blood and treasure by re-calibrating our foreign policy to make the most prudent possible use of the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps we have.
At the same time, reinvigorating sovereignty would liberate others to make much more of themselves, too. It would force those heads of state in the path of ISIL, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, or you-name-the-armed-group to live up to their obligations to their citizens. They (too) would have to make far better use of the resources they already have – or succumb.
Consider what else Washington would gain if it took the military’s core strengths and made more (rather than less) of them. Members of the military would be able to concentrate on their comparative advantages, which come from being impatient, generous, capable, and direct. These are among the attributes that non-Americans used to admire in us – exactly the attributes that prolonged un-declared, fitful counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaigns squander.
Power projection, sea control, access, denial, and the ability to impose your will on the enemy from the sea – or depending on your perspective – prevent them.
If the comparative advantage of American military power includes the use of the world’s oceans as a basing area from projecting power and national will, how can other nations design systems and tactics to trump that advantage? What are in place now, and what can we expect to see in the near future?
Our guest for the full hour will be Sam J. Tangredi, a defense strategist whose studies of future warfare prompted Defense Department officials to label him “the Navy’s futurist.” His thirty-year naval career included command at sea, service in key strategic planning positions in the Pentagon and overseas, earning a PhD in international relations, and research fellowships at two think tanks.
His over one hundred publications—which include four books–have won awards, including the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke Prize and the U.S. Navy League’s Alfred Thayer Mahan Award. He is currently the director of San Diego operations for the planning/consulting firm Strategic Insight.
By Jon Paris
In both Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I compared various naval counterparts – laying the groundwork for discussing what the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer community is getting right, and what areas could use improvement. It is easy to complain. Surface Warfare Officers are notorious for it. I am infamous for it, as my peers and superiors alike will attest. Combine our penchant for complaining and our ingrained inferiority complex and it is no wonder that so many SWOs think that everyone else is “doing it better.” This time, though, it is not typical-SWO wanking: they aredoing it better, and we must pull our heads out of the sand and catch up. Royal Navy Warfare Officers, U.S. Naval Aviators and nuclear trained officers are specialists and are unmatched masters of their trade. They must train endlessly and they feverishly adhere to standards written in blood to remain at the top of their respective callings. They are role-models and could teach us a thing or two about being the best. As for Surface Warfare Officers – weare good, and that is the problem.
It appears that there is nothing wrong here. As a Surface Warfare Officer myself, I can get onboard with most of the above. There is a seedy underbelly to all of this, though. It thrives on a couple of points: that our greatness has not been tested by an opponent in decades, and that the perspective of greatness is naturally skewed from the top down. If not by desire, doctrine, or intent – then surely through practice – the Surface Warfare Officer community accepts mediocracy.Surface Warfare Officers – and the ships we drive, fight, and lead – guarantee the free flow of commerce across the world. We deliver critical readiness to the Geographic Combatant Commanders and we send a powerful message to both overt and would-be enemies. What we do, works. Our ships deploy and our navy projects unparalleled power around the globe. As an inherently expeditionary force, we ply the world’s oceans, go where we please, and influence international events as a matter of course. We conduct prompt and sustained combat operations like no other nation can. Our ships are leaving port and returning safely, they complete the widest variety of operational tasking of any military community, our personnel are advancing, and finally, as one senior community leader put it to me, “We are pretty damn good… I would take our top 50% Department Heads and put them against the top 10% of PWO (RN, Principle Warfare Officers) or Snipes (engineers) and bet on our people.”
