Archive for the 'LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong' Tag
In June and July of last year USNI published my series of posts on William Sims and the Gunnery Revolution. The discussion of innovation inside military has continued at a slow boil. I was recently invited to Tampa to speak at the U.S. Special Operations Command Innovation Conference. It was a great conference and the speakers included a number of luminaries from the innovation and technology sectors of the business world, including Tom Kelley of IDEO and Michael Jones of Google. The auditorium was filled will staff officers, DoD and contract civilians, and the front table was crowded with Senior Executive Service civilians and Flag and General Officers including Admiral McRaven.
The involvement of Junior Officers in innovation has certainly been highlighted in the past year. However, what is the role of the mid-grade or senior officer? And what about an officer’s peers? In my talk at SOCOM, I told the story of “The Gun Doctor” William Sims again, but with a slightly different focus at the end. The story I’ve told you here at USNI about the Gunnery Revolution is the story as Sims himself likely would have told it. It’s the story that appears in many history books. However, when you keep reading, and get into some of the letters and reports of the time, you realize that while William Sims was the driving force, the brains and the brawn behind this innovation, he wasn’t exactly alone. The Gunnery Revolution had an entire cast of supporting characters, including a number of Senior Officers and some staff officers who were Sims’ friends and peers.
Open Minded Seniors
When Lieutenant Sims was on China Station the Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron was Rear Admiral George Remy. Remy was a hero of the Spanish American War and was one of the most highly respected officers of the day. He held a position that is roughly equivalent to the Commander of PACOM today. Sims’ reports went through Admiral Remy on their way back to Washington. The Admiral always added an endorsement and it was always a positive endorsement. Sims’ time on China Station wasn’t entirely spent onboard KENTUCKY. After he forwarded the first couple reports to D.C. Admiral Remy ordered him onto his staff aboard the flagship USS BROOKLYN. Sims was given the position of “Special Intelligence Officer,” an invented job that wasn’t on the organizational chart. Remy told him that he had free reign to work on, study, and report on whatever he wanted; from the growing potential for military conflict between Japan and Russia, to comparisons of the designs of foreign warships on China Station, to gunnery tactics, techniques, and procedures. Remy was a key enabler by helping to create the time and space for Sims to do his work.
Dr. James Holmes, a USNI Member and author of both articles and books at the Institute, has a series of posts over at his blog The Naval Diplomat about the strategic thinking of Colonel John Boyd and strategy in East Asia. As an occasional student of Boyd’s work, I always love reading thinkers who use his ideas to attack today’s challenges. Aviators are all aware of Boyd’s work because to this day we study the Energy/Maneuverability diagrams for our aircraft (which he discovered and first mapped as a Major) and those of our opponents to learn how to get the most out of our airframes. As Holmes outlines, Boyd is also the father of the OODA Loop, sometimes called The Boyd Loop. Starting at the tactical level, but also moving through the operational to the strategic, Boyd identified four phases that occur in any competition: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
Many people who have studied Boyd’s work focus on the speed element. Speed plays an important role in his thinking. He focuses on “fast transients” in a lot of his work, or the ability to move through the loop faster than your adversary. He suggests that success comes with the ability to change directions or adapt most quickly. The element of speed draws a lot of people in, from business strategists and writers to military strategists who suggest that out-speeding your opponent will result in a shock to their system that can end fighting quickly. However, this focus ignores an important question: Can you speed in the wrong direction?
The discussion of junior leader innovation has slowed as of late, in a post-NWDC conference deep breath. One of the regular criticisms levied at LT Ben Kohlmann, LT Rob McFall, and others who have written about the need for disruptive thinking and junior officer innovation is that this is a case of “same old, same old.” In particular, every generation of junior officers has angst and feels that the system is out of balance. According to the critics it is simply the result of the military’s hierarchical organization and structure and there’s nothing to worry about.
History proves part of this observation correct. MAJ Pete Munson at Small Wars Journal has highlighted the USAF’s “Dear Boss” letters in an illustration from the 1970’s. In the 1950’s Proceedings printed LCOL Robert Heinl’s classic “Special Trust and Confidence” which discussed the issues of trust between junior and senior officers in the Marine Corps. Reminiscent of BGEN Arnold’s recent article “Don’t Promote Mediocrity,” in the first two decades of the 20th century Proceedings published a series of articles from junior leaders debating the promotion system and discussing the need for selection boards to pick the officers who were to promote, rather than using a simple system of seniority.
The question becomes, does the JO angst matter? With the long history of generational conflicts, should we even care? The answer is yes. The history demonstrates that there are many times when the issues raised by junior leaders can have an impact on the military’s ability to fight and win the nation’s wars. I’ll share two brief examples.
In the days of the ancient navalists Themistocles and Pericles, men with an interest in naval affairs and national defense surely would have frequented the Agora with their fellow Athenians. To discuss the specifics related to war upon the sea, however, they gathered in small groups in the alleys around the Neosoikoi , the massive ship-sheds that lined the seawalls at Pireaus. With triremes and the equipment of ancient naval warfare stored nearby, they would have discussed everything from the importance of finding a skilled steersman for their vessels to the strategic implications of Spartan and Persian foreign policy.
Today there are a number of virtual online areas that surround our modern Neosoikoi, from USNI’s online offerings to the naval blogosphere’s established writers and other growing thought centers. However, one of the great things about being a member of the Naval Institute is that the organization can still bring people together physically to meet and discuss our shared naval interests, just as the Athenians did centuries ago.
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