Tom Skerritt’s Viper stood in front of a room filled with the elite – “the best of the best,” and told them deadpan: “we’ll make you better.” In this fictional portrayal, which is representative of the real-life attitudes found in the previously featured communities, good enough, wasn’t. Surface Warfare Officers are undoubtedly the best in our business. Unfortunately, context matters, as the same can be said when a Major League club steps into a Little League park. We need to be better. We have ill-defined core-competencies, which leads us to becoming Jacks-of-all-Trades. Our habit of recoiling in horror at the thought of specialization causes us to become plug-and-play officers; ultimately figure-heads and placeholders with little value added to a respective sub-unit. Finally, we do not deliver professionals to the Fleet. One Surface Warfare Officer with multiple commands under his belt conceded, “We should be more deliberate. Success and mastery occur by happenstance.” Another community leader said, “We have good tacticians, but that is mostly by personal choice, and a little bit about your ship’s schedule and how interested your Commanding Officer was in tactics.” This series is not about career advancement. It is about a profession. It is about war. It is about winning! Our nation does not deserve victory by happenstance. It deserves an ocean-roiling, awe-inspiring, burned-into-the-history-books slam of Thor’s hammer upon our enemies. I do not think we are there yet.
Getting there is not simple. It is not as easy as adopting all of the policies and culture of the Royal Navy or Naval Aviators or nukes. Surface Warfare Officers should be the best because we train to be the best, not because we happen to be a part of the American Navy. We should be the best because we retain the best, not simply because our kit is better than everyone else’s. Under some fantastic leaders, the community is getting the right idea. The introduction of the Basic Division Officer Course, the Advanced Division Officer Course, the Surface Navigator’s Course, the Command Qualification Exam, and rigor added to the Department Head Course are all aimed at developing professionals. Weapons Tactics Instructors – previously a rice-bowl of the aviation community – will invigorate tactical awareness and proficiency throughout the Fleet. The SWO Clock concept – another idea poached from Naval Aviators – which gets “beached SWOs” back to the waterfront, shows a tilt towards valuing production in the upwardly-mobile. We are making good efforts to improve our community in an environment that naturally builds anti-bodies to culture change. That said, we are not doing enough; our profession, our competencies, our reputation, and our retention suffer due to this slow trod down the middle-of-the-channel. As is evidenced by both the Naval Aviation and nuclear communities, it really comes down to what a community accepts in, and for, itself. Do we continue to accept mediocracy, or do we stand up and say that “good enough” is not good enough?
One admiral opined, “I think it is good we SWOs have this institutional ‘inferiority complex,’ as it keeps us from getting complacent…like naval aviation did in Vietnam and later years.” I am not nearly the first to question the level of professionalism in our force. In a 2009 Proceedings article, LT Mitch McGuffie discussed his shock at how much more professional Royal Navy Warfare Officers were than SWOs. This topic and topics like it pop up on Sailor Bob – the definitive forum for SWO discussion – all the time. We do have a questioning attitude and that does make us better. While I readily acknowledge that we are the best Surface Warriors on the block, I am not satisfied with a 10:1 or 50:1 advantage. Like Viper and his pals, and real-life naval professionals who recognize that “there are no points for second place,” I am not satisfied with us being the best – I want us to be the best of the best.
To be the best of the best, we must deliver professionals to the Fleet at all levels. To measure one’s professionalism, we must establish community-recognized core competencies. We must define what it means to be a SWO and prove that our pin is worth more than the money we pay for it. For the sake of brevity, I propose that our core competency be ship-driving. Imagine, if you will, a room full of mid-grade Hornet pilots: 20% of them openly admit to each other that they have no clue how to fly Hornets, and another 30% who are less open about their weakness demonstrate their ineptitude in the simulator. The remaining 50% range from barely capable to superstars. While quality spreads are a reality in any group, this scenario is un-imaginable. Naval Aviators with more than 8 years of service that do not know how to fly? Rubbish! This is a reality for Surface Warfare Officers, though. Lieutenants that do not know how to drive ships are commonplace. They exist because they were never trained, nor tested, much less held to a standard, in the first place. They were never trained, tested, or held to a standard because ship-driving – again, if not due to desire, doctrine, or intent, then through practice – is not recognized as a core-competency of the U.S. Navy’s ship drivers. As is demonstrated in the excellent film, Speed and Angels, Naval Aviators consider carrier operations to be a core-competency – if a student pilot cannot land on the boat, then he will not become a Naval Aviator. Why can’t Surface Warfare Officers take the same approach to our profession?
We need a flight school for Surface Warfare Officers. The name is not important at this point – rather, the purpose ought to be the focus: building ship drivers. We must stop accepting mediocracy in this venue! While the Basic Division Officer course is a fantastic concept meant to bolster our young ensigns, it lacks focus and does not zero in on core-competencies. The lessons taught in the Basic Division Officer course are important – being an effective small-unit leader is vital, and I do not propose that we scrap the current construct. Rather, I propose – nay, I implore – that we first recognize ship-driving as a core-competency, and second, require our officers to be competent ship drivers.
SEALs do not accept sub-par. Neither do Naval Aviators, nor nuclear-trained officers, or Marines. While I applaud our most recent Commander, Naval Surface Forces for his outstanding efforts to instill meaningful training, we are still accepting sub-par, and are using the re-creation of half-way schooling as a security blanket. Under our current system, young SWO candidates are flooded onto ships in an effort to make future retention goals – an indictment of our culture’s impact on retention. They then fiercely compete for time on the bridge to gain experience – and hopefully competency – as ship drivers. On most ships, this is not a recipe for success. The Professional Qualification Standard books, which drive progression, are signed with unpredictable integrity, imparting sometimes-dubious knowledge on young minds. To cap it off, Officer of the Deck and Surface Warfare Officer qualifications, granted by Commanding Officers, are determined using two-hundred some different standards. Some candidates sit for gut-wrenching, rigorous tests of their skills and knowledge, and others chat with their Commanding Officers at local watering holes after a command event. The evidence of the disparity in knowledge is on display in Newport, Rhode Island – home of Surface Warfare Officers School – where junior officers return for the Advanced Division Officer Course, and later, the Department Head Course. Some officers were obviously put to the test during their professional development, and others were obviously not.
I propose that we start a Deck Watch Officer School – our flight school - in Newport, which all ensigns will attend, and must pass, prior to reporting to BDOC and ultimately, the Fleet. As with aviators, this school would not be a second thought or a 60% solution, but rather would be a proving ground for our nation’s future ship drivers. The length of this notional school can be figured out later; what is important is that SWO candidates shall qualify;ashore. We must have one standard, one organization responsible for enforcing that standard, and must require those desiring entrance into our community to meet it – otherwise, seek life elsewhere. We should not be ashamed of upholding a standard and of telling some people that they are not cut out for this business. At this school, candidates would receive in-depth, hands-on instruction in seamanship and navigation, basic-through-advanced ship handling, meteorology, bridge resource management, and a variety of other skills required for the competent mariner.
Integral to this process would be the move of the Yard Patrol Craft fleet – the U.S. Navy’s only training ships – from Annapolis to Newport for the exclusive use of the Surface Warfare Officers School. During the pipeline, ensigns would log hours and prove their skills in simulators and on the water. They would complete classwork, learn from case studies, and would be continually tested, remediated, and attrited, as required. If they successfully made it to the end of this program, they would sit for a SWOS-run and community-sanctioned Officer-of-the-Deck board, ensuring that all ensigns are held to the same standard. Earning one’s OOD letter – like the pilots and their wings – would be a culminating event, and those unable to meet the mark would not be sent to the Basic Division Officer Course or the Fleet. If we could implement this plan, we would then send Captains competent, qualified ship drivers, immediately useful to their commands. Like in the Royal Navy, newly reported officers would then complete their platform endorsement, signifying both their grasp of their new ship and the trust their Commanding Officers have in them.
To be the best of the best, we must be good at our jobs. If Surface Warfare Officers are going to continue to be both professional watch standers, and small unit leaders, we must stop accepting the notion that plug-and-play is an effective way of doing business. Imagine a Naval Aviator spending his junior officer tours flying F/A-18’s, his department head tour in a P-8 squadron, and finally, growing up to command an MH-60 squadron. This progression would never happen in the aviation community because they are not plug-and-play pilots. Yet, a Surface Warfare Officer may indeed spend a tour in Weapons Department, followed by Operations Department, followed by Engineering Department, followed by eventual command. The issue as I see it is that the community views this as a positive – exposing officers to a variety of shipboard functions – but in reality, it ensures that we never become truly good at our jobs. We become personnel and administrative gurus, irrespective of our assigned department, perched to jump into a different role at a moment’s notice.
Instead of our current system, I propose that U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers matriculate into the community with a billet specialty: engineering, operations, or combat systems. Anathema! Rather than wandering from department to department as figure-heads, I want us to have a vested interest, and subject matter expertise, in the Sailors we lead and the systems we are responsible for. An Infantry Officer leads infantry units. Armor Officers lead armor units. F/A-18 pilots fly Hornets. Today, a Surface Warfare Officer can become a Weapons Officer, and in theory, an Engineer Officer, without prior experience in those respective departments. Imagine, though, the benefits of the following: a new officer enters the community as a Surface Warfare Officer-Engineering, graduates the OOD School and BDOC, completes basic engineer training, serves two division officer tours in Engineering Department, completes shore duty, graduates Department Head School, and returns to the Fleet as an Engineer Officer. This officer has received specialized training along the way and has walked the walk and talked the talk at sea prior to stepping foot into what is acknowledged as the most challenging tour of a SWO’s career. They are no longer a figure-head, but rather: they are an engineer. Or a Combat Systems Officer. Or an Operations Officer. Their title means something. They are good at their job. To ensure preparation for command and to keep some semblance of well-roundedness, Surface Warfare Officers of all flavors would continue to earn the qualifications and stand the watches that the community currently holds dear: on the bridge, in the Combat-Information-Center, and in the engineering plant. Finally, the XO/CO fleet-up model would ensure that specialists are appropriately rounded-out before taking command.
I want Surface Warfare Officers to push ourselves “right to the edge of the envelope.” I want us to be proud of our community. I want our Surface Warfare Officer pin to mean something – to the military, to the service, and most important of all, to us. I want us to be professional watch standers and experts in our respective jobs. The Surface Warfare Officer community is known for being the dumping ground of Unrestricted Line Officers who could not hack it, and this happens because we do not establish, much less uphold, standards. No more! We should honor our heritage, establish a role in our force that is both respected and admired, and strictly and unabashedly police ourselves as consummate professionals who accept nothing less than the best of the best.
Please join us on Sunday, 21 September 14 at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 246: When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty
As we once again face the promise of a conflict with a limited mission and a strangely ill-defined Strategic and Operational design – what do we need to keep in mind not just from recent history, but the longer term record?
History shows us that military and political leaders either over or under appreciate changing technology, outmoded doctrine, and the imperfect correlation between past experience and present requirements.
From the national psyche to stockpiled war reserves – what happens when the short and splendid turns in to the long slog?
Using his latest article in The National Interest, The Most Terrifying Lesson of World War I: War Is Not Always “Short and Sharp,” as a starting point, but expanding to a much broader discussion, our guest for the full hour will be Chris Dougherty, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).
Mr. Dougherty graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Security Studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and received an M.A. in Strategic Studies with distinction from John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He also served as an airborne infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 1997 to 2000.
By Jon Paris
U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers have a Napoleon complex. The community is often described as inherently self-conscious and hyper-competitive. Though SWO’s often sell themselves short, in reality, they are in the highest demand at all levels of our service and throughout the joint world. Commanders want Surface Warfare Officers because they can be counted on to get any job done – regardless of past experiences or training. The community can be a meat grinder, and those with upward mobility possess well-earned street credibility. How do they get to that point, though? In Part 1 of this series, we compared the training pipeline, billet structure, and shipboard priorities of the Surface Warfare Officer and Royal Navy Warfare Officer communities. Now let us delve into the mysterious world of the Fleet Nugget. This piece will compare the products that the Naval Aviation, nuclear, and conventional Surface Warfare communities deliver to the Fleet on Day One.
Surface Warfare Officers and Naval Aviators – the Jets and theSharks. While there is no more fearsome combat team in the world, the communities are notorious for their sibling rivalry. Though we train fiercely to integrate our forces and work extremely well together to the detriment of the enemy, the professional blueprints of each community are oceans apart.
A Nugget is a first-tour Naval Aviator or flight officer, especially applicable during their first deployment. The origin of the term absolutely belongs to aviators, but it does have cross-over appeal, and its connotation paints a faithful picture of a new officer in his first unit, regardless of designator. The general insinuation of the term is that the officer has little to offer their unit and must be taken under someone’s wing – pun intended. Is an F/A-18 Nugget equal to a SWO Nugget, though? What does each community really provide to their Fleet Squadrons and ships when they deliver a new batch of officers?
Student Naval Aviators in the Advanced Strike pipeline spend approximately two years learning everything from aerodynamics and physiology to air combat maneuvering and carrier qualification. During the training pipeline, they spend nearly 250 hours in the air testing their skills on three different airframes and refine those skills over the course of 75 simulator hours. Earning one’s Wings of Gold does not spell the end of training. The new Naval Aviator’s final stop before hitting the Fleet is the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where they perfect their art in their assigned airframe, spending another 175 hours in the air and in the simulator. When a Naval Aviator executes his orders to his first fleet squadron, he has spent at least 500 hours in hands-on training scenarios.
What is expected of a new Naval Aviator? What do wings mean on Day 1? Wings only come after an officer has demonstrated that they are able to meet a well-defined standard. When seasoned pilots accept a Nugget into their ready room, they see a pilot who can safely operate their aircraft, manage their respective mission and flight administration, and serve as a competent and safe wingman.
Aviators are well-trained before reporting to the Fleet and we have established the practical meaning of wings. What is the true nature of the product, though? On Day 1, the Naval Aviator Nugget will already have demonstrated proficiency at landing aboard a carrier during day and night operations. During his initial weeks in the squadron, he could be entrusted to conduct mid-air refueling, air-to-ground strike, strafing, and close-air-support missions, carrier qualifications, or high-value air-asset escort duties. With these baseline skills, the new aviators are immediately useful to their squadrons and are able to jump into the rigorous Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor-lead curriculum.
Like aviators, Nuclear Surface Warfare Officers also use the train-to-qualify method. After they complete a conventional division officer tour, they spend 6 months at Nuclear Power School where they master advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics, and nuclear theory. This school is widely acknowledged as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. They continue their pipeline with an intensive 6 months of hands-on watch-standing training and examinations at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units, or Prototype. Their community’s methods are known internally as the “Gold Standard.” This standard is rigid, unquestioned, and unabashedly enforced. When an officer graduates Prototype, they report to their aircraft carrier as a proven, and more importantly, qualified watch-stander. Shortly after reporting, a SWO Nuke Nugget earns their platform endorsement and re-qualifies on their ship as a Plant Watch Officer, immediately contributing to their department’s watch organization while also leading their respective division.
Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer candidates notionally attend an 8-week course known as the Basic Division Officer Course, or BDOC, prior to reporting to their respective ships. Keeping with the community’s focus on generalists, BDOC covers a wide-range of topics, including: basic damage control, Navy pistol qualification, basic SWO engineering, Maintenance University, maritime warfare, division officer leadership and fundamentals, basic navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. Students take numerous exams and are held to the community standard of a 90% passing grade on their Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road) exam. It is a demanding school and was established to rectify the absence of any such schooling that existed for nearly a decade. During their time at BDOC, the ensigns spend 24 cumulative hours in the ship-handling simulators where they get a taste for everything from pier work to harbor transits and man-overboard recoveries.
After graduating BDOC, our SWO Nuggets report to their ships and take over their first divisions. Unlike their aviator brethren, they do not wear a warfare pin when they report to the Fleet, nor do they possess any watch-standing qualifications. What then is the product that we are delivering to our ships? Our new ensigns – our Nuggets – are confident leaders and are capable of taking over the responsibility for people and gear from the get-go. They board their ships with a basic familiarization with shipboard systems, service policies, and standard commands (used to drive a ship). SWO Nuggets are not qualified to stand watch on their own, much less to lead an entire watch team, but they are prepared to step onto the bridge and take over as a Conning Officer – learning the finer details of ship handling from their fellow junior officers, enlisted specialists, and the ship’s leadership. Though they are not flying a Hornet solo over Afghanistan, they are standing tall in front of their divisions, as well as on the bridge, issuing commands to the helm and engines of their billion-dollar warships, increasing their competency and savvy exponentially during every watch.
There is no doubt that the aviation and surface warfare communities have different demands, different priorities, and nearly polar-opposite cultures. An aviator must know what he is doing when he enters the Fleet, lest he crash his aircraft on the flight deck or drop his bomb on the wrong people. The Death-and-Destruction Factor is certainly relevant and is often used as an excuse for why Surface Warfare Officers do not have a similar training mindset. In other words, the argument is that young SWO’s can afford to be inexperienced because their mistakes are far less likely to cause catastrophe and because they operate with a safety-net of sorts made up of other watch standers. While I recognize the inherent danger of Naval Aviation, I disagree with this argument as a way to justify short-changing Surface Warfare Officer training. The culture and doctrine of the aviation community would not tolerate – much less conceive of – squadron skippers in the Fleet being burdened with building an aviator from scratch, yet our service puts that same burden on our ships’ captains, taking away from their crew’s overall combat-effectiveness. We are doing the world’s most fearsome warships an injustice. Surface Warfare Nuggets should report to the Fleet with know-how and qualifications, ready to drive and fight at the pointy-end from the moment they cross the brow.
After comparing the lives, methods, and priorities of Royal Navy Warfare Officers, Naval Aviators, and Surface Warfare Officers, I want to take the opportunity in the final piece of this series to analyze where the SWO community is getting it right, and where we could improve, as well as put forth two proposals that would fundamentally alter how the community trains and operates. In an era where fiscal uncertainty, regional conflict, and increasing operational tempos reign supreme, we must put our very best on the front lines – our country and our crews deserve it, and our enemies must fear it.
Every 22nd of May, unbeknownst to nearly all Americans, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s rich maritime lineage, cherish our goods delivered by sea-going ships, and remember the importance of our officers and sailors who sail in the far-flung corners of the world. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation held a ceremony at their headquarters. Salutes were smartly rendered and rousing speeches delivered. At the end of the ceremony, eight bells were rung to signify the end of the watch and honor the Merchant Marine.
The next day, Maritime Administration (MARAD) officials went back to regulating one of the most poorly funded (under $500 million annually) and misguided (only one top official is a past merchant mariner) administrations in our nation’s capitol. Since the founding days of our nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the need for a strong militarily-useful and privately-owned U.S. flag merchant marine to protect, strengthen, and enhance our nation’s economic and military security has been clear. In times of peace and war, our U.S. flagged vessels effectively answered our nation’s call and provided unprecedented sealift capability to support our economy.
According to Rose George in Ninety-Nine Percent of Everything, trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since 1970 and is still growing. Three years ago, 360 commercial ports of the United States received in international goods worth $1.73 trillion. There are more than one hundred thousand ships at sea carrying all of the material we need to live.
Despite the amount of wealth reaching our shores, there are fewer than one hundred oceangoing U.S. flagged ships. Only 1 percent of trade at U.S. ports travels on an American-flagged vessels, and our fleet has declined by 80% since 1951. Less than 2% of all seagoing mariners are women. In a world of progressive ideology, it would seem that the other world – on the sea – is adrift and heading in the wrong direction.
It is seemingly unimaginable that most Americans are ignorant to the world of shipping. Play a game the next time you go out to a restaurant or visit your local coffee shop and see how many items you can count that came from a sea-going vessel.
- Plates: Made in China, containership
- T-Shirt on young child: Made in India, containership
- Chair and table set: Looks expensive, but likely IKEA: containership
- Gap Jeans: Made in Bangladesh, containership
- Cell Phone: Made in China, containership
- Coffee: Beans from Latin America, containership
- European car parked outside window: German, roll-on roll-off ship
- Fuel presumed in said European car: Crude from Middle East, tanker
The list is extensive. Better game: what was not brought over by maritime shipping?
Proceedings focuses mostly on developments in the maritime security domain, but a deeper conversation should revolve around the status of our civilian mariners. After all, one of our primary missions as sailors of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard is to uphold the umbrella convention as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the United States has not ratified the convention (we do not like its deep-sea mining stipulations), we uphold its core meaning. Over 300 articles aim to create “a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.”
Simply put, our maritime security organizations exist to support the global merchant marine and to promote free trade domestically and abroad. But when we lose American flagged vessels and shipyard workers lose their contracts, their income and their wealth of knowledge is lost. For our government – and in particular the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense – this means that an insufficient number of American mariners will no longer be there to support the industry. The next time we need to support a global war, we will have to rely on foreign shipping companies to move U.S. war material abroad.
- Outside thinking. Fund and stand up an independent, outside think tank that can meet the maritime challenges of the 21st If we do not try and sort out the maritime industry, the stability necessary for U.S. flag companies to attract the investments they need and for maritime labor to recruit and retain the mariner our country needs will simply not be there. Create a long term
- Bi-Partisan Support. MARAD should continue to lobby and build coalitions to ensure proper funding efforts to build a robust, seagoing merchant marine. If the United States is serious about the declining state of our maritime industry, we must modify existing programs and create new ones that would increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S. flag, the amount of cargo carried by U.S. flag vessels, and the shipboard employment opportunities for licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners.
- Reward companies that flag their vessels under the United States. Under the auspices of the intricately elusive tool of “flag of convenience,” where ships can fly the flag of a state that has nothing to do with its owner, cargo, crew or route, many shipping companies have chose to dodge taxes and pay mariners less. Consequently, many civilian mariners can’t find work. We should create tax incentives for companies that fly under the American flag and hire more mariners, rather than allow ships that maintain a crew of twenty to reap in the benefits of maritime trade.
- Subsidize shipbuilding in the United States. In order to compete with South Korea and other major shipbuilding nations that construct vessels on the cheap, we need to craft private-public contracts to allow our shipbuilding to flourish. Explore new ways to meet the capability and capacity to meet the most demanding wartime scenarios that might lie on the horizon.
- Rethink maritime officer and crew placement. Even though ships are getting considerably larger, crew sizes are getting smaller. Nearly a thousand professional mariners graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime academies each year with no prospective deep-sea job opportunities. Most sea-going accidents occur due to fatigue and most mariners have reported working over 80 hours in a given week. We should expand Military Sealift Command employment so U.S. Naval Reserve / Merchant Marine Reserve can serve on ‘active duty’ in the merchant marine. If this model works, we can incentivize a program in the private sector where larger crews are rewarded with tax breaks for operating safely.
Trade has always traveled and the world will continue to trade in our globalized society. The United States relies on a few VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) to bring in two-thirds of our oil supply every day. Without the assured commercial sea power capability provided by the U.S. flag merchant marine and civilian manpower, we will find ourselves at the mercy of foreign vessels that are owned and operated by foreign interests.
The symbolic ringing of eight bells was superfluous this past National Maritime Day. Through bad policies over the last several decades, we have left the U.S. maritime industry at the whim of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand,’ then wondered, what happened to the Merchant Marine? Answer: it was turned over decades ago to the rest of the world.
You have been properly relieved America. Maersk has the watch.